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The only human-scale element of the hulking brutalist facade of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building—the Pennsylvania Avenue panels that salute some of the better-known presidents of the United States—have been marked for extinction. A National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) staff report has recommended that the commission accept the FBI’s plan to remove the placards, which the report describes as so “worn and deteriorated” as “to have an adverse visual impact on the area.” They would be replaced with polished green marble panels, which would offer virtually as blank an aspect as the concrete walls beneath them—though one perhaps more compatible with the marble fetishes of the area’s upscale ’80s office palaces.
The massive Hoover Building, an architectural debacle named for a law-enforcement embarrassment, has been a deadening force in the neighborhood since it opened in 1972. Hoover reputedly believed that ground-floor shops, which were part of the original plan, would somehow compromise the agency’s security, but in recent years the subject of providing the building with some sort of street-level activity has been frequently broached. In 1992, the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) recommended against the proposed marble panels and suggested instead that the building be opened up with windows that would make interior activities visible from the avenue. In September, however, the CFA signed off on the panels, which the NCPC staff report claims “will add a warmth to the ground floor level of this building which, in turn, will contribute to the character of the streetscape.”
BZA Does Well for Foggy Bottom The city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) has rejected George Washington University’s plan to build a 90-foot-high Health and Wellness Center building on the edge of its campus at 23rd and G Streets NW. The Nov. 2 decision is “an unprecedented rejection of GW,” says Ellen McCarthy, a planning consult ant who testified against the plans of the university, which she calls the neighborhood’s “500-pound gorilla.”
The proposed structure, designed to combine a “student health center” with a “sports medicine facility,” would have abutted residential townhouses and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, a neo-Gothic 1886 structure designed by noted architect James Renwick. Opponents argued that the site was inadequate for the building, and that a location closer to the center of the campus should have been chosen for the center. “I hope [the decision] shows a new sensitivity by the BZA to enforcing the campus plan to protect nearby residential neighborhoods,” says McCarthy.