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The Historic Preservation Review Board just unanimously approved the designation of Spingarn Senior High School at Benning Road and 26th Street NE as a historic landmark. But the central issue on everyone’s mind wasn’t addressed: what the landmarking will mean for the planned streetcar barn and training facility on the Spingarn campus.
Spingarn’s landmarking is based primarily on two factors: its architectural style typical of the period when it opened (in 1952) and its place in the history of the black community—-the school was initially a segregated black school in a middle-class black neighborhood. Every community witness testified in favor of landmarking.
But the landmark application was filed by the Kingman Park Civic Association in the midst of the controversy over the carbarn plans, raising questions about whether the nomination was actually intended to derail the District Department of Transportation plans (though the school has long been known to be a candidate for landmarking). The HPRB several times reminded witnesses that the issue at hand was the school and not the car barn, but that didn’t stop a number of witnesses from speaking out against the barn plans.
An HPRB staff report found the car barn plans, in the context of the pending Spingarn nomination, to be “consistent with the purposes of the preservation act, subject to further design development, material selection, and refinement.” Now that the school is designated for landmarking, the car barn will need to prove compatible with the rest of the historic site. Gretchen Pfaehler, who will soon take over as HPRB chair, promised that the car barn “will be a separate issue before us.”
Rendering of the car barn from the Historic Preservation Review Board’s review of the site