The old St. Cecelia’s School at 601 East Capitol Street SE isn’t much to look at. It isn’t much use, either, with only its bottom floor occupied by a childcare center since the Library of Congress bought it and renovated in 1991. Since that very year, the idea has been to convert it into a 50-unit living facility for visiting scholars—but the plan only really got rolling recently, and the Librarians are now on a goodwill tour of local community groups to see what people think.
“To make the Library of Congress’ unparalleled collections and curatorial resources truly available to the global academic community, we have long hoped to find an inexpensive and quiet accommodation within walking distance of the Library’s 21 public reading rooms and scholarly facilities within the three Library of Congress buildings on Capitol Hill,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in a press release. “Books are not being written, research is not being performed and discoveries are not being made for lack of such accommodations.”
More specifically, said LoC spokeswoman Jennifer Gavin, they’d been hearing “horror stories” of young academics looking for housing in D.C. from abroad and ending up in dodgy neighborhoods in search of cheap apartments, requiring them to crash on someone’s couch for the duration of their stay. The scholars, she emphasized, would be “quiet people”—no rowdy grad students here!—and the facilities will host no major evening events.
Meanwhile, the building, designed by Bowie Gridley architects. should be an improvement over the current structures.
“There’s a modern design to them that many people in the neighborhood thought was kind of, shall we say, unsightly,” Gavin explained.
It’s still in planning stages though—the design will have to go through historic preservation review, and construction won’t start until enough private funds are raised to finish it.