City Paper is not for tourists
The artist studios inside the warehouse at 443 I St. NW have been called a lot of things over the years. One was the Hosiery. Another is Red Door. Collectively, they’re most often referred to as Gold Leaf Studios.
Since 1998, artists and musicians have used the beat-up Mount Vernon Square building as a place to work and sometimes party. Devendra Banhart played to an intimate crowd there in 2003. Bands like Trans Am, U.S. Royalty, Fever, Laughing Man, Ra Ra Rasputin, Exactly, and others have called it home. So have artists like Kristina Bilonick, Nick Pimentel, and Sarah McLaughlin.
That’s all over come January 31, when the warehouse’s current sub-letters—-probably a few dozen artists working in 11 individual spaces—-have to move out. According to Mike Abrams, the artist who first scouted the building more than a decade ago and who has managed its tenants since, the site will eventually be replaced by residential units. BicycleSPACE, which is next door at 445 I St., will get the boot for the same project, Abrams says.
Rumors of Gold Leaf’s demise have been greatly exaggerated for years. In 2007, when the warehouse’s underground art parties were at their zenith, it looked like Gold Leaf would soon give way to a sleek project called “Eye Street Lofts.” That didn’t happen, but conversations with Gold Leaf tenants frequently veered toward the apocalyptic. It’s too cool to be around forever was a common refrain.
“It’s something that we knew was coming, but it looked like the perpetual rumor,” says Lucas Pierce, the sales director for apparel company DURKL, which has been based at Gold Leaf since 2009.
The apocolyptic finally happened in May, when Equity Residential picked up a cluster of properties (443 to 451 I Street) on the block for $5.1 million. Now, according to Abrams, they have a set date to move out. Although the artists have to go, Abrams says the historic exterior of Gold Leaf and some neighboring brownstones will be preserved by the residential project. Equity hasn’t responded to a request for comment yet, but I’ll update when they do.
The building has remained an important venue in local art and indie-rock circles, hosting low-to-the-ground shows and concerts and film screenings. This year, the space known as Red Door held a series of “D.C. Jazz Loft” concerts put on by the website CapitalBop.
“It’s nice being in a place with like-minded people,” says Patrick Kigongo of Ra Ra Raspution. Recently, his band has been recording new material in its spacious practice room. Now they’re picking up the pace, in order to finish by move-out day. “It’s frustrating thinking it would be really hard to assemble that kind of cast in the future.”
Update | Aug. 17: My colleague Lydia DePillis adds a few more details about the project that will replace Gold Leaf and BicycleSPACE.