On May 12, 2009, D.C.’s planning director, Harriet Tregoning, paved the way for the Third Church of Christ, Scientist to tear down its Brutalist house of worship at 16th and I streets NW, a major defeat for “historic preservation zealots,” as The Washington Post‘s Marc Fisher labled them. Those zealots had fought tooth and nail to preserve the “faceless, spiritually deadening 1971 building,” despite the fact church members wanted to demolish their own building.
Tregoning’s order stated “that the denial of the permit would result in the inevitable demise of the Third Church as a downtown congregation, and therefore concludes that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs may consider the demolition permit application cleared for historic preservation purposes.”
Fisher wrote that the “bulldozing of the Third Church will be a huge victory for common sense and for the rights of property owners against a small band of preservation extremists. Historic preservation is a good and essential process that helps to salvage and maintain important symbols of our history, but when preservation rules are abused and rewritten to support efforts to freeze the city in its current shape, without regard to cost or the lives and livelihoods of residents, it’s time for a rebalancing of priorities and policies.”
Architectural aesthetics, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder. Architectural tastemakers 100 years ago thought the Second Empire-style edifice today known as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building was ugly and worthy of demolition. Now, it’s regularly mentioned as one of the city’s best architectural landmarks. Then again, it’s hard to warm up to Brutalist concrete.