Testimony for the DC Historic Preservation Review Board

HPA #13-467, Takoma Theatre

Presented by Loretta Neumann

President, Takoma Theatre Conservancy

March 31, 2016


Thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Takoma Theatre Conservancy. The Conservancy is a nonprofit organization incorporated in Washington DC in 2007 by community residents to save and revive the historic Takoma Theatre, located in the heart of our historic district.

This is the fourth time we have come before you. Prior to this, your board twice denied an application by then-owner Mr. Milton McGinty to raze the Takoma Theatre (in 2007 and 2009). An application to substantially demolish it was also denied by the Mayor’s agent in 2009. In 2013 you reviewed another proposal by the McGinty family, designed by Cunningham Quill Architects, which would have converted the theatre (without substantial demolition) into an apartment house. You approved it conceptually, but called for the plans to be revised and returned to the board for further consideration.

Subsequently, last year (2015) the theatre was sold to the Rock Creek Property Group. They have brought to you today their plan, also designed by Cunningham Quill Architects. It is an improvement over the previous McGinty family proposal by eliminating the 3rd floor dormer and side addition, and by improving the design and decreasing the number of windows.

We have met with the new owners on several occasions and appreciate the outreach they have made with the community. We especially appreciate that the building is being proposed for commercial, not residential use. This can assure more community use, especially with the inclusion of retail spaces. The new owners have also indicated their willingness to include a smaller “black box” theatre inside, if a viable theatre group can be found. We would certainly support such a use.

Indeed, in general, we concur with the staff report submitted for today’s hearing. However, we also note that the proposal calls for skylights on the roof of the theatre, which are not addressed in the report. We urge you to review these carefully, to assure that they are compatible and reasonably unobtrusive, as the roof is very visible on all sides and from the Metro above.

Today, our major hesitation is that the new owners are designing the building “on spec” and have not yet identified specific tenants, whose needs for the theatre facility may differ from the current plans. We therefore reiterate the request we made to you in 2013 that any changes to the external designs be returned to the full HPRB and not be delegated to staff. At a minimum, concerned community organizations such as the Conservancy, Historic Takoma and ANC 4B should be informed of any proposed changes, however minor they may appear, and be provided an opportunity to review and comment on them.

As we’ve noted before, the Takoma Theatre is an extremely important building – indeed, it is the iconic historic structure of Takoma DC. Any further changes to it should be carefully reviewed.

One last comment, please note the spelling of the name – Takoma Theatre not Theater.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.