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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow ACHP Case Digest arrow Summer 2005 arrow District of Columbia: Renovation of the Old Patent Office Building
Update:
District of Columbia: Renovation of the Old Patent Office Building

Agency: Smithsonian Institution
As reported in the fall 2004 ACHP Case Digest, the Smithsonian Institution proposed to enclose the courtyard of the Old Patent Office building, a National Historic Landmark in Washington, DC, with a glass canopy to create an auditorium for ceremonies and public events.

Based in part on the ACHP’s finding that the new construction would significantly affect the external and internal expression of the historic Greek Revival structure, the proposed canopy project was not approved by the National Capital Planning Commission.

Old Patent Office Building courtyard, prior to demolition (photo: Jack Boucher, Library of Congress Historic American Buildings Survey)
Old Patent Office Building courtyard, prior to demolition
(photo: Jack Boucher, Library of Congress Historic American Buildings Survey)

In January 2005, the Secretary of the Interior transmitted a Section 213 report to the ACHP. Because of the importance of the Old Patent Office building, the ACHP chairman requested the Secretary of the Interior prepare such a report, which detailed the significance of the historic property, the effects the proposed undertaking would have on the affected property, and the recommended measures to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects.

In February 2005, the Smithsonian Institution informed the ACHP that the Secretary of the Interior’s Section 213 report had not provided any new information or analysis, and that the Smithsonian planned to proceed with its plan to enclose the Old Patent Office building’s courtyard. That same month, the proposed project’s consulting parties met to address the issues raised in the Secretary’s report.

After the ACHP requested that the Smithsonian change its plan so that adverse effects would be reduced on the National Historic Landmark, the Smithsonian terminated the Section 106 review process.

The ACHP chairman appointed a panel of ACHP members to provide comments on the project. Following a public meeting conducted by the panel in April 2005, the ACHP found that the Smithsonian Institution had failed to consider or appreciate the architectural importance of the Old Patent Office Building before destroying the building’s historic courtyard and making plans to enclose it.

In a letter to Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lawrence M. Small, ACHP Chairman John L. Nau, III, recommended that the Smithsonian abandon its plans to enclose the courtyard and restore it to its historic appearance.

If the project continued despite that recommendation, the ACHP recommended modifying the current plan to develop a less-intrusive structure that did not overwhelm the historic building.

In his response to the ACHP’s letter, Secretary Small said that his agency planned to continue with the project, and would seek final approval from the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC).

The ACHP also issued comments on the courtyard enclosure plan to NCPC, stating that the outcome of the ACHP’s public meeting on the project and the Secretary of the Interior’s Section 213 report constitute new information that NCPC should consider before it reviewed the Smithsonian’s final plans.

Based in part on the comments of the ACHP and the Secretary of the Interior, NCPC voted in June 2005 to deny final approval of the proposed canopy project. The Smithsonian is expected to redesign the canopy to address NCPC’s concerns.

NCPC has recommended that the Smithsonian’s design alternatives be commensurate with the quality of the building and compatible with its fundamental character; that the character and use of the courtyard be recreated or restored to the extent feasible; and that the visual conflicts between a canopy and the building’s pediment and remaining courtyard elements be eliminated.

For background information on this case, see the fall 2004 ACHP Case Digest at www.achp.gov/casearchive/casesfall04DC2.html.

Staff contact: Martha Catlin

Updated August 30, 2005

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