A new development might reflect, in some way, the architectural style of the building it replaced — a nod to the past. But the classically designed nine-story office building at 900 16th St. NW, which superseded the Brutalist-style Third Church of Christ, Scientist sanctuary and Christian Science Monitor building, certainly does not. Blessed be.
It took 20 years of hemming, hawing and bargaining with historic preservationists, lawyers and city planners, but the Chevy Chase-based JBG Cos. and Bethesda-based ICG Properties finally delivered their 141,000-square-foot project in 2016 — three years after the development team landed an office anchor in Miller & Chevalier Chartered.
The mixed-use project includes 125,000 square feet of trophy office space, an 11,722-square-foot house of worship for the Third Church of Christ (now the First Church of Christ), 3,895 square feet of retail and three levels of underground parking. It boasts exceptional views, floor-to-ceiling glass bays, a fitness center and a new restaurant in Mirabelle from James Beard Award-winning Executive Chef Frank Ruta.
The Third Church of Christ had sought to redevelop its property since 1991, just 20 years after its initial construction, citing “structural inadequacies and deficiencies.” But a 2007 bid to raze the building sparked a series of lawsuits, an approved historic designation and, ultimately, three years of negotiations between the church, the court, ICG and its partners, the District government and the D.C. Preservation League.
Under a settlement negotiated between ICG and the DCPL in 2010, the developer was allowed to construct an office building no larger than 156,000 square feet and a new church no larger than 10,000 square feet, while the league agreed not to oppose the demolition or the project, directly or indirectly. ICG also agreed to contribute $450,000 to a fund established by the DCPL “to support mid-century modern and religious architectural programming,” for which the preservation league would take 20 percent as an administrative fee.
Even with the negotiated settlement in place, it would take another two years for the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board to sign off on the project, and another year to earn D.C. Zoning Commission approval.
“We knew this was going to be a challenge, but we felt good about the design team we had, a great partner in the church and in ICG,” said Britt Snider, JBG principal.
ICG was the initial developer on the case. JBG entered the picture in 2010, buying out ICG’s original partner.
“It’s a relatively small project from a scale perspective,” Snider said. “It’s not typically on our radar, but the location and the opportunity to contribute to this historic part of D.C. we thought it would be a great opportunity for us.”
The original Third Church of Christ building was designed in the late 1960s by I.M. Pei & Partners. That factor, in addition to the building’s proximity to the White House, led to its proposed historic designation in 1991. But most people thought it was just plain ugly. The Washington Post described the building as a “concrete fortress that looks like a top-secret government installation,” set on a “barren plaza.” The Business Journal, in 2013, declared it the “ugliest church in Washington,” shortly before it was knocked down.
Its replacement, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects and Cooper Carry (its architect of record), lacks any Brutalist elements. It is nothing like its predecessor, purposefully.
“What we strove for here is to give nods to historic aspects in other parts of the city,” Snider said.
The new building is described as sophisticated and classic Washington — a base of White Cherokee marble, like the Federal Reserve; exterior of marble and Indiana limestone, like the National Archives, and windows trimmed in statuary bronze and bronze-finished aluminum. The landscape design, from Michael Vergason, restores the double row of trees typically found on the 16th Street corridor north of Scott Circle.
Miller & Chevalier announced in 2013 it would relocate from Boston Properties’ Metropolitan Square at 655 15th St. NW to lease 70 percent of 900 16th St. The law firm had initiated talks with ICG Principal David Stern before the project was even the subject of a planned-unit development application.
“This building — sophisticated, unique, and in the heart of Washington’s business center — fit our criteria perfectly,” Miller & Chevalier Chair Anthony Shelley said at the time.
As of late March, JBG and ICG still had 30,000 square feet of office space to lease at the building. Snider indicated there are prospects in talks to occupy that space.
According to JBG, based on cash flow — Miller & Chevalier pays $61.25 per-square-foot — the quality of tenants and location, 900 16th would likely exceed the District’s highest sales price per-square-foot, $1,098, if the ownership were to decide to market the building for sale.
900 16th Street
Description: Delivery of office building, plus retail and church sanctuary
Address: 900 16th St. NW
Developers: ICG Properties, The JBG Cos.
Architects: Robert A.M. Stern Architects, Cooper Carry
Landscape design: Michael Vergason
General contractor: James G. Davis Construction
Square footage: 141,000
Project cost:$110 million