With news that EastBanc may be purchasing the site of the gas station across the street from the Four Seasons, Georgetown developer Anthony Lanier finds himself in rather an important position, when it comes to the impression that both residents and visitors have of one of the Nation’s Capital. For starters, EastBanc is already at work on plans to redevelop the site currently occupied by another gas station at the opposite end of M Street, the neighborhood’s main East-West thoroughfare, right across from the Key Bridge. As travelers come into D.C. from the GW Parkway, it will be, along with the Car Barn and the spires of Georgetown University, one of the first impressions they get of the city.
This second project, at the other end of what Georgetown residents refer to as our “village”, is positioned on a parcel of land sandwiched between M Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, where they cross over Rock Creek Parkway into the city proper. EastBanc will be building directly across from arguably the most prestigious hotel in town, at least if you are one of the foreign heads of state or movie stars who regularly stay or dine there. It’s a given in the life of the village that at least several times a week, a motorcade or flock of black SUV’s will be tying up traffic around the entrance to the Four Seasons for several minutes. Even yesterday, coming home from church, the blare of police sirens clearing a path for a visiting V.I.P. swept up behind me on their way to the hotel. The gas station however, has long been a curious eyesore, a leftover of what Georgetown looked like decades ago, when its commercial district had become somewhat seedy and run-down.
Mr. Lanier, himself a Georgetown resident, has done a great deal to provide both new and renovated, updated, retail and residential space in a nearly 300-year-old neighborhood where completely new construction is very rare, thanks to the entire 1-square mile area being listed as a historic district. Although a few pockets of seedy Georgetown remain, largely concentrated within a 2-3 block stretch of the area’s primary North-South axis, Wisconsin Avenue, on the whole the commercial district is much improved in appearance. Blocks where once there was nothing apart from warehouses or industrial buildings have been converted to modern hotels, apartments, and condominiums. Because of the possibility of Mr. Lanier now redeveloping this prominent “gateway” site in Georgetown, now seems as good an opportunity as any to bring up a project which would not only make this development look better, but bring a much-needed public space back into use for the area.
Directly abutting the land which EastBanc is looking to acquire is a somewhat desolate, hemispherical public plaza, occupied by some benches, a lot of brick pavers, and weeds. In the past however, this spot used to feature a fountain which was considered one of the best in Washington, and DC has a lot of fountains. The piece was originally installed in the 1880’s, but was replaced with a smaller fountain decades later. Both of these fountains are now long-gone, but the former, larger one still exists, sort of. After leaving Georgetown, it went on to grace the now-vanished Truxton Circle, in a different part of the city. Sadly, the fountain is now in pieces, crumbling away in Fort Washington National Park in Maryland.
Although the original fountain is apparently irretrievably damaged, I for one would like to renew my call for making this, one of the most important entries to Georgetown and indeed the Capital City, a more inviting place. Would it be possible for EastBanc to bring back the fountain which used to stand here – or rather, a reproduction of it? Or perhaps a more modern fountain would be possible?
The impression that so many visitors, both drivers and walkers, form of Georgetown when they enter from either end of M Street is hugely important. The soaring spires of the university at one end cannot, of course, be replicated at the other. However, given the comparatively lower elevation of the Rock Creek end of the neighborhood, and the proximity of the parcel in question to that body of water, it would only seem appropriate to bring back a public space with the kind of splashing, elegant water feature which previous residents and visitors enjoyed. On a hot summer day when everyone, tourists and townies alike, is desperate for a place to rest in the shade and cool off, the return of a fountain-park would be a welcome addition to a place which, because of its 18th century village layout, has so relatively few open areas for people to congregate. And of course, for EastBanc’s new development, if it happens, having an attractive place for residents of your new building to look at would make sense, as well.
So just a thought for you there, Mr. Lanier; now, the ball’s in your court.