The revival of historic 3rd Street and downtown Alexandria continues with the preservation of one of the few remaining turn-of-the-century commercial buildings downtown: Trotter Downtown Historic Offices, the January 2016 recipient of the AHPC’s Preservation in Progress award. The large structure sitting at the corner of 3rd and Johnston has been known as the Bertrand Weil Building, due to the name that graced the building’s facade for years. Another preservation effort of Greg Trotter, who also rehabbed the building next door now occupied by Studio 1016, this project restored the exterior of the building to its previous appearance (before the modern exterior was applied) and rehabilitated the interior of the second floor, maintaining its use as offices; DC’s Suits and More currently occupies the ground floor. The second floor offices were accessed through an entrance on Johnston Street by 1929–at this time the building was referred to as the Weil Building, with offices 1 through 3 occupied by Weil Bros. and Bauer, owners of one of the largest local department stores. The revitalization project utilized the 25% State Commercial Rehabilitation Tax Credit due to its historic status and location in Alexandria’s Downtown Development District, combined with the 10% Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit.
This building comprises part of the row of 3rd Street brick commercial properties–one of the only remaining assemblages of historic commercial buildings to survive in Alexandria that date to the early 1900s. The exterior of the building was returned to its historic circa 1920 appearance as slips—metal caps covered in acrylic—added in the mid-20th century were removed and the historic stucco exterior was returned. Much of the original material remained beneath the façade–the walls are actually of brick construction, and possibly date to as early as 1909 when the building first appears on Sanborn Insurance maps as the “Stag Hotel”. While historic photographs reveal that the building has had a stuccoed “blank slate” appearance since the 1920s, window openings that had been long covered and bricked up were revealed and windows were reinstalled, bringing light into the interior space and reinstating its historic character. Bulkheads typical of historic commercial storefronts were installed along the base of the recessed store front entrances.
The Johnston Street entrance opens to a solid and weathered wooden stairway. As you emerge on the light-filled second floor hallway, it feels as though you’ve stepped back in time, or onto the set of a film noir movie. Offices line both sides of the hallway, the doors of which retain textured windows stenciled with the names of previous occupants. This rehabilitation attests to the fact that, although the retention of historic exterior features often takes precedent in preservation efforts, historic interiors are also important in reconnecting with the past and appreciating craftsmanship and a historic patina that is seldom seen in today’s architecture. The interior of the stairway and second floor were cleaned and repainted, and modern amenities were installed in the bathroom and kitchen—previously an office—with fantastic views of downtown. Historic materials remained in place–even a push button light switch in the kitchen and a skylight in the hall, which may have originally been used for ventilation purposes. Mr. Trotter considered re-painting the walls and trim in a different color, but opted to match the paint to the historic color scheme: white walls and blue-gray trim. The floors were carefully sanded and sealed with a clear coat of polyurethane, protecting the historic finish.
The difference is felt by all citizens of Alexandria as the streetscape reflects its historic “Main Street” appearance once again, representing the early 20th century architecture that stands there and reminding us of the days when downtown was the commercial hub of the city.
If you know of a recently rehabilitated historic property and potential candidate for the AHPC’s “Preservation in Progress” award, please contact Sarah Mason at (318) 449-5040 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The property must be located within Alexandria’s city limits and at least 50 years old. Preservation work may be ongoing or completed and must comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation: http://www.nps.gov/tps/standards/rehabilitation.htm.