South by West

The new St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church will be located at the corner of Delaware Avenue and M Street SW. Rendering: Shalom Baranes Associates Architects

Groundbreaking Ceremony for St. Matthew’s Mixed-Use Project

On Sunday, Sept. 11, community leaders, members from St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, project developers, and the community at large gathered at a lot on the corner of Delaware Avenue and M Street SW to break ground for a new St. Matthew’s, one of three churches along the M Street/Maine Avenue corridor that will be redeveloped with houses of worship and residential units. Activities at the groundbreaking featured corn hole, face painting, and BBQ, with music and a DJ. Speakers included Pastor Philip Huber of St. Matthew’s, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans (Southwest used to be located in Ward 2, and Evans chairs the committee that earmarked funds for the St. Matthew’s project), and Chris Roth from Trammell Crow, one of the developer partners.

A Brief History

The St. Matthew’s project is a long time coming – the planned unit development (PUD) having been approved in November 2012, with a two-year extension requested in late 2014. However, planning for a new church building goes back even farther. The old St. Matthew’s was demolished in 2008, but the Great Recession put the brakes on development. Pastor Huber described the many obstacles to development. In addition to the unfavorable development climate during the recession, the proposed mixed-use project was in a flood zone, which would have added millions in costs if an updating of the maps, after a levy was built on the National Mall, had not removed an area of Southwest including the St. Matthew’s site from the 100-year flood plain. The pastor expressed his appreciation for Roth’s commitment to build the project despite the obstacles.

The Project

Architecture firm Shalom Baranes Associates placed the apartment building on the west side of the site and the church at the corner of Delaware Avenue and M Street in order to preserve what is left of the view shed along Delaware Avenue north to the Capitol dome. The new St. Matthew's will be constructed with stacked stone masonry, and colored glass will be inset using cut glass from the old church building that will form an image, perhaps of the giving of the Holy Spirit. Glass will be back-lit so it will be illuminated at night. The square immediately to the right of the base of the cross on the M Street facade is a large window that will give a view into the sanctuary through to the baptistery and into the courtyard in the back.  Architecturally it conveys that St. Matthew’s is open to the community and welcomes everyone to venture inside.

The sidewalk will have an indenture at the window with a backless bench so passersby can “sit a while” and rest while looking into the interior space. The green panel to the right of the window (and left of the door) is the exterior wall of the sacristy and is where the name of the church will be located. The church will have 10,000 square feet of community space and meeting rooms, as well as the Thurgood & Cecilia Marshall Southwest DC Community Center and Sacred Grounds Cafe.

The apartment building is shaped like the letter L, with an 11-story building fronting M Street and an eight-story building on the west side perpendicular to M Street. Approximately 220 residences are planned, with 10 percent set aside under inclusionary zoning as affordable housing. The apartments are not affiliated with St. Matthew's, so anyone can apply to rent a unit. The apartment building will have metal cladding along with two-story metal panels. The architects took design cues from neighboring residences like River Park and Waterfront Tower, and incorporated a courtyard to fit in with the Southwest building style of having apartments frame courtyards. Approximately six private patios for tenants will be on the ground level. Other amenities include a fitness center, lounge, screening room, and two levels of below-grade parking.

Local landscape architectural firm Oculus, which designed the courtyard, is the same firm that designed the Waterfront Station Metro plaza. The church and apartment building will share the courtyard area, with a seating area and a shallow pool that will be connected to the fellowship hall of the church. A bosque of trees will grace the center of the courtyard and a paved area in front will face Delaware Avenue. A landscaped buffer to be installed along Delaware Avenue will shield the outdoor space and provide security. The existing trees on the site will be maintained on three sides, including along Delaware Avenue, the western border with 240 M Street, and on the south. New landscaping will be planted on M Street. Parking will be accessed via Delaware Avenue, and loading will be done on M Street. All main pedestrian entrances (for the church, community center, and apartment building) will be on M Street.

After the ceremonial speeches, dignitaries received golden shovels for the obligatory first turn of the dirt, accompanied by a special prayer. Utility work has been underway for months along Delaware Avenue, but now the heavy construction equipment will move into the site. Construction completion is expected before the end of 2018.

The ceremonial first turning of the dirt for the new St. Matthew’s Church and apartment project was done with golden shovels. Photo: William Rich

William Rich is a blogger at Southwest … The Little Quadrant That Could (

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