Southwest Church Bathed in Color

South by West

A mural was created during this year’s (e)merge art fair on the Old Friendship Baptist Church at 700 Delaware Avenue, SW by HENSE. Photo: William Rich

Shane Pomajambo owns Art Whino, an art gallery located in National Harbor. When he was approached last year by Steve Tanner, owner of the Old Friendship Baptist Church at 700 Delaware Avenue, SW at Marcatus art market in Yards Park , the two started talking about art and eventually, the idea came about to create a mural on Tanner’s vacant building. “That's when it came to my mind to do an Art Basel style building wrap during the (e)merge fair.   The rest was history,” said Pomajambo. He enlisted HENSE to create the mural around the entire building, which took about two weeks to do. The art installation was completed in October during the second annual (e)merge art fair, which took place nearby at the Capitol Skyline Hotel. (e)merge was organized by the Rubell family, which owns the hotel and the Randall School site with Telesis.

Other efforts have been made recently to activate 700 Delaware Avenue, SW while its redevelopment has been placed on hold for several years. Tanner leased the grounds this year to the Batter Up Foundation for use by DC RBI as a bullpen, batting cage, and storage space. The Batter Up Foundation is a non-profit organization affiliated with Major League Baseball that helps to bring baseball to inner-city youth in several cities across the country. Next door to the church at Randall Recreation Center, the local DC Junior RBI Little League team has been practicing this season at the ball field. Even though some of the 14 kids on the team are local Southwesters and attend Jefferson Middle School, this is the first season that the team has been practicing in Southwest. Coach Andrew Williamson, who is in his fourth year of coaching with DC RBI, said that DC RBI draws kids from Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 and the Randall Rec Center ball field is ideal since it is centrally located, lighted, and easy to get to for the players. The Randall field has been underutilized by youth - the only people using it previously have been adult softball teams. Coach Andrew says DC RBI has been working with the Department of Parks and Recreation, King-Greenleaf Recreation Center, and community leaders to bring the team to Randall. "We want people to know that kids here have an interest in baseball," said Williamson. In addition to the Batter Up Foundation, Washington Parks and People has leased space behind the church to set up a community garden with several raised beds.

The fate of 700 Delaware Avenue lies in what happens next door at the Randall School site, whose own fate has had its twists and turns. Last spring, the current owners requested a two-year extension of the original Planned Unit Development (PUD) approval, which called for a new college building for the Corcoran in the existing buildings and new construction in the form of an apartment building to be developed by Monument Realty. Prior to that, the Telesis-Rubell team was selected by the Corcoran as a new partner in 2010, two years after the partnership with Monument Realty ended.

Bing Thom Architects has designed the current plans for the project, including a modern art museum and a restaurant in three heritage buildings that will remain along with two residential buildings with a total of approximately 400 units that will rise up to 110 feet. Of the 400 units, 20% will be set aside as affordable housing for households earning up to 80% of Area Median Income. A new mid-block east-west street will be created behind the heritage buildings to remove some traffic off of I Street, SW, but deliveries will primarily occur on H Street, SW. With the removal of the newer wings of the Randall School, the back of the heritage buildings will be exposed and the development team is still contemplating whether to build townhouse units alongside the rear of the heritage buildings or retail spaces. A courtyard will be created behind the central heritage building that will be open to the public. A boutique hotel was also planned previously, but it was determined that it was not financially feasible, so the residential component was increased.

In the spring, Marilyn Melkonian from Telesis hoped that the entire project would be built in one phase starting in 2013, but the residential buildings could be done in two phases. However, a new PUD has not been submitted yet to the Zoning Commission, so the 2013 start date may slip. While the residential buildings are currently planned as apartments, it's possible that one of the buildings could be done as condos if built in phases and depending on market conditions. Regardless of when the residential buildings are completed, the modern art museum will be done in the first phase.

Back at 700 Delaware Avenue, SW there is no sign that the mural is going away anytime soon. “The plan is for the mural to stay,” said Pomajambo. “There are no immediate plans to remove it.”