VMP Publishes FINAL Historic Preservation Report

Pages from McMillan Park Report - FINAL 9.15.2014


EHT Traceries  was retained by VMP to provide research and historic preservation consulting services in pursuit of our approval for a PUD for the McMillan Site.  As part of their efforts, EHT authored a historic preservation report designed as a resource for discussions with the city and community about the appropriate treatment of historic resources, as well as the design of new construction on the site.  The report is a record of the information and guidance provided during this consultation period and is intended to achieve the following objectives:

  • PROVIDE A GUIDE to the extensive primary and secondary documentation that exists for the site through an extensive bibliography and appendices.
  • EXPLAIN THE HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE of the McMillan Site. The report does not include a re-evaluation of the property’s significance, but instead relies on the evaluation of significance provided in 1989 landmark nomination form that was completed for the McMillan Park Reservoir Historic Landmark. The reports offers a framework for the evaluation of the historic integrity of the McMillan Site and the development of preservation recommendations for the McMillan Redevelopment Project based on the
    identified significance.
  • EVALUATE THE HISTORIC INTEGRITY of the McMillan Site. The historic integrity of the Landmark was evaluated as part of its local landmark nomination in 1989.  An updated evaluation of the integrity of the McMillan Site, as a distinct component of the Landmark, is necessary for the development of preservation recommendations for the McMillan Redevelopment Project.
  • PROVIDE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PRESERVATION of the McMillan Site within the context of redevelopment. The recommendations are specific to the McMillan Site and are intended to inform a successful preservation strategy for a McMillan Redevelopment Project within the general parameters set by the city and VMP. The recommendations take into consideration the site’s significance and integrity and are based on the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. General recommendations and resource-specific recommendations are included and will be incorporated into the site plan for the redevelopment as appropriate.
  • PROVIDE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PRESERVATION MITIGATION for the McMillan Redevelopment Project. EHT Traceries is conscious of the various interests of the numerous stakeholders in the McMillan Redevelopment Project. To facilitate the future discussion of preservation within the context of other stakeholder interests, this report provides additional recommendations for the mitigation of the loss of historic fabric and integrity that may occur with development at the McMillan Site. These recommendations are intended to be taken into consideration by VMP and DCHPO and can be directly incorporated into the amenities package for the PUD and Mayor’s Agent submissions as appropriate.
  • GUIDE THE PRESERVATION-RELATED APPROVAL PROCESSES for the McMillan Redevelopment Project. Because the McMillan Site is part of the lager McMillan Park Reservoir Historic Landmark, any construction or demolition on the site is subject to a variety of preservation-related reviews on the federal and local level. This report seeks to outline these reviews to clarify the approval process for the project.

The full report is available for download here.

Pattern and Context of the McMillan Master Plan

One of Washington DC’s most striking—but neglected, historical landmarks is the McMillan Reservoir and Sand Filtration Site. Designed and used for the District’s water supply, the site provided water to sustain the District’s growing population from 1902 until closing in the mid-1980s. The site propelled the District into a movement toward a healthier and cleaner city, providing purified water to residents via slow sand filtration. Though the filtration site was once a very necessary component of everyday life, as population increased and purification practices evolved, the District soon outgrew the need for which the site was designed. Since decommissioning and sale to the District in 1987, the historic site remained vacant with disuse rendering it derelict, while the area and edges surrounding McMillan have experienced varying degrees of urban development.

An important tenant of urban redevelopment and placemaking is the integration of a site into its neighborhood; this concept being critical in regards to the McMillan. Reintegrating this particular site into the city is a challenge, but also a great opportunity. How can the project help the site forge a new identity without losing its genus loci? How can McMillan be adapted for a contemporary context, while preserving the richness of its incredibly interesting past?

Today McMillan has been reimagined and reintegrated into a new and ever-evolving urban context; redevelopment will activate the long closed and dormant site. Designed by EE&K / Perkins Eastman, the master plan reconnects the disconnected city grid, while the significance of the past is memorialized in the preservation of topography and historical features and structures. The site will be activated by a mix of uses, including civic, parks and open space, benefiting District residents.

The process of designing the master plan has been an iterative one, and unsurprisingly so. Its historical, architectural and engineering complexities have given way to infinite design opportunities. These opportunities, along with input from the community, regulatory agencies and consultants, have contributed to the creation of design guidelines and goals that are revealed in the urban pattern and architectural scale. Among the guidelines and goals of the master plan is the evocation of a sense of place through historic elements and the provision of greater connectivity to its context.

Preservation of plinth along N Capitol ST
Preservation of plinth along N Capitol ST

Conceptually, the master plan preserves and reinterprets the history of the site, while proposing ideas that allow for the site to function in a contemporary context. The silos, regulator houses and sand washers will be preserved and adaptively reused, allowing one to experience the structures as historical pieces of architecture, regaining different purpose in a new time. The McMillan site emerges as a plinth out of its adjacent urban context; its flatness a resultant of cavernous vaulted underground cells. Though the vaults have experienced significant structural degradation with the passage of time, some collapsing and others increasingly unstable and prone to eminent collapse, the master plan proposes the preservation and adaptive reuse of two cells (14 & 28). Providing visual connectivity to the site’s past use, the vaulted aesthetic is replicated in features throughout the site such as the community center. The master plan will also preserve the plinth-quality of the McMillan site, while recreating and reopening the historic Olmsted Walk that once traversed its perimeter.

Tripartite Organization of the McMillan site

Two historic service courts, each framed by the historic silos, regulator houses and sand washers, visually physically organize the site in tripartite form (see image to the right). This tripartite organization provides the pattern for the organization of uses on the site. Responding to the large scale architecture adjacent the northern border of the site, healthcare facilities and mixed-use multifamily housing are proposed before transitioning to row houses mediating the shift to the smaller scale architecture of the neighboring residential fabric. Providing a transition to the park and community center, the South Service Court becomes a civic space conducive for community activities, outdoor markets, events, and gatherings. Preserving the existing open plain and topography created by underground vaults, the community park provides passive open space replicating the current scale of the elevated plinth. Connecting the two service courts, three internal streets facilitate the movement and distribution of traffic throughout the site.

The ideals of the late 19th to early 20th century City Beautiful Movement, highly emphasized during the period of McMillan’s origin, are embraced in the sustainable design of the site. From an onsite stormwater management system consisting of rain gardens, a wetland and permeable pavement to help mitigate runoff, to the reuse of onsite resources, the proposed master plan approaches sustainable urbanism in a holistic method. Recognizing this commitment to sustainability and urbanism, the entire McMillan redevelopment will be certified LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND).

The collaborative process of the past few years has allowed the McMillan Master Plan to respond and evolve into a design reviving an important part of the city’s history through preservation, adaptive re-use and open spaces, while enriching the life of the city by not only reconnecting with the past, but also providing opportunities for the future.

McMillan: Fact Vs. Fiction




Fact v. Fiction


  • VMP’s plan creates three parks, including an expansive 6.25-acre central park with a community center and pool. If you add in the South Service Court and other public gathering places, there will be a total of 12 acres of new, public, open and green space. Specifically, of the 3½ block site, the majority – almost 2 blocks – will be open and green space distributed throughout the site.
  •  World-renowned landscape architects Nelson Byrd Woltz will design the public green space. They are famous for their work with urban parks, have garnered over 80 national and regional awards and have been featured in many national and international publications. This community will soon have one of the largest and best-designed parks not only in the District, but also in the region and in the country.
  •  While there was once a small park on the federal side of the McMillan site (near the reservoir, on the west side of First Street), the McMillan land that VMP is redeveloping was never a park. Historically, it was a working industrial site with manholes dotting the landscape every few feet, providing access for workers to the underground cells. In order to deliver water to the city, the site was in use all day and night, cleaning and pumping water.
  •  When the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant first opened, Olmsted, Jr. was commissioned to design a walking path around it that would offer residents a view without disturbing the daily work of the site.  This Olmsted Walk is being restored as part of the plan and will surround the entire redevelopment, connecting the parks and open spaces, providing engaging access and offering tremendous views of both the site and surrounding landmarks.  Every step of the walk will be publicly accessible and maintained. Finally, the fences on the site will be down, and there will be a park for residents to use and enjoy.
  • The very foundation of the VMP plan is a $22 million preservation program that will create exemplary design compatible with this historic landmark.
  •  The majority of the above grade structures will be preserved.  Every silo, every regulator house, every washer and every basin will be preserved and the historic courts will be maintained with special pavers.
  •  While the plan includes repurposing of underground cells, it is not feasible to place grocery retail inside the chambers or use the underground cells for foundation. Not only have retailers expressed opposition to the idea of an underground location here from a sales perspective, but the cost of making the cells safe enough for this type of use alone would make rental rates prohibitive for community and retail uses alike.
  •  Two underground cells (each the size of a football field) will be preserved, and the current plan includes repurposing Cell 14 for retail use.  Cell 28 will be preserved to view through the community center, as part of the planned memorialization.   The park will incorporate many features of a “cell with the lid off” as way of further using the unique structures of the site.
  •  The VMP plan incorporates water as a theme related to the history of the site. For example, the historic fountain currently located on the federal site will be relocated to the site. There will be spray grounds for children, a 25-meter pool inside the community center, a bio pond for water management and water features incorporating the historic silos.  There will also be historical memorialization, including community-planned and executed self-tours.
  •  The Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), in a unanimous vote found that VMP’s revised master plan “has been developed to retain important character-defining features of the site sufficient to convey its historic characteristics.“
  • Buildings will increase in size to the north west of the site, while eastern and southern sides of the plan will step down to work with the scale of existing neighborhoods.
  •  Two thirds of the total area of the site will be open and green space.  The remaining one third of the site will include local serving retail with a premium grocery store anchor, restaurants, community and cultural space. There will also be housing and offices on site.
  •  VMP’s plan will result in 3,200 new, permanent jobs, 3,000 construction jobs and generate $1.2 billion in new tax revenues. 35% of the local contracting opportunities are required to go to certified local, small and disadvantaged businesses and more than half of all jobs created must be offered to District residents.
  • On October 31st, 2013, the HPRB voted unanimously that VMP’s revised master plan and design concepts satisfied their requirements.  Because they cannot vote on demolition, they referred the project to the Mayor’s Agent.  The project now moves forward to the Mayor’s Agent and Zoning Commission for additional approvals.
  • In 2006, the National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC) issued an RFQ to select a development partner for the McMillan site. The selection process spanned several months and included several community meetings and community votes. The initial process was conducted by former Mayor Fenty, signed off on by MAG leaders and later evaluated and held up by former Mayor Gray.
  •  The eventual five bidders were judged on their land development capabilities, vertical development capabilities and financial capacity.  Community members attended tours of the vertical development projects for all five bidders. In July 2007, Vision McMillan Partners was selected from among the five bidders by the NCRC because of their collective experience with complex redevelopment projects that present a number of overlapping priorities such as historic preservation and open space.

McMillan Park

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