DECEMBER 3, 2014

Some Lanier Heights History

The INTENSIVE-LEVEL SURVEY OF LANIER HEIGHTS (2008) provides us with some detailed information about the neighborhood's history. The entire 195 page report is available at the ANC-1C website. The excerpts below were selected for their relevance to current downzoning proposals.   

[Circa 1893] Residents in Lanier Heights, together with citizens from the surrounding neighborhoods such as Mount Pleasant, Meridian Hill, and Washington Heights, complained vigorously at public hearings . . . (page 46)

In 1902, property was condemned for the widening of Columbia Road. John M. Clapp, an oil producer living on Vermont Avenue, N.W., owned property fronting on Columbia Road, which had become a burgeoning commercial corridor upon the arrival of the streetcar line. Clapp strongly objected to the loss of his investment property; he was ultimately forced to relinquish his land. Similar objections were made by property owners in the northwestern section of Lanier Heights regarding the condemnation of their land for the creation of a “highway” to the National Zoological Park, which was created by an Act of 
Congress in 1889. (page 50)

 . . . The transient nature of the city mandated a substantial number of rental properties. Consequently, in Lanier Heights, the number of rental properties far exceeded owner-occupied buildings after the turn of the twentieth century. The 1910 United States Census, the first survey to record information regarding ownership, documents that the vast majority of the residential buildings in Lanier Heights were used as rental housing, often interspersed with owner-occupied houses. Those buildings along Columbia Road were all rental, while those on 18th Street were typically owner-occupied. (page 51) 

Attached Dwellings and Rowhouses 
Rowhouses first appeared in the neighborhood in 1900 with the construction of nine attached single-family dwellings designed by Clarence L. Harding on Adams Mill Road. The houses were constructed for the real estate investment company of Swartzell and Hensey. These early rowhouses, commonly rising three stories in height, are all masonry construction (stone and brick), typically located along the streetcar route. Rowhouses from this period include two to nine attached dwellings, the average containing three to five houses. One example of 17 attached rowhouses was constructed on Columbia Road in 1911 . . . (page 59)

Apartment Buildings 
Between 1900 and 1916, a total of 24 permits were granted for apartment buildings in Lanier Heights. Like contemporaneous subdivisions such as neighboring Washington Heights, the apartment buildings in Lanier Heights tend to occupy highly traveled streets and larger corner lots. More than half of the apartments constructed during this period were located along Columbia Road, primarily because of its accessibility to the streetcar line. A number of apartments more modest in scale and massing were located on interior streets such as Lanier Place or Ontario Road. Imposing buildings like the Ontario and many of the apartments erected in the second and third quarters of the twentieth century occupied entire squares. (page 63)

. . . By 1909, the population of Lanier Heights had grown to 374 persons, which was substantially lower than neighboring Washington Heights (690), Mount Pleasant (1,577), Meridian Hill (1,671), and Columbia Heights (3,246). The lower population is easily attributed to the small size of Lanier Heights compared to the larger surrounding subdivisions. By 1911, the population of Lanier Heights had risen to 967, a comparatively consistent increase for the area. (page 80)

A sampling of the 1910 census documents the vast majority of the residents in Lanier Heights were whites, with a few African Americans living along Columbia Road . . . A few households in 1910 had at least one servant who served as the cook and lived with the family. These servants were typically female and African American. Households with servants would not necessarily be considered wealthy, but were middle-class workers who often had children, extended family, or boarders living in the house as well. The number of school children living in the neighborhood was also high as it consisted primarily of young families . . . (page 80)

The 1918 city directory documents that Lanier Heights was improved by approximately 255 buildings, with over 1,000 residents. The discrepancy of residential buildings versus residents is explained by the 22 apartment buildings. (page 81)

Progressive Development of Lanier Heights: 1919-1949 
The end of World War I in 1919 reignited development in Lanier Heights, prompting it to grow and develop as a residential neighborhood supported by a flourishing commercial corridor. Rows of attached houses and large-scale apartment buildings filled the unimproved lots as commercial development began in earnest with the construction of purpose-built structures along Columbia Road. By 1925, few available lots remained in Lanier Heights . . . (page 82)

Gradual Development: White-Glove Era
Lanier Heights and the surrounding neighborhoods that now make up Adams Morgan were entering what historian Jeffrey Henig termed its “white glove era” or “golden era,” when “genteel women…came out with white gloves and had tea in the afternoon.” The larger community had “developed into an urban neighborhood with a cultural and social identity of its own.” The urban nature of Lanier Heights in particular was generated by the rows of attached houses and freestanding apartment buildings . . . (page 82)

Attached Dwellings and Rowhouses 
Like freestanding single-family dwellings, the number of attached dwellings and rowhouses constructed in Lanier Heights between 1919 and 1949 was limited, as the area was largely developed. New construction of this particular building type occurred just between 1919 and 1925, and was confined to Lanier Place, Argonne Place, and 18th Street. This included two sets of twin dwellings and five groupings of rowhouses, providing a total of 44 dwellings. (page 86)

Apartment Buildings
In Lanier Heights . . . the construction of single family housing was markedly limited . . . Twenty-two purpose-built apartments were constructed in the 1920s, with another seven buildings erected in the late 1930s and late 1940s. This enclave of apartment buildings in Lanier Heights dating from between 1919 and 1949 illustrate this particular building type’s evolution from luxury apartments, which dominated the landscape in the early twentieth century, to the conventional apartments, and then evolving into mid-rise apartments and garden apartment complexes by the 1920s and 1930s.

. . . The apartments constructed in Lanier Heights between 1919 and 1949 were mid-rise and garden-apartment complexes, often with irregular plans that created courtyards. The buildings rose from two to eight stories in height, the average standing two to five stories on a raised basement. The sloping terrace allowed for variations in the height of the buildings. For example, the Phillips Terrace Apartments (now Chalfonte Apartments) at 1601 Argonne Place, N.W. stands four stories in height along Argonne Place and five stories on Lanier Place and Harvard Street. Similarly, the apartment building at 1820 Harvard Street, N.W. rises three stories on the eastern end with a fully exposed raised basement on the western end. The Calverton Apartments, constructed in 1919 by Harry Wardman at 1673 Columbia Road, N.W., is the tallest building constructed during this period in Lanier Heights, rising eight stories in height along Quarry Road. 

The topography coupled with the developers’ acumen to provide modern amenities that would attract buyers resulted in parking garages in the basements of several apartment buildings in Lanier Heights. Providing a garage in the lower story of an apartment building was one solution to the critical issue of parking that was a problem for growing urban communities nationwide by the mid-1920s. A 1925 article in the Evening Star reports that 20% of all District workers were riding in automobiles to work rather than using public transportation such as streetcars or buses . . . The garage as part of the apartment building design began in 1923 with the construction of parking within the buildings at the Adams Mill House at 2630 Adams Mill Road, N.W. and the building at 1705 Lanier Place, N.W.   Harvard Hall at 1650 Harvard Street and The Richelieu at 1750 Harvard Street, both 
constructed in 1928, included parking garages in the basements. The building at 2901 18th Street, N.W. erected in 1937 has a parking garage. The building at 3025 Ontario Road, N.W., built in 1948, is five stories in height with a raised basement garage. The Saxony Apartments, rising six stories on a raised basement with garage, was constructed in 1949. None of the buildings constructed in 1925 include parking garages. (pages 91-92)

Apartment Types
. . . Conventional low-rise apartment buildings dominated the landscape of Lanier Heights, with eleven examples constructed between 1919 and 1949. This building type, the most prevalent throughout the District of Columbia, provided a solution to needs of a rapidly expanding population by providing many dwelling units within a single building by increasing effectiveness of available architectural and financial resources. Further, it permitted efficient use of land in locations like Lanier Heights that were served by public transportation and utilities, thus directly affecting patterns of population growth. (pages 94-95)

Residents of Lanier Heights 
The population of Lanier Heights grew steadily in the early twentieth century, becoming a stable residential neighborhood supported by commercial enterprises and social facilities in the second quarter of the twentieth century. Historic maps and census records document that by the mid-1920s, the neighborhood was largely developed. The nationwide need for housing, which had a tremendous effect on the nation’s capital during the Great Depression and World War II, prompted new construction elsewhere in the city. Lanier Heights, although no longer the target of extensive development after 1925, was greatly affected by the need for housing as the population continued to increase. To aid in the housing shortage and their own economic stability, many residents took in boarders or rehabilitated single-family dwellings for use as apartments and boarding houses. The larger rowhouses characteristically offered more rooms that could be offered to boarders and lodgers, especially those buildings along Columbia Road. The number of boarders ranged from one to five persons, who typically worked for the federal government. In rare instances six to eleven boarders joined the household. In 1920, eleven boarders were living with a family of four in the three-story rowhouse at 1754 Columbia Road, which had been rehabilitated to serve as a boarding house . . (pages 110-111)

Lanier Heights to Adams Morgan: 1950 TO 1962 
Major changes occurred in Lanier Heights during the second half of the twentieth century as demographics changed and older buildings, especially along Columbia Road or those occupying large lots, were lost to new development. While residents in other neighborhoods called for zoning changes to prevent uncontrolled density and new commercial development, Lanier Heights and its surrounding neighborhoods did not challenge existing zoning and actually encouraged the change, calling for better shopping and community facilities and less traffic. (page 115)


Limits to Growth Already Exist 
The proponents of downzoning have greatly exaggerated the benefits of switching to R-4 zoning while ignoring the potential negative impact of such a change on both current and future Lanier Heights home owners. 

Their website and flyer both prominently feature alarming photos of pop-up developments in Lanier Heights and elsewhere in the city that are not permissible under R-5-B zoning. Their photos highlight two Ontario Road pop-ups and one at 1031 V Street NW that are located in commercial zones C-B-2, which permit 65 foot heights. Except for this commercial half-block of Ontario Road, the zoning for Lanier Heights row houses has a fifty foot height limit, only ten feet more than the height of most existing homes.

Proponents of downzoning claim there is "no limit" on the number of floors or dwelling units under our current zoning. In fact a fifty foot height limit and 1.8 floor-area-ratio (F.A.R.) under R-5-B creates a practical limit of five floors and three or four dwelling units for typical Lanier Heights row houses.

Few row house lots in Lanier Heights are large enough for five or more dwellings, and two already are under development and nearing completion: 1726 Lanier Place, a semi-detached end-unit row house and 1767 Lanier Place, which actually encompasses not one but two large lots next door to Engine Company 21.

Undeveloped semi-detached end-unit row houses sitting on extra large lots in Lanier Heights are rare. There may not be any left at all. But proponents of downzoning want to impose R-4 zoning limits anyway. They oppose even the modest development rights home owners have under current zoning. They believe they can stop neighborhood development and preserve Lanier Heights unchanged as it exists today.

We call this "The Flawed Theory of Downzoning" (see page 8 of our report).

Washington Post, November 28, 2014:
In a city filled with pop-up loathers and lovers, D.C. ponders its mini-skyscrapers

Green Space & Green Living
Lanier Heights is fortunate to have so many trees lining the streets and in the back yards of row houses. As the photo below shows, there is an abundance of roof space that seems ideal for solar panels. 

Some people worry that pop-ups could reduce sunlight reaching these (mostly not installed as yet) solar panels and make them less effective when they finally are installed someday. There are better solutions to this still largely hypothetical problem than banning pop-ups. One solution has already been achieved in Lanier Heights, where the developer of a row house condo project moved a neighbor's solar panel onto the roof of the new pop-up.

Many of the large back yards on this block use less than the 60% maximum lot coverage. Under current zoning rules, these houses could be developed to their maximum living area without loss of back yard green space by "popping-up" to the 50 foot height limit. Under the 40 foot height limit that comes with the proposed R-4 zoning, maximum living area can only be reached by building over back yard green space up to the 60% limit. 

These row houses inevitably will be developed to maximize available living area. Today the choice is between (1) "popping-up" another 10 feet in the front and building back over existing rooftops or (2) building over more back yard green space to keep the height at 40 feet. If current zoning is changed to R-4, the first option will no longer be possible. Any future development that aims for the maximum amount of permitted living area will have to build over currently undeveloped back yard green space.

Row house living is energy efficient. Row house condos increase energy savings. Pop-up condos can save back yard green space. We expect many more solar panels will be installed in the coming years. Simple solutions for pop-ups and solar panels to coexist have been demonstrated in Lanier Heights already

A Neighborhood of Millionaires
You don't need to be a millionaire to live in Lanier Heights, but as single family row house prices near one million dollars, you'll need an annual salary of at least $180,000, an excellent credit history, little or no debt and a down payment of about $200,000 just to qualify for a mortgage. 

Converting a row house into three or four new homes means creating condos that can sell for less than half the cost of an entire row house. 

That fifty percent difference is a big deal, especially for people who are starting their careers. Young families with dual $50,000 annual incomes can have a chance at home ownership in Lanier Heights.

Although the largest condos may be almost as expensive as an entire row house, don't forget the smaller homes in each development that sell for much less. 

So Many Different Neighborhoods

Lanier Heights takes its name from Elizabeth Francis Lanier Dunn, a successful real estate speculator, who subdivided the area in 1883 in anticipation of the need for new residential neighborhoods. One of the last developments was Argonne Terrace, completed in 1920, a group of seventeen row houses on one side of a new street named Argonne Place. 

Today Argonne Place row houses sit opposite two massive apartment complexes, with smaller complexes near the intersection with Lanier Place and a parking garage with swimming pool near the intersection with Harvard Street. Not visible in this photo are recent pop-ups, one completed in 2007 and three currently under development. These row houses were built on much smaller lots than those typical of Lanier Place and consequently, unlike Lanier Place row houses, have virtually no back yard green space as evidenced in the photo below.

Argonne Place is just one example of the different neighborhoods of Lanier Heights. Ontario Road between Lanier Place and Columbia Road is split between row houses that sit in commercial and residential zones. Like Argonne Place, row houses on 18th Street in Lanier Heights occupy just one side of two small blocks, facing massive apartment complexes or clusters of smaller apartment buildings. 

The proposal to downzone Lanier Heights treats all these different row house neighborhoods as exactly the same. Some residents on Lanier Place may worry about preserving their back yard gardens or increased noise from more people or keeping out corner stores, but those issues are not very relevant for areas like Argonne Place or Ontario Road. 

More detailed discussion of the different neighborhoods within Lanier Heights and how each will be affected differently by downzoning can be found on pages 15 and 16 of our report.

Zoning Regulations Review Pending

At the ANC-1C Parking, Zoning and Transportation Committee meeting held on September 17, 2014:

Commissoner Dehbozorgi said she was not comfortable voting on property rights unless the ANC provided the affected property owners with notice. She said the entire ANC needed to address the issue of development in Lanier Heights, not just the PZT committee. 

Commissioner Reynolds expressed his belief that any action from the ANC should await the final Zoning Regulations Review (ZRR). Once the zoning commission has finished its review, then the ANC could hold a referendum on a set date, with a ballot box, paper ballots, and proper voter identification.

A member of the audience said if there was a neighborhood vote on property rights, the ANC should poll every home owner, by mail, using ANC funds, and give neighbors at least 30 days to respond.

Commissioner Reynolds seemed amenable to this suggestion.

We agree with Commissioner Reynolds: The ANC should not vote on Lanier Heights zoning proposals until after the zoning rewrite is finished, followed by an ANC-sponsored neighborhood vote that polls every home owner by mail.

DECEMBER 3, 2014

     Advisory Neigborhood Commissioners are your neighbors. They've volunteered their time and talents to serve our community. They want to know your opinion on the question of downzoning Lanier Heights. You can use the contact information from the ANC-1C website posted below to call or email them.

     Although this is an important and emotional issue for many neighbors, please keep your comments polite and respectful. Be brief and to the point.

     We've noticed that sometimes the Single Member District (SMD) maps copied below and the lists of addresses that go with them don't match. If you're not sure which commissioner represents you, or if you live in SMD-08 which does not have a commissioner right now, be sure to copy your message to Billy Simpson, the ANC Chair, at (phone 202-271-4851).

Please copy all emails to

The full text of the downzoning proposal as submitted to the ANC is HERE, as is the proposal submitted by NEIGHBORS AGAINST DOWNZONING to let Lanier Heights home owners KEEP their current zoning rights. 

Our detailed analysis of the problems of downzoning 
Lanier Heights are viewable HERE in a 28-page report.

UPDATE: Chairman Simpson confirms the maps and address lists on the ANC-1C website do not reflect redrawn lines from 2013. Minor changes affect Single Member Districts SMD-05 and SMD-06.








VACANT • SMD-08 • Contact Billy Simpson SMD-06



The pop-up debate in Lanier Heights pits "property rights" against "neighborhood character" 

Greater Greater Washington, November 20, 2014


1696 Lanier Place NW 
(2nd from left, in case you were wondering).

Do you know about the other "ugly pop-ups" destroying Lanier Heights?

Produced by NEIGHBORS AGAINST DOWNZONING, an all volunteer group of friends, neighbors and home owners in Washington, D.C.  Established 2014. Contact: