If you ever visit Gordon Kit’s house, he just might invite you to get in the shower. That spot, the retired patent attorney will explain, is the best place to understand a big reason why he spent the past four years working to win historic designation for his house. When you peer through the bathroom window, you can get a clear view of the neighboring lot, where a cream-colored behemoth is currently under construction.
That Colonial-ish house is replacing the 1960s home that used to occupy the space, a midcentury-modern structure with walls of glass and a pool that evoked Palm Springs. But then its owner died and a developer razed it. Kit was determined to avoid the same fate for his midcentury-modern in DC’s Palisades. “If you look at the neighborhood, all these old houses have been torn down and they’ve built McMansions—these unattractive things,” he says.
Of course, in a city famous for ornate Victorian rowhouses and grand neoclassical buildings, plenty of people would cast a similar disparaging eye at Kit’s house. But midcentury buildings have gotten far more popular over the last decade or two, cherished by a growing segment of architecture fans who appreciate the clean lines and low-slung profiles.
Photograph © by Anice Hoachlander. House developer, Darryl Pounds Architect, Matt McDonald/MCD Studio.
Kim Williams is an architectural historian for DC documenting the District’s midcentury-modern homes, including this one off MacArthur Boulevard. Photograph courtesy of Kim Williams.
At the same time, they keep being torn down. Several other DC homes by the architect who designed Kit’s house—lauded modernist Jean-Pierre Trouchaud—have already been destroyed. The house that used to be next door to Kit’s was designed by a notable firm called Diegert and Yerkes. Down the street, a 1950s modern once featured in Better Homes & Gardens got the wrecking ball a few years ago. In Forest Hills, a midcentury-modern by Brown & Wright—the first architecture firm in Washington to be racially integrated—was bulldozed, then replaced with a 17,000-square-foot limestone villa that’s currently on the market for $12 million.
So Kit had good reason to seek protection for his own home. At first, he didn’t know how to go about it; the process of getting a historic designation is complicated and a bit opaque. So he sought out help from the DC government. That’s when he got in touch with a woman named Kim Williams, who, it turned out, was eager to take up what she considered an urgent task: saving these underappreciated residences throughout the District.
Williams’s job description—architectural historian at DC’s Historic Preservation Office—brings to mind images of red brick and white marble, the kinds of prewar buildings that typically get the preservation treatment. She has …….