Even though I’ve only lived in DC for about seven years, the city has changed a lot. Understatement of the year, right?
Whereas before you were warned, down to the street number, where you should not be venturing out AT ALL and ONLY IF YOU WERE MADE OF STERNER STUFF, these days we seem to focus on more exciting and bourgeois markers: restaurants sprout up left and right where before there were closed down storefronts and urban decay (the sad phenomenon, not the cosmetics).
I’ve been fascinated by the little inconveniently-placed¹ bit of K street NW –the 600 block– just east of Mount Vernon Square for some time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it as anything other than some hollowed-out shell of construction/post-apocalyptic doom. Recently, however, it seems that fortunes have traded sides of the street. The two pictures above are of the north side of K street NW, 600 block. I had no idea that entire houses could be moved around as if they were made of LEGO blocks, but apparently, they can. Of course, you may have just recently become aware of the 600 block yourself, thanks to its celebrity former tenant, NPR. This is the south side of the 600 block:
This is how the old NPR building looked as of Saturday, June 29. The demolition has started taking place over the last couple of weeks. I imagine, without doing any research whatsoever, that demolishing a building that took up an entire city lot but which also stood fairly close to other construction has to be done slowly and carefully, especially if there are any salvageable or reusable fixtures within. Somehow, when I heard that NPR was leaving for its shiny new headquarters on North Capitol Street (and oh, how shiny and new and efficient they are) I imagined the building would just house someone else. Surely a building is just a building, and it can provide shelter for someone else? Don’t we have older buildings than this one?
Below, the old NPR building viewed from the west, is a sight that won’t be greeting me on my way home for much longer:
Back to my imagination: At first it would be weird, sure. No, that’s not the NPR building. People (me) would drive by and look up and maybe miss the brightly red, black and blue N, P and R facing west toward Mount Vernon Square, and then wonder who the new tenants were. Maybe it would be a well known business or maybe it would be many different offices. Maybe they’d grow resentful that the building would still be called “the old NPR building” even twenty years into the future– much in the way the Macy’s building is still called “the old Hecht’s building,” even by people who never knew it as the old Hecht’s, for instance. (Me again!) I guess I still don’t know why that little glassy slice of cake had to go. I’m not sure I will miss it a lot, but maybe just a little? Is it possible to miss something that will not remain a void for long? Is it possible to miss something that meant nothing to you other than through a tenuous mind connection– a landmark, a focal point, a vague association with what you should definitely be listening to on the radio, instead of DC 101 and Jack FM?²
But I suppose that’s the nature of all things, not just old buildings: everything comes and goes, and some things make more of an impression than others in our psyches. Maybe all the talk about the new NPR building and its shiny efficiency are just a polite and smart way of really saying that we’re all a little sad you left your stodgy little building, NPR. That we miss your letters. That we think your new expensive digs are a bit of a sell-out, because, let’s face it: organizing a media day so that everyone can see how pretty your new home is doesn’t totally suit you: it’s a little too much like bragging. It doesn’t go with socially-relevant stories told in hushed tones.
I guess what I am really trying to say is that we’re having trouble adapting to change. In a few years, no one will remember this: it’ll just be a footnote. Maybe in a few more years, you’ll move to even shinier, even newer digs even farther east, and no one will bat an eyelash. Then we will take pictures of another half-gutted building and feel just a little sad, and then move on.
1. I say “inconveniently placed” because of all the spots in the city where you would need to turn left or right into oncoming traffic during rush hour, this is one spot in particular where I think I would rather try maggot caviar or pierce a part of my body instead. Then again, I have actually done it and I’m still alive, so maybe I am overstating just how crummy this intersection is. Nah.
2. Just think of how much more socially acceptable it would be if instead of belting out the wrong lyrics to any David Bowie song by way of showing your depth, you could actually quote a recent episode of “All Things Considered”? I’m still stinging from the last time I told someone that some strange fascination fascinates me. Not to mention, I’d also know what’s happening in the world. (Although really, that’s what Twitter is for.)