FOR YEARS, NOBODY PAID MUCH attention to the aging Sears store that anchored a hill in Tenleytown, a Northwest Washington neighborhood just south of the Maryland-District line. When the concrete, curvilinear, Deco-inspired store opened in 1941 it made quite a splash, especially the two ramps that swooped up and down from the store's novel rooftop parking lot.
But over time it became a symbol of a retailer that had lost its way; even a subway station, opened directly below the store in the early '80s, didn't help attract more customers. When Sears closed the location in 1993 it was converted into a giant hardware store. After that local chain went belly-up six years later it sat abandoned, a building with historic landmark status but no life.
Thanks to the work of some forward-thinking developers and architects, it's now home to two national retailers—Best Buy and The Container Store—and 204 luxury condominium units. The apartments (ranging from studios to three-bedroom units) are part of a four-story, 200,000-square-foot building that was constructed on top of the old Sears. Seen from certain angles, the metal-wrapped apartment building—called CityLine at Tenley—seems to hover over the old retail space, which, it turns out, was sturdy enough to act as a platform for the residential building. Parking? For the apartment owners, it's where it always was—on the roof of the retail space.
“We felt very confident that we could treat the existing building like a tabletop,” says Robert Sponseller, project architect and a principal at Shalom Baranes Associates in Washington. “We wanted to add a new building that contrasted and juxtaposed the old building, leaving each with its own identity but arriving at an interesting whole.”
While footings had to be reinforced, the original structural columns were capable of carrying the weight of the residential building. “We were able to take the columns up through the roof and create a transfer slab or mat,” says developer Richard Lake, managing principal at leasing agent Madison Retail Group and partner at Roadside Development. “That allowed us to get off the retail grid and use a metal-stud, concrete structure to support the residential units.”
“It also allowed us to open the retail and operate it for two years while we built the residential building,” adds Armond Spikell, principal at Roadside Development and Madison Retail Group. Best Buy opened in October 2003, The Container Store in October 2004, and by October 2005, residents were moving into Cityline.
Of course, weight was still a factor in the design. “Aesthetics and technical concerns were pushing us in a certain direction,” says Sponseller. “A metal skin was the lightest option, plus it contrasted nicely with the original building.” Now, the exterior façade of the retail space, with its checkerboard pattern of board-formed concrete panels, balances nicely with the condo building's prefabricated aluminum panels. “We used two different colors, a darker flat panel and a lighter, furrowed silver panel,” says Sponseller. “The technical and aesthetic needs dovetailed nicely here.”
Project: Cityline at Tenley, Washington; Size: 600 to 1,784 square feet; Total units: 204; Price: $500,000 to $1.3 million; Builder: LF Jennings, Falls Church, Va. Developers: Madison Marquette, Washington; Roadside Development, Washington; Architect: Shalom Baranes Associates, Washington
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.