So Long, Van Ness Square (Eventually) …

Van Ness Square, partially demolished, on Dec. 28, 2013.

Van Ness Square, partially demolished, on Dec. 28, 2013.

As part of my ongoing Soapstone Valley project, I’ve been monitoring the slow demolition of a large yellow-brick commercial building on the valley’s far northwestern edge. Van Ness Square, built in 1938 as the Chevy Chase Ice Palace, the building has been a notable fixture on this stretch of upper Connecticut Avenue corridor.

Streets of Washington published an authoritative history on the building in 2010 and noted that much of the original structure was remodeled:

WMAL, the predecessor of WJLA-TV, broadcasted on Channel 7, and as a child, I remember a large flashing neon sign on the building at night that would read 7…7…7…Good Looking! The sign was especially noticeable as you came out of the Hot Shoppes restaurant across the street, perhaps after enjoying some delicious Pappy Parker’s fried chicken.

In 1988, WJLA moved from the old ice palace building to the Intelsat Building several blocks south. The owners of the old building then embarked on an extensive renovation and remodeling of the space, substantially compromising its historic fabric. The entire rear facade of the building was removed and the interior largely gutted. The cavernous second floor, which originally held the ice skating rink and had been subsequently used for broadcast studios, was divided horizontally to create an extra floor of office space.

And now, it’s being torn down to make way for the mixed-use Park Van Ness, to be completed in 2015. Although I’ve observed a few months of interior demolition, after Thanksgiving, the work ramped up. Today, the building’s northern section is gone, but there’s a lot more to go plus some sizable site excavation work to come.

The exterior of the new Park Van Ness, when it is eventually built, will be vaguely Art Decoish with yellow brick and other design features that will somewhat echo the now-doomed building. The old building, with its imposing yellow-brick curtain wall, has always been dead space along the avenue. Despite the building being obsolete, I’ve always liked the use of yellow brick, which was used to construct many apartment houses in D.C. during the same general time period when the Chevy Chase Ice Palace was built.

We’ll see what happens over the next year or so of construction. In the near term, the section of Soapstone Valley closest to the construction site will be getting sunnier with Van Ness Square being slowly demolished.

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