The Kennedy-Warren Apartment Building is an art deco apartment complex between the Cleveland Park and Woodley Park neighborhoods in Washington, DC. Built in 1931, the building has undergone numerous expansions in the years since then. In 1994, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, considered one of the most significant examples of the luxury apartment house type in Washington, D.C. Today, the Kennedy-Warren still rents out apartments to tenants, who have recently advocated for the building's preservation.
In the late 1920s, the land along Connecticut Avenue in
Washington, D.C. was rapidly expanding. Fifty apartment buildings appeared
along the avenue in the 1920s. In 1929, Monroe Warren, Sr., a known
developer of apartment buildings in Washington, D.C., approached fellow
apartment developer Edgar Kennedy about a collaborative build project for a new
apartment building in Cleveland Park near Rock Creek Park and the National Zoological Park. Both
men were deeply interested in the prospect and proceeded to hire architect
Joseph Younger to design the apartment buildings. Once everything was in place
for development, Warren and Kennedy procured funding from the B. F. Saul
Company, and in 1930, construction on the building began in a prime D.C. location.
They planned to have 441 apartments with a total of 2,029 rooms.
Soon into the construction process, however, Warren and Kennedy
discovered that a loan that they had negotiated with the Integrity Trust
Company would not come through, as the Great Depression was ravaging the
American economy. Construction floundered as Warren and Kennedy struggled
to find the funding that they needed to complete the building, and they
ultimately filed for bankruptcy in 1932. Joseph Younger also suffered financial
worries during the same year, though not necessarily related to the
Kennedy-Warren, and as a result, he committed suicide in May of 1932. The B. F. Saul Company overtook the construction
project and saw it through until the building was completed in 1931. Still, the
completed building was only half of what Kennedy-Warren originally
planned, with only 210 apartments. It was enlarged again in 1935.
Despite the financial disasters that surrounded the building’s
construction, the Kennedy-Warren went on to be hugely successful.
It joined other luxury apartments along Connecticut Avenue such
as the Cathedral
Mansions and its art deco architecture reflected the new Klingle Valley
steps away from the apartments. In addition to its private residences, the
building originally included a small grocery story, gymnasium, beauty salon,
barber shop, lounges, a dining room, a ballroom, and office spaces. The basic
apartment had one room, a bath, and a dining room with a kitchen, while others
had up to five rooms, three baths, a kitchen, and a fireplace. It attracted the likes of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's personal
advisor, Harry Hopkins, and Lyndon B. Johnson when he served in Congress. The
Kennedy-Warren is designed in the art deco style, which reflected the
contemporary taste of its architects and tenants. Its commanding brick facade
features carved geometric patterns
and aluminum decorations, considered the
first apartment building in D.C. to incorporate aluminum so extensively. In
1994, the Kennedy-Warren was added to the National Register of Historic
The B. F. Saul Company retains ownership of the Kennedy-Warren
and the Klingle Corporation is the landlord. They have undertaken major
building and renovation projects over the years, which have been the source of controversy
among tenants and the historic preservation community. In 2002, the unfinished south
wing was completed and used Joseph Younger's 1931 plans for the exterior design.
Tenants, however, were subjected to surcharges and increased rents if they did
not sign a voluntarily agreement securing their current rent prices, while rents
in the historic wing apartments doubled under renovation. Furthermore, tenants
and local preservation groups, such as the Art Deco Society of Washington,
D.C., criticized the owner and landlord for undertaking renovations that would
destroy the building’s historic architectural integrity. Elements that rarely
survive changing times were threatened, including art deco door knockers, an early
forced air cooling system that took advantage of Rock Creek Park’s breezes, and
shafts for milkmen to deliver fresh dairy products. In response to the price
increases and renovation approaches, the Kennedy-Warren tenants staged what
local officials called “the first-large scale rent strike of its kind in the
city” in January 2008. Ultimately, official rejected the rent hikes.
Restorations of the historic building took place with guidance from the Art
Deco Society. Some historic features were preserved, such as doors and hardware,
while new wiring, plumbing, central air, kitchen appliances, and washers and
dryers were added. These controversies raise timely and universal questions
about the balance between business, modernization, and historic preservation.