Sorrento Apartments, District of Columbia
The Sorrento Apartments in Washington, DC’s Washington Heights Historic District was recently rehabilitated into 23 affordable housing units. Both low-income housing and federal historic preservation tax credits were used to subsidize construction costs. Built in two phases, 1905 and 1908, this 4-story brick structure had suffered from neglect and was structurally deficient due to deferred maintenance and water infiltration. Its exterior was covered with numerous coats of yellow paint, which obscured floral swags, herringbone patterning, corbeling and other accents below. Only half of its original terracotta-tiled roof existed and its overall appearance looked “tired” inside and out.
A local developer undertook its rehabilitation, removing thick paint from its brick walls and creating attractive, reasonably-priced apartments. The before-and-after transformation is truly remarkable. Back is the red brick, a fully-tiled red roof, the attractive masonry details and the original twelve-over-one double-hung windows, which had been replaced with one-over-one windows over time. On the interior, mosaic and terrazzo floors were repaired and the overall floor plan was retained. Initially, code officials required that the open stair off the first-floor lobby be enclosed for fire separation, but allowed a creative solution: installation of a smoke baffle at the ceiling at the base of the stairs. In the event of a fire, this transparent glass lip (approximately 18” in height), concentrates smoke so that a sprinkler head above and a smoke detector nearby are activated. Otherwise, smoke would rise and dissipate without triggering these life-safety devices. With this component in place, the building is safe for occupants and the main stairs, a character-defining feature of the interior, are little changed.