Foundation to Buy Fillmore School

April 22, 2015
The Georgetown Current

Burleith and upper Georgetown residents worried about redevelopment of the former Fillmore School are breathing easier, following yesterday’s announcement that Georgetown’s S&R Foundation has a contract to buy the 1801 35th St. site.

The foundation already owns two high-profile properties in the area: the Evermay estate at 1623 28th St. and the Halcyon House at 3400 Prospect St., both purchased in 2011. Started by local couple Sachiko Kuno and Ryuji Ueno,  the foundation serves as an “incubator” for individuals with talent — focusing on music at Evermay, and science and entrepreneurship at Halcyon.

Owning the Fillmore facility will give the foundation space to extend that concept to visual and fine arts — even though its current occupant, the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, will relocate.

“Through S&R’s expansion of arts education at the Fillmore School, we will continue S&R’s commitment to supporting excellence in artistry, innovation and entrepreneurship in an environment that encourages international collaboration,” Kuno says in a news release. “We also are excited to expand our commitment to supporting talented artists in Washington, D.C., especially those from underserved communities.”

George Washington University acquired the property last year when it absorbed the Corcoran’s education programs and its downtown art museum. From the beginning, university officials said the Fillmore property was a key component to the deal — valuable land that could be sold to finance other terms of the acquisition. The Corcoran arts program is being moved to other university-owned properties.

The university reportedly declined to choose a buyer based on anything but the contract price — despite community calls to favor a new owner that would benefit the neighborhood — but a spokesperson said yesterday that the S&R Foundation has multiple benefits.

“We are pleased that the Fillmore building will continue to be used by the purchaser for arts education,” spokesperson Candace Smith wrote in an email to The Current. “The university will use funds from the sale for the renovation of the Corcoran 17th Street building and for programs within the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design.”

Details remain skimpy about the foundation’s plans for the 35th Street property, which includes the historic 1893 Fillmore building and its adjacent surface parking lot. The news release speaks generally about the arts use, but foundation spokesperson Shreena Patel said yesterday that she had no further specifics about planned operations, physical modifications to the property or the timeline for moving forward.

But so strong is S&R’s reputation in the community that one neighbor mentioned it unbidden when the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission discussed the property last month. The group was reviewing proposals floated by two other prospective buyers, who would have converted the school into condos and constructed row houses on the parking lot — concepts that neighbors and the commission overwhelmingly opposed as too dense.

“We would love it if a school would buy it, we would love it if that nice Japanese couple would add it to their portfolio, but we recognize they might not do that and it’s going to be developed,” 34th Street resident Greg Kaufman said March 2.

Neighborhood commissioners applauded S&R’s decision to do just that. “The S&R Foundation has demonstrated a sincere track record of addressing community concerns when they acquired two other significant properties in Georgetown,” commissioner Ed Solomon, whose single-member district includes the property, wrote in an email to The Current. “I expect the same positive relationship as the Fillmore project moves forward.”

Commission chair Ron Lewis echoed the sentiment. “The S&R Foundation has strong and growing philanthropic programs and a collegial, good-neighbor approach in the community,” he wrote in an email.

Smith, the university spokesperson, declined to share the sales price for Fillmore, which had been listed at $14 million. “The purchase price will become public when the sale is completed this summer,” she wrote.