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Abandoned But Not Forgotten

by Benazir Shah
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A view of 2210 R Street. Photograph by Benazir Shah

A view of 2210 R Street. Photograph by Benazir Shah

Islamabad’s high-value properties in Washington, D.C., have been left to rot.

Crossing through three of Washington’s four quadrants, Massachusetts Avenue—home to the U.S. capital’s Embassy Row—is a historic landmark. The 81-acre district features several 19th and 20th century buildings and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. But amid this grandeur are two properties that have seen better times. Separated by distance but conjoined by fate, the buildings at 2315 Massachusetts Avenue and 2210 R Street have long since been abandoned—leaving their owner, the Pakistan government, with expensive property that no one seems to want.

Moran House, at 2315 Massachusetts Avenue, is the larger and more attractive of the two locations, valued at approximately $18 million. Named after its first occupant, Francis Berger Moran, the four-story mansion was built in 1908 with a design that evokes classical French architecture. The house is a local landmark and appears on D.C.’s Inventory of Historical Sites, an official list of properties considered worthy of “recognition and protection for contribution to the cultural heritage of the city.” Pakistan acquired the residence in 1951 and converted it into an embassy, a role it served until 2004, when officials, citing space constraints, relocated to 3517 International Court, Northwest.

For nearly three years, Moran House languished. Abandoned and ignored, the mansion deteriorated and might have collapsed from disuse if the local city council had not intervened. The dilapidated building “could pose a public hazard,” wrote concerned officials from the District of Columbia. Fearing a demolition order, which could reflect poorly on Pakistan’s ownership of the property, embassy officials sought to rehabilitate the site and secured a $7 million loan from the National Bank of Pakistan. Renovations began in 2009, and were finally completed last year. But while the structure of Moran House has been restored, its future remains murky.

During his tenure as Pakistan’s leader between 1999 and 2008, former president Pervez Musharraf had announced that Moran House would be renamed and repurposed as a cultural center. The proposed Jinnah Center would be used “to conduct research and analysis on foreign policy, economic and public policy to influence opinion makers in the U.S.,” the embassy had claimed at the time. Blueprints included a museum, tourism department, multimedia center and a conference room to “host Pakistani artists, writers, fashion designers, poets and singers.” In the intervening years, the ambitious plan has been abandoned—much like the mansion it sought to revitalize. Officials at the Embassy of Pakistan say they, however, still have options.

“Either we can sell it or rent it out,” says Nadeem Hotiana, the press attaché. “Mohammad Zubair, the chairman of the Privatization Commission, has already prepared a detailed report that has been submitted to the prime minister,” he added. Regardless of Islamabad’s decision, the bulk of any funds obtained through the sale or rental of the property will be used to repay the NBP’s loan. The remainder may be directed toward restoring 2210 R Street.

Erected the same year as Moran House—and designed by the same architect, George Oakley Totten, Jr.—the R Street property was used by Pakistan’s defense and military attachés and served as a field office. Abandoned in 2006, the building has not received much, if any, attention since.

A recent visit to the site showed a partially collapsed roof, boarded up windows, and trash-strewn yards. Despite the dilapidated condition, local real estate agents value it at $5.5 million, aggregated from $4 million in 2012.

But while the government wants to capitalize on the property value of the two estates, officials says they are bound by the very thing that makes them valuable—location, location, location. “We can’t list them in the open market,” says the embassy’s Hotiana. “Due to their location, the properties can only be purchased by other diplomatic missions or an NGO.”

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2 comments

imgoph September 28, 2015 - 10:27 pm

Worth noting, it’s not the ‘city council’ – due to the unique political nature of DC, it’s the Council of the District of Columbia. There is no “city” in the body’s name.

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KHALID IMTIAZ September 29, 2015 - 8:04 pm

Instead of selling the two ‘historic’ sites for a pittance of $18Mn+$5.5Mn=$23.5Mn, these two sites should be utilized for the proposed Museum n Cultural Centre to Promote the Soft Image of Pakistan.

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