Supervisors OK Razing API Building to Make Way for Homes

by Karen Goff July 27, 2016 at 10:00 am 44 Comments

Former API Building

After a campaign by architectural archivists and historians to save and repurpose the Marcel Breuer-designed former American Press Institute building in Reston, the building learned its fate Tuesday night.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to allow developer Sekas Homes to demolish the 42-year-old Brutalist building and construct in its place 34 townhomes and 10 condos.

Interior of API BuildingHunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins said while she appreciated the efforts to save the building at 11690 Sunrise Valley Dr., the building did not have historical designation and was not in a historical overlay district.

The supervisors’ mission is to stick to judging an application on “meeting the criteria set forth in the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance for this area and supported by recommendation of approval by Department of Planning and Zoning,” she said.

While a DPZ staff report recommended approval for the redevelopment, the Fairfax County Planning Commission did not.

Prior to the supervisors’ vote, the board heard from more than 20 speakers on both side of the issue.

Cheryl Terio-Simon, wife late Reston founder Bob Simon and the vice chair of the Reston Historic Trust, pointed out that one of Simon’s seven principles for Reston was “beauty, both structural and natural, is necessary for the good life and must be fostered.”

“With the API building [Breuer] demonstrated he can do small and gentle as well as bold,” she told the supervisors. “He gave as much attention to the interior as well as the exterior. Natural light was brought in from outside. Like Lake Anne Village Center, it is set into the landscape and does not shout from the curb. Like Lake Anne, it is Brutalist architecture with human scale and elegance.”

But there were several speakers who enumerated the impracticality of the 45,000-square-foot building, which has been empty since the API merged with the Newspaper Association of America in 2012.

“It’s a building no one wants to occupy,” said James Lee, president of Ronney Properties, which purchased the building three years ago. “We entered a contract to sell to Sekas because of his understanding of the market. I understand sentimental attachments to this building. It would have been nice if they put a historical encumbrance on it before it went to market, because we would not have bought it if we knew if was functionally obsolete and could not be leased.”

“We have determined adaptive use is [not possible] because of the way it was built,” he added. “As a result if the rezoning is denied, we are left with an asset that has no cash value. It has to be demolished.”

Josh Simon of KLNB Commercial Real Estate said his company has tried for more than two years to lease the property. They have shown it to schools, law firms, religious institutions “and we had virtually no interest,” he said.

The supervisors and the planning commission have said they would increase efforts to identify potential historic structures so this kind of struggle does not happen again. The supervisors also passed a motion that efforts will be made to preserve an archive of the building and its history.

  • Ming the Merciless

    “beauty, both structural and natural, is necessary for the good life and must be fostered.”

    I agree, and since the API Brutalist Monstrosity lacks both these qualities, demolishing it was unquestionably the right decision.

  • Greg

    A wise move, and another unanimous vote at that

    • Restonlover

      The planning commission voted denial. The Fairfax County Architectural Review Board voted denial as did the History Commission. There will be several thousand residences on both sides of the Toll Road coming on line between the Wiehle Avenue metro station and the Sheraton. TOTAL GRIDLOCK

      • Greg

        Sorry, the only votes that matter are those of the BoS., and they made the right vote. It’s quite remarkable for not one, but two, unanimous votes to rid us of these long-failing and vacant planning mistakes and eyesores, and that vote includes the Reston supervisor — Hudgins.

        And, 60 years ago, the farmers in the meadows made the same complaints about a future place called Reston. 30 years ago, the NIMBYs in Lake Anne (another Brutalist winner, no?) and elsewhere made the same complaint about Reston Town Center. Actors may be new, but the script is the same.

        The only (and a terrible one at that) alternative use proposed for this Brutalist bunker was a library. It was a feeble, unfunded proposal and poorly organized at that. Similarly for Tall Oaks — those who have no experience in managing commercial property and failed to patronize the businesses that failed — insisted that the only way forward was to perpetuate more of the same failure. There is nothing more absurd, and, again, the supervisors voted correctly.

        The only bad news here is that these eyesores are not being demolished today, and that we may have to wait a year or more to see them go.

        Reston is planned — and that planning includes redevelopment.

        • Restonlover

          Like I said before – I have been here for 40++years and have been supportive of every move forward/redevelopment except this one. I am incredibly supportive of the mass redevelopment that will take place along the Transit oriented stations where thousand will move into over the next 20 years. I just really believe that we should try to save some of our heritage. Everything along the toll road will look like Merrifield Redevelopment. There will no longer be individuality.

          • Greg

            As much as I would like to see Lake Anne go next, it’s a Brutalist piece that will remain. Albeit at a great and dubious cost of tens of millions of dollars of public and RA member expense and decades of debate about what to do to improve it and still it sits as is with no redevelopment way forward.

            Likewise, there are plenty of charming neighborhoods (and some not-so-charming ones) north and south of the toll road that have nothing to do with whatever post-modern structures cling to the toll road.

            And, of course, there’s not-part-of-Reston Reston Town Center which is some of the most valuable and highest producing real-estate in the DMV. Soon to be even higher producing with paid parking, but it’s rarely, if ever, had trouble keeping tenants.

            Bottom line, there was no use for these two properties (API / Tall Oaks) in their current state, and no business / landowner will or should be forced to preserve them “just because.”

          • Restonlover

            please share with me how taxpayers or RA members are spending a single dime on Lake Anne historic district. I do not object to Tall Oaks – just the architecture which is not reminiscent of the surrounding neighborhood but of Merrifield

          • Greg

            The county spent $50+ million buying The Crescent apartment complex taking it off the tax rolls (more millions in lost revenue) in the process.

            The county has spent many thousands of staff hours and millions of tax dollars on Lake Anne redevelopment planning and charrettes and meetings and presentations and consultants and lawyers.

            Bob Dix and arranged a million or so dollars for Lake Anne for refurbishment.

            Martha Pennino arranged for county funds to benefit Lake Anne.

            For years, a multicultural festival was held at Lake Anne as was an annual Reston birthday (funded by the county and RA).

            There is a weekly farmers’ market at Lake Anne operated under the county and the park authority (tax dollars) and which accept food stamps (tax dollars).

            The STD 5 opened an arts center in Lake Anne — funded through tax dollars.

            The county spent thousands of tax dollars to create (and now spends more to maintain) a historic district at Lake Anne.

            RA spends member funds on IPAR at Lake Anne.

            Just off the top of my head…

            Many, MANY dimes.

          • Restonlover

            WHat’s your point. Crescent apartments had nothing to do w.Lake Anne revitalization when first purchased.and is not part of the historic district. Yes, I agree that the County and RA have celebrated the birth of Reston but isn’t that like celebrating 4th of July. Don’t really know about the farmers market and food stamps. DO know that vendors pay to exhibit. Not aware of the arts center at Lake Anne – there is an annex to the Community Center at Lake Anne. No RA does not fund Lake Anne. The land swap will be removed because Lake Anne redevelopment plan did not go thru. But truly do you just want to blow the whole place up and open it up for builders.

          • Greg

            The point is that many millions of public dollars have been wasted on Lake Anne. Proven. And you were looking for dimes and insisting that none were so spent.

            Don’t play semantic games on the arts/community center; that’s all paid for with tax money, underutilized, and located in rented (failed grocery / retail) space previously owned by Bob Simon and now owned by his widow.

            As such, yes, it should be blown up and redone. But I will compromise and let it be as long as no more public money is wasted on it. It’s mostly private property and should sink or swim on its own — just like Tall Oaks and the API bunker.

            One more failure of Bob Simon was creating an entangled and complex organization and ownership structure at Lake Anne that leaves it as it is — impossible to redevelop.

            And, yes, RA does own and maintain Lake Anne and parts of the plaza as well.

          • MaggieSays

            The point is that you asked for evidence of tax dollars spent, and it was provided.

        • Restonlover

          actually if you would view the video, Reston 2020 had several alternatives worth investigating if the BOS had cared…

          • Greg

            It was not up to the taxpayers to fund preserving either of these private properties. The taxpayers have done that at Lake Anne and look what we have to show for it.

            The BoS made the right choices in both of these cases.

          • Restonlover

            also please note – we were not asking taxpayers to pony up. There were private companies willing to go to the well

          • Greg

            The library?

            What private companies? Who are they? Why did they not “go to the well”? Why did they not do so for the past four years when property values were depressed?

            Too little, too late, too bad! The bunker will be gone and soon is not soon enough.

  • Greg

    Yes, please. ASAP. I took a look at it the other day — not much value for what was done, but quite a brutally large condenser farm for the rather small building. I counted two very large and at least five smaller HVAC units — none of which appear to be installed and screened in compliance with the DRB guidelines:


    HVAC units were running, but building was empty.

    Also, there is acres of parking there already, how could they possibly need more?

  • Mike M

    Dang! I thought the API building’s fate would be years of entertainment. More so than the Lake House.

  • Arielle in NoVA

    Once again, the BoS goes against Reston.

    • No they did the right think and were not fazed by never, ever change anything. advocates. Useless unattractive building should go..

      • Restonlover

        Sorry Mr. Gilley. In my 40 years as a reston resident and business person I have seen a lot of things come and go and never ever before objected. The COUNTY failed to designate this building as having historical significance during the master plan redo. Because of that, the developer is allowed to tear it down. You may think Brutalist is unattractive. Many folks thought the same of Gothic, or Victorian or Art Deco until they weren’t. THeir “oops” we will make sure it doesn’t happen again wasn’t the right answer.

        • I did not know that counties could designate something historical. I thought the State did that?

          • Restonlover

            . The Heritage Resources Section of the 2013 Comp Plan states:
            “Preservation of the County’s heritage resources—its historic structures serve a public purpose by (1) enhancing the quality of life through aesthetic diversity in the landscape and (2) providing a sense of continuity with the county’s historic past. Identifying heritage resources well in advance of potential damage or destruction is a policy statement in the Comp plan. So is coordinating activities affecting heritage resources among county agencies and with other public agencies and private organizations.”

          • 30yearsinreston

            Reston isn’t historic

          • Restonlover

            well, the virginia historian in charge of preservation and the historian at the American Insitute of architects would beg to differ

          • Guest

            The County does it or, more realistically, DOESN’T do it so nothing can get in the way of high density. Nothing!

        • Youngren

          Yes, given time even Brutalism will become significant. Probably when all the examples of this style have been demolished by greedy developers and spineless Supervisors on the planning commissions of the country.

    • Youngren

      Yes! I agree.

    • Rational Reston

      There was no reason to save this building. The only good idea that I’ve seen would have been to find a way to use it as the library. But that would have meant that our Supervisor would have had some foresight and vision several years ago.

  • Dennis Hays

    The API/Breuer building could have been redeveloped in any number of ways. – the failure of Mr. Simon and single-mindedness of Mr. Lee notwithstanding. In particular, the building could have been repositioned as a new Reston Regional library. I understand Mr. Lee’s desire to profit from his investment and believe he could have done so AND saved a unique architectural treasure had he been open to new ideas. In one evening the Supervisors wiped out an entire Village Center and bulldozed the most interesting and important building in Reston. Quite an accomplishment.

    • Restonlover

      I do not understand your comment about “failure of Mr. Simon”

      • Dennis Hays

        This is referring to Josh Simon, the agent mentioned in the story who was unable to find any tenants for the API. Should have included his first name to prevent confusion with Bob!

        • Greg

          No one else found a tenant either and there are thousands of brokers and agents marketing commercial property.

          • Restonlover

            they were not seriously marketing the property. They were waiting for the master plan change which would allow a rezoning. They got it and have a contract purchaser w.Sekas who will be building $850k townhouses…w.workforce housing in an 8 unit condo building

          • Greg

            You have no idea what marketing they did or didn’t do — and, in any case, it’s irrelevant. The bunker was ugly and unwanted by anyone at any price.

            In fact, if the API was such an international architectural masterpiece, as far too many falsely believe it was, it would have been bombarded with offers and put to full use for all these years. No such thing happened and, in fact, both RA and the county failed to enforce maintenance covenants running with this land.

            Moreover, if the building was anything more than a decaying Brutalist monument to a has-been industry, it would never have sat vacant and festering for years.

            Workforce housing is a terrible idea (there’s plenty of that nearby at Shadowood and elsewhere in Reston) at the former API site, but $850k townhouses are an excellent use for the property.

          • Restonlover

            well sir – you will have work force house on this site as it was approved last night for the condo building. And I hope you and 33 other folks can afford to buy $850K townhouses because that is a far cry from the median price of townhouses in our fair community. Good night and God bless

          • Restonlover

            and oh yes we do have an idea of the marketing they did. That’s what good investigators do…

      • Greg

        Look at the late 60’s. 1967 in particular. Then there is RELAC and the “village centers.”

    • 30yearsinreston

      Too bad they didn’t wipe out the Lake House while they were at it.
      The bunker would have been the worlds most expensive ‘library’

    • Youngren

      Shame that we have such gutless and “anti-Reston philosophy” group of Supervisors. No more votes from me.

    • Rational Reston

      FYI, Tall Oaks has been dead for years, the BOS just authorized burying the body. And if that API building is the most interesting and important thing in Reston, we should just bulldoze all of Reston and rebuild from a clean slate.

  • Now that would be expensive for some are already wanting to make it a historical building never to be changed.

    • 30yearsinreston

      Let me guess
      The 5 lakefront property owners ?

  • Why do you bother?

    “because we would not have bought it if we knew if was functionally obsolete and could not be leased.”

    How the eff do you buy a building without researching its viability???????? This board is punking us big time!!!

  • Overrunhell

    A sad day indeed. Bad decision BOS, just a bad decision. Your behavior with developers is like my dog’s, when I come home from work. “oh my goodness daddy, it’s so good to see you, where did you go, what can we do together now…” SQUIRREL..!!!!


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