Georgetown University Car Barn
Georgetown University Car Barn
Preserving the '60s — the 1760s — with Integrity
In a city filled with landmarks, the Georgetown Car Barn is one of the most distinct buildings in town. Originally built as a tobacco warehouse in 1761, the Car Barn has undergone a wide variety of uses in its 250+ years. During the Civil War it served as home to the city’s horse-drawn trolley cars. Later it became the maintenance facility for the District’s first electric streetcar system. But the Car Barn really came to fame in 1973, when its adjacent staircase — now known as the Exorcist Steps — set the stage for the horror film, The Exorcist.
These historical details added layers of complexity to our recent renovation of the Car Barn. Although the building had been a part of the Georgetown University campus since the 1950s, it was in dire need of structural, mechanical, and historical repairs to better fulfill the needs of today's students. This is where we came in.
We were fascinated by the Car Barn’s age and condition and knew that construction would entail far more than the average academic building renovation. As experts in historical preservation and in close partnership with Douglas Development, our DAVIS team relished this challenge.
ArchitectPerkins + Will
clientGeorgetown University; Douglas Development Corporation
This was an incredibly old building that made other contractors nervous — but not us. This is our wheelhouse. At DAVIS, we tackle the biggest challenges and excel.
Chris Harzler, Project Executive, DAVIS
Three Different Scopes — One Cohesive Team
As the design-build contractor for the Georgetown Car Barn, our ultimate goal was to modernize the academic space while preserving the building’s historic integrity. And as with most higher education renovations, we knew the building was going to be occupied with students and faculty throughout our time onsite. So we meticulously planned and coordinated the work to reduce disruptions and ensure safety. We also divided the work into three distinct phases to maximize our speed and efficiency.
Since the Car Barn is a historic landmark, all work required approval from the Old Georgetown Review Board, a division of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. This was particularly important for the exterior façade restoration, as all updates had to maintain the Car Barn’s original look and feel. To get specific, we replaced all windows and terraces, repaired damaged mortar, and fixed a corroding structural problem (that had resulted from many years of water infiltration). Despite the complexity caused by the building’s unique elevation, our team went above and beyond — chiseling through rocks and blasting through stones to seal leaks and prevent any future water damage.
We replaced the building's MEP, sprinkler, and emergency lighting system, adding a new heating and cooling tower on the roof, along with a brand-new mechanical temperature control system — a rarity in a building of this age. In addition, we installed a new elevator, gutted and renovated the restrooms, and most important: we conducted these interior renovations without impacting the routines of the students or faculty. How? All materials were procured before the work began and we communicated with occupants to prevent schedule conflicts. We held town hall meetings to answer questions and provided reassurance about the construction process.
Until our involvement with the Car Barn, the ground floor had been a dark, dated, and desolate parking garage. But Douglas Development was ready to transform the space into additional classrooms and offices — a major win for Georgetown which was running out of room in the floors above. So we got to work opening the former parking garage, and ultimately converted a gloomy basement into a large, modern, and functional area. By the time we were done, the ground floor was bursting with natural light and ready to serve Georgetown’s growing student body.
Built on Respect
At DAVIS, there are many important elements that go into each and every construction project, but none is more valuable than respect. This project is a prime example. By having the utmost respect for the building’s historic legacy, the developer’s vision, and the higher education environment, our DAVIS team fostered a meaningful relationship with all involved parties — and above all, delivered a modernized landmark on time and on budget.