No Longer Blue: Church Renovates Navy Yard Car Barn

Plans Include Interior Market, Early Childhood Care Center

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Rendering of the exterior of the Capital Turnaround (770 M St. SE). National Community Church bought the building, formerly known as the Blue Castle, in 2014 and is renovating it in three phases. Image: Courtesy NCC

In August, National Community Church (NCC) announced the third and final phase of renovations for the former Blue Castle (770 M St. SE). The church has renamed the building The Capital Turnaround.

Plans include an indoor marketplace, a child development center (currently under construction), and a 1000-seat event space where the church has worshipped since late June.

The restorations to the 100,000 square foot building are expected to kickstart change at the southern end of Eighth Street SE, now a relatively quiet area across from the historic LaTrobe Gate to the Washington Navy Yard.

Built in the 1890s, the Blue Castle is a well-known District landmark, with its own Facebook and Wikipedia pages. Also known as the Washington and Georgetown Railroad Car House or the Navy Yard Car Barn, the building was the terminus of the city’s first and most important streetcar line that ran along Pennsylvania Avenue from Georgetown to the Navy Yard.

The building was later used as storage, a bus garage and a temporary headquarters for the US Department of Labor. In 1988, mental health services company PSI purchased the building and painted it blue.

Multiple charter schools have also called the building their home in the past twenty years, including current occupant Richard Wright Public Charter School.

NCC representative Noreen Bryant said said that the school “will be with us for about another year while they complete construction at their new location.”

Prayer Walk

NCC bought the building in 2014 for $29.3 million. The total cost of renovations is estimated to run to about $20 million. The funds come largely from donations by congregants and supporters, said Bryant.

NCC Pastor Mark Batterson is excited about the plans for the building and the church. “When God led me on a 4.7-mile prayer walk around Capitol Hill in 1996, I turned the southeast corner at Eighth and M Streets,” Batterson said.

“I had no idea that eighteen years to the day from the day of that prayer circle, we would purchase the Navy Yard Car Barn.”

That prayer walk also led him past the current site of Ebenezers Coffeehouse (201 F St. NE), which NCC opened in 2006, the former People’s Church Building, opened as Miracle Theatre (535 Eighth St. SE) and Square 906 bounded by Virginia Avenue, Seventh, Eighth, and L Streets SE on which NCC owns two additional lots (1003 Eighth St. SE and 733 Virginia Ave. SE).

A conceptual drawing showing the foyer of The Capital Turnaround building, with entrance on Seventh Street SE. Image: Courtesy NCC

A Place to Meet

The church intends to transform the historic Navy Yard Car Barn into a place where the church and the community can meet in different ways. The renovation consists of three phases, each designed to fulfill a need in the neighborhood.

Phase I, completed earlier this year, includes an event space with seating for nearly 1,000 that doubles as a worship space for the church. The Miracle Theatre still hosts one service, but others were moved to the space in June 2019. Bryant said that the space will be available for rent in early 2020 for events such as concerts, conventions and school events.

Phase II includes a child development center available to the public, designed to serve 200 kids aged 6 weeks to 5 years, in part as a response to the investments in child care announced by Mayor Bowser last April that address shortages in the District. An indoor playground will be a feature of the 20,000 square foot center which is expected to be completed in 2020.

The center will also include classrooms, its own theatre and the indoor playground space –which will be accessible to the community. The center will be leased and managed by childcare development team Phase Family Learning. Their program includes family life programs that will emphasize academic and character development and are designed to help family members connect with one another as well as with other families in the community.

Bryant said the programming will emphasize character-building and proactive family life programs to connect parents in enriching relationships with other families in the community.

The final phase of the renovation will bring an indoor marketplace to the gates of the Navy Yard. The market is expected to take up a little more than half of the building, or about 50,000 square feet. Construction on Phase III is slated to begin in late 2020 or early 2021, after the completion of Phase II.

The indoor market space design is still in very early stages, said Bryant, but is expected to have a look and feel similar to other urban markets, such as Armature Works in Tampa, FL, housing a coffee house and different retail and restaurant offerings. The list of tenants has not yet been determined, but Bryant said that NCC is being very intentional about using the marketplace to build and nurture community.

Rendering of the interior market, Phase I of the renovations to The Capital Turnaround building. Image: Courtesy NCC

For the Community

While the building provides additional space for the congregation, it is being redesigned to serve the community. Bryant emphasized that the Capital Turnaround was planned in consultation with the community to meet the needs and wants of the people who live and work there.

Just like the streetcars that were repaired, refueled and sent back out, the church wants the new building to be a place to refresh and reinvigorate lives, businesses and the surrounding neighborhood.

The church is in conversation with the Capitol Riverfront BID and Barracks Row Main Street (BRMS) and consulted with community members and local businesses prior to formulating plans for the building.

“We wanted to be sure to consult with our community service and business neighbors as we began this project, and their input has really helped shape the vision for this property,” Bryant said.

Capitol Riverfront BID President Michael Stevens said that the renovation and redevelopment of the building is entirely positive for the particular section of the neighborhood, filling needs with their event space and daycare facility and creating a destination at Eighth and M Streets.

Both Stevens and BRMS Executive Director Martin Smith say the Capital Turnaround will serve as a catalyst for Lower Eighth Street. “I appreciate that NCC is renovating a wonderful historic resource in Capitol Riverfront,” said Stevens. “The historic car barn is a visual, historic and architectural landmark that deserves an appropriate renovation and adaptive reuse as a vibrant center for the neighborhood.”

Smith said the Capital Turnaround building is an important part of the coming revitalization of Eighth Street overall.

“With this project at the southern end and the newly renovated Eastern Market Metro Park coming soon to the northern end, Barracks Row will soon have “bookends” at each gateway to the corridor that will provide significant civic and cultural assets, and help draw new visitors from the surrounding areas,” he said.

No Longer Blue

At this point, it is not clear what color the building will be, although Bryant said that the “blue” will definitely be taken out of the blue castle. She said plans will honor the history of the building and the neighborhood while working to build the future.

“We worked really hard to come up with a design that would fulfill our desire to serve the community in this space,” she said, “and also honor the building’s historic past.”

Learn more about National Community Church by visiting nationalcommunity.com.