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Developers Seek to Put the 'Wonder' Back in the Wonder Bread Factory

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The front of the Wonder Bread building in Washington, D.C.
Jonathan Wilson
The front of the Wonder Bread building in Washington, D.C.

It's almost as if the Wonder Bread building finally caught the revitalization bug that's been making its way around the block. Behind the old factory is the newly restored Howard Theatre, and next to it, a gleaming modern structure soon to be the new home of the United Negro College Fund.

The Wonder Bread building doesn't exactly look good, yet. A month ago, Douglas Development started removing its rotted innards, but now it's pretty easy to see what Douglas Vice President and head of construction Paul Millstein sees: that the old factory's skeleton is still, well, wonderful.

"It's four stories, it's brick, it's industrial," Millstein says. "[With] everything we do, we'll maintain the industrial character; from open bar joists—we're not doing concrete decks--every detail is put so we'll have a true industrial loft office, which really makes this building very different."

The restoration is scheduled to finish up in the spring of next year, with the building's first tenant, a furniture design company, moving in then as well.

Last year the D.C. Preservation League wanted to use the building for an anniversary party. Rebecca Miller, DCPL's executive director, who happens to live in Shaw, says simply making the building safe to enter took some work.

"The floor boards were up 6 feet tall off the ground just because they'd buckled up [due to] a lot of rotted wood," Miller says. "There were several feet of water in the basement, so a lot of this had to be rectified before anybody could really access it."

Though Douglas has owned the building since 1997, Paul Milstein admits even he was surprised at how rundown the inside of the building had become.

"Major sections of the roof were gone, which had caused this growth on the inside of the wood; plants can grow on a wood floor, it's amazing, so it was in pretty bad shape," he says.

Continental Baking Company, which produces Wonder Bread and Hostess products, left the building in 1988; the company first bought the property back in 1936.

But continental wasn't the first baking company to live here. The factory was originally known as Dorsch's White Cross Bakery, a bit of trivia hinted at by the two white crosses that still sit at the top of the building's S Street façade.

Douglas Development is preserving that front façade complete with the Wonder Bread lettering so familiar to local residents, along with the massive building's entire East and West walls.

"It's of course much more expensive than building new facade, but it's so far superior when you're restoring what was originally there that it's well worth it," he says.

So it appears the Wonder Bread building's time has come... again.

[Music: "Wonderwall (Made Famous By Oasis)" by Omnibus Karaoke - Karaoke Tracks from Audition Songs for Male Singers 4]

Photos: Wonder Bread


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