Pepco Plans Exterior Upgrades at Harrison Street Substation

This could be the future of the Harrison Street Substation.

This could be the future of the Harrison Street Substation.

The Pepco Harrison Street substation at 5210 Wisconsin Avenue has long been known for poor landscaping, accumulating litter and leaves, and the eyesore of transformers visible from the sidewalk. Its beige facade is in keeping with a rather bleak stretch of Wisconsin Avenue that consists of the similarly beige BB&T bank branch, the former Classic Motors car dealership, and rear of the Western Division Metrobus garage, leading up to the nondescript Friendship Heights Metro Station.

5200 block of Wisconsin Avenue - courtesy of Google Maps, August 2014

5200 block of Wisconsin Avenue in August 2014 – courtesy of Google Maps

This bastion of beige, however, may get an injection of color as Pepco plans to refurbish the substation exterior at the same time it upgrades its distribution equipment.

Pepco will soon start a two-year project to upgrade the Harrison Street substation, which will begin with erecting a temporary substation at the former Classic Motors lot to carry the electrical load during the renovation of the permanent site. The existing substation has been in service since the 1940s. With the boom in construction in the neighboring community, equipment upgrades are necessary to meet a growing demand. 

“The upgrade will enhance system reliability for customers throughout the area and reduce the potential for power outages,” Pepco writes in an information sheet on the project.

World War II era window display at substation

World War II era window display at substation

When the substation first went into service, the now bricked over windows featured displays relevant to energy customers and promoted the war effort during World War II. Taking a cue from this earlier era, Pepco plans to restore the display windows, which they propose to use to showcase local art from schools, community groups, and resident artists. Public Affairs Manager Chris Taylor, speaking at the February Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E (Tenleytown, AU Park, Friendship Heights) meeting, said the company envisions a “revolving display of the community’s art.”

The proposal garnered a positive response from ANC commissioners, as well as on Twitter with one individual quickly inquiring how art could be submitted for consideration.

Patience will be required, however, as the windows’ restoration will likely take place toward the end of the substation upgrade. In the interim, Pepco is proposing to install a screen-printed banner, featuring local art, along the front facade. Other near-term improvements will include power washing the exterior, fixing the existing door, and repairing the substation clock.

The current construction fence along the adjacent lot will be replaced by decorative fencing. Potential replacements include a “green” fence covered in vines, a modern wood fence with lighting and plantings in front of it, or the less attractive, but still an improvement, chain link fence with opaque fabric.

Of the potential fencing options, we're partial to this one.

Of the potential fencing options, we’re partial to this one.

The proposed changes would greatly improve the visual appeal of this block of Wisconsin Avenue, hopefully encouraging more pedestrian traffic between Friendship Heights and Tenleytown. The addition of exterior lighting, particularly along the construction fence, may also contribute toward pedestrian safety at night.

Showcasing local art work also speaks to the neighborhood that surrounds the Harrison Street substation. The broader Tenleytown-Friendship Heights area has a vibrant, if somewhat under the radar, art community – one that should be celebrated more publicly.

Pepco anticipates that the renovation and upgrades of the substation will be complete by June 2017.

Click here for Pepco’s full presentation from the February ANC meeting, including other historical images and renderings of potential site improvements and construction fencing.

Photo credits: All images provided by Pepco unless otherwise noted.