Founded in 1891, the Potomac Electric Company merged with the Washington Railway and Electric Company to become the Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) in 1902. In 1907, PEPCO established a new central generating power plant along Benning Road, and a series of substations to distribute the electricity throughout the city. Mostly, the substations are responsible for reducing the voltage transmitted from the generating plants and feeding the power to transformers near customers. Much of the sensitive equipment had to be placed under cover to protect it from the weather, while providing additional security and visual screening.
The styles of PEPCO’s substations reflected popular architectural philosophies of the time. For example, the earliest stations, built before 1928, were generally utilitarian buildings, or extensions of existing streetcar barns. But as PEPCO erected independent substations in the city’s expanding neighborhoods, it developed a policy of designing them with architectural sensitivity to the surroundings. This policy emanated from a 1906 proposal for this substation at Harvard Street and Sherman Avenue, which initially met community opposition.
Substation No. 13 was the company’s first substation outside the city’s core. DC architect Frederick B. Pyle was asked to design a more domestically scaled building suited to the new neighborhood. He came up with a low, broad-eaved building, a combination of arts-and-crafts and classical-revival styles, to mask the industrial use. The only standout industrial features are a couple of rooftop ventilators, like one might see on a barn, used to cool the equipment. The building set a standard for sensitivity of design that carried through the 1950s.
DC Inventory: February 1, 2018
National Register: June 3, 2019