The Georgetown Exorcist Steps became recognized as a historic landmark after the Washington, D.C., Historic Preservation Review Board approved their application Jan. 24.
The Prospect Street Citizens Association, a local group that advocates for the neighborhood, filed the application Sept. 25 of last year, citing the historical significance of D.C.’s streetcar system to its designation as a landmark. The steps, which were originally built in 1895 during the construction of the Car Barn, gained their fame from the 1973 film “The Exorcist,” one of the most profitable horror movies ever made, according to Forbes.
The application was reviewed by the Historic Preservation Review Board, which communicates with the mayor on matters of historic preservation and designates historic property, created its own report identifying the steps’ history as the main reason why they should be designated a historic landmark. Instead of the stairs’ appearance in “The Exorcist,” the report points to the stairs’ history as part of the Capital Traction Company Union Station, where it served as a station and barn for streetcars until 1950. The building, now known as the Car Barn, houses many of Georgetown’s undergraduate and graduate academic programming.
In addition to the steps, the adjacent Car Barn and retaining wall were also given historic status.
While the neighborhood of Georgetown has already been designated a historic neighborhood, the additional designation would acknowledge the specific importance of the steps, according to Jacqueline Drayer, the D.C. Preservation League’s outreach and grant manager.
“Being designated an individual landmark conveys that the site has a high level of significance on its own, not just in the context of the neighborhood,” Grant wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The other important thing that individual designation does for the site is to document its history and appearance in greater detail.”
The official recognition of the steps also helps draw public attention to the Georgetown community, according to D.C. Office of Planning Communications Officer Mekdy Alemayehu.
“The historic landmark designation of the Car Barn and its adjacent walls and steps recognizes the unique architectural qualities of the complex and its various uses over a long span of history,” Alemayehu wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The Prospect Street Citizens Association filed the application to ensure the protection of the steps while condos are being built at the former Exxon Mobil station on M Street, according to DCist. The Historic Landmark and Historic Preservation Act of 1978 ensures that any tampering with historic landmarks requires approval from the mayor.
In light of this new status, the steps are set to receive several benefits, including additional protections and tax incentives, according to Drayer.
“As a historic landmark—and previously, as contributing resources to Georgetown Historic District—these resources’ exteriors cannot be significantly altered without review,” Drayer wrote. “Designation of a site also opens up the possibility for owners to take advantage of incentives, such as the National Rehabilitation Tax Credit, for qualifying projects.”
Although the steps did not gain their landmark status due to their portrayal in “The Exorcist,” the film has been influential in public knowledge of the landmark, Matthew Hua (COL ’22), a Georgetown student and D.C. native, said.
“Growing up just outside of D.C. and going to Georgetown Men’s Basketball games, my father would always mention the Exorcist Steps every basketball season,” Hua said. “The film has shaped the stairs’ fame. Everything I know about the steps starts with the movie.”