Vote Against Building Owner Is a Win for . . . a Ghost?

By Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 16, 2007

The ghost at 210 King St. got a reprieve.

The Alexandria City Council voted yesterday to deny the building owner's request to demolish part of it to add a floor to the 200-year-old structure, which is reputed to house a phantasm.

The council turned down the request after historic preservationists had asked that the structure, built in the "flounder" style characteristic of the city's early years, should not be altered because it would damage the streetscape.

Michael W. Zarlenga, who owns the building and a store in it called the Trophy Room, which sells guns and hunting and fishing gear, tearfully asked the city to reconsider the decision made in June by the board of architectural review to deny his request to tear down the back of the building and raise it by one floor. Council members said he could submit other plans, but Zarlenga said he doesn't think he will.

"I've already spent way too much money and wasted way too much time," he said. He worked with planning staff for more than a year and spent about $125,000 on historic research, legal fees and plans he thought were sensitive to the site, he said.

"The business will likely close by the end of the year," Zarlenga said.

But city officials and preservationists said the back of the building, a commercial structure with an angled roof and a single window, would be irreparably damaged if altered. The structure is described as flounder-style because it looks like the profile of a fish.

"There's no doubt in my mind this is a very special building," said Alexandria Vice Mayor Redella S. "Del" Pepper (D).

The architecture isn't the property's only unusual feature. Retail tenants have said there is poltergeist activity. Some have sensed a ghostly presence, and others have reported seeing a spectral-looking man gazing out an upstairs window, holding a light and looking anxiously toward the waterfront.

Jean Hsu Lupo, owner of Paint This, a pottery business, operated her store out of the building's upstairs room until about five years ago, when she moved to 1013 King St. She said that several items moved about at night and that some tools disappeared.

She said it wasn't frightening, because the presence seemed more lonely than menacing. "I've never been afraid of spirits," she said.

Zarlenga said he had never seen the spirit, even when working late at night.

Even in the day, the upstairs room feels eerie. Reached by a narrow, red-carpeted stairway from the main entrance, it contains several stuffed animal heads, including those of bison, water buffalo, antelope and a buck with 16-point antlers.

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