Let's Save This House

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Since there's a long line of people eager to buy and restore the federally owned Jesse Baltimore House right where it is at 5136 Sherier Place NW, in the heart of the Palisades, there is no need for the house to go anywhere, despite what you may have read in "Priced to Move" [Metro, Oct. 21]. Yes, the National Park Service, the property's owner, signed an agreement with the city saying that the house could be demolished if no one took it off site. That's because the agency was asked to do this, not because it advocated such a solution.

The Park Service has always been willing to sell this 1925 Sears kit house to a private buyer who will restore it in place. The Park Service was even willing to give the house to the city in exchange for another parcel, a suggestion by Harriet Tregoning, director of the D.C. Office of Planning. So why was an agreement signed to remove this structure from its historic setting near the old streetcar line, rather than sell or give it to one of the many people who want to restore it in place?

Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, a self-described environmentalist, has been pushing for it. She wants the house destroyed in favor of "green space" and an "improved entrance" to the parking lot for Palisades Park. Yet there are already 14 acres of green space in the park -- much of it unused -- and the house isn't in the way of any improvements that could be made to the parking lot's entrance. Cheh persuaded Mayor Adrian Fenty, council Chairman Vincent Gray and her council colleagues to back off from advocating its preservation, even though Fenty, Gray and council members Phil Mendelson, Jim Graham, Jack Evans and Marion Barry supported efforts to get a family back into the house that would restore it on-site.

As the lone voice on the council advocating the home's demolition, Cheh is ignoring more than 1,000 Ward 3 constituents (and another 450 people across the D.C. area) who signed letters asking for the house to be sold to a private buyer who would restore it in place. Cheh is ignoring a three-page resolution passed by Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D calling for the home's preservation in place and return to private ownership.

With the District's focus on affordable housing, Fenty has an opportunity to offer this valuable property to a city teacher, firefighter or police officer for $1. The lucky recipient could agree to restore the house on site within a certain time. Or the city could give the house to one of the many nonprofits in town that restore and provide homes for needy families at a reasonable cost. Any of these solutions would be better than demolishing or moving a historic, usable home that the mayor said he wanted returned to private ownership and to the city's tax rolls after a 50-year absence.

The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation created this "eyesore" and should now not be allowed to destroy it because it has become one. Eyesores can be restored, and politicians can do the right thing if there is an outcry from citizens protesting the needless removal of this 82-year-old home from its own neighborhood.

-- Mary Rowse


The writer is president of Historic Washington Architecture Inc.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company