The historic Bank of Alexandria, the first bank chartered in Virginia and the third oldest in the nation, is expected to be restored this summer for use as a museum, shops, offices and rental apartments under an agreement approved by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.
The 1803 building, which boasted George Washington as a major stockholder and patron and wa bought along with the Carlyle House next door in 1970 by the park authority, is one of the new remaining historic public structures in downtown Alexandria yet to be restored.
An Alexandria resident, Roger Digilio, and his new restoration firm, OTV, has been chosen by the park authority as tentative developer. He would lease the building for 30-40 years, at which time it would return to the park authority.
Under Digilio's proposal, which was chosen over two competitors and must be submitted to the park authority for final approval by early May, the lobby of the bank at Cameron and North Fairfax Streets would be restored as a banking musuem. A shop would be created in the basement beneath, and offices and two apartments in the second and third floors above the bank.
The exterior of the brick building would be cleaned and possibly the roof line lowered to its original level, Digilio said. The roos was raised in 1855, some 20 years after the bank had failed, when its new owner built a hotel next door, directly in front of Carlyle House, and converted the bank into apartments. The hotel, Carlyle Apartments, was demolished by the park authority over the objections of a number of historians and preservationists, to improve the view of Carlyle House.
The bank itself, chartered first in 1792, collapsed in 1834 largely because of heavy investments in the Potowmack Canal Co., a pet project of Washington's which also collapsed. Washington was the canal company's president and helped, as an engineer, to lay out the locks at Great Falls, Seneca Falls and Harper's Ferry before becoming President. The canal company was succeeded by the C&O Canal Co., which later also went bankrupt.
The vacant bank building has been a boarded-up reminder that the park authority has run out of restoration funds after spending $2.5 million to buy the bank, hotel and restore Carlyle House. The park authority had unsuccessfully been seeking a banking group to restore the building and last fall announced it would receive bids from developers to restore and lease the building. The bank lobby was found to still contain the original bank vault. The vault door was loaned to the Smithsonian Institution for its Bicentennial exhibit and soon will be returned.
Digilio, who is resigning his job as a regional manager for the federal Office of Technology Assessments to devote full time to Alexandria restoration, formed OTV last year to purchase and restore another Old Town building, Carter Hall, the 1802 mansion at the corner of Prince and Columbus Streets which the city bought to prevent its demolition. It will be restored and sold as condominiums, with easements to preserve its exterior. "OTV just consists of me at the moment," says Digilio, "and it doesn't stand for anything. It's just three letters."