In a five-hour hearing before the Joint Committee on Landmarks of the National Capital, residents of the Dupont Circle area clashed on the question of whether their neighborhood should be declared a historic district and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Property owners, businessmen, lawyers, architects, city planners, respresentatives of preservation groups and historians lined up on both sides of the issue at the meeting held Mar. 9.
If the historic district is approved and if the National Register of Historic Places agrees to lists it, owners of property within the area will face possible delays if they wish to demolish a building or subdivide property. If citizens or groups object to the demolition or subdivision of some land, hearings may be held to delay the action. The hearings may be held to delay the action. The hearings cannot stop and owner from tearing down a building or subdividing land. The delay - a maximum of 240 days - is supposed to allow the owner and interested citizens to work out alternatives. But property owners claim that constantly increasing construction costs and fluctuating interest rates mean that such delays can prove costly.
The Dupont Citizens Association filed the application for historic district status in October. The propossed district would extend from 15th Street on the east to 22nd Street on the west. Florida Avenue would form the northern boundary. The southern boundary would be marked mainly by N Street, though part of M Street would be included.
The 54-block area contains an estimated 4,000 parcels of porperty. About 19,000 people live in the area.
Ronald Alvarez, chairman of the historic district committee of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, presented the group's case. "This is a section of the old city of Washington which will be lost if development continues," said Alvarez.
Perry Fisher, executive director of the Columbia Historical Society, showed slides depicting the history of the area. According to Fisher, the area was largely used for brickyards and slaughterhouses until after the Civil War. At about that time," "Boss" Shepherd, mayor of the District, improved herd himself lived on K Street between 17th and Connecticut, and other prominent people began building mansions in the area. When the streetcars began running in the area in the 1870s, builders put up many row houses and sold them to middle-class business people and government workers.
C. Dudley Brown, president of the Washington chapter of the Victorian Society, called the area "a confection of architectural styles." He said the Dupont Circle area was notable for features characteristic of Washington, primarily greenstone fronts and sheet metal bays.
Ward Bucher, an architect and urban planner, said that even though historic district status might discourage the demolition of old buildings and their replacement by new ones, it should cause no undue economic penalities. He presented a study comparing sales prices and costs of new and renovated buildings in the area. Bucher said he found that, in most cases, the percentage of profit was just as high or higher on renovated buildings as on new construction.
Seven witnesses testified against historic district status for the area. Mrs. De Forest Mellon, whose family has lived as 1767 P Street for 70 years, characterized the application as an "attempt by a well-meaning little group to preserve what pathetically little there is left of the area." But, she said, this should not be done by coercion or depriving owners of property rights.
Jack Rappaport, who identified himself as a businessman, decried the flight of businesses and stores to the suburbs."Let business come to the circle," he said. "Let the city go forward. It won't go forward with historic values."
Charles M. Schneider Jr. spoke on behalf of the Dupont Circle Property Owners Association. He said that most of the owners of the approximately 4,000 parcels of property within the area did not know of the hearing and its possible effects. He said that all property owners should have been notified and that two-thirds of the property owners in an area should be required to file a petition before historic district status is considered.
The joint committee's decision is expected in about 30 days.