When the Alexandria City Council decided last fall to sell a 94-year-old firehouse situated in the heart of Old Town, it decreed that the new owner would have to agree not to alter the building's facade.
Last week, the council approved the sale of the former firehouse to two businessmen who bid $241,500 for the building and plan to convert it into a restuarant. They also want to change the facade.
"We found that the building, when it changed from housing horse-drawn fire vehicles to motor vehicles, had it's facade changed," explained Robert L. Van Fossen Jr., who, with James J. Mathews, placed the high bid. Van Fossen said the change took place during the 1930s.
Van Fossen said that a friend of his came across a photograph showing the original front of the building to have arched doors instead of the rectangular doors that are in evidence today.
Paul D. Schott, Alexandria's director of general services, said the city did not know that the facade had been changed, but that one of the other bidders, V. Rodger Digilio, submitted a photograph of the original facade with his bid. Digilio and a partner bid $165,000 for the structure and said they planned to restore the building's original facade.
Van Fossen said he would submit his proposal to restore the original facade to the Board of Architectural Review, which must approve any changes to structures in the city's historic district.
Schott commented: "I think that what he (Van Fossen) would like to do is an improvement over his (original) bid."
However, he said, because of the conditions of the sale, he thought permission to change the building's front would have to come from the city council.
Van Fossen and Mathews won over seevenn other bindividuals and groups whose bids had ranged from $53,000 to $241,500.Most of the plans accom panying the bids called for converting the building to either a restaurant or office space. The structure, two blocks from City Hall, is at 109 S St. Asaph St., across the street from the site of a soon-to-be-built municipal courthouse and commercial complex.
C.D. & Four Associates, who offered $190,000 said they wanted to convert the building to a restaurant that would serve as an "informal gathering place" for city officials.
"The decor would embellish this atmosphere through photographs of past and present city officials . . . current city agendas would be relayed to patrons via waiters and announcements."
Schott said Mathews and Van Fossen had been recommended to the city council by his office because they had placed the highest bid and because their planned use of the building was not in any way objectionable.
Van Fossen said he planned to invest about $1 million in establishing a "period" restaurant dating to 1883, the year the firehouse was built.
"We'll be trying to recapture the original saloons and bars that were in Alexandria around that period," he said.
Van Fossen said that the restaurant, which will be named "Columbia Fire Company" and will have a seating capacity for about 260 patrons on two floors, will serve steaks and lobsters as well as salads, crepes and omelettes. The more expensive menu will be served on second floor, with the ground level containing a bar, waiting area and restaurant, he said.
Van Fossen emphasized that despite the name and the firehouse facade of the building, the restaurant will not have a firehouse motif.
Along with the firehouse, Mathews and Van Fossen bought a 1,975-square-foot lot adjoining the building which they plan to eventually convert into an another enclosed dining area. Current plans call for the restaurant to open in the fall.
Since the firehouse was closed in 1960, the Alexandria Fire Department Association has used it as a gathering place for its members. More recently, it has been used as a storage area for an Alexandria archeology project.