To the New Samaritan Baptist Church on Capitol Hill, the two boarded-up buildings next door, which the church owns, are rundown eyesores that should be razed to make way for a desperately needed church addition.
To the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, the same two buildings are examples of some of the finest late Victorian architecture in the neighborhood and should be preserved and restored.
The dispute brings into focus the kind of disagreement that can erupt in a community designated as a historic district, especially one in the throes of racial and economic transformation. Two other black churches on Capitol Hill which is one of the city's 14 historic districts, are involved in similar controversies.
Last week, the restoration society, a predominantly white group, won the first round in the argument. The Joint Committee on Landmarks recommended that the church's demolition permit be delayed up to 180 days -- six months. The committee must review all permit requests to demolish or alter buildings in the historic districts.
"They have no right to tell us what to do with our own property," said a member of the predominantly black church, who, like other New Samaritan members, cannot believe the church's long-planned expansion has been thwarted by "outsiders."
"We purchased that land so we could expand our church," the parishioner explained. "On Sundays we have extra chairs down the aisles, up in the pulpit and behind the pulpit" to accommodate the church's 1,000 active members. I thought this was just unfair to our congregation. They know nothing about our situation, our needs. They're just going to deny," she said.
The two buildings are "reflective of late Victorian architecture typical of the Capitol Hill neighborhood and it is this quality of architecture for which the historic designation was given," said Douglas Wheeler, chairman of the historic district committee of the restoration society.
"It is one of the important styles... and they are standing in the same design as they were originally constructed," said Wheeler of the fourstory dark red brick buildings built in 1891.
Wheeler's committee has suggested that the church remodel the two existing buildings as a multiservice annex. since, Wheeler said, he understands that is the kind of facility the church wants.
But the congregation's most pressing need is expanded worship space, according to parishioners, and therefore the two buildings are unusable. The Rev. Robert Harrision, New Samaritan's pastor, refused to comment on the church's plans or any aspect of the dispute.
D.C. City Council member John Ray (D-At-large), a New Samaritan member, described the dispute as a "natural consequence" of the influx of whites into a community that is predominantly black.
"A lot of these people [church members] have lived in that community for many years and others have moved out," he said. Some left voluntarily, selling homes they owned and others left involuntarily, he said, when their landlords decided to sell homes they had rented.
"They look at this as another slap in the face because many have already lost their homes and now they cannot build their church there," he said.
The city's historic preservation officer, Robert L. Moore, director of the D.C. housing department, will make the final decision in the case.