A controversial plan to give landmark status to the Stoddard Baptist Home at 1818 Newton St. NW in Mount Pleasant will be aired before the Joint Committee on Landmarks of the National Capital at 10 a.m. today.
Officials of the home for the elderly oppose landmark designation because, they say, it will thwart their plans to demolish the present structure and construct a larger, modern facility on the site. Residents of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, where the home has operated since 1961, are divided on the issue.
"A human need has been shown," said Stanley Williams, chairman of the Mount Pleasant Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which will oppose the landmark application at today's hearing. "The human need supersedes the need to make it a historic site."
Williams said the ANC has supported landmark status for other Mount Pleasant sites, such as the Adams House on Park Road, but declined to do so in this case because the Stoddard Baptist Home had already obtained a promise of a $5.4 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to build a 180-bed facility for the elderly. The loan commitment, said Williams, might be lost if the site gets landmark status.
Under a federal law, federal funds cannot be used for projects that will have a negative effect on landmark properties.
Landmark status is being sought by Don't Tear It Down, a group that has been active in preservation of historic sites in the city.
According to John Hunter, president of the board of trustees of the Baptist home, the group first learned of the landmark application from HUD officials, who stopped processing the loan to Stoddard because of the application.
"We considered renovating, but our architects tell us it's not feasible," Hunter told a meeting of Mount Pleasant residents last week. "The halls are too narrow and the ceilings are too high-it can't be made into the facility we want."
Several neighborhood residents disputed that assessment, however.
"In most cases the cost of renovation is less than that of new construction," said Alex Eckmann, an architect who lives in the neighborhood.
Other residents complained that they were being asked to endorse construction of a new home, without seeing architectural plans or being told how the new facility would look.
Hunter said only that the new building would "look a lot different. It won't be held together with wax and chewing gum as the present building is."
Hunter offered to review the plans with residents at a later date.
The Stoddard home, set on a wooded, 52,000-square-foot lot, consists of the original 1850s mansion plus two additions built between 1928 and 1938. The landmark application, filed by Don't Tear It Down, Inc., at the request of a Mount Pleasant group called the Patrons of the Adams House, calls for the entire site to be made a landmark. But the Mount Pleasant Neighbors, another citizens group, said they will ask the Joint Committee to adopt a compromise plan, designating only the original portion of the house as a landmark.
Hunter, however, said approval of even the compromise plan "would seriously alter our plans."
"It would cost us $6,000 to $8,000 for a study to redesign our plans, and we don't have the money. It would also cost us time. We've arranged to put our patients into a temporary facility, but we might lose the place if there's a delay. And if a new design causes us to lose beds, we may not be able to afford to operate," said Hunter.
Sharon Conway, a member of the Patrons of the Adams House who did research for the landmark application, said in an interview that she believes both sides can be satisfied.
"By rehabilitating the original building and putting good development around it, the home can have the facility it wants and the community can have the good design that they want," said Conway. "The problem is to come up with the money for redesigning the project, and the community will try to help find it."
At the hearing today to be held in the ninth floor conference room at 1325 G. St. NW, the Joint Committee is expected to base its decision solely on the architectural and historic merit of the property. The original house was designed by Thomas Ustick Walter, who also designed the Capitol dome.
If the site is designated a landmark and if the Stoddard home applies for a demolition permit, another hearing will be held. At that time, factors such as economic hardship and the social merits of the proposed new facility will be taken into consideration.
Also on the landmark committee's agenda is a landmark application or the Louise Home, a now vacant home for elderly women at 2145 Decatur Place NW. CAPTION: Picture, The original part of the Stoddard Baptist Home building was constructed in the 1850s. By Craig Herndon - The Washington Post