Mount Pleasant resident and preservationists took opposing views last week in testimony before the Joint Committee on Landmarks of the National Capital on a plan to give historic landmark status to the Stoddard Baptist Home.
Stoddard officials oppose the landmark designation because, they said, they fear it would endanger a $5.4 million loan commitment from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund a new 180-bed nursing care facility for the elderly where the present home stands.
Stanley Williams, chairman of the Mount Pleasant Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said that while his organization "recognizes the historic character of the Stoddard Baptist Home," the ANC opposes historic landmark status for it because "the human need for this facility (a larger home for the elderly) supersedes the need to make it a historic site."
Landmark status is being sought by Don't Tear It Down, a group that supports preserving historic sites in the city, on behalf of the Patrons of Adams House, a Mount Pleasant group.
"Only recently has research shown that Thomas Ustick Walter designed the house in 1851," said Nancy Schwartz, a spokesman for Don't Tear It Down. She pointed out that the house, once know as Ingleside, was one of several country estates built outside of Washington in the mid and late 19th century.
Robert Ennis, director of the Thomas U. Walter Project in Philadelphia and an authority on Walter's works, outlined the architectural history of the house and the 57-year career of Walter, who was the architect of the U.S. Capitol dome.
"Walter listed Ingleside as one of his 50 most important works," Ennis said. "I want to emphasize the particular values that survive in this house. There is no villa of this particular style by Walter that survives."
Showing slides of architectural features of the house, Ennis asserted that each of several features, including rosettes on the ceilings, leaded glass foors and studded dorrs, was alone a reason for preserving the house.
The estate at one time included more than 140 acres of land, but only the mansion remains to illustrate the transition of the area "from country estates to a suburb to an inner-city area," Schwartz said.
The Stoddard Home, set on a wooded, one-acre plot in Mount Pleasant, consists of the original house and two additions built in 1928 and 1938.
The landmark application calls for the entire site to be made a landmark. However, the Mount Pleasant Neighbors, another citizens group, plans to ask the committee to adopt a compromise plan, designating only the original portion of the house as a landmark.
Joseph Cutrona, vice president of the board of directors of Stoddard Baptist Home, said the board "had a great deal of difficulty in weighing the issues here. We're meeting a small portion of the community's needs now." he said, pointing out that there is a shortage of nursing home beds in the city.
He emphasized that "incidents of the last two weeks underlie the need for safe facilities for the elderly." He apparently referred to the recent fire in a St. Elizabeths Hospital halfway house in Mount Pleasant in which nine residents of the house died.
Cutrona said that Mount Pleasant residents were circulating a petition that supports the 180-bed nursing home facility and opposes the landmark status.
The Rev. James McCoy, pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church, also opposed the application.
"The urgent need of the community is for nursing care," he said. "Hundreds have been turned away because the present buildings can't be used for nursing care use."
Suzanne Ganschinietz, a staff member of the landmark committee, testified that the Stoddard Home "should be designated as a historic landmark. It contributes to the cultural heritage and visual beauty of the District of Columbia and should be preserved."
The committee staff recommendation "give an opinion to the committee on the merits" of an application, said Nancy Taylor, chief of the D.C. Historic Preservation Office.Staff reports are made on each application that comes before the committee, but do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the committee members concerning an application, she said.
The house has been used as a home for the elderly since 1917 when it was purchased by the Presbyterian Home. The Stoddard Baptist Home bought the property in 1961. Cutrona said during the hearing that Stoddard officials had received an offer from a developer who wanted to but the property to build townhouses.
No deadline had been set for a committee decision.
Taylor said a building designated a landmark falls under the jurisdiction of the District Preservation Law of 1978. Anyone who applies for a demolition permit on such a building "would be reffered to the mayor's agent" for a decision.
To have a demolition permit granted, the owner must prove undue economic hardship, that the demolition is needed for a construction project of special merit its landmark designation, she said.