The Turbyville family of Takoma Park has decided to fight city hall.
This is no private war against invisible enemies in city government, however. The Turbyvilles are struggling to turn Takoma Park's former city hall into a comfortable, modern home for their whole family.
That includes three adults, three children, two dogs, one cat, a mother rabbit and her five bunnies, two parrots and a fish. "Not a goldfish, just an ordinary fish," Sally Turbyville, 8, explains helpfully.
The three-story house, on a 14,500-square-foot corner lot at 8 Columbia Ave., was built in 1903 as a schoolhouse, said Linda Turbyville, 35, who is studying for a master's degree in anthropology at Catholic University. The original frame structure was bricked over after World War II and used to house the city government.
"The police station was in the basement," said Turbyville. "Various offices for taxes and other things were on the first floor, and the mayor had his offices on the second floor."
When Takoma Park built a new municipal center at 7500 Maple Ave., the Columbia Avenue building was sold to a private buyer in 1972.
"Without going into too much detail, I think I can safely say that the previous owner was even more eccentric than we are," said Turbyville with a quiet laugh. Few changes were made during that ownership to turn the building into a more conventional private residence.
In August this year, Linda Turbyville and her husband Charles, an editor with Food, Drug and Cosmetics Reports, paid $100,000 for the property -- complete with 25-foot flagpole in the front yard, radio antenna on the roof, 6-by-5-by-4-foot steel safe in the living room and chain-link fence surrounding an asphalt parking lot for 20 cars.
"The telephone man who was here the other day told us the walls have enough wiring for the Pentagon," said Turbyville. "There are just wires everywhere that seem to go nowhere and we don't know where they come from.
"We were also told that somewhere in the house is a special alarm system that will sound off if the Security Bank on Carroll Avenue is robbed, but we haven't been able to find that yet."
The Turbyvilles did not set out to buy city hall, but their decision to move to Takoma Park -- from Capitol Hill in the District, where the family had lived in four houses over a 10-year period -- was a conscious one.
"We went to Capitol Hill in 1969 and it was, at that time, a very exciting community," said Turbyville. "It seemed to have the potential to become a very heterogeneous community. People were interested in each other. They had a sense of building something together that went beyond just the renovation of houses.
"Slowly but surely, it seemed to become a world of white, middle-class bureaucratic people, and almost a world of doll houses. My husband and I began to like it less and less, and found that the people we really liked were the people we had met when we first moved to Capitol Hill."
There were also some unpleasant experiences.
"When my son was 10, he began to deliver The Washington Post and was held up. I guess that happens to a lot of newspaper boys in the early morning," says Turbyville. "But a few weeks later, he was riding his bike through the park in the daytime, and was approached and robbed. There were lots of people around -- very together kinds of people walking their dogs and jogging -- and he screamed and cried out for help and no one came."
Turbyville said fellow anthropologists at Catholic University first introduced her to the Takoma Park neighborhood several years ago.
"There is almost a small-town feel (to Takoma Park) and I just loved it right away," says Turbyville. "I feel it is very important to bring up my children in a multiracial environment, and I had been given to understand that there were many blacks and Hispanos in this area. This is true, although I still would like to find a more heterogeneous community."
When Turbyville returned to the Washington area last June -- after spending a year in Mexico on an Organization of American States scholarship to do research on the North American community in Mexico City -- she went straight to Takoma Park to begin the search for a new home.
"I just called up a real-estate agent and made a date to come out," said Turbyville. "We drove around and this house happened to be on the market after several months. It hadn't been sold because no one wanted it."
But the Turbyvilles decided they wanted it very much, largely because it offered them more space per dollar than they could have found elsewhere.
"I don't know what we would have had to pay for a house of this size in the District," said Turbyville. "I imagine about double, and it would have been impossible for us to get that much money together.
"Our fmily and friends have reacted with a combination of surprise and curiosity at our living in the old Takoma Park city hall. But they're relieved, too, that we found such a large house, which we obviously need because of all the budding zoologists and ethologists in the family."
The "budding zoologists and ethologists" are Tommy, 12, Annie, 11, and Sally, 8. Linda's sister, Barbara Moore, 38 -- a gifted composer, pianist and singer who is blind -- also lives with the family.
The house -- with 11-foot ceilings in every room -- has a 25-by-15-foot living room, study, kitchen, four bedrooms, two bathrooms and attic, and what will become Moore's self-contained apartment in the basement with separate entrance, bath and kitchen.
Some of the more unusual features of the house will remain as they are: The family has voted to retain what they call a "decorative" bronze plaque next to the front door, cemented in to commemorate the remodeling of the Takoma Park municipal building in 1953, under former mayor Ross H. Belville.
"We'll also keep the flagpole in the front yard," said Turbyville.
"I expect we'll also keep the police radio antenna on the roof and, of course, the civil defense air-raid siren.
But the chain-link fence will come down, and most of the asphalt parking lot has already been dug up to make room for grass and a vegetable garden. Eventually, the family hopes to put in a pool.
Meanwhile, corners are being cut wherever possible. In the 8-by-12 bathroom downstairs, the need for curtains at the window was eliminated by using the leaves of a nine-foot tree, brought in from outside to mask the window.
Some problems have not been so easily solved: The safe in the living room, estimated to weight at least three tons, cannot be removed without taking out the back wall of the house.
The safe stays.