When Colonial Village joined the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty on the National Register of Historic Places, no one was prouder than tenants of the 45-year-old apartment complex in Arlington. And no one was madder than the Colonial Village landlord -- the Mobil Corporation.
"Frankly, we don't see anything historic about the place," said Gregory Friess, vice president of Colonial Village Inc., a Mobil subsidiary that now wants the historic designation stricken from the record. "We'll take this to the secretary of the Interior if need be. I know we'll get some sympathy."
This week, attorneys for Colonial Village Inc. asked Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) for help in fighting the historic designation. "Warner is not happy about it," contended Friess.
"Warner's taking a look at it," said Bill Kling, Warner's press secretary. "What can be done about it we don't know. But this is the type of thing that makes him fairly, fairly angry with the bureaucracy."
Mobil's anger first surfaced after former president Jimmy Carter signed a bill Dec. 12 that said no land or building could be placed on the historic register without the owner's approval. Three days before, on Dec. 9, the Interior Department had approved the historic designation for Colonial Village, too late for Mobil to come under the terms of the new bill.
"The government's action is very capricious and it flew in the face of the intent of Congress," said Friess.
Despite Mobil's efforts to strike Colonial Village for the historic register, Emma Jane Saxe, an architectural historian with the Interior Department, says the designation cannot be rescinded. "The only way it can be lifted," she said, "is if its architectural character is destroyed by something like a fire."
Colonial Village, she added, was the nation's first federally insured garden apartment complex and a pioneer in planned residential communities with off-street buildings and sidewalks.
Brian Ford, president of the Colonial Village Preservation Committee, which argued for the historic designation, said the complex was a prototype for garden apartments, and a New Deal boon to a Depression-era housing industry plagued with an 80 percent unemployment rate.
Developers can profit from several tax incentives by rehabilitating historic buildings, Friess said. But he noted that historic awards also can subject property owners to time-consuming, and therefore expensive, federal guidelines.
For instance, if Colonial follows through with plans to sell 150 apartments to nonprofit groups, the buyers will have to go before the U.S. Adivsory Council on Historic Preservation for review if federal funds are used for rehibilitation.
"I tried for four months to tell the tenants that, but they wouldn't listen to me," said Friess.
Now, he hopes the Reagan Administration, or Congress, will.