The battle over the fate of historic Rhodes Tavern moved to Capitol Hill yesterday as a House subcommittee held hearings on a resolution expressing the "strong interest and concern" of Congress in having the structure, built in 1799, preserved and restored at its current site.
Developer Oliver T. Carr, who has won from the city and the courts the right to demolish the stucco building at 15th and F streets NW, told the subcommittee that the future of the tavern is a home-rule issue and that passage of the resolution would constitute unwarranted meddling in D.C. affairs.
But others, including White House curator Clement Conger, voiced support of the measure and argued that the three-story structure, which served as Washington's first city hall and has been on the route of every inaugural parade since Thomas Jefferson's, should be kept at its current site and restored as a colonial tavern.
"The fate of Rhodes Tavern quite frankly rests in the judgment and discretion of Mr. Carr," D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, who cosponsored the resolution calling for the building's restoration, said in an opening statement.
Fauntroy added, however, that a central question, who would pay for the tavern's retention and restoration, is a point on which the resolution is mute.
Later, Rep. Stewart McKinney (R-Conn.), the resolution's other principal sponsor, told the hearing, "I would like to see Rhodes Tavern saved but I believe it cannot be saved where it is," because of incompatability with the new construction.
Carr has offered to move the building intact to a site in Georgetown. But a group of historic perservationists has continued to fight for the building's salvation at its current location.
"The issue of preservation of Rhodes Tavern on this site is one of local interest . . . far removed from the federal interest," Carr said yesterday. "For Congress to undo the local regulatory process . . . would be an unfortunate precedent."
Citizen activist Joseph Grano, who has led the fight to save the tavern, supported the resolution, saying, "A great mistake has been made. Let's admit that in the 11th hour and change it."
Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) has introduced a similar resolution in the Senate.
White House curator Conger, in support of the measure, said the building could be refurbished as a colonial tavern, much like Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria.
City planning official John McKoy said D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, whose representative ruled that Carr has the right to raze the structure, said he hoped that Carr would "forego any economic advantage" and preserve the tavern.
The subcommittee took no action at yesterday's hearing.