City officials from Charleston, S.C., toured Alexandria, praising the city for saving many of its historic buildings but saying that a tougher preservation law is needed to prevent the loss of Victorian buildings. They specifically mentioned the 96-year-old May House on Washington Street, recently demolished because present city laws protect only buildings more than 100 years old.
"Some people in Charleston have a fixation on the Colonial" period too, said Robert Rosen, assistant Charleston city attorney. "They'll do anything to save 18th Century buildings but do nothing for 19th and early 20th Century buildings." He made his comments standing in front of the 1752 Carlyle House, which the city preserved. Rosen and others on the walking tour criticized the restoration.
Stephen Dennis, a lawyer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation who participated in the snowy walk, said the city "is becoming too dense, not as pleasant as it was even six years ago," because it is allowing development of much of the open space in the Old Town historic district.
Both Alexandria and Charleston are trying to change their preservation laws to better protect the old buildings and neighborhoods that have made the cities popular tourist spots.
Alexandria asked the Virginia legislature this year for a charter change to permit the preservation of buildings less than 100 years. The measure has passed the Senate.
Charleston plans to enlarge its historic district and is seeking to change its pioneering 1931 historic preservation law, the nation's first. Yesterday's visit was part of that effort. The city also has sent officials to Richmond to study its laws and has hired the National Trust to make recommendations. Charleston has been the focus of a major fight involving downtown development.
The tour through Alexandria was led by historian William Seale, who helped direct the unsuccessful fight to save the May House. He said more buildings should be protected in Old Town and other areas. He mentioned the "lovely Rosemont neighborhood, with its charming post-World War I cottages. There's no protection here for anything," he said as he took officials on a quick drive.
Paul Reavis, Charleston's zoning administrator, said Alexandria reminded him of Newport, R.I. He said the city appears to have had more success than Charleston in fitting large office buildings and parking into its historic district. But he criticized the city for allowing side yards and back yards to be developed. Seale led the group past the old YWCA building and Lord Fairfax House at Cameron and St. Asaph streets, whose side yards are soon to be developed.
"That would never happen in Charleston," even with its 1931 law, Reavis said.