Applause broke out in Alexandria's City Council chambers Saturday as the council voted 6 to 0 to let William and Ann Mary Ingraham keep the nautical flagpole that the Board of Architectural Review had told them to take down.
William Ingraham bowed to the council, saying, "God bless you all," after the vote was taken. The council had upheld his appeal of a board ruling that the Ingrahams' flagpole was not in keeping with the architectural motif of their neighborhood, located in the Old and Historic Alexandria District.
The ruling was that the flagpole was a "structure" and thus fell under its jurisdiction. The free-standing pole is the only one in front of a residence in the district.
"We're very content and happy," said Ann Mary Ingraham in a telephone interview Monday. The council action is "a very nice Christmas present," she said.
Among the spectators at Saturday's meeting were more than a dozen persons who had signed up to speak on the Ingrahams' behalf. In the absence of speakers against the flagpole, they waived their right to speak in order to speed the passage of the appeal.
Councilman Donald Casey said the issue in question was whether the flagpole fit the standards of the Old and Historic District, and he said that "the pole not going above the roof line saved it for me." Addressing the possibility of other flagpoles popping up in Old Town, Casey said, "It's okay to have one flagpole in a neighborhood but I don't want five."
Councilwoman Margaret B. Inman, who made the motion to uphold the Ingrahams' appeal, said that her first thought on seeing the pole was, "Some naval officer has moved in here." She said she would approve this flagpole because everyone concerned was acting in good faith, but she asked the city staff for a study to create guidelines defining "structure" more clearly to prevent such incidents.
Ingraham, who is a retired naval officer, defended the nautical design of the pole, saying Alexandria is a port city and that he and his wife wanted to fly more than one flag. The Ingrahams have done just that since the flagpole was installed.
At various times they have flown the United States, Confederate, Virginia, Bicentennial, Gadston (Don't Tread on Me), and Scottish Rebel flags, the last to commemorate Ann Mary Ingraham's native land.
The pole has been a lightning rod for controversy from the moment the Ingrahams had it put up late in June. In July, the Ingrahams said they were told by a neighbor that a petition was circulating against their flagpole, although they say they never saw the petition. In August they were informed by the city that a permit was required for the flagpole. The Ingrahams say that when they purchased the pole, they were told no permit was required.
That month, notice of a Sept. 19 public hearing was, according to William Ingraham, "slapped up on our wall." That hearing was postponed until Oct. 3, when the board, unable to decide if the pole was a "structure," tabled the issue. Two weeks later, the board ruled the flagpole was indeed a structure, and that it was not in keeping with the architectural motif of the neighborhood.
Ann Mary Ingraham says she does not know what she and her husband would be doing now had they lost their appeal. As far as she knows, she says, no one has ever taken a Board of Architectural Review decision beyond the City Council. Fortunately, she said, "It's settled. We've legally got our flagpole, and we thank the council for their handling of it."