Arthur M. King, 92, joined Alexandria's Old Dominion Boat Club in 1914 so that on peaceful mornings he could go down the Potomac and row away his and the world's cares.
But for the last decade, King and the other 550 club members have found their social sanctuary so disturbed by rough legal waters that they are ready to move upriver.
"We don't really want to move, but we're sick of all the quarreling and haggling," says King, who remembers when Kate Smith made her singing debut at the club in 1922. "The whole point of the club is to have fun, not to pay lawyers' fees."
Tonight, when the Alexandria City Council votes on whether to purchase the clubhouse land at the foot of King Street on the Potomac waterfront, Old Dominion hopes to leave behind a long legal dispute with the federal government.
The Justice Department has claimed since it filed a lawsuit in 1973 that although the club bought the land from the state of Virginia, it consists of landfill owned by the U.S. government that never rightfully belonged to the state.
If the City Council votes as expected tonight, Alexandria will enhance its multimillion dollar waterfront development plan by buying from the club its 41,000-square-foot site adjacent to the Torpedo Factory arts center and office complex for use as a new public park.
The federal government, which is using the lawsuit primarily as a tool to prevent clutter along the waterfront, is expected to settle the suit promptly, abandoning its claim to the land as long as the city uses it for a public purpose.
"This problem has been kicking around for a long time," said Mayor Charles E. Beatley, who said he will vote tonight to give the club another waterfront site at the foot of Montgomery Street, along with $1.5 million, if it sells the King Street property to the city.
Beatley said that with only six weeks before the municipal elections, no City Council member wants to be accused "of throwing money at problems, but I don't think that's what we are doing here. That land will make the waterfront a much nicer picture. It's well worth the money."
Even if the city agrees to purchase the boathouse property, the club may still have problems with the federal government that might prevent it from picking up its oars and moving the eight blocks north to the foot of Montgomery Streeet said James Draude, a Justice Department attorney.
The Montgomery Street site, now vacant, may not be as centrally located as the present waterfront site, Draude said, but the federal government believes it too should be preserved for public use and does not want to allow a new building, or even a boathouse, to be built there.
Paul Thomas, the president of the 105-year-old club, and the club's attorney, Bud Hart, would not comment on the possibility that Old Dominion may find itself homeless after spending over a century in Alexandria.
"If the U.S. says, 'No way. You can't built up there,' I suppose they'll stay where they are" at the foot of King Street, at least for a while, said City Attorney Cyril D. Calley. He said that even if the council approves the sale, it is contingent on the club's relocation.
Julian Whitestone, 75, another longtime member of the club that had an all-male membership until 1983, said club members are getting tired of being "pushed around by the government." He said that, first, pressure from the city government made the club allow women as members, and now the federal government is making it very difficult to keep their club and the "afternoon beers by the water."