This week, the remains of an Alexandria landmark will be reduced to memories and photographs.
Despite efforts by the Historical Alexandria Foundation, the city has ordered the demolition of the Pioneer McGraw Sumac Mill, at 1229 King St. A Dec. 11 fire damaged the building's structure and made it a threat to public safety, the city said.
Dr. Morgan Delaney, president of the Historical Alexandria Foundation, wrote to the building's owner, David Cammack, and proposed a detailed foundation-funded study funded to determine whether any of the building could be saved. Under existing building codes, only the owner can appeal a demolition order. Cammack had previously said he wanted to demolish the building. Cammack was unavailable for comment on his plans for the site.
In December 1983, Cammack sought to tear down the structure but was denied the necessary permit and lost his appeal to the City Council. Last week, city government officials still seemed receptive to saving the building but said they had no legal way of going about it.
"We want to save nice old buildings and it was salvageable for a price, but there are no provisions in the present law to compel an owner to make repairs. It's terribly frustrating when we have lost a lot of old buildings already," said City Council member Patricia S. Ticer.
Uwe Hinz, the acting building official of the Code Enforcement Office, said not enough of the building appeared salvageable to justify the present threat to the public. "It is in the city's best interest to have the building removed." The building lost most of its internal structure during the fire, and the exterior walls walls showed signs of buckling, Hinz said.
The building was constructed around 1850 and served as a sumac mill, making dye chiefly used to tan leather. There were several major leather tanneries in Alexandria, according to Mike Miller, an Alexandria historical researcher. Miller said the building has also served as a butcher's shop, a rooming house and a furniture store.
Most recently, the historic building housed the Prevention of Blindness Society Thrift Shop. Arnold Simonse, executive director of the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington, said, "The short term effect of the fire is not hurting us yet because of our business interruption insurance."
If the society cannot find a new location before March 15 when the policy runs out, Simonse expects losses of $4,000 a month. "We are desperately seeking a new location. We would love to stay in Alexandria, but it is difficult to find a location large enough and at the right price. Up to this point we have not been successful."
The Dec. 11 fire is the building's second. The building was repaired around 1867 after a fire in one of the wings, Miller said.
City planner April Eberly said the three-story brick building was plain with detailed corners and "was representative of early industrial architecture. It was important as an historical structure."