Richard Gatti is giving his house in Tenleytown away. For free. Just ask for it, and it's yours -- no money down, no money at all.

Gatti, a developer, wants to erect a commercial building where the 98-year-old Victorian house now stands. So he wants to move it. He'll even pay the full cost of moving it.

There's just one catch: The house must remain in Tenleytown, according to terms of a deal Gatti struck last week with the Tenleytown Historical Society.

And there aren't many empty lots in Tenleytown, even if you define Tenleytown in the broadest possible terms.

The turn-of-the-century, Queen Anne-style homestead, with its slate-roofed tower and decorative windows, is one of the few Victorian houses left in Tenleytown, "and we want to keep it here," said Joel Odum, of the Tenleytown Historical Society, who has led several successful battles against development in upper Northwest.

Gatti and historical society leaders had been bickering over the fate of the old house at 4624 Wisconsin Ave. NW ever since Gatti applied for a demolition permit in August.

The society responded to the application by asking the city to declare the house a historic landmark. Sites being considered for landmark status cannot be demolished until the city issues a final ruling, which can take up to a year.

After several weeks of negotiations, Gatti agreed to pay to move the house, which is now sandwiched between two office buildings and has been used for various commercial ventures. That satisfied Odum and the other history buffs.

Joey Lampl, of Robinson & Associates, the preservation consulting firm that wrote the application for landmark status, said she would support moving the house to another street because the historic context of the building already has been destroyed by the overwhelming presence of the office buildings beside it.

"It needs its space again, so it can present itself to a street and be appreciated," she said.

An interior design studio on the first floor and the palm reader who occupied the second have moved out. So has Angelo's Golf Shop, which used part of the porch and basement for 23 years and has now moved two blocks away.

"It tore me apart to move," said owner Angelo Provensano. He said lights from a nearby restaurant make the house "glow" at night.

"It's spectacular. I couldn't see how anybody could pull it down in 10 minutes after it has been there for nearly 100 years."

Now that Gatti has agreed to give the house away, he and historical society members are trying frantically to get someone to take it.

"It's the bargain of the century!" declared Odum, rehearsing his pitch.

But finding a taker will be difficult because "there are no lots left in Tenleytown," said Joan Wolf, who sells real estate in upper Northwest for Shannon & Luchs Co.

Well, that's only if you define Tenleytown as the five blocks around Tenley Circle, Odum said. For purposes of the deal, he said, Tenleytown is bounded by Van Ness Street NW, the Maryland border, and Connecticut and Massachusetts avenues NW.

Wolf scrolled though her computer files and found three empty, buildable lots on the market in that area, each selling for more than $200,000. City officials could not say how many other lots are not for sale.

Odum said he hopes that if there are no private takers, a nonprofit group, the city or the federal government will accept the house and renovate it on land in Tenleytown.

Gatti said he doesn't know how much it would cost to move the house. Barry Vandyke, of Roanoke, the nearest professional house mover The Washington Post could find, said it would cost $15,000 to $17,000.

The house, which now sits on a 3,600-square-foot lot, is assessed at $139,447, according to Lusk's District of Columbia 1991 Assessment Directory.