House Lacks Historic Value
Mary Rowse's letter arguing that a dilapidated 1925 house in the Palisades community is worthy of historic designation [District Extra, June 24] is simply wrong. This house doesn't deserve preservation, historic or otherwise.
She is right only that the Sears kit house is nearly 80 years old; many houses in the Palisades are that old or older. However, for decades the Palisades Citizens Association has been trying to have the house razed to create more usable green space for the Palisades Recreation Center.
More than 40 years ago, former Palisades presidents William Smith and Harold Gray led efforts to have the National Park Service acquire the house. The intention was to have the Park Service, which then controlled D.C. parks and recreation centers, raze the house and use the two lots the agency owned on Sherier Place for additional park space. The Park Service bought the house and transferred jurisdiction to the city after Congress approved home rule for the District in 1973. Used by the city as a group home, the house was vacated in the early 1980s and abandoned to time, weather and vandals.
Had it ever been offered for sale, it would have been listed as a tear-down and readily been demolished to the grateful cheers of neighbors and the larger Palisades community. No builder in his right mind would spend the money to repair it.
This house does not merit historic status just because it is a Sears house. There are other Sears houses in the Palisades, several lovingly restored. And there are other Fullerton models and other Sears houses in the District.
The importance that Rowse attaches to the provenance of this house is overreaching. Our Palisades streets bear names of families like the Sheriers and Weavers, whose farms once cultivated our area. Shugrue, Binsted and H.D. Johnson families still live or work in our neighborhood -- descendants of early residents who helped to build our community, knit its fabric and weave its rich legacy, and who are chronicled in our written history. To be sure, everyone who lives here is important to our community, and we hope they make a contribution. That doesn't mean all our houses are noteworthy or should be deemed historic.
We know the importance of historic preservation. Our community association led the well-known fight to save the MacArthur Theater. While we couldn't save the theater, we got historic designation for the exterior and the lobby.
Razing this house is the only opportunity our community will have to add land to the recreation center that is the heart of our community. The old field house is our town hall for meetings. It is the place where we vote and play, and where our community hosts a free picnic for thousands of people after the July 4 parade we have held for 38 years.
This house, adjoining our recreation center property, has languished unoccupied, uncared for and unwanted for much of its life. In all this time, no preservation group ever displayed any interest. The Palisades community, its caretaker by default, has repeatedly asked to have it torn down. If these Sears houses are so significant, where have Mary Rowse and other preservationists been all these years as, one by one, Sears houses in our neighborhood fell to developers? We see no value in saving the house when we consider the benefits of tearing it down.
Mary Rowse is also wrong to claim that our recreation center has 14 acres. Only a few acres are usable. The rest is a steep ravine leading down to the canal, the Potomac River and the Potomac Gorge. We have an old field house, a playing field, an old basketball court, a handful of garden plots and a small dirt parking lot. A children's playground and new tennis courts exist only because the community raised money and built them.
Razing this house would allow our community to annex much-needed shaded green space, create a flower garden and sitting area along Sherier, and improve (but not expand) the parking plan for our park. Because the city has indicated a desire to help, and approved a razing permit, we need to act now.
Over a year ago, members of the Palisades community were asked at a meeting to consider a half-dozen options for the house. Razing the house won, hands down.
Mary Rowse knew the community's wishes and even attended a meeting with community members, Friends of Palisades Park, the Palisades Park Advisory Committee and city officials to finalize demolition plans. The former city administrator signed off on the razing permit. The National Park Service raised no objections.
Still, this Chevy Chase resident with no ties to the Palisades, and no true sense of our community and its history, filed a last-minute landmark application to stop the city plans. The application nullifies the razing permit until the Historic Preservation Board hears the case.
Over the past 50 years, each of us has served as president of the Palisades Citizens Association. We have fought many battles, given endless time and done more to improve our community, safeguard its history and preserve important neighborhood landmarks than Mary Rowse can ever hope to achieve by this last-ditch attempt to save an unwanted eyesore, unworthy of historic preservation. Her efforts would cheat the Palisades out of a long-awaited opportunity to save park land and improve our community.
Harold Gray, William G. Smith,
Richard England, Sally Fallon,
Cary Ridder, Penny Pagano
First, Hear the Community
As a Palisades resident since 1991, I have frequently been involved in constructive community efforts aimed at preserving the character of this unique neighborhood. These efforts were always participatory and related to the conservation of a historic landmark, such as the MacArthur Theater, or to the maintenance of a safe environment for all of us, especially our children. Even though we couldn't keep the theater functioning, at least the new owners couldn't modify the facade, as it was declared of historic value. And when the energy company wanted to run power lines along Sherier Place, community opposition forced it to make other plans.
Having been witness to so much creativity, I cannot believe that the only solution for the Jesse Baltimore House is to destroy it.
Our Palisades community understands what tradition and historic buildings are and their value for future generations. That is why many of us are worried about the proposal put forward by a small group of people, not representative of the larger universe of Palisades residents, who want to raze a unique house without going through a democratic process of listening to what the community has to say about it.
Many residents feel their opinions were not taken into account with regard to the Jesse Baltimore House. In fact, few people have even seen the plans for the Palisades Recreation Center (located behind the house), and most do not know what is being proposed for that larger site.
With so many positive proposals for the house, such as designating it a historic landmark, let's not demolish it in haste and forever lose a significant piece of our neighborhood's history.
Letter Contained Errors
In our letter last week ["Let the Neighborhood Decide," July 1 District Extra], we incorrectly included the past and present ANC 3D chairs as supporters of our effort to raze 5136 Sherier Place. While both commissioners have an honorable respect for the Palisades Citizens Association vote, their personal views on the matter are quite different from ours. We have apologized to Alma Gates and John Finney for the error. ANC 3D has not taken a position on this issue.
Palisades Recreation Center
Friends of Palisades Park