Palisades Past Presidents
Out of Touch on House
A letter from six former presidents of the Palisades Citizens Association [District Extra, July 8] that urged tearing down an intact 1925 Sears kit house near Palisades Park shows how distant a handful of our one-time community leaders have grown from residents' most deeply felt concerns.
Along with others, I spoke to dozens of residents and area visitors in an effort to gather support for the Jesse Baltimore House during the Palisades' Fourth of July parade. Many told stories about attractive early 20th-century houses being torn down on their block and replaced with big boxes. The overwhelming sentiment was, "We've got to stop old houses such as this one from being torn down."
The Palisades Citizens Association past presidents' letter is a grave disappointment to those of us working to save this historic property. These individuals, whose decades of hard work on behalf of Palisades residents are beyond question, had the option to lead this neighborhood in a more generous and constructive dialogue around this issue. By attacking the application for historic preservation for the Jesse Baltimore House, they are in the shameful position of attacking the importance of the Palisades' history as a whole.
For them to argue, in essence, that it's fine for developers to keep picking off older houses so long as we still have a few streets named after the neighborhood's important families is an affront to the offspring of the majority of working class families who built this neighborhood. Many did so with their own hands, and it's their precisely their spirit and achievements we seek to keep alive by preserving the Jesse Baltimore House.
As to the question of whether the house would be attractive to a buyer in its current condition, one neighborhood couple with two small children told me they had been eyeing the house for some time and wished they could buy it. An architect who works in Palisades said, "I have just one problem with this house: I don't own it."
The Palisades Citizens Association past presidents' claim that razing the Jesse Baltimore House would be met with "grateful cheers" throughout Palisades is demonstrably not true. Indeed there is significant and rapidly growing support for keeping it and at the same time moving ahead with plans to improve the Palisades Recreation Center. These efforts are not mutually exclusive, although they would be helped immensely by some positive leadership.
No one wants this house to remain in its current dilapidated condition. We all agree on that. But which route -- tearing it down or preserving it -- offers the greatest long-term benefits to the community? More and more residents favor the latter path.
Palisades House Deserves
I write to express my support for saving the Jesse R. Baltimore House at 5136 Sherier Place NW and its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. This home represents the character, scale and cultural and architectural history of the Palisades neighborhood. Although the house needs attention, it retains nearly all of its original character, feeling and integrity, and its exterior and interior materials, as far as we know, remain intact.
This matter is important beyond the issue of whether the Sears house is worthy of designation. It represents an opportunity for the community and the city, through the Historic Preservation Review Board, to act positively and decisively to help preserve the heritage of a historic neighborhood that is part of our nation's capital. This decision will have an impact on similar cases that will come before the board, and the application opens the way for the board to begin an expansive way of looking at neighborhood preservation from a citywide perspective.
There are no easy solutions to zoning, development and preservation issues. In recent years, they have divided communities and neighborhoods. Yes, we have lost time on this particular project. But if this building is demolished we will have wasted money and resources, and the day will come when the loss of the house will be regretted as well.
This house provided a sense of place to the Baltimore family. They built it and lived in it for many years. That can be achieved again. The fact that it has withstood much over the years is a sign of its own determination to remain. I believe the house should be returned to the full custody of the National Park Service, arrangements should be made for the proper disposal of the real estate by the U.S. government, and the house should be sold with restrictive covenants incorporated into the deed that will protect its historic integrity for now and all time.
The nation's capital ought to set the benchmark for the rest of the country when it comes to planning, preservation and design. The Baltimore House is an example of an important link in the history of the Palisades neighborhood. Where better than Washington to make the stand that preserving architecture and cultural history are important and worthwhile.
Alan Z. Aiches