The DC Preservation League recently identified nine historic sites for this year's list of Most Endangered Places in Washington. Since 1996, the nonprofit volunteer organization has issued the list as a local counterpart to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Most Endangered Places in America list.
The local places include buildings, neighborhoods and sections of the city that are nominated by individuals and organizations. The sites, which are not ranked in the league's report, are chosen based on what the league considers to be a threat to their condition or use.
One site, Washington's symbolic core, ironically encompasses some of the city's best-tended places, including the U.S. Capitol, the White House, the National Mall, Union Station, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Although the area is not threatened by physical destruction, the league said, public enjoyment has been increasingly hampered by "extreme security measures, street closures, [and] barriers of varying size and configuration."
The report said security measures have been employed "in an ad-hoc manner throughout the entire symbolic core, distorting its representation of freedom, openness, and democracy while ignoring the needs of the city's residents and impeding visitors to the nation's capital."
Lisa Burcham, director of the city's Office of Historic Preservation, said that while her office may disagree with some of the items on the league's list, it strongly agrees that recent security measures have detracted from the character of Washington's symbolic core. "It's become all about how pretty you can make a bollard look. That's not what we'd like to see the funding being spent on," she said.
While noting that the National Park Service did not institute the security measures, Bill Line, a park service spokesman, said it is "working to achieve long-term and workable solutions toward our dual role of maintaining and caring for these national icons, but at the same time ensuring the public's access to and safety at these sites."
Also on the list is Holt House. It was built nearly 200 years ago and is located off Adams Mill Road on the grounds of the National Zoo, where it was used as administrative offices until 1988. The league says the house is now in poor condition and is in need of special attention. An appropriations measure passed by Congress this year prohibits funds of the Smithsonian Institution, which includes the zoo, to be used for repairs to the house, except "to minimize water damage, monitor structure movement, or provide interim structural support."
The league says the single-acre, Civil War-era Battleground National Cemetery, at 6625 Georgia Ave. NW, has simply fallen into disrepair. The league cited the cemetery's former superintendent's lodge, flagpole and ceremonial rostrum as needing refurbishing. The park service's Line disagreed with the league's description, noting that in the past year, the rostrum was repaired and the superintendent's lodge repainted with historically accurate colors.
New developments in certain areas could threaten their historic flavor, according to the league's report. It says proposed projects in the Anacostia Historic District -- bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Good Hope Road, Fendall Street, Bangor Street and Morris Road -- coupled with property owners' lack of funds for upkeep are jeopardizing the character of an area that includes 550 buildings built between 1854 and 1930.
Nearby, the South Capitol Street Corridor -- bounded by G Street, the Anacostia River, Second Street SE and Second Street SW -- features an art deco power station, early 20th-century housing, World War II-era worker housing and buildings dating from the 1870s to the 1920s. With the planned construction of the city's new baseball stadium in the area, it too will soon undergo intense change.
In Northwest, the McMillan Reservoir Sand Filtration Site, a water proessing facility built in 1905 on 25 acres of greenery -- bounded by North Capitol Street, Michigan Avenue, First Street and Channing Street -- faces proposed construction of housing, shops and a hotel-conference center that would leave little open green space, the league said.
Tregaron, a wooded 20-acre estate at 3100 Macomb St. NW, was built in 1912 and features carefully planned gardens, stone bridges, retaining walls, a pond and a bridle path. The Washington International School now owns six acres of it, including all of the landmark's historic structures. The other 14 acres, however, are owned by a development corporation that has recently sought permits to build 16 new houses and a new road. Neighborhood groups that oppose the proposed construction say the development would threaten the open space, according to the league.
Two of the "most endangered" places are viewed optimistically by the league, because it has already seen progress in them, said league spokeswoman Rebecca Miller. The Franklin School, at 13th and K streets NW, whose interior has landmark status, has deteriorated over the years through lack of maintenance, but plans have been made to redevelop the school for use as a hotel. The school remains on the list only because the league has not yet seen the plans and continues to monitor preservation of the structure's historical aspect, Miller said.
The league has also seen progress in the Mount Vernon Triangle -- bounded by New York Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, New Jersey Avenue and Seventh Street NW -- a blighted area of historic properties amid overgrown vacant lots slated for redevelopment.
"Essentially, the goals [for Mount Vernon Triangle] have been met," said Miller. "There are 11 pending landmark nominations that protect 31 buildings, and the developers are working with the Office of Planning, the D.C. Historic Preservation Office and [the DC Preservation League]."
In addition to the Most Endangered Places list, the league placed other sites on a Watch List. Those sites are: Benjamin Banneker Park at Banneker Circle SW; Harewood Estate on Harewood Road NE; Martin Luther King Jr. Library, 901 G St. NW; Saint Elizabeths Hospital, 2700 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE; Uline Arena (Washington Coliseum), between Second and Third and L and M streets NE; and the Western Union Telegraph Company Building, 4623 41st St. NW.
Above, this unoccupied house in the Anacostia Historic District was built in the early 1900s. Below, Holt House, built in 1810 and named after Army surgeon Dr. Henry Holt, is on the grounds of the National Zoo.