The Rhodes Tavern controversy has been around as long as "Star Wars." The preserva tion of the building that stood at 15th and F streets NW for nearly two centuries surfaced as an issue in The Post in 1977, the year people first lined up to see Darth Vader.
That's a long time, at least by Earth's standards. But tomorrow, the last controversy concerning Rhodes Tavern will come to a close. At 12:30 p.m., a bronze plaque that acknowledges the remarkable history of the structure that was built in 1799 and razed in 1984 will be dedicated on the site of the old tavern. Everyone who cares about the city and its struggle to achieve political parity with the rest of the nation -- both the history of that struggle and its future -- is invited to attend.
For most Washingtonians, the long and divisive saga of Rhodes Tavern ended with the building's sudden demolition 15 years ago. Since then, however, a less-visible struggle has continued over the placement of a marker on the site.
The owner-developer of Metropolitan Square, the building that now occupies the corner, refused to allow such a plaque. Last year, however, Boston Properties acquired Metropolitan Square, and the new owner, Morton Zuckerman, graciously has allowed the placement of a plaque. He even is paying for its installation.
Zuckerman thus gives another demonstration of his regard for his adopted city. In the early 1980s, he preserved a pair of school buildings significant in the history of Washington's black community -- the Sumner and Magruder schools at 17th and M streets NW -- as part of a new office complex.
The plaque commemorating Rhodes Tavern remarks on a dozen events, from the 18th century construction ("in the hope that the capital would become a great city") to its demolition a year after Washingtonians overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to preserve the building.
Remembered are the tavern's role as the city's first, ad-hoc town hall, where citizens met in 1801 to petition Congress for representation and home rule; as the first home of Riggs Bank and other major local institutions; as the first home of the National Press Club; as the city's first stock exchange.
Remembered as well is its survival of the British burning of Washington in 1814, and the fact that it witnessed the inaugural parades of every president from Thomas Jefferson to Ronald Reagan.
But the plaque is silent on far more, especially on Rhodes's continuing resonance. Tomorrow is the 197th anniversary of the city's first council election, and Rhodes was one of three polling places in the new District's first exercise of democracy. The current federal lawsuit in which Washingtonians are suing for representation is the latest chapter of a long struggle that began in 1801 in Rhodes Tavern.
Many deserve credit and thanks for the plaque's placement, notably the Commission of Fine Arts, the D.C. Council, and the administration of Mayor Anthony Williams. Galt & Bro jewelers, occupying the Rhodes old space, has welcomed the plaque on its facade. D.C. schoolchildren also contributed their pennies toward the preservation of Rhodes. They, like everyone who supported that goal, would have preferred the retention of the building. But those pennies have now helped pay for a plaque that will enable us to approach this historic corner of Washington not with sadness but with pride.
-- Joseph N. Grano
is the president of the Rhodes Tavern-D.C. Heritage Society.
CAPTION: Rhodes Tavern by Earl Minderman (above); demolition in 1984.