One of the smallest and most curious buildings the General Services Administration rents for use by the federal government is the White House garage.
The four-story garage, where the 14 cars used by the White House staff are parked, is not located near the White House, but rather a mile away at 22nd and M streets NW.
GSA does not rent the garage from its owner, the Joseph Brown family, but rather from local real estate investor, Sidney J. Brown (no relation), who rented the garage from the Brown family and subleased it to GSA.
And GSA pays Sidney Brown considerably more than it would have to pay to rent the garage directly from the Brown family.
GSA has been paying Sidney Brown $97,992 a year. Sidney Brown rents the garage from the Brown family for $67,000 a year, plus payment of $12,000 annual real estate taxes.
"If we make $10,000 a year on it, we're lucky," Sidney Brown said yesterday.
GSA is now negotiating a new lease for the garage - again with Sidney Brown. This mystifies the Joseph Brown family.
"We would love to lease to GSA directly at the same rent we're getting from Sidney Brown," said Joseph L. Brown, whose family trust owns the property. "GSA would save the difference."
Hilary Peoples, the GSA leasing official who signed many of the letters concerning negotiations for a new lease of the garage, said the could not say why GSA leases the building from Sidney Brown and is renegotiating the new lease with him.
"My name may appear on the letters, but I know nothing about it," said Peoples, who is in charge of all GSA leases in the Washington area. When asked who does, she said, "The person working on it is not here."
The garage was purchased shortly after it was built in 1922 by Joseph A. Brown, who used it as headquarters for his taxicab company. During the Depression, Brown lost his business and rented the building to a succession of car dealerships.
After Brown died in the early 1960s, ownership of the property passed to his family through a trust arrangement.
As far back as 1968, the Brown family complained to GSA that it has been denied the opportunity to rent the garage directly to GSA.
In a letter to then GSA administration Lawson B. Knott Jr., former Rep. William C. Cramer (R-Fla.) said the Brown family told him that GSA leased the garage from Sidney Brown only after the Brown family was told GSA had no interest in the garage.
"The Brown family has never received a satisfactory explanation as to why GSA clamed that it was not interested in leasing this building and allowed First National Realty (Sidney Brown's company) to get a long lease on the building and then immediately there after GSA condemaned the leas for five year."
By "condemning" the lease on the garage, GSA sidestepped the necessity of obtaining competive bids from anyone other than Sidney Brown who wanted to lease garage space to GSA. GSA justified the action on the grounds Sidney Brown's rental demands were too high, but GSA rented the garage from him anyway.
According to GSA, Sidney Brown proposed to lease the garage to GSA in February 1963 which was only three months after he had rented it from the Brown family.
Over the years, the Brown family has feuded with Sidney Brown over rental payments and repairs Sidney Brown was supposed to make on the garage.
A 1977 GSA memo said the exterior of the garage had not been painted in nine years, the interior paint was peeling, the roof was leaking, the sidewalks needed repair, and the elevator in the garage constantly broke down.
"Numerous letters to the owner (Sidney Bown, who leases the building to GSA) requesting relief are attached," the memo said.
This year, Sidney Brown enlisted the aid of both U.S. senators from Maryland, Charles McC. Mathias Jr., a Republican, and Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat, in complaining to GSA that the agency was not making rental payments for the garage on time.
In reply to letters written by them on Brown's behalf. Robert T. Griffin, who was then acting GSA administrator while Jay Dolomon was out of town, assured the senators that Sidney Brown would be paid on time in the future. CAPTION: Picture, Garage for White House staff rented by GSA for $97,992. By Ellsworth Davis - The Washington Post