WHEN THE LOGAN Circle area was designated a historic district in 1972, city officials and community activists hoped that it would be renovated and preserved in its original splendor. The neighborhood had declined drastically after World War II, becoming much better known for its prostitutes than for its lattice-work. Renovation started slowly, but not before some buildings were torn down completely. These days, with renewed interest in older parts of town, the shortage of land encourages such demolition.
Today, however, the City Council has a chance to pass a bill that will make it possible to retain buildings in officially-designated historic districts. The legislation requires, for example, that a permit signed by the mayor be obtained before a house in a historic district can be torn down or significantly altered. As it is now, a permit for demolition is issued and then the battle begins, with community groups usually at odds with developers. By turning the procedure around, there's a good chance to make a decision before the work is started. Moreover, the federal Joint Commission on Landmarks and the Fine Arts Commission would be consulted by a review committee before final decisions were made.
This legislation has been several years in the making. A number of people, including members of the Board of Trade, the American Institute of Architects, an outfit called Don't Tear it Down, some advisory neighborhood commissions, as well as the appropriate District agencies, have had a hand in shaping it. All of them agree (which is historic, in itself) that the city needs to be able to exercise control over the willful demolition of historic buildings. But several council members are uncertain about the bill's effect on lower and middle-income households now living in historic districts. To relieve their apprehensions, provision should be made for a city council review of the legislation again in two years. That way, the members will be able to keep track of what has been saved, as well as what has been demolished - and what the effects have been on the lives of people as well as on the interest of historic preservation in the city.