In his 16 years in Congress, John Culver saw his share of battles fought and fences mended. Now he's discovering that the best way to end a battle with his Mount Pleasant neighbors is to tear part of a fence down.

The fence confrontation, now apparently resolved and seemingly minor on the surface, illustrates the problems faced in neighborhoods designated as historic. In the District, 20 areas have such status, according to the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board. Such a designation means residents and landowners need permits to make certain changes, such as building fences, in the neighborhood.

It all began last fall when Culver, a liberal Democrat from Iowa who served 10 years in the House and six in the Senate before losing his seat in 1980, built a seven-foot-high chain-link fence around his home at 3434 Oakwood Terrace NW in the District's Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

Just weeks earlier, the District government had declared the area historic.

The fence, which stretched 300 feet, angered Culver's neighbors, who told him it was a violation not only of the law but also of the spirit of the area's historic status. They also were upset that Culver did not obtain the necessary building permits for the fence, a mistake Culver's lawyer blamed on the firm that built the fence, not on Culver.

"We did as much as we could to get the preservation {designation} for our neighborhood, and now to just have {the preservation provisions} ignored so quickly angers me", said Elizabeth Zando, a neighbor of Culver who described the fence as an "unattractive, factory-type" of structure.

This week, Culver agreed to take down a portion of the chain-link fence and replace it with a wooden structure to resemble another section of fence built at the same time as the contested one. Along another part of the triangular lot bordering Oakwood Terrace and 17th Street NW, Culver also agreed to paint the remaining chain-link fence black and plant bushes in front of it to hide the metal structure.

Neighborhood preservation activists sought to play down the confrontation with Culver. The activists said they were afraid that efforts to promote historic preservation throughout the city would be set back by any publicity about the affair.

"Historic preservation always gets a bum rap," said Edward Hughes, a member of Historic Mount Pleasant, the neighborhood's preservation group. "There's been some animosity, but the matter has been solved to everyone's satisfaction."

"There is not a war going on," said Eleanor Clagett, president of Historic Mount Pleasant. "I don't want us or {Culver} to appear arbitrary or capricious. We are actively involved in working with Culver to reach a solution."

Last week, preservationists argued that the fence violated the area's historic charm. After Culver agreed to the modifications, though, the activists said the issue was a building permit matter, not a historic preservation issue.

Those leading the fight to change Culver's mind about his new fence were the neighborhood's key preservationists. The fence fight had an added twist, though. It brought one of the city's leading historic preservationists into the fray to represent Culver, not the Mount Pleasant preservationists.

Tersh Boasberg, a lawyer who has been involved in preservation issues as the vocal president of the Cleveland Park Historical Society, represented Culver, whom he described as an old friend.

"I don't consider myself being on the other side," Boasberg said. "Obviously, I'm against chain-link fences {in a historic district}. And so is {Culver},"

While some Mount Pleasant residents last week said they were upset that Boasberg was on the other side of the fence in the issue, Clagett of the neighborhood's historical society said she was "pleased that Mr. Boasberg is as concerned as he is."

Culver, now a partner with the Washington law firm of Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kahn, did not return telephone calls for comment.

Boasberg said the fence fracas had been blown out of proportion. Culver knew he was living in a historic district, "but did not know there were any special fence requirements," said Boasberg. He added that Culver erected the fence to protect his property and confine his three dogs.

Boasberg said the dispute resulted because the fence contracting firm, Clinton Fence Co. of Waldorf, did not obtain the required city permits. Had the permits been sought, city code inspectors would have noticed the neighborhood's historic status and its prohibition against such fences, Boasberg said.

Steve King, vice president of Clinton Fence, said a company employee who obtains the permits suffered a stroke.

"The ball just got dropped," said King, who added that he is going "to work with the community" to resolve the matter.

"Everybody is happy and smiling," Boasberg said.

Not necessarily. "I'm not quite as pleased as everyone," said Zando, whose house is on the side of the fence that will be painted black, not taken down. "I'm not content. Let's see what happens."