I used to look forward to each week’s issue of the Washington City Paper back in the Barry days. You were right on target in a city that was totally dysfunctional, corrupt, and violent. Since those days, you seem to have lost your way as you seek other targets in what I think may be an honest concern for good government. Instead of closely following the workings or nonworkings of our much burdened and disenfranchised city, you target individuals who move into your sights and attack them wrongfully and personally. You do us all a disservice.
In the latest case (“Dwelling in the Past,” 11/1), you target the Capitol Hill Restoration Society and Nancy Metzger, the chair of its Historic District Committee. The CHRS is a civic association founded in the early days (1955) of old-house restoration. It promotes good government by supporting the consistent application of the city’s land-use regulations. The CHRS works to preserve our historic community through the establishment and maintenance of the Capitol Hill Historic District, one of the largest in the country. We advocate the joys of inner-city living through our annual House and Garden Tour.
The Historic District Committee consists of a dozen preservation professionals with degrees in preservation, architecture, and design, as well as just plain old hands-on experience in saving old buildings. We publish guidelines on how to maintain the integrity of our houses and seek to educate people about the historic treasure with which we live every day. As volunteers, we serve the city’s Historic Preservation Division (HPD) and the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) by reviewing cases that are submitted to them for approval. In this role, we seek to moderate between the concerns of the applicants and their architects, and the integrity of our historic fabric. Anyone who has been involved in civic work will appreciate the dedication as well as the number of volunteer hours required to responsibly undertake such work.
The shotgun house, or Tungel-Hartley House (1957), is one of a very few buildings clearly reflecting the working-class origins of Capitol Hill. It was never offered for sale by Larry Quillian to the CHRS. We wish he would. We know people who would gladly undertake its restoration. More than 10 years ago, when I was president of the CHRS, Quillian did offer us his derelict buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue (but not the land—or the Tungel-Hartley House, which he did not own at the time). Think about the implications of that offer! No one would deliberately become entangled in such a Byzantine project. We declined. Quillian has let the buildings further deteriorate in one of the most egregious cases of demolition by neglect on Capitol Hill—an act that is clearly in violation of the laws and regulations of the District of Columbia. The other proposals offered by Quillian have involved the use of the alley for vehicular access to his Pennsylvania Avenue properties. This would clearly violate the zoning regulations that apply to that residential block of E Street SE.
We are puzzled by Quillian’s inability to work with us on this project. The CHRS, the HPD, and the HPRB have successfully worked on many multi-million-dollar projects here on Capitol Hill involving developing condominiums and town houses in association with old school buildings and a hospital. It takes a willingness to talk, to provide complete plans, and to be flexible. These are very successful projects in every sense of the word, with the town houses, for example, selling upward of $500,000. One of these town houses was formerly such a derelict building that the neighbors called for its demolition, too.
I hope you print this letter to straighten out some of the misrepresentations made by Quillian and the City Paper. We all look forward to more responsible reporting in the future.