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Though it was not a complete surprise that the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) decided against the demolition of the shotgun house at 1229 E St. SE, many of us had hoped that the board, along with the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS), would finally listen to the strong support the surrounding community, the advisory neighborhood commission, the mayor, and Councilmember Sharon Ambrose have clearly expressed for its razing. But it didn’t happen, and the arrogant high-handedness of an unelected group of people has once again stymied and ignored the wishes of the community.
Anyone who has followed the history of the property knows that the owner and the preservationists have been at odds for years. No one thinks the owner of the property is a saint, but his position should not be completely dismissed. I think most people would agree that the CHRS has done a lot of very good things for Capitol Hill in preserving its historic character. But those of us who have been very involved in this ongoing and frustrating situation know that it is the CHRS, and now the HPRB, that at this point in time are as much the villains as the owner, and perhaps more so.
The article in the Washington City Paper (“Dwelling in the Past,” 11/1) presents a fair and clear picture of the roles those two organizations have played in preventing the shotgun house from being torn down. While it leaves out a few details and does not portray the neighbors’ position or feelings as well as it should, it offers a good explanation and history of what has been going on and what homeowners on the Hill have to deal with. I don’t know of anyone who lives on the Hill who is not in favor of historic preservation, but many people I know—and I have lived on the Hill for 32 years—think the CHRS should not have as much influence as it does in dictating to the residents what they can and cannot do to their homes.
Few people want to attack the CHRS or take it on, for fear of what might happen when their home-improvement projects come before it. Unless one has enough resources to comply with the society’s every wish, there is little one can do other than forgo the work on the house (or do it illegally). And the CHRS’s influence with the HPRB is obvious.
Regarding the shotgun house, the CHRS said it would work with our neighborhood to resolve this issue, but when push came to shove, all it cared about was getting its way. The CHRS can protest, but where the shotgun house is involved it is and continues to be dictatorial and inflexible.
Here is a challenge to the CHRS and the HPRB: If the shotgun house is so important and must be preserved, then do something positive for once on this issue. Buy it and restore it, or buy it and move it. Stop mouthing the worn-out theme about the responsibility and blame of the owner and the importance of this building to the history of the Hill and the city. Enough is enough. We, the residents of this area, have tried to find a resolution to this problem, and we have been stopped at every turn. Not once have we heard a reasonable proposal from the CHRS and HPRB. All we get is the same old broken record about why it must be preserved. Now is the time for them to do something constructive, or they should simply get out of the way.