“Dwelling in the Past” (11/1) is such an amazing collage of misstatements, misrepresentations, and character assassination that it is hard to know where to start, or stop, in my attempt to provide your readers with a fairer picture of the role and character of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS).
The CHRS is a nonprofit community membership organization, one of D.C.’s oldest and largest, founded almost 50 years ago to preserve the residential character of Capitol Hill. CHRS volunteers have helped create a historic district to protect historic buildings from demolition and represented neighbors opposing major projects such as freeway construction.
In a historic district, property owners must comply with a set of legal requirements. It is this set of requirements that affect people such as Larry Quillian. CHRS officers and committees use their knowledge and experience of these legal requirements to provide opinions and advice to appropriate city offices. These offices sometimes pay attention to such advice; sometimes they don’t. It is up to them.
Quillian’s is a story of defiance of both legal requirements and the best interests of the neighbors. He bought the shotgun-house property long after the creation of the historic district. He knew full well the limitations under which he would be allowed to develop it. If the CHRS has failed here, it is in not being able to persuade the city to halt his demolition by neglect—a solution he chose when he was unable to circumvent legal restrictions against demolition by wrecking ball.
The shotgun house should not be written off so quickly. It is an eyesore as it stands now, but it is not beyond redemption as an attractive, affordable home. Naysayers need look no farther than 9th Street SE, where a shotgun house has been beautifully renovated and has proved to be “worth the extra effort to save.” Among other misrepresentations in the article, Quillian wildly overstated the renovation cost—something your reporter could have easily discovered if he hadn’t been so willing to take at face value every declaration by Quillian.
Our agenda is not that of just a few. Our membership is almost 1,000, and it is open to anyone willing to pay our modest dues. The board and members care deeply about our community and about the future of Capitol Hill, a vision as cherished now as when we were founded. Then, we opposed the demolition of houses along East Capitol Street. Now, we support the community in opposing a two-block gas station on H Street, foster preservation of the Eastern Market, and support continuation and the usefulness of the Old Naval Hospital on Pennsylvania Avenue SE. We are not an isolated band of obstructionists.
I had to smile at the characterization of the CHRS as a humbler of developers and disrupter of projects. Dedicated members such as Nancy Metzger, in their free time, have worked closely with developers such as Eakin/Youngentob to transform the decaying Bryan School property (on Independence Avenue SE) into new housing harmonious with the old.
Our volunteer organization works hard to accomplish many things that make us and the community proud: among them are our annual House and Garden Tour and our grants to community projects that improve playgrounds and public spaces. Your readers can learn more by going to our Web site (www.chrs.org) or by attending our Preservation Cafes and membership meetings. They will soon learn that our community organization lives in the present—but with respect for the architectural legacy that attracts so many to Capitol Hill in the first place. This is the reality and the dream: a unique, diverse, vibrant, urban village. It is this dream we are committed to preserving.
Capitol Hill Restoration Society