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When the previous owner of the home at 3823 Morrison St. NW passed away last year, it was sold to a developer. Built in 1914, the house was torn down last week, over some objections within the community.
Now the neighbors who tried, and failed, to keep it standing are hoping to use the demolition to push for a historic designation in the area.
New owner and developer Robert Holman presented his plan to raze the 2,890-square-foot Arts & Crafts-style structure at the neighborhood’s Jan. 13 ANC meeting. His plan, he said, was to build a new 5,500-square-foot single-family home there, which he would eventually settle in.
But Mary Rowse, a former ANC commissioner who co-founded preservationist group Historic Chevy Chase DC in 1990 (but is no longer affiliated with them), suspects that what is ultimately built there will be something different. Rowse has been trying to create a Chevy Chase Historic District for quite some time. After her last attempt fell short, she made a failed bid to return to the ANC. Her last public act before the current dispute was joining the lawsuit against the National Park Service over deer culling in Rock Creek Park.
And now she’s hoping that any question about the need for a historic district will collapse like the building she couldn’t save.
Rowse, whose letter trying to save the home gathered more than 200 signatures from other neighbors, believes that Holman plans to sell the lot to someone else who will put two semi-detached houses on the lot. The application for the raze permit was filed on the same day as a building permit application was filed that confirms his earlier intentions (though the zoning would allow him to build two if he wanted). Holman, meanwhile, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
ANC 3G Commissioner Jim McCarthy, though, wants no part of Rowse’s crusade. “That house has been an eyesore for more than the five months that it’s been waiting for demolition,” he says. “The previous owner was about 100 years old, and there were cracks in the wall.” Given the age of the house, McCarthy says, he can understand why Holman thought building something new would make sense.
Had a district been designated, Holman’s house would have remained standing, protected as a “contributing” historical building, says Kim Williams, an architectural historian for D.C.’s Historic Preservation Office. But will this one demolition tip the balance toward a historic district? The last time the ANC surveyed constituents, McCarthy says, 77 percent of respondents didn’t want the restrictions that come along with the designation.
But Rowse still believes in her push for a historic district, and she thinks it has more than aesthetic benefits: It’s more environmentally and economically sound to repair than replace homes built with turn-of-the-century materials, she says, as it puts local tradesmen to work fixing locally sourced, time-proven homes.
Now that some of those aged materials are in a pile of rubble not too far off of Connecticut Avenue NW, Rowse and some of her allies believe that the property has already been resold to another developer. That would, like everything Holman’s done with the property so far, be entirely legal—but there’s no indication in public records that he’s done so. If Holman has decided to bail on the project, though, McCarthy says he’d understand why: “I wouldn’t blame him, with all of this debate.”
Photo by Matt Ramos
Correction: This story originally contained several reporting errors. It misstated the number of respondents in an ANC survey about historic preservation; 930 people were surveyed, and about 500 of them replied. It misstated the dates when building and raze permit applications were filed and approved on the property; they were both filed on Nov. 13, 2013, but they were granted on different dates. It incorrectly characterized when historical significance would start in a proposed Chevy Chase historic district; the period was 1907 to 1947, and there was no disagreement about the dates. It mischaracterized who Mary Rowse was concerned would build multiple units on the lot, and why; she believed Robert Holman would sell the lot to another developer who would do that. And it misstated the year Historic Chevy Chase was founded, which was 1990.