Is Walter Reed the next St. Elizabeths? They’re both large scale medical campuses, now suddenly being redeveloped and reborn. They’re both old. They’ve both treated famous people within their boundaries—-Walter Reed of the more noble variety: President Dwight Eisenhower died there in 1969. Meanwhile, St. Elizabeths was home to “the man who tried to shoot President Andrew Jackson, the man who did shoot President Theodore Roosevelt and, of course, the man who grievously wounded President Ronald Reagan,” as the Post wrote in June 2007.
And now there’s something else that may align both campuses even more: Yesterday, the Washington Business Journal reported that the D.C. Preservation League is applying to make Walter Reed a historic district. The hospital is being closed and much of the land will be redeveloped by the city. For the past few years, preservationists and planners have been tussling over what St. Elizabeths, a National Historic Landmark, should look like once it becomes the headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security.
Even though many campus buildings will remain intact, preservationists say the campus’s environment and feel may be destroyed. Here’s a portion of an interview I did with Erik Hein, formerly of the D.C. Preservation League, about that topic:
The buildings exist in a context, and that context is that of a campus. It’s a national historic landmark. The views from St. Elizabeths over the city are amazing. It was deliberately chosen for its bucolic setting. Basically the Department of Homeland Security is proposing huge additions to the site, [which] will become a level-five security campus. The issue of public access is very questionable, meaning we’ve got this great jewel that we may never see. And again the density and scale of the development would potentially destroy the character of the campus and the landmark.
Now, Walter Reed is beginning to embark on a similar development path. How long before we hear the next set of gripes about lost character? Here’s more from yesterday’s Business Journal article:
[Mayor Adrian] Fenty is seeking both a real estate developer and a consultant to drive plans for redeveloping 62 acres of the 113-acre site, between 16th Street and Georgia Avenue NW in the city’s Brightwood neighborhood.* The General Services Administration and the State Department plan to redevelop other parts of the property. The D.C. Preservation League “looks forward to a coordinated effort between the U.S. Department of State, the office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and the D.C. Office of Planning/Historic Preservation Office to ensure a cohesive redevelopment of this historic campus,” the group said in a Jan. 4 statement.
* City spokesperson Sean Madigan says the District will be “hiring a development advisor and urban planning team. We wouldn’t solicit for a developer until we complete the transfer process, which won’t likely happen for another 8 to 10 months.”
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