In early December, I spoke with the D.C. Historic Preservation League’s Erik Hein about the city’s most endangered old structures. At the top of his list? St. Elizabeths campus in southeast D.C., a former insane asylum, Civil War hospital, and 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.
In the future, however, the site will be used as Homeland Security’s headquarters. And some believe historic preservation will basically go out the window. Today’s Washington Business Journal expounds the issue:
Along with the General Services Administration, DHS had originally planned to build all 6 million square feet on the west campus, but agreed to move about 1 million square feet of development to the east campus through a partnership with D.C., reducing the footprint.
Those changes, however, “fail to adequately address the serious and multiple conflicts” with standards for the treatment of historic properties, according to a Dec. 31 letter from Dennis Reidenbach, northeast regional director for the Park Service.
The Park Service warned in 2007 that the initial DHS proposal was “wholly incompatible” with the character-defining features of the west campus and said the development “would require that the facility in its entirety be considered for dedesignation as a National Historic Landmark.”
More than a year later, writing to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, an independent agency, Reidenbach said, “It has become clear to us over the past six months that the preservation of St. Elizabeths in a manner that is respectful of the history and character of the property is on a collision course with the intent to make it serve as the new DHS headquarters regardless of our objections.”
More from Hein:
The plans for the east campus released earlier this year included a number of original old buildings.
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.
Image by wageslaves, Flickr Creative Commons