Our Man in Arlington

June 21, 2016 1:48 PM1 comment

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The tear-down specialists are targeting old homes on historic Minor’s Hill.

As the highest point in Arlington, this prominence at the Fairfax line figured in the War of 1812 (Dolly Madison allegedly stayed there while escaping the British) and as a Civil War observation post owned by the secessionist Minor family and coveted by both sides.

This month, preservationists sounded alarms that a “Civil War-era Confederate home” was to be demolished, and county officials scrambled to respond.

The white two-story house on Minor’s Hill’s western slope at 6808 N. 31st Street N was sold by the Flynn Family to a builder in March for $975,000, and a demolition permit filed.

To call it a Civil War home is a stretch. The history, as compiled the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, notes the house sits on land rumored to been the site of a Confederate headquarters owned by contractor James Phillips. The dating of the threatened house is unclear; it contains early-20th-century additions. It was “not a rendition of a high style,” the historians wrote.

Still, it is vintage and unusual. Among those who came to its defense was Joan Lawrence, speaking as a private citizen through her expertise as chairman of the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board. “At a minimum, action on the demolition request should be delayed until additional information on its history can be obtained,” she wrote the county manager. “It is possible to designate the house as a local historic district under an expedited process… if a compromise to preserve it cannot be worked out.”

Also weighing in was Eric Dobson, the force behind Preservation Arlington, who told me. “This is a great example of an old house with an interesting history. But we don’t know everything. Unfortunately this is a monetized situation where the family needs to get out– the developer made an investment.”

The county replied as “bearer of bad news.” The permit for the “by right” new owner means “Arlington County has no legal authority to delay or stop the demolition.”

I contacted the custom builder, Matt Rzepkowski of MR Project Management, who said he didn’t focus on history of the property, brought to him by an investment group. He has designed two modern replacement homes, but hasn’t yet submitted plans.

Rzepkowski is also set to build three homes to replace an 18th-century home on the eastern flank of Minor’s Hill, two blocks into McLean, at Virginia and North Nottingham streets. Realtor Tom Francis told me the sellers made plans for subdividing that property.

Simultaneously on the market (and vulnerable as a teardown), is the 18th-century log home attached to a modern structure at 3610 N. Powhatan, half in Arlington, half in Fairfax. The owner, antiques dealer Charline Keith, seeks $2 million for the hidden home on one acre showcasing the 1770 log house she and her late husband trucked down from Chambersburg, Pa. (They transported a similar old log home from near Gettysburg now standing at Old Dominion Drive and Williamsburg Blvd.)

Keith showed me the home’s “chinking” (mortar and wire) between ancient logs that show carpenter’s strokes, downstairs from the bedroom with a hot tub. Keith has battled neighbors over preservation and subdividing rights.

Preservationists want more publicity for old homes and closer study before the wrecking ball.  Or, as Keith asks, “Why not move it?’

***

My schoolmate Mitch Mellen last month lit up the nostalgia Facebook page “I Grew Up in Arlington, VA.” He wrote: “For those who went to Arlington Elementary Schools in the ‘50s or ‘60s – remember the peanut butter and honey sandwiches wrapped in wax paper?”

I certainly recall them from James Madison Elementary School, where the hair-netted lunch lady Mrs. Easterling would kindly supply them if you forgot your lunch money.

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