Thursday, April 19, 2007

New Life for an Old School

There will be a new Fairmont Heights High School sooner rather than later, according to the Gazette.

That it is needed is not in doubt. The question is what to do with the original building. Rumors that the building would be torn down upset many of the students and teachers who passed through its halls over the years.

The good news, according to the article:

"Under the superintendent’s plan, the current Fairmont Heights building – one of the first high schools for African Americans in Prince George’s – would be preserved for community use and possibly be converted into a small, specialized school, according to the plans. The facility, built in 1950 near the District border, could also be used as a museum documenting African American achievements in Prince George’s County."

---Susan Pruden

Resources for Battling Mansionization

After writing about the problems of Mansionization here in Prince George's County (Supersize My House), I came across an article from last December in the Washington Business Journal about homeowners who have decided to remodel rather than tear down.

That article took me to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which ranked tear-downs in older neighborhoods as one of the 11 most endangered historic places in 2002. It has developed an advocacy program for communities that want to stop the bulldozers and has a resource guide for protecting older neighborhoods.

Definitely worth surfing through the many links and articles there.

-- Susan Pruden

Friday, April 13, 2007

Historic Preservation Planning Course

I discovered a course that may help me in my quest to learn more about historic preservation. As a relative newcomer to the World of Historic Preservation, I'm learning as fast as I can, but knowledge seems to come in dribs and drabs.

So imagine my excitement when I came across Planetizen: The Planning & Development Network. They offer online courses on a whole variety of topics, but the one that caught my attention is the following:

PLAN-110: Introduction to Historic Preservation Planning
As cities around the world expand and more people move back into older downtowns and inner-ring suburbs, historic preservation serves two important purposes, encouraging a sustained sense of history and culture in the community, while formalizing practical standards for the preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, or reconstruction of historic properties for adaptive use by a new generation.
For $99, I think it might be worth while checking it out, but I will start with the July 1 session.

--Susan Pruden

Supersize My House!

Cutely dubbed "McMansions", these houses are a concern to older communities everywhere. So just what is "Mansionization"? Mansionization is the phenomenon that occurs when unusually large homes are built, replacing smaller homes in existing neighborhoods. Communities like Mt. Rainier come to mind.

So what's the big deal?

It boils down to property rights versus the rights of neighbors and the community as a whole. I may hate that huge house and how out of place it looks in my neighborhood, but do I have a right to restrict the owner's use of his property?

On the other hand, does that owner have the right to change the character of the community, to impact the community economically in terms of higher taxes, increasing property values and maybe even forcing some residents to move to more affordable areas -- these are all justifiable concerns.

Why do I write about this on a preservation blog? Because there are communities without the protection of historic designations or that are not located in a municipality (which may have a little more clout), that still have historic value and character.

Personally, I fall on the side of property rights, but it's an uneasy place for me to be. I value these older communities; I like them better than the cookie-cutter new subdivisions. I enjoy the sense of community that I get just from driving through. It's jarring to drive past charming old bungalows, then come upon a huge modern monstrosity that sticks out like a sore thumb.


I also know the feeling of wanting something new and more accomodating, but I don't want to leave my neighborhood. I long for larger closets, bigger bathrooms and not walking sideways to get past my bed to the door.

I'm not sure what the answer is. For me, it may be tearing down my house (which has no historic value what-so-ever) and building something in keeping with the sizes and styles of my neighbors houses. But it will still be bigger than what I have now, and therefore bigger than my neighbors houses.

Whatever I do, I'll try to keep it reasonable. Meanwhile, I'll continue to agonize over my choices. I just know that moving to another community is at the bottom of my list.

But for sure, there are no easy answers.

--Susan Pruden

The Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage Tour

For a real treat, set aside May 5th for the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage Tour. Prince George's County is only on the tour about every 10 years, according to the flyer. The boat trip and the lunch require reservations be made before 4/28/07, so be sure to visit the website for instructions. Other counties are involved as well, on other dates, so visit here for more information.

$25 covers the whole tour (or you can pay $10 per house), but wow -- what you get for $25! There are 9 sites on the tour (and a guided pontoon boat trip). For an additional $15, there is a Southern Maryland Buffet at St. Thomas' Parish Hall.

1. BOWIEVILLE, 522 Church Road. Situated on a high point in the “Forest” of Prince George’s County, Bowieville was built 1819/20 for Mary Bowie Wootton Bowie, twice-widowed daughter of Governor Robert Bowie. In establishing this grand home for her nine minor children, she created the most sophisticated late Federal period house in the County. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Bowieville has been fully restored to its former beauty and prominence.

2. GROVEHURST, 14307 Delcastle Drive. A local building supplier, Fred Watkins, and his wife Frances, built Grovehurst in 1961 in an earlier Federal style. The property abuts the famous Belt Woods, where the avian density is one of the highest observed on the East Coast and where both the threatened Glade Fern and endangered Wister’s Coralroot grow.

3. MOUNT LUBENTIA, 603 Largo Road. Mount Lubentia is one of the grand old houses of Prince George’s County. It stands on a terraced hill above the old road from Upper Marlboro to Bladensburg. For well over 200 years it was home to many generations of the Magruder-Beall-Bowie families. In the years before the Revolution the property was rented by Jonathan Boucher, the Tory Anglican minister at St. Barnabas’ Church, who preached to his Rebel congregation with loaded pistols at hand. Mount Lubentia, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is situated on five acres of landscaped grounds, all that remains of the original thousand-acre plantation. Many of the present plantings date to the first half of the twentieth century, reflecting what was once a showcase Colonial Revival garden.

4. GOOD LUCK, 12502 Brooke Lane. Built in 1790 and enlarged in 1840, Good Luck was known as Oakland when built by the Clagett family and later owned by the Brooke family. It is a two-story, gable-roof frame house in three telescoping sections. Situated on a high hill, this elegant home, furnished with a blend of antique and contemporary furnishings and art, is surrounded by ancient oaks, chestnuts, sycamores and massive English boxwood.

5. PATUXENT FARM, 4700 Old Crain Highway. The core of this house - the one-room Patuxent Elementary School - built in 1903 to serve farm children east of Upper Marlboro, had neither electricity nor plumbing. The Robert Hall family, to whom it reverted in 1926, added three rooms to create a residence—an early example of adaptive-reuse. A second story expanded the house in 1933 and in 1938, a Colonial Revival living room wing was added. A 1974 addition included a Neo-Classical dining room, garden room, and terrace. The smokehouse still functions and outbuildings have been adapted to modern life on these former farmlands of the 18th century Clement Hill. Sixty-year-old boxwoods on both east and west sides of the house are descendants of old local boxwoods. The current owners live with an eclectic mix of European and American furnishings, including 19th century Baltimore furniture.

6. ST THOMAS’ EPISCOPAL PARISH CHURCH, 14300 St. Thomas Church Road. The most tranquilly picturesque church in Prince George's County, St. Thomas’ is listed in The National Register of Historic Places.

7. WEST END FARM, 10709 Croom Road. Standing on a hillside on a 10-acre rural property, the West End Farm house still offers a glimpse of its history as the nucleus of a larger plantation. The house is representative of the County’s most typical mid-19th-century dwelling: a main block of wood frame construction, with side-hall-and-double-parlor plan and Greek Revival style decorative detail. The present owners enjoy the wide stone terraces in the side yard which serve both as an outdoor entertainment area and as a cascading walkway to an enclosed pool area.

8. MAGNOLIA KNOLL, 17414 Nottingham Road. Magnolia Knoll, also known as the Turton-Smith House, is a small early-to-mid-19th century vernacular dwelling, well situated on the picturesque Patuxent River in the former town of Nottingham . The owner's collection of antique furnishings and paintings create a cozy atmosphere in this former waterman's dwelling.

9. MOUNT CALVERT, 16302 Mount Calvert Road. At the present time, Mount Calvert is the centerpiece of Mount Calvert Historical and Archaeological Park. The house now exhibits a trove of archaeological finds from the site, representing over 8000 years of Native American, Euro-American and African-American culture. Weather permitting, site work may be observed on the day of the tour. Artifact collecting is strictly prohibited.

9a. A GUIDED PONTOON BOAT TRIP ON THE PATUXENT RIVER. Departing from a landing at Mount Calvert, naturalists and historians from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission will take pre-arranged groups on a special narrated boat tour along the beautiful freshwater tidal marshes of the upper Patuxent River and nearby Western Branch. The Western Branch and Patuxent are home to a rich variety of aquatic plants and wildlife, including the Great Blue Heron, the Least Bittern, and the Sora Rail. Several boats will be operating and tours will depart approximately every half hour from 10:00 until 4:00. Advance reservations are REQUIRED to guarantee a seat and may be made up to Saturday, April 28th through Donna Schneider at 301-952-8539 or

A New Vision, Continued

Initiatives: HCT has several initiatives underway or proposed:
  1. Friends of Preservation Newsletter: The FOP Newsletter is the voice of preservation in the County. We seek news items from preservation and historic associations around the county.
  2. Newell Post: The Newell Post is the Trust’s architectural salvage effort. Salvage is a Trust prerogative per County legislation. Income from the Newell Post helps to sustain the Trust. Currently this is managed by Trustee Jack Thompson as a labor of love, but he needs help.
  3. Addison Chapel & Trust Headquarters: PGCHCT has stewardship over two properties, the historic Addison Chapel in Seat Pleasant and a 1-acre parcel that contains our new headquarters building. We need to manage these assets to best serve the preservation community.
  4. African American Education Heritage: Our Rosenwald School marker program seeks to raise the profile of endangered historic school building for the 9 extant Rosenwald school buildings in the County. We hope to expand this effort to share the story of African American empowerment and education and make this relevant for a modern audience by developing other materials such as posters and curricula.
  5. Rural Sites Preservation, Rural Tier, Tobacco Barns: Southern Maryland tobacco barns were recently identified on the National Trust’s most endangered list. The establishment of a Rural Tier in Prince George’s County along the Patuxent River and at Broad Creek was designed to give the County time to establish smart growth planning for these areas and to preserve rural character, historic assets and farms jeopardized by unplanned growth. The Trust is seeking ways to support these efforts.
  6. Sprawl/Smart Growth: Similarly, PG County is both blessed and cursed by lack of development. We are currently evaluating ways to address this issue and influence our lawmakers to take a measured sustainable approach to growth.
  7. Historic Waterways: Broad Creek and the Patuxent River are both gateways to the Chesapeake and important historic waterways. We hope to support, preserve, and enhance these areas.
  8. Historic Areas: Organizations like Broad Creek Historic District Advisory Committee (Fort Washington), Aman Memorial Trust (Bladensburg), as well as historic associations in Laurel, Greenbelt, Hyattsville, North Brentwood, Mt Rainier, and College Park all have issues that require our support.
  9. Heritage in the Community Poster Project: The Trust is planning to develop a series of thematically linked professionally produced posters promoting heritage issues. Topics might include Rosenwald Schools, African American Heritage Sites (as well as Native American, Rural, Hispanic, etc.); Historic Museums and Properties; Historic Districts; County History; Anacostia Trails; etc.
  10. The State of Preservation: Starting this year the Trust will prepare a summary of the year’s preservation efforts in conjunction with its annual report.

Alfonso A. Narvaez, Chair

A New Vision for the Trust

2005 brought many changes to the Trust. This special issue of the Friends of Preservation Newsletter is our first issue since the resignation of long-time Chair and Trustee Donna Schneider. Donna served in almost every capacity at the Trust over a period of eleven years. Her stewardship of this organization included many achievements, culminating in the acquisition of a new Trust headquarters in Upper Marlboro. The Schneider family almost single-handedly managed the Trust in recent years and we are grateful and proud of their efforts and achievements. We wish Donna all the best.

My first act as Chair was to initiate a strategic planning process for the Trust to evaluate past accomplishments and chart a new direction for the future. We received a special grant from Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Historical Trust that has been used to fund a strategic planning and board development program facilitated by Leni Preston of Preston & Associates. As part of this process we have engaged Prince George’s Heritage to be a co-participant and hope to eventually engage other members of the Prince George’s community.

Our next step will be to continue working on developing the tools necessary to make the Trust vibrant, sustainable and relevant in coming years Our immediate goals are:

Advisory Role: The Trust is frequently asked to evaluate key issues that come before the Historic Preservation Commission and comment. The Trustees have a duty to support and promote preservation issues, archeology, county history, and our historic sites all across the county.

Advocacy: Heritage tourism is a cornerstone of economic development. County officials must get the message that "Gorgeous Prince George's" wouldn't exist without four centuries of history to back it up. To define a "Livable Communities" without including heritage preservation is to miss a core piece of each area’s identity. Trash, storm water runoff, traffic, and crime have an enormous impact on our historic properties.

Heritage Tourism: Our mission statement gives us a mandate to preserve and promote the County's heritage sites. We are seeking ideas for ways to be supportive of heritage initiatives within the County such as the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area, the Maryland Scenic Byways Lower Patuxent River Tour, and promotion of County historic sites.
Visibility & Membership: We are seeking to build stronger bridges to our sister organizations within the county and state to identify partnering opportunities, avoid duplication of effort, increase membership, and forge alliances to support each other's agendas.

--Alfonso A. Narvaez, Chair