Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Trust's "Preservation Strategic Plan" Lauded at Annual Celebration

At their annual gathering held at Snow Hill Manor in Laurel on May 18, political and preservation leaders from across the county heard about the hottest issues and biggest challenges facing their community. For the third year in a row, a group comprised of members from the Trust, Prince George's Heritage, and the Historical Society compiled a "15 Most Endangered Properties" listing. Last year, the Maryland Historic Trust copied that initiative and prepared their own statewide list of endangered sites. Another Prince George's innovation, the Historic and Cultural Trust's dynamic "strategic plan for preservation," was lauded by speakers at the event. That plan is designed to increase the numbers of preservationists in Prince George's, to jumpstart new historic districts in the county, and to broaden the definition of heritage sites beyond traditional museum houses and residences.

The 2007 "15 Most Endangered List" was unveiled by Heritage board member Mike Arnold. It included bricks-and-mortar structures such as Bostwick House near the Anacostia, and the rare African American freeman family home, the Butler House, along the Potomac River. However, the listing was far more than a house listing. Maryland's most threatened open space -- the 70-acre Fennell tract that is threatened by plans for a 54-house subdivision in the heart of the Broad Creek Historic District -- made the list, along with the County's "rapidly vanishing rural preserves" and the trend toward shrinking the size of "settings" around significant resources.

Political leaders in attendance included Council Members Thomas Dernoga and Eric Olsen, and County Executive Jack Johnson's Chief of Staff Michael Herman. Herman thanked the assembly for saving the best parts of the County. He honored Trust Chairman Alfonse Narvaez and Historic Preservation Commission Dave Turner, and the County Executive-appointed panelists who serve as board members for the two organizations.

Keynote speaker was Chancellor of University of Maryland, William E. Kirwan. He attempted to explain how programs at the school's traditional architecture and planning departments are integrating preservation concepts into their curriculums. He also said he hopes the University's new real estate marketing and development division will become a showcase for better practices for private land-development companies. During his remarks, he underscored the University's relentless support of the recently approved Old Town College Park Local Historic District. Opposing the creation of that new entity were some owners of buildings that are used for student housing. The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) already has begun hearing permit requests from Old Town College Park landowners, including Sigma Chi Fraternity's request to demolish their 60-year-old chapter house. The Sigma Chi house is a contributing feature in the new Historic District, and was included on the "15 Most Endangered" list.

Two homeowners were sited for successful rescues of their properties this year. Magnolia Knoll, an 1850 farmhouse built on a spectacular stretch of the Patuxent River, was rehabilitated by HPC Commissioner Jack Thompson. Magnolia Knoll is a two-part frame structure with a salt-box roof and a one-story kitchen addition. It is significant as the only 19th century structure to have survived the fire that destroyed much of Nottingham in 901.

Also receiving one of the heavy brass plaques for placement on his home was Robert Brinklow, owner of Gwynn Park in Brandywine. Built in 1857, Gwynn Park is two-story, side-gabled brick house with full-Georgian plan and an unusual decorative cornice composed of courses of molded corbelled bricks. It is a noticeable local landmark, now at the center of the recently developed Hampton Subdivision.

HPC Chairman Turner addressed the challenge that property rights advocates are presenting to preservationists, and outlined the Commission's goal to make Prince George's the nation's premier African American Heritage County.

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