Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

The fate of the 19th-century Febrey-Lothrop House — targeted by homebuilders eying a rare green expanse at Wilson Blvd. and N. McKinley — has spawned a preservation dust-up.

Historic-home enthusiast Tom Dickinson circulated an online petition at moveon.org that has drawn more than 430 signatures urging the county to protect the home. It ambitiously calls for suspension of a recent demolition permit, acceleration of a county study of eligibility for historic designation, and purchase of some or all of the property for a public purpose.

Dickinson brought in two guns in local history. “Based on new research and accessibility to digital records, it is becoming evident that [nearby] Upton Hill, Fort Ramsey, and the Febrey property were all connected to a major part of U.S. history,” wrote Civil War researcher Peter Vaselopulos during an email debate. “Thousands of Union soldiers camped on Upton Hill, including two future presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley. Newly discovered letters and diaries from northern soldiers reveal a unique and untold perspective.”

Sketches of the home in the 1860s were submitted by Luke Burke, who cited the home’s “scenic view of Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area ….including the possibility that part of the original 1860s house remains and could have Civil War inscriptions.”

The importance of the land-owning Febreys to 19th-century Arlington was stressed by descendent Michael Febrey, who wrote, “To allow this house to be torn down would diminish the history of the county.”
Accountant Sid Simmonds, who speaks for the Rouse trust in charge of the property, is aware of the petition.

Skepticism was heard from Arlington history activist Karl VanNewkirk. “It’s been stated that we need more parks. Well, Upton Hill Regional Park is across Wilson Blvd., the skatepark is only a little further away, and half a mile down the hill is the Four Mile Run valley, basically one continuous park for miles,” he wrote. “It’s been said the property is historic. But although the Febreys were early settlers, they were not as prominent or influential as some other families. The house is not as old as commonly thought. The Civil War connection is minor.”

A similar call for realism came from former county board member John Vihstadt, who noted that in tight budget times, “The fate of the estate is a multi-faceted debate with no perfect answers. It isn’t practical for the county to save the house, unless it could quickly facilitate a well-capitalized for-profit or nonprofit to make a major investment. The most economically viable outcome could have been — and maybe with the right public and private leadership could still be — a combination of neighborhood-sensitive, context-driven redevelopment, including housing for a range of incomes, modest commercial uses and recreational open space. A simple but informative nod to the history could be done through markers.”

Drawn into the discussion was Dick Woodruff, chairman of the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board, which has been tasked with a recommendation on historic designation. “The way forward is to persuade the owners to protect the house and some surrounding viewshed property in the context of the single-family home development they intend to build there,” he wrote.

“The home, plus an acre or two, would be a historic district and sold to a private owner who wants to live in it and fix it up to preservation guidelines. The owners could be talked into selling the house and then building respectfully around it — which would add to the attractiveness of their neighborhood. We wouldn’t get a big new park, but unless someone comes up with $20 million, that isn’t happening.”

Our county is gaining two new streets near me.

NVHomes, in building the townhomes at Lee Highway and Underwood St., recently carved out N. 23rd Court and N. 24th Court. Further up the highway off N. 23rd St. are five new homes under construction on lots labeled the 2300 block of N. Potomac. St.

Developers have power to render all maps of out of date.