- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 28, 2007

Washington’s historic Willard InterContinental Hotel, itself the target of the wrecking ball until “Don’t Knock It Down” — now the DC Preservation League (DCPL) — saved it in the 1970s, was the site of Thursday’s preservation gala celebrating 35 years of protecting this capital city’s architectural history.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty swung by to thank a ballroom full of Washington’s top architects and developers, all avid preservationists, for protecting “the historic fabric of this beautiful city.”

Founded in 1971 by a handful of preservation pioneers as the colorful and more controversial “Don’t Tear It Down,” the DC Preservation League has helped preserve such historic district properties as the Old Post Office Building, American Security Bank, the Warner and Ford’s theaters, the Greyhound Bus Terminal and the Woodward and Lothrop and Garfinckel’s department stores along with the Willard. The DCPL has saved more than 550 landmarks in 27 districts of the city.

It was Alison Owings, then a plucky young news writer at WRC, who started it all. “I was distressed about losing my own sense of history and place with the gradual destruction of this city, one building at a time,” she remembered. Bolstered with expert encouragement from legendary architectural critic Wolf Von Eckhardt and the National Trust’s Terry Morton, Miss Owings reached out to her like-minded friends who were willing to carry placards if necessary.

At Thursday’s gala, keynote speaker Mr. Fenty made it clear he would help. “You are 450 committed preservationists, and now, you are 451,” he said to extended applause.

“You can keep classic architecture on the outside and have modern styles inside. You don’t have to completely destroy or even gut these old buildings. My office, the bullpen, across the street from here in the Wilson Building looks more like this room,” he said gesturing around the Willard’s elaborate ballroom.

“We need to keep history alive, architecture alive,” said the proud Mount Pleasant native who also pointed to his old neighborhood’s great renaissance. “When all of us are gone, the next generations will be enjoying Washington and all its neighborhoods.”

After proclaiming Jan. 25 as DC Preservation League Day, Mr. Fenty accepted three handsomely framed images of his historic office from DCPL President Edwin Fountain.

Later, Mr. Fountain, in his “State of the City” speech, urged his followers to create new architecture today that’s worth saving 35 years from now. He also addressed the ever-present terrorist threat to the city’s monuments and major federal buildings and urged DCPL devotees to see beyond “our bunker mentality.”

“Once again we are at war, but unlike other wars, there’s now a physical threat to security at home, which demands federal enclaves walled off from the life of the city.”

After discussing today’s competing goals — meeting building codes while adding environmental sensitivity and energy efficiency of “green” design” — Mr. Fountain brought up DCPL’s latest challenges: large tracts like St. Elizabeth’s, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Soldier’s Home and continuing the renaissance on H Street. “We must engage segments of the city not familiar with preservation and the aesthetic and economic benefits it can provide,” he said.

“And, if you don’t believe there is economic opportunity in preservation, walk down M Street [in Georgetown] on a Saturday afternoon, price a row house on Capitol Hill or book a room at the Hotel Monaco.”

DCPL veteran Arthur Cotton Moore, the colorful architect who created the winning design to save the Old Post Office, reminisced, “It was at the very beginning of DCPL’s successes and a monumental project.”

Other Washington architectural icons filled the room led by DCPL member emeritus Art Keyes, founding partner of KCF, who was there to celebrate along with younger members including Georgetown developer Anthony Lanier and Washington cave dweller Richard Williams (his grandfather David Finley founded the National Historic Trust and was the first director of the National Gallery) and his wife, Kim Prothro, an architectural historian.

At the head table, the Board of Trade’s Jim Dinegar enjoyed reminiscing about old District haunts like the 9:30 Club with emcee Robert Aubry Davis while diplomatic guests Norwegian Ambassador Knut Vollebaek and his wife, Ellen, a new advocate, took up the preservationists’ mantra.

“It’s not just the buildings and the monuments we must save,” Mrs. Vollebaek said, “but the memories and the lifestyles of the people who lived there. We need to remember their stories.”

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