- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2000

The new owners of Robert E. Lee's boyhood home bought for $2.5 million in a sale decried by preservationists are now considering selling it, although the money needed for restoration could bump up the price tag.

Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley and others who have followed the Alexandria, Va., property's sale with interest are guardedly optimistic after the announcement by Mark and Ann Kington, Alexandria residents who bought the home from the Charlottesville-based Lee-Jackson Foundation in March. A sale means the home would likely remain open to the public as a museum.

The Kingtons this weekend had promised news about their efforts to keep the home open to the public as a museum. Making the home open to the public was always the goal, Mr. Kington said yesterday, although he would not provide details on the negotiations under way.

But the next buyers could face a hefty sticker price. They might have to come up with at least $2.5 million for the selling price plus up to $2 million more for restoration that's the cost Mr. Kington said his architect gave.

"The house literally is in peril," Mr. Kington said, worried about Monday night's strong rains. "We have water coming in the roof and pouring in the foundation."

News of the home's sale shocked Alexandria's historic-preservation community and has gained national attention. The foundation never put the home on the market, prompting Mr. Earley to investigate.

He apparently had come to the conclusion the home should have been put up for public sale or auction to draw the best price and give other preservation-minded groups a chance to bid.

"You can't allow Virginia's historic treasures and historic assets to be bought up by private entities," said David B. Botkins, Mr. Earley's spokesman.

In a statement released yesterday by the attorney general's office, David Johnson, counsel to Mr. Earley, stressed that the Kingtons had acted in good faith in buying the property from the foundation.

George Kundahl, chairman of the Committee to Save Lee's Boyhood Home, said yesterday he was happy to hear of the Kingtons' decision, first reported in The Washington Post, but he said he'll wait until a new deal is finalized before resting easy.

Mr. Kundahl said he's been in contact with state and national groups to try to interest them in helping to keep the home a museum, but he wouldn't go into specifics.

Places like Stratford Hall, the Lee family home in the Northern Neck, are potential candidates for buying the home or chipping in to help out, but the board there hasn't even considered the matter, said Stratford's executive director.

The Lee-Jackson Foundation, which also owns battlefield land in the Shenandoah Valley, kept the late-1700s home, on Oronoco Street just east of Washington Street, open to the public.

But Mr. Kington said paid attendance was fewer than 5,000 last year, which was down 25 percent from prior years.

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