- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

RICHMOND — A Virginia panel yesterday unanimously agreed to ask the state legislature for a cash infusion to aid the Museum of the Confederacy, which operates the Confederate White House, but it declined to make a recommendation on whether both buildings should move out of the shadow of downtown buildings.

“There is clearly no consensus for recommending that [the White House] be relocated at this time,” the panel found. “All members share an absolute commitment to take whatever steps within our power to safeguard and preserve this historic treasure, even if it remains in its current location.”

The House and Senate money committees will have to clear the panel’s recommendation to offer financial assistance when the General Assembly convenes early next year.

The decision came after a public hearing, during which preservationists and Southern heritage buffs testified that the White House, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis once lived, should remain in its original downtown location as a tribute to the nation’s history.

“We are fighting to save not just a house, but a city and a history that is essential to the city’s identity,” said Jennie Dotts, executive director of the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods (ACORN). “We must preserve this national historic landmark.”

Others have said that moving the White House would cause the structure to lose its place on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

The decision on whether to relocate the Confederate White House ultimately lies with the board of directors for the Museum of the Confederacy, which is privately operated. The board does not need the state’s permission to move the museum. The board will meet in January to consider its options.

S. Waite Rawls III, the museum’s executive director, said that the museum now has a $500,000 budget deficit and that it would have to cut its educational programs to stay in operation.

“If we do not cover that deficit somehow, we have to look at other solutions for that,” Mr. Rawls told other panel members.

On the panel are state legislators, community leaders and museum officials. Not all of the members were present yesterday.

After the hearing, Mr. Rawls declined to answer further questions asked by a reporter with The Washington Times.

The White House and museum have been dwarfed by the expanding Medical College of Virginia (MCV) hospital, operated by Virginia Commonwealth University.

Attendance at the museum has dwindled from 91,000 in 1991 to less than 50,000 this year. The museum is just blocks from the state Capitol.

During the hearing yesterday, the panel heard from residents and officials who are opposed to moving the White House, which was built in 1818.

Some said moving the White House would render it a “theme park recreation.” Others called it the “most historically significant” structure in Richmond.

Sen. Charles R. Hawkins, a panel member, said the state has a responsibility to protect its historic sites and preserve them.

“We have a very unusual history that brings together many viewpoints from many parts of the world,” the Pittsylvania Republican said. “It is our charge, our place in history to make sure these antiquities survive to the next generation.”

Mr. Hawkins, who last year sponsored a resolution to designate April as Confederate History and Heritage Month, said that on his way to the meeting yesterday, he saw only one sign advertising the museum. “That’s no way to promote something,” he said.

Former Museum of the Confederacy board member Robert H. Lamb suggested that an old building near the museum be demolished to clear a path for visitors, and that the MCV hospital dedicate the upper level of its new parking deck to museum visitors.

Mr. Rawls favors moving both the museum and the White House, but few museum donors share his view. However, all agree something must be done.

“It’s about maintaining the very fabric of our history and this state and this country,” said Leigh Watson, a museum donor who audited its books. “Please, whatever you do, do your best and help us save the museum.”

The panel also is recommending that the museum explore forming a partnership with the state’s departments of tourism and historic resources to help promote it and with other Virginia historical groups and museums.

Several suggested that the state create a visitors center in Richmond that would direct tourists to museums and historic sites.

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