- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2006

ROCK ISLAND, Ill.

On a wooded plot along a slow-moving stretch of the Mississippi River sits Quarters One, a stately limestone mansion that seems out of place among rows of weapons foundries and administrative buildings that crowd this island arsenal.

For 134 years, the 20,000-square-foot, Italianate-style home has served as official residence to the arsenal’s commanders. It has hosted balls for officers and their wives and provided a night’s rest for dignitaries such as aviator Charles Lindbergh.

But its days may be numbered as the exclusive residence to the highest-ranking officer of Rock Island Arsenal, the nation’s largest government-owned and -operated arsenal.

In the fall, the Army’s Installation Management Agency decided it was time to consider alternative — and perhaps more profitable — uses for the home.

“The concern is square footage,” said John Curry, deputy manager of the U.S. Army Garrison at the island arsenal. “The belief is that it’s too large for the purpose it has been serving.”

Quarters One is home to Maj. Gen. Jerome Johnson and his wife, Doris. With 51 rooms, 10 fireplaces and a four-story observation tower with a rooftop deck, the home is the nation’s second-biggest federally owned single-family residence — trailing only the White House.

But to Mrs. Johnson, there are a couple of other important distinctions between the two homes and their occupants.

“The first lady has a whole lot more help,” Mrs. Johnson joked. She has one assistant to help clean, maintain, cook and organize the steady stream of events held each week.

“There is always something to do. Dusting is forever. But living in this house is such a wonderful opportunity. And I don’t mind sharing it as much as we do. It’s our way of giving back to the community,” she said.

Although the interior and exterior are in decent shape, signs of aging, deterioration and years of neglect caused by meager maintenance budgets are starting to show. An Army rule prohibits spending more than $35,000 annually on upkeep, Mr. Curry said.

Base officials also estimate that the home needs about $3 million worth of improvements, including plumbing and electrical work, repairs to the foundation and roof, and restoration of the screened porch that wraps around the north and west sides.

At least two options are being considered.

One scenario, called an enhanced-use lease, involves pairing Quarters One with the base’s private, 18-hole golf course, then putting the package through the public bidding process to find a developer with an acceptable plan for the properties, Mr. Curry said. Base officials also are considering finding tenants interested in using the home for office space.

If those options fail, Mr. Curry said, the future of Quarters One would fall to the U.S. Army Corps. The house has never been appraised, and its exact worth is not known, army officials said. No decision will be made until Gen. Johnson completes his assignment on the base.

The decision is troubling to preservationists and lawmakers. Members of the Iowa and Illinois congressional delegations have vowed to find money for repairs and reverse the Army’s alternative-use policy.

“But we’re facing a significant challenge because the Department of Defense has decided it no longer wants to allocate the necessary resources to fund these kinds of historic residences,” said Maureen Knightly, a spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat. “But we’re definitely going to be fighting for them.”

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