- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2008

With its decaying Japanese pagoda, crumbling English castle and the remains of a resort hotel, the National Park Seminary in Silver Spring once looked like an enchanted forest - and in need of a happy fairy-tale ending.

Today, the historic seminary and its offbeat, 19th-century structures are being preserved as a residential complex and as a public, historic attraction, as a result of a $150 million redevelopment project and local preservation efforts.

The new development includes 66 apartments and about 150 condos, townhouses and single-family homes - some built within the large, unique structures. Single-family homes are being built into the castle, pagoda, bungalow or Dutch windmill. Condos can be found in the Queen Anne-style hotel or the buildings around it, such as a former chapel that still has stained-glass windows, or the “Aloha House,” a large stucco estate home with brick arches and maiden statues.

“It’s kind of like a fantasy land,” said Dan Peterson, a spokesman for the Alexander Company, a Wisconsin-based developer that specializes in restoring old sites for modern use. “There’s nothing like it in the country.”

The property, just off the Capital Beltway, was originally owned by a British colonel during the 17th century. It was sold to several prominent people, including the District’s first mayor, Robert Brent, who ran a tobacco plantation there from the late 1700s to the early 1800s.

During the post-Civil War land boom, developer Seymour Tullock purchased the property in hopes of building a summer hotel resort.

The designer, T.F. Schneider, added the hotel to the center of the property, and the resort, Ye Forest Inne, opened in 1887. But the hotel went bust as the real-estate bubble subsided and summer vacationers eschewed the District’s heat for cooler spots.

Mr. Tullock sold the property in 1894 to John and Vesta Cassedy, educators who turned the place into a girls’ finishing school. The couple dreamed up the pagoda and castle. The couple also added buildings in the shape of a Spanish mission, Aloha House, a Swiss chalet, the windmill and the bungalow. The additions were used as the school’s sorority clubhouses.

“It was such a beautiful setting,” said Pattie Phelps Woodbury, 88, who once attended sorority meetings in the bungalow. “We’d go down into the glen and have cookouts. I loved the grounds.”

The Army purchased the site in 1942 for an annex to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which needed room to house wounded World War II soldiers. When the Army began to vacate the grounds for more practical facilities in 1981, the site was plagued by vandalism and neglect.

The 300-member Save Our Seminary group tried to save the property, then began contacting Army officials about the problems.

In 2001, the General Services Administration stepped in to sell the property. Three years later, the deed was transferred to Montgomery County, which sold it for $1 to the Alexander Company in October 2004. The developer agreed to invest in preserving the site, which had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

The company put apartments and condos in the rooms of the former hotel but says it has maintained most of the interior elements, such as the original wainscoting, arched doorways and fireplaces. A company official also said the lobbies, corridors, dining room and ballroom have been preserved to create an effect of authenticity.

The first phase should be completed in March, followed by a second phase that includes restoring walking trails and blazing a path to Rock Creek Park. The ballroom in the hotel will be used as community space for meetings. And Save Our Seminary will have an on-site office for archives.

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