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BAR Approves Unusual Residential Design

Renovation plans reflect Yates Gardens industrial past.

One of the most innovative proposals to come before Alexandria's Board of Architectural Review, Old and Historic District, gained unanimous approval at its June 21 meeting. "It is a truly exciting design," said BAR chairman Thomas Hulfish, III.

What he was referring to was the total metamorphosis of 211 Lee Court from former single story, shipyard commissary built by the Alexandria Shipbuilding Corporation "in about 1918," to a proposed two story residence, that will not only preserve the original structure but also create a true architectural landmark within a cluster of Yates Gardens traditional brick townhouses.

In referring to the only other modern style residence in Yates Gardens, located at 210 Lee Court, directly across from 211, Board member Oscar Fitzgerald said, "This design is most compatible with the other modern house. It is not a boring change. It is a very sensitive and well thought out solution to this plot of land."

His approval was echoed by Commissioner Arthur Keleher. "This is a very modest addition to a modest house and a very unique plan," he said. Board member Lyn Neihardt told the applicant, "I applaud you on your on your efforts." Board members Lori Quill, Peter Smeallie, and Michael Wheeler were not present.

That "unique" plan/design was presented by the present residents, architect Joseph P. Parimucha and his wife Barbara, an interior designer. The property was first converted to a residence in 1935, according to a building permit issued by the City.

"From the scanty information on the building permit for the house, it appears likely that portions of the existing building on the site were reused and remodeled into a residence. The building permit notes that the house to be erected would be "remodeled," according to the staff report on the Parimucha application.

"If portions of the Commissary building (owned by the shipbuilding company) previously existing in this general location are included in portions of the existing house they are so well disguised as to appear to be indistinguishable from any other part of the existing house," the report stated.

The present structure, which sits on an interior lot large enough to hold three multi-story townhouses, was designed by J. Cushing Daniel for Christine Waggaman. As designed, it "is a simple, one story relatively unadorned, brick, freestanding residence with a gable roof without stylistic adornment," according to staff.

Parimucha's application calls for demolition of the roof, portions of the eastern and western walls, and a section of the south wall to permit construction of a second story addition. That addition will be approximately the same dimensions as the existing structure. But, it will be turned 45 degrees so that the existing structure will be visible and to provide dual upper deck space.

In keeping with its industrial style design and history, the new addition will be "clad in metal siding" and supported on the north and south corners by concrete columns. The proposed design "creates an interesting visual juxtaposition which recalls both the industrial heritage of the area as well as the existing residential use of the building," according to staff.

The only objection personally expressed during the BAR meeting to the proposal came from neighbor Susan Cobb, who acknowledged acquiring her property in the 900 block South Fairfax Street within the past year. "We were very surprised to see the proposal. It's incompatible with the brick townhouses in the neighborhood and will overwhelm the site and near by residences," she told the Board.

Cobb also claimed the Parimuchas had not properly notified the neighbors of their intent. However, in a written memorandum dated June 7 and circulated to neighbors on South Fairfax, South Lee and Green streets, which surround the Lee Court property, the applicants explained their intent and provided photographs of the proposed addition's study model.

That memo stated, "Barbara and I would be happy to meet with you to review our design at any convenient time before the meeting (with BAR) so that there is no misunderstanding of our project philosophy and concept."

Following her testimony, Hulfish pointed out that Parimucha could build three townhouses on the site "without any opposition. If you consider this proposal overwhelming, how would you like three multi-story townhouses on that site. Be careful what you ask for," he said.

Board members voted to recommend approval of the demolition and construction but deferred approval of various proposed building materials. Parimucha was instructed to pin down the exact materials he was proposing and bring those recommendations back to the Board.

IN OTHER ACTION, the Board approved the following improvements for The Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., sought by the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association owners of the building since 1964. It was originally constructed in 1851-52 to house the Old Dominion Bank.

. Construction of an accessibility ramp

. Replacement of the single-light transom with a wood and multi-light transom

. Replacement of deteriorating stone pavers in the portico with the condition that the replacement stone is determined appropriate prior to installation