Controversial Construction

Controversial Construction

Razing of historic Clifton home brings frustration from residents, promises from new owners.

In the early 1880s, Margaret Hetzel built a simple, two-story home at the intersection of Chapel Road and Pendleton Avenue in Clifton. For the better part of the next 120 years, that house served as a central point for the history and identity of Clifton, creating national history when its first inhabitants worked together to create the Daughters of the American Revolution.

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO, the newest owners of the property, the Silva family from Burke, had the house torn down to build a replica of the original house that was so badly damaged it could not be restored.

"We bought the home with the intent to rebuild on the property," said Marcus Silva, who purchased the property at 7151 Pendleton Ave. complete with architectural plans for a new house. "Our goal is to build something that fits well into the Clifton community. We had no idea what we were getting into, but I feel deep in my heart that this is going to be worth it."

In the past few months, residents of Clifton have been wondering if the demolition of the home, one of the first in the town, will set a precedent for the loss of future properties.

"To lose this house the way we have is a travesty, there are so many things that could have been done to save it," said Lynne Garvey-Wark, a member of the Fairfax County History Commission and Clifton resident. "The birth of education and religion in Fairfax County began in that house."

Margaret Hetzel and her daughter, Susan, opened one of the first schools and Sunday schools in the county from their home. The women were also instrumental in the creation of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Their involvement in that organization is commemorated with a brass plaque on the edge of the property.

"We need to set a standard of protection for Clifton," Garvey-Wark said.

PRIOR TO THE SILVAS, Travis and Suzy Worsham owned the property for 12 years before their daughter, Sherry, assumed ownership in 2004.

"When we first got the house, upon my inspection, it was eaten up almost entirely," Travis Worsham said. "I knew the town would give us a hard time about taking it down."

Worsham has restored two homes in Clifton, he said, and had originally hoped to do the same with the Hetzel House. Extensive termite damage had destroyed the original timbers so badly, the house would later be condemned by Fairfax County as being unsafe for people to live in.

"If the house would've been saved, it would've had to have happened before I had it," Worsham said. "All I've had is old houses and that was the worst I've ever seen."

The Worshams also own the Heart In Hand restaurant in Clifton, and had stored some 500 cookbooks in the basement of the Hetzel House while trying to determine if it could be restored. The books were later ruined by bugs, he said.

When his daughter, Sherry, had ownership of the house, she had hoped to save a small chapel that had been built on the property.

"We managed to save one room and a fireplace, but eventually they rotted out too," Worsham said.

Over the 12 years he owned the property, Worsham said he put $10,000 worth of improvements and repairs into the house, to make it livable for some employees of the Heart In Hand. He replaced the original wooden front porch and some columns, but they, too, became infested with termites.

"Everyone tries real hard to save the old homes in Clifton," Worsham said. "No one knew the condition of the house unless they went into it. The structural engineer said it couldn't be saved, and it was probably too far gone when we bought it."

Some residents have lamented the loss of the house, which was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places when the town was included in the mid-1980s, said Pat Layden, a former chairman of the town's planning commission and town council.

"This is the second building we've lost since 1989," he said. "It's generated a lot of concern."

WHEN THE FAIRFAX COUNTY Architectural Review Board inspected the property, they determined it was "beyond being salvaged or restored," Layden said. "That decision was reported at the Town Council meeting on Feb. 7, and two or three days later, the house was torn down."

Losing the Hetzel House "is alarming," he said. "There's been a lot of debate about how and why it happened. The town had a good track record of protecting buildings."

He and Wark agreed that the town needs to incorporate some kind of "language for a covenance so this doesn't happen again."

A covenance, Wark said, would allow standards to be adopted that would prevent other historic homes from being damaged to the point where they cannot be restored.

Through the years, many of the homes in Clifton have been restored, said Mayor Jim Chesley.

"When I moved here in 1976, my house was boarded up like one-third of the houses here," he said. "Some of us remember buildings that should not have been taken down, but we didn't have that feeling of preservation then."

Chesley feels work could have been done "20 years ago" to restore the house, but since the Hetzel House has been razed, the only thing to do now is look to the future.

"It was an eyesore. It's a shame that it fell apart, and I'm glad someone bought it," he said. "All the people shouting that it shouldn't have happened should have gotten together 10 years ago to do something about it."

For some, the lesson to be learned from the Hetzel House is the importance of preservation when the opportunity arises.

"It's unfortunate ... the house was one of the four properties that were designated by the county when we secured the state and national historic district distinction," said Clifton resident Wayne Nickum.

Nickum was involved in a project that restored the Fairfax Station train station by taking the building apart, piece by piece, relocating it and rebuilt it using "authentic" materials.

"The train station looks and acts just like the original did," he said. The same could've been done for the Hetzel House, he believes, which was in "better condition" than the Hermitage Hotel was when it was restored in the 1980s.

"The real question is, what's next," asked Nickum.

Royce Jarrendt was hired by the Worshams to draw up plans for a new structure on the Hetzel House property, which was sold to the Silvas when they purchased the land.

"The plan is to build a replica of the former Hetzel House in as close a facsimile as possible but with an addition on the back," Jarrendt said. "The design is in keeping with the character and historic nature of Clifton."

While the original house was a total of between 2,600 and 2,700 square feet, the new house would be slightly larger, measuring between 3,800 and 3,900 square feet, Jarrendt said.

"This was an important piece of property in town, it was right in the center and it drew a lot of attention," he said. "The intent is not to build a McMansion."

As a resident of Clifton, Jarrendt knows his neighbors are watching the property to see what takes shape there.

"A lot of people are interested in the outcome," he said. "We've told them we're trying to build as close a replica as possible. I think we're up to that challenge."

Several window sashes, some doors and columns, along with a newel post and handrail were taken from the house and may be incorporated into the new construction, he said.

Within the next six to eight months, the Silva family will be moving into their new home. When that time comes, Marcus Silva said he hopes his new neighbors will be happy with the house they've built.

"THIS TOWN is what attracted us here, this small, quiet community," he said. "Ultimately, we want to build a home that fits into the landscape of the town and we want our family to be a productive part of this community."

The Hetzel House is gone, he said, nothing can be done to bring back the original structure. "We don't want to offend anyone or put up something out of keeping with the plan for the town, but we plan on being part of this community for a while."

As for the plaque commemorating Margaret and Susan Hetzel's place in history for their work with the Daughters of the American Revolution, Silva has some reassuring news.

"The plaque will not be moved," he said. "It's still at the intersection of Pendleton Avenue and Chapel Road. It hasn't been moved and it will not be disturbed."