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Deciding the Future of Our Past

Two-day conference seeks to ask tough questions and chart a course for preservation.

On its face, preserving history seems like a great idea. But in Alexandria, it can be controversial. What buildings are historic, and which are worth preserving?

In 2005, the tension between development and preservation collided in the 1500 block of King Street, where developer DSF Long wanted to demolish a 1913 townhouse. Councilman Andrew Macdonald and his campaign manager Boyd Walker led an effort to save the buildings, but the developer was able to get a demolition permit without a public hearing before City Council. Controversy over the demolition boiled under the surface for months, leading to an expansion of the Old and Historic District into the 1500 block.

"The cavalier demolition of that building helped people realize that there was more to historic preservation than the corner of King Street and Fairfax Street," said Ellen Pickering, longtime historic preservation advocate. "It was a wake up call that the city’s historic buildings are in danger and something needs to be done."

The tension between development interests and historic preservation shows no sign of abating anytime soon, and many preservation advocates say that now is the time to ask difficult questions about the future. That was the logic behind the Alexandria Historic Preservation Conference and Town Meeting, sponsored by the city of Alexandria and the Historic Alexandria Foundation. The two-day conference includes speeches, panel discussions and a town meeting.

"We have had a historic district since 1946, the third in the country," said City Archeologist Pam Cressy. "Now, after 61 years, it is time to look at what we have done and ask what needs to be done in the future to preserve a quality of life and quality of preservation while still being able to develop in the 21st century."

Two of the nation’s leading experts on historic preservation issues have agreed to serve as keynote speakers. Architectural restorationist, White House historian and 25-year Alexandria resident William Seale will address conference attendees during the opening session on May 4 while noted preservation economist, appraiser and author Donovan Rypkema will speak during the luncheon on Saturday, May 5.

"Having two of the most notable experts on historic preservation address our conference is quite an honor and will allow our attendees to hear first-hand some of the latest and most up-to-date thinking on the issue," said Morgan Delaney, president of the Historic Alexandria Foundation, in a press release announcing the two keynote speakers.

THE CONFERENCE kicks off at 7 p.m. on May 4 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, with welcoming remarks from Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille and the opening address by Seale. A reception at Gadsby’s Tavern will follow the opening session. On the following day, May 5, the conference will begin at 8 a.m. with registration and continental breakfast at the First Baptist Church of Alexandria. The day’s events — all held at the church — include panel discussions during separate breakout sessions on topics such as "Basic Preservation Tools," "Design Concepts" and "Preservation in Alexandria: Current Problems and Challenges."

Rypkema will addressing conference attendees during Saturday’s luncheon. Then the afternoon will concluding with a facilitated town meeting in which participants can bring up questions, raise issues and address concerns. Alexandria residents may attend the town meeting portion of the conference at no charge. The town meeting will be followed by closing remarks and the creation of an "action agenda" summarizing points raised and discussed during the two days. The conference is scheduled to conclude at 3:30 p.m.

"Everybody is for preservation, yet at the same time we want an economically viable community," said former Del. Marian Van Landingham, who will participate in one of the panel discussions. "The battles over specific sites and projects and be very difficult because of that tension between preservation and development."

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<b>FRIDAY, MAY 4 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Sanctuary, 228 S. Pitt Street</b>

Opening Session and Reception

* Registration, 6 to 7 p.m.

* Opening remarks from Ellen Stanton, event co-chair and chair of Historic Alexandria Resources Commission

* Welcome from Mayor Bill Euille

* Morgan Delaney, president of the Historic Alexandria Foundation, will deliver a lecture titled "Brief History of Preservation in Alexandria"

* Keynote Address by author and historian William Seale from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.

* Reception, immediately following keynote address at Gadsby’s Tavern, 134 North Royal Street.

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<b>SATURDAY, MAY 5 at First Baptist Church of Alexandria, 2932 King Street</b>

Registration, Breakfast and Welcome: 8 to 8:55 a.m.

* Welcoming remarks by event co-chairs: Morgan Delaney Ellen Stanton

* Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald will deliver a lecture titled "Perspectives on Preservation"

Concurrent Sessions: 9 to 10 a.m.

* Panel discussion: Basic Preservation Tools. Patrick Butler, chairman of the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, will moderate. Panelists include Kathleen Kilpatrick, David Edwards, Elizabeth Tune, and Marc Wagner.

* Panel discussion: Design Concepts: Modern vs. Traditional Architecture. Architect Joanne Goldfarb will moderate. Panelists include Al Cox,, Tom Luebke, and Mark Orling.

Concurrent Sessions: 10:15 to 11:15 a.m.

* Panel discussion: How Preservation Works in Alexandria. City Archeologist Pam Cressey will moderate. Panelists include Jim Mackay, Lee Webb and Peter Smith.

* Panel discussion: Broadening the Coalition. Boyd Walker, chairman of the Greater Alexandria Preservation Alliance, will moderate. Panelists include Michael Leventhal, Bill Hendrickson, William Cromley and Lillian Patterson.

Lunch with Speaker, 11:30 a.m. to 12:50 p.m.

* Donovan Rypkema will deliver a lecture titled "The Economics of Preservation"

Panel Presentation: 1 to 2 p.m.

* Panel discussion: Preservation in Alexandria:Current Problems and Challenges. Jean Federico, former director of the Office of Historic Alexandria, will moderate. Panelists include Marian Van Landingham, Charlotte Hall and H. Stewart Dunn, Jr.

Town Meeting: 2 to 3:15 p.m.

* Facilitated by moderator who will solicit questions, suggestions and responses from attendees.

Followed by a conference wrap-up.