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Directing the Past

City manager names Lance Mallamo to head the Office of Historic Alexandria.

It was at the gravesite of William Sidney Mount where 12-year-old Lance Mallamo first realized his love of history. The occasion was a seventh-grade field trip to the Setauket Presbyterian Cemetery in New York, a scenic slice of land on Long Island where Mount was buried in 1868. Standing over the headstone of the noted nineteenth-century genre painter, Mallamo felt a personal connection with the past — one that made a lasting impression.

"That’s when it occurred to me that I was walking in the same space where he once walked," said Mallamo, who was appointed to head the city’s Office of Historic Alexandria earlier this month. "It was really an awesome revelation."

Since that time, Mallamo has had a lifelong passion for history — one that developed into a professional resume. He has been the manager of historic sites in the town of Brookhaven, N.Y., the official historian of Suffolk County, N.Y., co-chairman of the Long Island North Shore Heritage Area Planning Commission and grant reviewer for the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. Since 1998, Mallamo has been the executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum in Suffolk County, a 43-acre site with 12 historic structures and a planetarium.

"We are very fortunate to attract someone of Mr. Mallamo’s experience in museum administration and community historic preservation," said City Manager Jim Hartmann in a written statement announcing the appointment. "He has made the historic museum complex he now administers a center of excellence, and I believe all these attributes will make him an important asset to both the Office of Historic Alexandria as well as the entire Alexandria community."

A NATIVE OF Englewood, N.J., Mallamo grew up in Westwood, N.J., and received a bachelor’s degree in history from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. During his senior year in college, Mallamo embarked on an ambitious plan to carve out four new historic districts in Brookhaven, N.Y. Although the town had zoning laws that offered partial protection to historic buildings, the local government had no officially designated historic districts similar to ones that already existed at the time in Alexandria, New Orleans and Charleston, S.C.

"I thought that everybody would think this was the greatest idea since sliced bread," said Mallamo. "Until the first public hearing."

Mallamo said that he worked for a year on carving out the historic districts in Brookhaven, battling developers who were interested in demolition and neighborhood residents who were interested in declining property values. The yearlong effort culminated in the creation of four new historic districts in Brookhaven: Stony Brook, Dyer’s Neck, Old Setauket and East Setauket.

"I really felt like I had created a legacy at a young age," said Mallamo, who was 24 at the time. "In the end, we had virtually no opposition."

AFTER GRADUATING from Stony Brook, Mallamo entered a graduate program in the City University of New York to study urban planning. Returning to form, Mallamo set his sights on creating a new historic district — this time in the Bronx. In an effort to save a neighborhood of Art Deco houses that were then threatened by urban blight, Mallamo helped create the Grand Concourse Historic District.

"At the time, everyone had a motive to burn these buildings down," said Mallamo. "But these buildings were treasures."

By the time he finished graduate school, Mallamo found himself working again in Suffolk County — where he has spent the totality of his professional life until now. When one of his sons moved to Virginia, he began considering job opportunities in the commonwealth. That’s when he noticed an advertisement for a vacant position as director of the Office of Historic Alexandria, which has remained unfilled since the 2005 retirement of Jean Federico. On July 9, the city manager announced Mallamo’s appointment after a nationwide search that lasted 18 months.

"He has a lot of experience in forming partnerships and planning," said Amy Bertsch, a spokeswoman for the Office of Historic Alexandria. "That will be put to good use here."