Letter to the Editor: Out-of-Place Structures

Letter to the Editor: Out-of-Place Structures

To the Editor:

On Sept. 3, Al Cox (who is the Historic Preservation Manager of the Board of Architectural Review) gave a presentation on "Alexandria's Buildings of Genuine Architectural Merit." The impetus for this presentation was a response to a hypothetical question of “what constitutes good historic development at the Robinson Terminals?”

Mr. Cox displayed images of at least 50 historic structures (mostly in Old Town), categorized by historic single family houses, commercial buildings, churches, schools, and ending with libraries. It was indeed a very well-prepared synopsis of our extremely rare repository of cherished historic structures.

In addition to the historic structures, Mr. Cox identified several other structures as being of architectural significance, such as the Jefferson Houston School, the Beatley Library, and the Edmonds Plaza.

Here is where we seriously digress; the Jefferson-Houston School is an oversized monstrosity of a building that looms over its place in the local community, and the very interesting but seriously out of place Beatley library could be an outstanding feature of a vast rolling meadow, but not as a side facing structure to busy Duke Street. Lastly, the Edmonds Plaza (memorializing the slave market on upper Duke Street), features large plate glass windows which are reminiscent of a Miami Beach structure, which is fine for the Causeway, but not here. So why even mention these anomalies? In each of these examples, the buildings are out of "place."

The reaction of the BAR members to all of this was a split between endorsing historic buildings in Copenhagen (?) and focusing on the one and only glass-oriented building in the entire historic district, which is the Edmonds Plaza. Obviously, the Edmonds Plaza must have had a direct impact on EYA as their latest creation for the Robinson Terminal South site evokes those aforementioned Miami Beach hotels. This, coupled with similar glass-oriented buildings recommended for Robinson Terminal North will add to the identity crisis that already seems to plague the City of Alexandria. We deserve better than this.

The City of Alexandria is sacred to the memory of George Washington, Robert E Lee and a host of other historic luminaries, and we must be mindful of this precious heritage. We must not further squander the opportunities to honor our forefathers by continuously creating seriously out-of-place structures, no matter how interesting or worthy of note they may seem.

Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet