To the Editor:
The following open letter is addressed to Mayor Allison Silberberg and the City Council.
I am very dismayed and disappointed with your decision last week to disregard the two options that had been put forth for the Ramsey Homes and instead come up with a third, unvetted, idea to demolish all the historic structures and replace them with more open space along with the new apartment building.
I understand that the city needs more open space, but that is not the way to go about it. It does not garner faith with your constituents to disregard options that have already been discussed and vetted with something that seems out of the blue. I was at the last Ramsey Homes open meeting and there were some very passionate people there, with a lot of great ideas, and this decision by council is a slap in the face to all those who took the time to come out and voice their opinions.
As the vice-chair of the Parker-Gray Board of Architectural Review, I take our cultural heritage very seriously, both the physical and the people. While many may think that the Ramsey homes are not worth saving because they are run-down and a reminder of an era that was not the shining star of American history, I see something that is unique to our city and that has been neglected in an unforgivable manor. I know that people say, "Why would I want to keep something that reminds me of such a bad time?" but if that's your perspective, then why have we kept the slave quarters at Mt. Vernon? Why do we keep the Japanese internment camps? These are all reminders of bad times in history and by that logic, those should all be demolished, too. I hope that these examples help you to see that the excuse to demolish something just because it has bad memories associated with it is not valid. In fact, because of those associations, it’s is even more important to keep them, to remind future generations of what not to do. We must have tangible ways to remember our history, we can't replace every historic building with a plaque. We have already lost so much of the physical representations of African American history in our city, so when we have a perfectly good and viable option to save a piece, why would you all of a sudden change your mind and come up with another idea?
I hope that you will go back and rethink this decision. I know that the BAR will see this site again soon and I want to insure that we are able to review and approve something that will benefit our whole city and show that we have a real commitment to our citizens, both living and gone, by providing affordable housing while also preserving our history.
This is not an either/or situation — it is most definitely a both/and — and I challenge you to think creatively and progressively when coming up with a final solution. I never want people to think that Alexandrians care more about their buildings than their people. This is just not true and is offensive to all of us who work so hard to preserve both together because one cannot survive without the other.
Purvi Gandhi Irwin, AIA