Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Preservation of Hugo Black House

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Preservation of Hugo Black House

In 1949 I moved with my family to Old Town Alexandria and knew most of its residents from my days delivering the Alexandria Gazette as a youngster. As I recall, that is how I came to know Justice Hugo Black who lived at a historic home with an unusually large garden at 619 South Lee St.

Growing up in Old Town, from my earliest youth I have been devoted to the cause of historic preservation. In 1961, I was the first recipient of a Bachelor of Architectural History, awarded by the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia. I went on to work at the U.S. Department of the Interior where I co-authored The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation Projects, which are employed throughout the country for the preservation and treatment of historic properties.

The current owners of the Hugo Black House have proposed an extensive development project on the property. Those plans will be considered by the City Council on Saturday, April 13.

Having reviewed the plans, I would like to clearly state that, in my view, the proposed construction project at the Hugo Black House property does not reflect or support the goals and intent of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation as expressed by me and Gary L. Hume as co-authors of the original version of the Standards. Nor do I believe the plans are compatible with either the Hugo Black House and setting, nor the Old Town neighborhood.

The house is a site of national importance because Justice Black was instrumental in desegregating American schools and extending the protections of the Bill of Rights to all Americans. In 1969 the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission certified the property as an Historic Landmark. It is one of the most important historic sites in the City of Alexandria.

I therefore wish to add my voice to those of the Historic Alexandria Resources Commission, Historic Alexandria Foundation, the Alexandria Association, the Old Town Civic Association, the Northern Virginia Conservation Council, Preservation Virginia, and others who have called on the City Council to reject the current development plan for the Hugo Black House and property.

W. Brown Morton III

Architectural Conservator

The author is professor emeritus, Department of Historic Preservation, University of Mary Washington.