Letter: Future of Woodlawn

Letter: Future of Woodlawn

To the Editor:

In a letter published in the Gazette on Dec. 19 identified as “Woodlawn Betrayed,” the writer chastised “officials” for failing to heed community desires to preserve and continue the public stable/equine activities that had been part of Woodlawn’s presence in the Mt. Vernon District for many decades.

It should be noted that the Woodlawn property is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a private non-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and based in Washington D.C. The Trust leadership made a business decision they hope will improve financial stability at the property (an issue of long-standing concern) thus their choice to appoint Arcadia as property manager and operator of expanded agricultural programs on the site.

Lamentable as the loss of the stables as a public activity may be, it appears that there may be a greater betrayal of Woodlawn at stake as this operational transformation evolves. In general, the focus on and interpretation of agriculture is consistent with the historical roles the property has played since the 18th century through the ownership tenure of George Washington and his granddaughter Nelly Custis Lewis.

However, information emerging about the new tenant’s plans seems to suggest that matters of interpretation and public presentation of Woodlawn’s history and culture are very much at risk. No mention is made of its people and their historic association with the property. Little to no specific mention is made of the historic architecture, which includes the William Thornton designed federal mansion, the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Pope-Leighey House and several fine vernacular buildings. Likewise, Woodlawn’s status as a National Historic Landmark and its role as the focus of an Historic Overlay District created by Fairfax County to help preserve and protect Woodlawn’s irreplaceable character and resources, have not been part of the discussion about future plans. Will the need for financial stability at the property lead to abandonment of one of the National Trust’s fundamental mission imperatives — that of basic historic preservation?

We know too well, and dread deeply, the impending losses and changes to Woodlawn’s integrity occasioned by the highway now under construction. Are there more losses to fear? We pray not, but for now, we know not. Alas, poor Woodlawn.

C. Richard Bierce, AIA, Mount Vernon