Editorials Opinion Our View — 07 February 2013
Editorial: The writing is on the wall 
for the Carver Nursery School

Passions about potential redevelopment of the waterfront, Beauregard corridor and Arlandria have been boiling over in Alexandria these past couple of years. Meanwhile, a smaller — but still significant — redevelopment battle has been simmering all but unnoticed on the back burner: the fate of the former Carver Nursery School building in the Parker-Gray neighborhood.

This little-known landmark is significant because of its history as a nursery school for blacks beginning in the mid-1940s. The building, which was intended to be functional rather than beautiful, served as a community focal point for many years. The passage of time has unfortunately left the building in disrepair and slated for demolition and redevelopment.

Owner William Cromley, who bought the building in 2008 with the intention of redeveloping the property, received approval from city council to build condominiums on the site. But in 2009, before he could proceed, preservationists — led by local activist Boyd Walker — intervened to block demolition.

Cromley, the preservationists and ultimately the city conferred and agreed to seek a buyer who would save the landmark. They agreed to give the effort two years, before Cromley regained full control of the property.

Sadly, no individual or group seems prepared to preserve this building. Some, such as Walker, think either more time should be allocated for finding a buyer or the city should step in and purchase the property.

We think both approaches are wrong. If no buyer steps forward to save the building by the February 25 deadline, Cromley should be able to redevelop the property as he sees fit. There are four good reasons why:

1. From a historical perspective, this building simply doesn’t rank in the first tier of preservation targets. In a city as old as Alexandria, 70-year-old buildings just aren’t as significant as older ones.

2. From a budgetary perspective, the city has too many pressing needs — from rebuilding Jefferson-Houston School to keeping existing services intact — to consider buying this building. Cutting other services or raising taxes to preserve a mid-20th century preschool and American Legion post doesn’t make sense.

3. One of the dearest rights in America is ownership of private property. Cromley bought this property on the open market, a piece of land with no restrictions on it, and tried to do what most enterprising people would: turn a profit.

4. Finally, there is the issue of fairness. Cromley has owned this property for five years. He agreed to the terms in 2010 that made him wait two years while the city and preservationists sought a buyer who would preserve the building. They have apparently failed. Cromley upheld his end of the bargain; it’s time for the other entities involved to uphold theirs.

There are two weeks left before the deadline — plenty of time for a Good Samaritan to emerge and save the day. If this happens and the former Carver Nursery School building is preserved, that would be a happy ending to this saga. Otherwise, it’s time to move on.

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(2) Readers Comments

  1. The City needs to purchase the Carver Nursery School and rehabilitate it back to its original state so the Head Start that is currently located next to the doomed Jefferson Houston School will have a place for its occupants. When the Jefferson-Houston School is demolished the Head Start building will be the first to go and so far there is no say where the children will go. Save the Carver Nursery School give it back the life it deserves. This is a historic building irregardless of age, the City has now taken away so much from its history with all the new buildings going up, we need to preserve what we have left.

  2. You make good points but it seems to me that if this building were in the Old Town Historic District, there would be a hue and cry to save it, and big money would intervene.

    If you talk to long time residents in Parker-Gray, they will tell you things like, "everything is being torn down." Historic homes are not, but this building is one of a few reminders of the community days in Parker Gray history. And it’s not like there is not enough housing in Parker Gray. There’s tons of new construction as we speak and new housing at this spot would be shoehorned in and not sympathetic to is surroundings.

    African-Americans were forced to live in segregated parts like Parker Gray. Tearing this building down is just another way to push this part of Alexandria's history aside, and would be an act of great insensitivity.

    Please save this building. It’s what we do in Old Town, it’s what we’re known for. Let’s cherish our African-American past, which is seen richly at this intersection and serves as the heart and soul of the historic neighborhood.

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