My View / Boyd Walker – Remembering Peter Smith

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Peter Smith and I were probably not always on the same side of issues, but I hope I earned his respect, as he certainly earned mine.

As a senior staff member for both the Old and Historic Board of Architectural Review and the Parker Grey Board of Architectural Review, no one was more knowledgeable about these two areas, building types, and no one could give better guidance as to what was appropriate and would pass muster with these boards.

I remember in a concept review session how Tom Lubke, the city architect at the time, who went on to become a spokesperson for the National Capital Planning Commission, deferring to Peters opinion because of his knowledge of Alexandria. If you wanted an opinion, you could come to the planning desk, and count on that opinion being well formed.

When I recently supported the renovation of a carriage/garage to a house, it was partly because I had the privilege of listening to Peter explain to the owner Bill Cromley the history of stone foundations, and why the stone foundation on Ramsey house was unusual, and probably not a model to replicate on an addition.

Interestingly, this led to the addition looking more like the existing building than the original concept, something Peter would seem against, given his 1990 book, written with BAR member, Peter Smeallie, called New Construction for Older Buildings: A Design Sourcebook for Archivists and Preservationists (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1990), in which an argument was made that the new should not necessarily resemble the older part of a house.

This would be in agreement of The Secretary of Interior Standards for Historic Preservation, but not always what we have seen in Alexandria. One of the few examples we see in Alexandria of the modern next to historic is the glass hyphen that connects to parts of Alexandrias Union Station, which was designed by Peter Smiths good Friend Al Cox.

Peter gave me some very important advice when the BAR gave me a $25,000
fine. He said pay the $250 appeal and it worked and the fi ne was greatly reduced by city council. I wonder how he would feel now if he knew I was thinking of putting a very modern glass addition next to my historic icehouse, instead of a sympathetic additon that would blend with the original.

Peter Smith has been described to me as aloof, and without a large circle of friends. I remember seeing him oft en beneath the eaves of city hall, pacing back and forth and smoking. I remember a couple years ago, aft er his first bout with emphysema, stopping and talking with him, when he did not have enough breath to get across market square.

But he recovered and came back to give more of his expertise and guidance to the city. In an article for the Historic Alexandria Quarterly about the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Peter wrote that it is possible that no circle was built at the south end of the Parkway as visitors, heading Northbound, and consequently away from Mount Vernon, did not have as much of a need to maintain a sense of contemplative reverence since they would be going away from, and not toward, their object of veneration.

Peter chose his words very carefully and was thoughtful in his comments, and we all know the depth of knowledge inside his head, and wish that more of it found its way in print.

But as our friend Peter Smith heads Northbound, we should look back with contemplative reverence towards a very worthy object of our veneration and the contribution he made to preserving the historic character of Alexandria.

Boyd Walker
Greater Alexandria Preservation Alliance
A Memorial Service will be held on Monday, May 19, at 11 a.m. at Old Presbyterian Meeting House, 323 S. Fairfax St. in Old Town. In lieu of fl owers, memorial contributions may be made to the Alexandria Library Foundation, History Collection.

 

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