Antiques show funds historic preservation


You see them everywhere those oval plaques that adorn many historic buildings along the streets of Old Town. But what exactly do they mean and how do they get there?

Unknown to many, thats where this weekends Historic Alexandria Antiques Show comes in.
The events surrounding the Antiques show the wine party, the VIP preview and the show program book are our biggest fundraisers each year, said Mary Sterling, executive director of the Historic Alexandria Foundation, which sponsors the popular show. We use the proceeds from the show to support preservation and research projects throughout the city as well as administer the historical plaques program.

Founded in 1954 to preserve, protect and restore structures of historic interest in and associated with the City of Alexandria, Virginia, the HAF was instrumental in the preservation and restoration of the Lyceum, Lloyd House, Athenaeum, Carlyle House and the Boyhood Home of Robert E. Lee.
In 1989, the HAF inaugurated the Historic Alexandria Preservation Fund, which awards grants to a broad spectrum of preservation projects throughout the city. 

One of the most significant recent accomplishments of the HAF has been its role in promoting and preserving African American history and the placement of historical sites on the National Register of Historic Places. This was done through funding provided to the Office of Historic Alexandria in 1995 to begin the nominating process.

Some of the properties included in that project and now on the National Register for Historic Places are the Beulah Baptist Church, Alfred Street Baptist Church and the Dr. Albert Johnson House on Duke Street.

Thinking outside the box or in this case, outside the traditional four walls of a property structure the HAF funded the nomination of Hooffs Run Bridge to the National Register of Historic Places and provided the Office of Historic Alexandria with funds to erect an interpretive panel sign marker at the Alexandria Canal Tide Lock all of which come from the proceeds of the antiques show that is now in its 61st year.

The show existed before we did, said Sterling, but its become our signature event.

Since 1970, the show has been produced by Armacost Antiques Shows, and president Bob James expects between 1,500 and 2,000 attendees this year.

Im very excited about this weekends show, said James as he was attending to last-minute details for the VIP preview event tonight. Not many shows have the level of quality of this one.  This is museum-quality stuff.

James noted that antiques dealers have been facing the same economic challenges as other retailers across the country, but this show is uniquely positioned to do well.

Consumer confidence in the Washington area is higher than anywhere else in the country right now, James said. Its also the start of the holiday shopping season and our community is ready to start buying again.

As an incentive for those who are unfamiliar with the show to attend, James is offering a free voucher via his website blog for admission for two to the show this weekend. []

This year we have 30 dealers and more than 20,000 square feet of show space, James said. We have local dealers as well as one from Turkey and another from Canada.

But back to those mysterious oval plaques, a mark of prestige that is said to boost the value and cache of a property that has earned the coveted distinction.

We have an application process that is detailed on our website but it basically begins with a structure that is more than 100 years old, Sterling explained. A property owner needs to submit a $25 fee and completed application forms and then we schedule a visit with Richard Bierce, a historical architect, to verify if the structure meets the requirements for a plaque.

The foundation provides guidance for interior restoration projects, but Sterling was quick to note that the plaque designations are awarded only on the exterior merits of a property.
A plaque committee will make determinations based on the historical integrity of the faade of a property, Sterling said.  Sometimes we will suggest changes windows, a door or new stoop that would allow a home to be plaqued.

Currently there are more than 650 plaqued structures in the city, with an average of 10 applications coming in every year to HAF, which is the second oldest organization of its kind in the country (behind Charleston, S.C.).

Thankfully, the founders of the foundation had the foresight to begin this program, Sterling said. Had we not plaqued so many buildings early on, they would not be here today. We would have lost so many historic buildings and would be looking at a much different landscape than the beautiful city we enjoy today.

The Historic Alexandria Antiques Show will take place at the Holiday Inn, 625 First St., from November 13-15. For tickets, complimentary admission voucher or more information, visit For information on the Historic Alexandria Foundation, call 703-549-5811 or visit