By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
J. Lance Mallamo, longtime director of the Office of Historic Alexandria, will retire Thursday after a decade as the city’s head historian. Upon his retirement, deputy director Getchen Bulova will take over as acting director.
Mallamo has led OHA since 2007. As director, he has been responsible for overseeing all of Alexandria’s museums and historic sites and keeping the city’s history relevant.
“What I’m most proud of is that we’ve increased our understanding of Alexandria’s history through additional programming in the museums and on our website, through the outreach that we’ve done with the community and also the interdepartmental planning we’ve done with the city,” Mallamo said.
“Lance has made immeasurable contributions to the preservation and interpretation of our city’s rich history,” City Manager Mark Jinks said in a city news release on Nov. 21. “We are grateful to him for his stewardship of Alexandria’s unique museums and historic sites and wish him all the best in retirement. We will miss his enthusiasm, entrepreneurial spirit and love of Alexandria’s history.”
Over his decade as director, Mallamo has led the Office of Historic Alexandria to several significant accomplishments. Among them, OHA has incorporated history into all of the city’s small area plans, implemented 32 new historic kiosks along King Street, developed the Contraband and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial and increased the admission revenue, grants and private donations to support the department’s budget.
Mallamo also assisted in the acquisition of the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House, adding an example of early domestic life to Alexandria’s diverse portfolio of museums. Mallamo described it as one of the most architecturally significant 18th-century homes in the nation and said the city was able to acquire the $2.5 million property at no cost.
“It’s been a lot over 10 years. I’m surprised it went so quickly when I look back,” Mallamo said. “My biggest regret is I didn’t come here 30 years ago. It’s just been a wonderful, wonderful experience. I never dreamed it would be so important to me.”
Kris Lloyd, acting director of the Lyceum, said she has known Mallamo since the beginning of his tenure as OHA’s director.
“He has a real infectious enthusiasm for history, and I’ve always appreciated that,” Lloyd said. “He’s always seemed to be interested in the whole scope of history, different time periods and that sort of thing. He wasn’t just focused on one particular time period, which was nice because here the Lyceum is a general history museum.”
Mallamo said his favorite part of the job has been making history exciting.
“I love it when people enjoy it and don’t look at history as some mundane exercise like going to school,” he said. “I like to keep people entertained while they’re enjoying their history. I’m very much an entertainer.”
In passing off the OHA reins to Bulova, the city is getting an experienced hand, as she has been a City of Alexandria employee for more than 20 years. Prior to being named deputy director of OHA in 2015, she served as the director of Gadsby’s Tavern from 1996 to 2015.
“Gretchen is a nationally recognized expert in Alexandria’s history,” Jinks said in the release. “She has spent her career researching, interpreting and sharing knowledge about Alexandria’s first 268 years and prior, and she will be an asset to OHA as acting director.”
Mallamo said he couldn’t think of a better replacement. He said Bulova will serve as acting director while the city will most likely search for a permanent director, but he hopes she applies for the longterm position.
“She’s a tireless worker, absolutely tireless and extremely dedicated,” Mallamo said. “She has a long term vision for where she wants our department to go, frankly in a time of dwindling resources, so I think she will do a stellar job.
“For myself, 10 years is a good run in the museum field,” he said, reflecting on his time as director. “Every decade or so you need a new set of eyes to come in and reimagine where you’re going.”
Upon his retirement, Mallamo said he plans to pursue personal interests and seek new adventures, starting with a trip to visit all of the national parks. The OHA held his retirement party on Tuesday.
“I knew it was a good party when I realized I hadn’t had a thing to eat all night,” Mallamo said. “I got home and had a bowl of cereal because I had spent the whole night talking.
“I just want to say what a privilege it’s been to work for the City of Alexandria for 10 years. It’s a very professionally run and managed city and as a career public servant, I certainly appreciate that … It’s been a wonderful run for me, and I know the city’s in great hands. I’m pleased to have been part of it.”