Preserve historic north Old Town

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Old Town is one of America’s most historic villages, witness to the entirety of our history. People from all over the world come to see our historic homes, walk streets first paved by cobblestones brought by English ships. Blessed with this rich inheritance, we must preserve it for our children’s children.

A major threat has arisen. Densification is at the gates of Old Town – north and south. Now Hoffman & Associates plan a four-story, 48-unit, 100,000 square foot monstrosity at 301 N. Fair- fax St. It would tower over the 19th-century homes of Queen and Fairfax, forever degrading this colonial-era neighborhood. It would be a mortal blow to the aesthetic harmony and architectural coherence of our inheritance. It will fuel a fire of densification that will surely envelop all of Old Town. Mayor Justin Wilson and City Council, the Board of Architectural Review and the Planning Commission must all reject this plan!

Our local history is at stake, written just steps from 301 N. Fairfax. In 1749 the Virginia House of Burgesses asked a young George Washington to survey a new port city. He then named every street from Duke to Oronoco, from Royal to the Potomac River – including the four streets that surround 301 N. Fairfax.

On those streets we hold our annual Washington’s Birthday Parade, with its turn at 301 N. Fairfax at Queen. Our oldest home is Ramsay House, built in 1751, at N. Fair- fax and King. It was the residence of William Ramsay, one of the Scottish merchants who founded Alexandria. Thus, we hold our annual Scottish

Christmas Walk. These parades on colonial streets in front of colonial homes re- mind us each year what we steward today.

As Cicero wrote, “Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child.” Injecting a 48- unit condominium into this colonial neighborhood is a civic sacrilege.

In 1755 the “Congress of Alexandria” was convened by Gen. Edward Braddock, Commander of the British Army in North America. Governors of five British colonies met with the General in John Carlyle’s house at 121 N. Fairfax to plan an attack against New France.

George Washington was among the volunteers who marched west on what is now Braddock Road to attack Fort Duquesne. After Washington’s victory at Yorktown, a celebration was held in his honor at Duvall’s Tavern at 303 Cameron St. In the 200 block of Cameron is a plaque where the first plot was sold to create our town in 1749. Both are one block from 301 N. Fairfax.

On April 16, 1789, a dinner was held at Wise Tavern at 201 N. Fairfax St. to wish Washington well on his journey to New York to be sworn in as Commander-in-Chief. There he was for the first time ad- dressed as “Mr. President.” In November 1799, Washington gave his last military review at Gadsby’s Tavern, at the inter- section of Cameron and Royal streets, where in 1801 Jefferson held his Inaugural Dinner. Both taverns are steps from 301 N. Fairfax.

The first two deaths of the Civil War occurred at Mar- shall House at 480 King St. on May 24, 1861, the day after Virginians voted to join the Confederacy. The Union officer killed was a friend of Lincoln and laid in state in the White House. A Civil War hospital was located across from City Hall. One block south of 301 N. Fairfax St., two Black men were lynched, in 1897 and 1899.

We have no more historically meaningful street than North Fairfax. It deserves our study and respect, not the numbing and irreversible densification that is proposed. Lose historic places and lose history.

The Alexandria City website proclaims, “The Old & Historic District was … established to protect the City’s colonial heritage.” Will Wilson and his Council preserve Old Town by honoring those words, or are these words meant only to amuse us? In 1977, the city unwisely allowed an office at 301 N. Fairfax St. Let us reverse that error, not double the densification. We must preserve Old Town’s historic neighborhoods and traditions. There is no other responsible civic path.

-Michael C. Maibach, Alexandria

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