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Adams Morgan ANC Approves Citizens Group Quest for Kalorama Park Historic Designation

Accompanying images can be viewed in the November 2015 issue pdf

By Anthony L. Harvey

As the last item for consideration at a lively and contentious November meeting of the Adams Morgan ANC, the application from the Kalorama Citizens Association (KCA) for the historic landmarking of Kalorama Park served to expose dramatic differences in feelings and approaches in the community to the prospect of awarding the District’s and federal government’s highest form of historic preservation protection to a neighborhood park and playground.

For Adams Morgan residents, especially parents of small children in the immediate vicinity of the park and those who are looking to possible future improvements and expansion of the park’s facilities, including replacement or significant enhancement of the antiquated and dysfunctional small and dilapidated recreation center located in a corner of the Park adjacent to the Woodley Condominium Apartments on Columbia Road. Built in 1947, in 1993 it was significantly altered from a modest L-shaped structure containing a shelter with a front porch into a rectangular structure with no front porch.

By all accounts, this existing center is woefully inadequate as demonstrated by attempts made since its 1993 reconstruction to use the building for activities such as community meetings or park and rec center formal programs.

[Editor’s note: The overall deteriorated condition of the park has been the subject of our reporting over the past several years, most recently, “Kalorama Park in Adams Morgan Now Set for Long Called For Erosion Mitigation & Other Improvements; ANC Narrowly Approves Project,” InTowner, December 2014 issue pdf, page 1. We also reported on an intervention by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, “Kalorama Park Rehab Project to Continue; U.S. Fine Arts Panel Undecided on Plaza,” March 2015 issue pdf, page1.]

After hearing a concise presentation of a fascinating and persuasively written 64-page historic landmark application prepared by historian Mara Cherkasky of Prologue DC, who was assisted in her efforts by local independent historian Mary Belcher, the ANC’s Committee on Public Services and the Environment at its October meeting voted (2-1) to recommend to the full Commission that the ANC recommend adoption by the District’s Historic Preservation Board (HPRB) of the KCA’s application.

Subsequently, by a vote of 5-3 at the Commission’s November meeting, all ANC Commissioners being present and voting, the ANC rejected an amendment from ANC Chair William Simpson to the Committee’s adoption recommendation. Simpson’s amendment included a provision calling “on the Historic Preservation Review Board and the District’s State Historic Preservation Officer to not treat the existing shelter/recreation building as a contributing historic resource in the park.”

Commissioner Alan Gambrell then offered a statesman-like compromise amendment with two particulars, the first stipulating that the “ANC notes that the historic nomination [application] acknowledges that the specific uses to which the park’s various recreation spaces have been put have changed over the years and that the nomination does not impact changes in specific recreational uses in the future” — this covering an issue similarly dealt with in Simpson’s proposed amendment.

Gambrel’s second particular dealt with the more controversial issue of the shelter/recreation building; it specified that the “ANC recognizes that the shelter building was an element of the 1947 park plan. Given its subsequent alteration since that time, flexibility toward potential alterations to or replacement may be desirable and should be respectful of the building’s context within the landmarked park.” Gambrel’s amendment, like Simpson’s, a substitute to the Committee’s 2-1 passed motion — the matter before the Commission — was then passed by a 5-3 vote, with the Commission chair and the chairs of the Commission’s Planning, Zoning, and Transportation and Public Service and the Environment Committees all three voting against.

The Kalorama Park landmark application is noted on the HPRB’s calendar for consideration at its regular monthly meeting on November 19th, and if necessary, for continuation December 3rd.


Summary Background from the Landmark Application

“The 3.1-acre Kalorama Park, officially dedicated in 1949, is bounded by Columbia Road on the east, by Kalorama Road on the south, by 19th Street on the west, and, on the north, by the rear property lines of houses and apartment buildings facing Mintwood Place in Northwest Washington, DC. It is a popular green space in a neighborhood that has been densely built for more than a century. A two-acre portion of the park in 2010 was designated a District of Columbia Landmark, Kalorama Park Archaeological Site, 51NW061, because it contains structural remains and other artifacts from the time it was the manor-house grounds of a large slave-holding farm owned by John Little. The purpose of this nomination is to broaden the scope of both the site’s area of significance and its period of significance.”

Summary Justification for the Landmark

“Kalorama Park merits listing in the District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites for meeting Criterion A (Events) because of its association with John Little’s slave-holding estate between 1836 and 1862, its consideration in 1866 as a presidential residence, its association with neighborhood development between 1883 and 1937, and its status as a whites-only park in a diversifying neighborhood between 1948 and 1954, when legal segregation ended. The park meets Criterion B (History) for its association with horseracing, an extremely popular pastime in D.C.’s early years, between 1817 and 1828; for providing a window into slavery in D.C. between 1836 and 1862, and for its recognition by the National Park Service as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site; for its role as a centerpiece around which neighborhood development occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; and for serving as an example of park and playground development in segregated D.C. from the 1930s until 1954. The site meets Criterion C (Individuals) for its association with William Thornton, First Architect of the Capitol; memoirist Christian Hines; enslaved freedom-seeker Hortense Prout; church co-founder Margaret Foyles Little Sands; real estate developer and church co-founder Lawrence Sands; prominent businessman and civic leader Thomas W. Smith; and brewer Christian Heurich. The site meets Criterion D (Architecture and Urbanism) because it has been preserved as a much-valued green space in a densely built neighborhood, and because individuals associated with the site played key roles in developing the surrounding Kalorama Triangle and Washington Heights Historic Districts. Finally, the site meets Criterion G (Archaeology) because, through archaeological discoveries, it offers a unique opportunity for understanding slavery in Washington, D.C.”