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You Can Own History, But It’s a Fixer-Upper

The Harry W. Gray House in Arlington View is on the National Register of Historic Places for its unique architecture and its significance to local African American history. And now it’s for sale for a mere $291,000.

The house was built in 1881 by Harry Gray, a bricklayer and a former slave in the Arlington household of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Despite the fact that the house stood alone on a 10 acre piece of farmland at the time, Gray built it in the Italianate style of fashionable townhouses he had seen in the District. The architecture was a statement about how far freed slaves had come since the Emancipation Proclamation.

“The dwelling represents the monumental shift from slaves to freedmen for African Americans in the years following the Civil War,” a National Park Service document states. The house sits at present-day 1005 South Quinn Street, near Columbia Pike and adjacent to what was once a thriving Freedman’s Village.

The house remains a sturdy structure, its longevity a testament to Gray’s workmanship. Its yard is fairly well-kept, and the brick exterior itself doesn’t look much older than other houses in the area . However, the interior needs some work thanks in part to what we’re told is water damage under a second-floor wooden deck and some outdated fixtures (wood stove, anyone?).

That’s not to imply that the interior is from the 19th century. Indeed, the house was largely gutted and renovated in 1979 after being sold by Gray’s descendants.

“There’s really nothing of significance left” inside, according to county historic preservation planner Rebeccah Ballo.

The home is a foreclosure. The bank took possession of the house late last year, county property records show. Also hurting the value of the home is the fact that the owner won’t have much latitude to make changes to the exterior.

“Any change has to be reviewed by county Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board” to make sure it’s “in keeping with the original architecture of the house,” Ballo said. On the plus side, interior changes would not require approval.

For all the hassle, whoever buys the place will get a home much more unique than any similarly-priced studio condo in Clarendon.

“It’s an important house and a really lovely one too,” Ballo said.

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