To the anguish of preservationists, the Febrey-Lothrop House — also known as the Rouse estate — is in the process of being torn down as of Wednesday morning.
A crew is using heavy equipment to demolish the aging mansion at 6407 Wilson Blvd, the origins of which are historic in nature, according to those that have waged a campaign to save it following the death of its long-time owner.
Built prior to the Civil War war, the original house on the estate was largely replaced by a new building in the early 20th century, though some parts of the original structure may remain. Aside from age, those arguing for the building’s preservation also point to the estate’s role in hosting Civil War encampments and some of its notable past residents: business magnate and aviator Howard Hughes, actress Audrey Meadows, and sportsman Randy Rouse, who passed away in 2017.
Rouse’s trust reportedly plans to develop the 9 acre Dominion Hills property, near Seven Corners, as a collection of single-family homes.
The demolition comes after the Arlington County Board scheduled a hearing in April — following a unanimous Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board vote — to consider a historic designation for the property that could prevent such demolition, if approved.
County officials said recently they were still planning to move forward with the hearing, but they were unable legally to prevent the owners from demolishing the home and other structures on the property in the meantime. A demolition permit was issued earlier this month; some initial prep work was performed in January.
In a statement to the County Board this weekend, a local preservationist who was leading the charge to save the estate called it a “sacred site,” citing the probability that it was originally built by enslaved labor. The statement also said its demolition would be “equivalent” to destroying crematoriums at a notorious Nazi concentration camp.
County Still Prepping for Preservation Hearing — “Even though the razing of the Rouse estate may be at hand, the Arlington County government’s historic-preservation staff is taking the steps necessary if public hearings on preservation of the site go forward in April… But nearly all parties now expect that the buildings on the 9-acre site will be razed before those hearings occur.” [Sun Gazette]
Preservationist Compares Estate to Auschwitz — Tom Dickinson, who’s leading the charge to save the Rouse estate, directed the following statement to the County Board over the weekend, referencing the likelihood that enslaved people built part of the estate: “If you, the board, do not intervene to stop this destruction of this sacred site, your individual and collective legacy will be stained forever by a lack of honor and respect for those who labored and suffered to create these structures at this site, and the desecration of them… It would be the equivalent of allowing the destruction of the crematory ovens at Auschwitz.” [Sun Gazette]
Northam Further Easing COVID Restrictions — “Governor Northam has further amended Executive Order 72 to modify public health restrictions in place to prevent transmission of COVID-19. These changes come as Virginia’s vaccination rate is steady and case counts are fluctuating. Effective April 1, limits on social gatherings will increase from 10 to 50 for indoor gatherings, and from 25 to 100 for outdoor gatherings.” [Arlington County]
NAACP Head Receives FBI Community Award — “FBI Washington Field Office (WFO) Assistant Director in Charge (ADIC) Steven M. D’Antuono is pleased to announce Mr. Julius Spain, Sr., as the recipient of the 2020 FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award (DCLA) for WFO. Mr. Spain serves as President of the Arlington Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).” [FBI]
Arlington Free Clinic’s Vaccination Effort — “Officials and community organizations are scrambling to close this racial gap in vaccine access. One such organization is the Arlington Free Clinic, which serves uninsured adults, many of them undocumented immigrants, in Arlington County. The clinic is holding vaccination days twice a week and working with other local social service organizations to develop an alternate pathway for low-income communities of color to get vaccinated.” [WAMU]
Former AP Bureau Chief Dies — “Charles Lewis, a former Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press and The Hearst Newspapers who tirelessly advocated for the release of AP journalist Terry Anderson from kidnappers in Lebanon, died Saturday. He was 80. Lewis, of Arlington, Virginia, died at a hospital from complications from cancer.” [Associated Press]
The Dominion Hills mansion, owned by sportsman Randy Rouse until he passed away in 2017, had also been home to Howard Hughes and actress Audrey Meadows. Of greater historic interest to County officials was the fact that the estate grounds, which had been a hunting ground and gathering place for pre-Columbian Native American tribes in the area, had been left virtually undisturbed for centuries.
The owners of the estate have been pursuing a demolition permit parallel to an effort from preservationists to try to give the property a local historic designation over the objections of Rouse’s trust. The designation would require additional archeological and preservation work before any development could take place on the property.
The County Board was amenable to the designation, unanimously voting to send the designation back to the Planning Commission on April 5 for approval, before returning to the County Board on April 17.
The house, which has sat on the hill in one form or another since before the Civil War — documentation suggests the original home was largely replaced by a new building in the early 20th century — may not live long enough to see that designation bear fruit.
The last holdup in the demolition permit process was a land disturbing activity (LDA) permit, but County officials confirmed that the demolition permit was issued last Friday after the LDA permit was approved. Previously, County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac told the County Board that the county could be hauled into court if it were to delay approving a properly-submitted demolition permit application.
The same day the permit was approved, a letter from Barrett Consultants P.C. was sent to neighbors informing them of the impending demolition activities.
“This letter is being sent to inform you that the owner of… 6407 Wilson Boulevard intends to perform the demolition of the existing home and/or structures located on the premises of the property,” the letter said. “The demolition and subsequent excavation of the structure will begin in the very near future.”
“In preparation of starting, appropriate tree protection measures will be installed, as well as proper silt fencing to help mitigate erosion and preventative purposes to adjacent properties,” the letter added.
With the permits in hand, there are no impediments under Virginia law preventing the owners from tearing down the house and thus preempting efforts to save it with a historic designation.
As of this writing, on Wednesday afternoon, the house was still standing.
The County is rushing through the local historic designation process for the the mid-19th century property. It voted on Tuesday to advertise hearings on the potential historic value of the property in April.
The process is accelerated by the owner’s applications in December and last month for permits to demolish the buildings on the property, and an apparent effort to front-run any historic designation. The 9+ acre estate is owned by a trust established by sportsman Randy Rouse, who passed away in 2017.
The permit is administrative — meaning outside of the need for County Board approval — and was approved. Cynthia Liccese-Torres, coordinator for Arlington County’s historic preservation program, said the demolition permit will be not actually be issued until approval of an associated land disturbing activity permit.
Parallel to this administrative approval, an application filed last year by an Arlington resident to give the estate a local historic designation was reviewed by the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) in November. The HALRB found that the home met eight of 11 criteria for the designation and recommended that the structure of the home and the surrounding property be designated as a local historic district overlay.
The property owners — who seek to demolish the building and sell the property for redevelopment — have repeatedly objected to this designation. Staff noted that despite having been in contact with the owners, they had not been given access to the property to research it, which has hamstrung efforts to make a more thorough report.
Meanwhile, in mid-January, workmen at the house started to demolish the roof until the County issued a stop work order.
“Staff made numerous good faith attempts to access property, [but] staff has still not been able to gain owner’s consent for time and date to view property,” said Richard Woodruff, chair of the Arlington Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board. “These issues taken by owners gave cause to believe that the house is at substantial risk of being damaged or destroyed.”
Woodruff said there is plenty of information on the property — even without an first-hand inspection — that says there is likely historic significance that could be lost if the area is demolished and redeveloped by-right.
“It was an upper middle class 19th century farm owned by prominent families,” Woodruff said. “We know Native Americans hunted on the hill and Civil War soldiers on both sides of war camped there. That land has not been disturbed and may contain artifacts, even pre-Columbian artifacts.”
Additionally, Woodruff noted the main house contains portions of the original 1855 structure, and key figures like Howard Hughes lived and stayed at the home in the 19th and 20th centuries.
“Anyone who has driven by property knows it represents uniquely pastoral image of Arlington,” Woodruff said. “What is there, known and unknown, could be lost forever. We know owners want to sell, but there are no immediate buyers. It would be premature and a complete disaster for these buildings to come down before any of that is known. If you agree this property is worthy of protection for future generations of Arlingtonians, if you believe some or all of it should be protected, then please figure out how to do it and don’t wait until it’s too late.”
Tom Colucci, from the law firm Walsh Colucci Lubeley & Walsh P.C., spoke on behalf of the owners and reiterated earlier objections to the historic classification.
“We request that the Board stop this runaway freight train to nowhere,” Colucci said. “What has happened is this was initiated by one individual who had no economic or other interest in the property and staff took the ball and ran with it. There have been a lot of things rushed with this because the owner has a desire to demolish these structures. These buildings are not in good condition, some are not in safe condition, and there are overriding policy decisions that have not been considered. Does the Board want to put itself in a position where it tries to thwart an otherwise legal act of a property owner by using this process?”
Colucci said the historic overlay would significantly devalue the property and would cause concern among potential buyers. Colucci also noted that the property has an R-6 zoning — single family homes — and the owners are currently only interested in redeveloping it within that zoning.
Arlington County police are investigating a number of businesses break-ins along Wilson Blvd, west of Ballston.
Thieves broke into businesses in the Bluemont and Dominion Hills neighborhoods early Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The first series of burglaries happened either at or near the Dominion Hills Centre shopping plaza.
From a crime report:
BURGLARY (series), 2021-02160033/02160034, 6000 block of Wilson Boulevard. At approximately 4:12 a.m. on February 16, police were dispatched to the report of an alarm. Upon arrival, it was determined that the unknown suspect(s) attempted to force entry to a business unsuccessfully, causing damage. While investigating, police located a second business, which the suspect(s) forced entry to, causing damage. Nothing was reported stolen from either business. There is no suspect description(s). The investigation is ongoing.
A similar burglary on the same block earlier this month targeted local watering hole Meridian Pint.
On Wednesday morning, meanwhile, thieves broke into a small strip of businesses in the Bluemont neighborhood, along the 5500 block of Wilson Blvd.
Readers tell us that a restaurant, a salon and a barbershop were among the businesses burglarized.
“Yen Beauty/Don Barber and King of Koshary appeared to have had their glass front doors smashed in,” one reader told ARLnow yesterday. The Arlington County Police Department typically does not reveal the exact addresses or names of businesses that were the victims of crimes.
More from ACPD:
BURGLARY (Series), 2021-02170023/0114/0115, 5500 block of Wilson Boulevard. At approximately 5:34 a.m. on February 17, police were dispatched to the report of a breaking and entering. Upon arrival, it was determined that unknown suspects forced entry into three businesses, causing damage. Two cash registers, electronics and an undisclosed amount of cash were stolen. The investigating is ongoing.
Photo via Google Maps
After several difficult months for Meridian Pint (6035 Wilson Blvd), owner John Andrade said an opportunity came along to sell the business and he took it.
The bar in Dominion Hills was part of a small, pint-sized franchise when it opened in 2019, but the Columbia Heights location in D.C. closed as part of the move to Arlington. Smoke & Barrel, another Andrade restaurant in Adams Morgan, closed late last year. Brookland Pint in D.C. remains open.
“It is with heavy heart I announce I am no longer the principal owner of Meridian Pint,” Andrade said in a post on Facebook this week. “This past year presented fiscal challenges that were difficult to survive. And although Meridian Pint and its staff received heroic and loyal support from our incredible Arlington neighbors, ultimately, Meridian Pint was simply unprepared financially to keep operating to a level that the community and our amazing staff deserves.”
Andrade has launched a GoFundMe in January to help cover expenses for the staff. The fundraiser ultimately raised $3,560.
“Recently, the opportunity was presented to pass the torch on to an organization better prepared to carry on the legacy of Meridian Pint,” Andrade said. “The decision was tough but obvious. I am pleased to tell you that under new management, Meridian Pint will now begin its next chapter in Arlington, ready to serve you everything you have come to love, only better.”
No information about the new owners was immediately available.
“I hope that you will support this next phase in the story of our neighborhood gathering place along with me,” Andrade said. “You will continue to see me at ‘The Oldest Bar in Dominion Hills’ regularly. Except from now on, I’ll be on the customer side of the bar. It has truly been my greatest pleasure and honor in serving you.”
The run of bad luck for the bar didn’t end with the sale announcement, however.
Early in the morning, the day after the announcement, a burglar reportedly broke into the bar. According to a police report, an unknown suspect forced entry into the business early Wednesday morning, caused damage to the bar and stole a cash box.
Andrade confirmed that it was Dominion Pint that was burglarized, saying that he thinks the break-in was part of a string of burglaries occurring in the area.
The Febrey-Lothrop Estate — also known as the Rouse estate — is a 9-acre site at 6407 Wilson Blvd, near Arlington’s western border with Fairfax County. On it sits a more than 100-year-old home that has housed prominent business figures and celebrities over the years.
With a demolition permit application pending, a local nonprofit hopes that the county government can intervene and preserve the building.
“Over the past 150 years, the Febrey-Lothrop Estate has graced the Upton Hill neighborhood of Arlington,” the Arlington Historical Society (AHS) said in a letter recently sent to the County Board. “Despite war, twentieth-century alterations, and major development of the neighborhood, the manor home and grounds remain a proud, historically significant Arlington landmark.”
The original home on the property was built before the Civil War and once hosted a Union encampment and hospital. The property later became residence of Alvin Lothrop, co-founder of Woodward & Lothrop Department Store; Howard Hughes; and most recently businessman Randolph Rouse and his wife, Honeymooners actress Audrey Meadows.
According to an application for a historical district to protect the home from demolition, filed last year against the wishes of the estate of its late owner, the original home was destroyed and replaced by the current colonial revival-style house in 1907. The Arlington Historical Society, however, says portions of the original home and subsequent additions are likely still part of the building.
“Given the historical significance of the Febrey-Lothrop House, the Arlington Historical Society believes the property must be saved for future generations,” AHS said in the letter. “With requests for demolition permits already in the pipeline, AHS feels an urgent need to prevent harm coming to the Estate.”
The organization requested that the County Board and County Manager issue cease and desist orders, preempting the proposed demolition. AHS also requested that the county’s Historic Affairs and Landmarks Review Board quickly recommend approval an application for Local Historic District designation and forward the designation to the County Board for approval.
The county has already listed the site for potential conversion into a public park in the Parks Master Plan (page 162), though so far it remains owned by Rouse’s estate. The historic district application notes that the property “is extremely attractive to developers for townhouse, condo, single family home, and retail commercial establishments,” due to its large size.
“Over the past 15 years, Arlington has lost many historically and architecturally important buildings to the wrecking ball,” AHS wrote in its letter to the County Board. “Let’s not let another gem go unprotected.”
Workers are removing roof shingles from the Febrey-Lothrop house in Dominion Hills.
The 114-year-old home, which preservationists have been trying to save against the wishes of the current owners, currently has a demolition permit application pending with the county, after having a sewer cap permit approved.
While the demolition permit has yet to be issued, what might be prep work was underway this afternoon, ahead of expected rain tonight. A worker in a full protective suit and ventilator could be seen removing roof shingles — potentially asbestos shingles.
That has prompted alarm among some of the local preservationists hoping to pressure the county to somehow stop the demolition. An online petition calling for the demolition permit to be denied, despite county officials suggesting that would be illegal if all the paperwork was otherwise in order, is currently up to about 875 signatures.
The home sits on a 9+ acre estate most recently owned by sportsman Randy Rouse, who passed away in 2017. Local activists have been pushing Arlington officials to buy the property, preserve the house, and use the rest of the property for a park or other public uses — something they say is a “generational” opportunity, given the lack of large, open privately-owned parcels in the county.
The county is set to study the property, to determine whether it should be given a historic district designation that would restrict changes, but the owners appear to be moving forward with a demolition project before that could be put into place.
An accountant representing the trust that owns the property did not respond to an earlier request for comment from ARLnow.
A demolition permit application has been filed for 6407 Wilson Blvd, the address associated with the more than century-old Febrey-Lothrop house.
The permit has yet to be approved after Tuesday’s filing, but county officials previously said that legally it must go through if all of the paperwork is in order, despite the protestations of some local preservationists.
The turn-of-the-century mansion with a colorful history and notable former residents — including department store magnate Alvin Lothrop, businessman and aviator Howard Hughes, local businessman and sportsman Randy Rouse, and actress Audrey Meadows of The Honeymooners fame — is potentially set for demolition after the Arlington Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board voted to study a historical designation for the 9+ acre property.
The historic designation process is being conducted against the wishes of the trust left by Rouse, who passed away in 2017. Demolition would circumvent the restrictions imposed by a historic designation, before they’re put into place.
Sid Simmonds, an accountant who represents the Rouse trust, did not return a request for comment from ARLnow.
Those who would like to see the aging mansion preserved have been circulating an online petition.
The MoveOn.org petition, created by “passionate preservationist” Tom Dickinson, calls for Arlington County to suspend the issuance of a demolition permit, expedite the completion of the Local Historic District designation study, and to either purchase the property or “find a buyer who will preserve the property for public use.”
The petition also calls for the creation of a “‘Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens’ in Arlington for the community to enjoy, and for historic tourism and economic benefits.”
Here’s what the petition says about the property, which is located in the Dominion Hills neighborhood, near Arlington’s border with Fairfax County:
The Febrey-Lothrop-Rouse estate is a unique, large privately held property in Arlington. It has a long and significant history, dating back to the Febrey family farm and house, built in 1855. The Febrey family was one of the most prestigious and well-known in the D.C. area at that time. It was the location of a large encampment for thousands of Union Soldiers during the Civil War, 1861-65. The estate was subsequently owned by Alvin Lothrop, a co-founder/owner of the Woodward-Lothrop Department Store chain. The last owner was Randolph Rouse who was married to Audrey Meadows, a world famous actress in the 1950s and 60s. The property was also once owned by TWA Airlines, which was owned by Howard Hughes, who occasionally stayed at the property. It is important that Arlington protect and preserve such a unique, undeniably historic property for public access. This is a once-in-forever opportunity to take a stand for historic preservation in Arlington County.
As of this morning the petition has more than 675 signatures.
A permit filed with Arlington County suggests that a potentially historic house in Dominion Hills may not be long for the world.
The Febrey-Lothrop House at 6407 Wilson Blvd, also known as the Rouse estate, has been the subject of sale speculation this year. The 9 acre property on which it sits is considered to be a “generational” land acquisition opportunity for the county and a prime site for a potential residential development, should it sell to a developer.
A historic designation for the property has been proposed, however. From a Sun Gazette article last week:
Members of the Arlington government’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) voted 10-0 on Nov. 17 to move forward on a preliminary study toward determining whether the 9-acre Rouse estate at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and North McKinley Road meets qualifications to be designated as a local historic district.
The bone of contention? The trust that controls the property doesn’t want the study, or the historic designation, to move forward.
The property is owned by a trust set up by sportsman Randy Rouse, who purchased the estate (then consisting of 26 acres) in 1951 and owned it until his death at age 100 in 2017. His widow currently resides on the circa-1907 main house.
Not only is the house more than a century old, but its former residents are of some note: Alvin Lothrop, one of the founders of the Woodward and Lothrop department stores chain; business magnate and aviator Howard Hughes; and actress Audrey Meadows of The Honeymooners fame.
A historic designation, should it be approved, may limit the development potential of the property. Also from the Sun Gazette:
Inclusion in a county-government local historic district in Arlington restricts the maneuverability of property owners in terms of what they can do with their property.
While owners of properties being considered for inclusion as a local historic district could always attempt what might be considered a nuclear option – razing the structures to the ground before a vote on such a designation takes place – such a move likely would result in a reaction that would complicate efforts to redevelop the parcel down the road.
A recent permit filing could be a prelude to the aforementioned “nuclear option” of a preemptive demolition.
This week the county approved a permit application to cap off the property’s sewage line. A sewer cap is one of the requirements for obtaining a demolition permit.
“[The] kiss of death of any house is the sewer cap on,” a tipster tells ARLnow.
Demolition of the house would forestall restrictions that may be imposed by a historic district designation. The actual plans for the property could not be immediately confirmed, however.
In April, Falls Church News-Press columnist Charlie Clark reported that while the trustees for the property were not actively marketing it, they had received an unsolicited offer that was seriously considered.
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Police Investigating More KKK Stickers — “Stickers that appear to promote the Ku Klux Klan have been found on traffic signs and utility boxes in Arlington over the past month, Arlington police said… They were found between July 2 and 28 in four locations, mostly in the Yorktown neighborhood, on the back of traffic signs and on a utility box.” [Washington Post]
Big Power Outage on Saturday — “A power outage in South Arlington has about 3,000 customers without power, according to Dominion Energy. The outage is affecting several neighborhoods between Columbia Pike and Interstate 395, including Arlington Mill, Columbia Forest, Douglas Park, and Nauck.” [WJLA]
Parents Rally Against School Plan — “All 12 school jurisdictions in the D.C. area have announced their intentions to start the 2020-2021 school year virtually, and not all parents are pleased with that decision. Vienna, Va. resident Jill Gartin rallied with other parents and students today at Arlington district headquarters to make their voices heard… ‘It’s been awful because I have five kids running on one wifi. It’s draining and the kids are miserable.'” [WJLA]
Ribbon Cutting for Vida — The Arlington Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting ceremony last week for Vida Fitness’ new Ballston location, its first outside of D.C. It’s only the second ribbon cutting pictured on the Chamber’s Instagram account (the first was Bowlero in Crystal City) since the pandemic started. [Instagram]
Meridian Pint Fighting for Survival — “As you all may have heard, there is a possibility we may have to permanently close our doors. With the effects of Covid-19 the restaurant industry is feeling an enormous impact, Meridian Pint is no exception. We did get a Payroll Protection Loan but those funds have since been fully depleted. We are asking for your help.” [Facebook]
Nearby: MoCo May Reinstate Restrictions — “COVID-19 cases have been increasing across the state while Montgomery County’s have plateaued to about 70 to 80 new cases a day. But now officials are considering whether to reinstate some restrictions to try to decrease the virus’s spread and reduce cases.” [Bethesda Magazine]
Yes, But Where’s *This* Story? — Wondering why something that happened over the weekend was not included in Morning notes? We may be planning to cover it later today. Or, if it’s something that we might not know about, you can tell us about it for potential future coverage.
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman