Brian Hannigan just lost a battle he’s been fighting for the better part of a decade, and all that’s left now is to hope the end result isn’t too detrimental to his neighborhood.
Hannigan, president of the Dominion Hills Civic Association, has been one of the voices for years telling Arlington County that it should purchase the nine-acre Febrey-Lothrop House, at 6407 Wilson Blvd, when it became available.
Formerly home to businessman Randy Rouse before his death in 2017, the property is also known as the Rouse estate. While the house has undergone numerous renovations and expansions over the years, portions of it are believed to date back to before the Civil War.
It’s now being demolished, in anticipation of expected single-family-home development on the site.
The County Board took up the question of whether to designate the property as historic, requiring preservation or, at least, greater archeological efforts and documentation to be performed before development could occur, but the discussion was too little, too late, and a demolition permit for the house was approved administratively before any historic preservation designation could be enacted.
Though disappointed, Hannigan says he’s at least hopeful that the site won’t be up-zoned for denser development.
“I think it’s a done deal,” said Hannigan. “We received assurances from the trustee, the owner, that they have no interest in pursuing a sale that would involve rezoning.”
The potential historic designation is still on the books for discussion at meetings in April, but the house is already partially torn down.
According to the county website, Arlington County Historic Preservation staff were able to access the property prior to demolition. Hearings on the historic designation of a portion of the property are expected to proceed as scheduled at the Planning Commission and County Board, despite the home’s demolition.
It’s unclear what would be targeted for preservation if approved, though some on the County Board previously said possibility of pre-Columbian artifacts on the site, based on records of Native Americans activity in the area, was more compelling than any historical aspects of the house itself.
The designation is scheduled to be discussed at a Planning Commission meeting on Monday, April 5, and at the County Board on Saturday, April 17.
“I’m disappointed Arlington County didn’t step up,” Hannigan said. “Personally, been advocating for the county to target this land and acquire it for years, but those pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Two years ago county did put the site on the Parks Master Plan as generational and unique opportunity for acquisition. The language they used was appropriate, that if it goes on the market it’s gone forever. Well, that’s what happened.”
Hannigan said he hoped the land would be acquired by the county and preserved as open space, but now those hopes have shifted warily towards advocating against any potential rezoning.
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 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.
Possible Rabies Exposure in EFC — “On Saturday, January 30, a raccoon was reported in the area of the 6900 block Williamsburg Boulevard… in the East Falls Church neighborhood. This animal was showing signs of neurological symptoms and was caught and removed by Animal Control after potentially having contact with a pet. The raccoon tested clinically positive for rabies.” [Arlington County]
Rouse Property Showdown Heads to County Board — “With a unanimous vote, Arlington’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board kicked the controversy over preservation of the Rouse estate on Wilson Boulevard up to the County Board. The action, taken Jan. 27 after the matter was fast-tracked through what ordinarily would have been a much more drawn-out process, puts the advisory body at odds with the owners of the 9-acre property, who want to raze the buildings and sell off the tract.” [InsideNova]
Pike McDonald’s Robbed by Irate Customer — “The suspect was in the drive thru line of a business and became irate over an issue with their order. The suspect then parked their vehicle and entered the business yelling and threatening the victim. She slapped items out of the victim’s hand, then pushed her out of the way and stole an undisclosed amount of cash from the register, threw food items on the floor, and damaged property, then fled in a vehicle prior to police arrival.” [ACPD]
Local Businessman Pleads Guilty to Fraud — “An Arlington businessman pleaded guilty today to making false statements to multiple federal agencies in order to fraudulently obtain multimillion-dollar government contracts, COVID-19 emergency relief loans, and undeserved military service benefits… Robert S. Stewart, Jr., 35, was the owner and president of Federal Government Experts LLC, an Arlington-based company that purported to provide various services to the U.S. government.” [U.S. Dept. of Justice]
Volunteers Working to Widen Mt. Vernon Trail — “Volunteers removed overgrown grass and mud from the trail between Memorial Bridge and TR Island in January widening the trail by more than a foot in some spots. Volunteers also fixed drainage of three areas where winter ice sheets were forming. We have multiple upcoming volunteer events through March to continue widening the trail.” [Friends of the Mt. Vernon Trail]
Super Bowl Safety Reminder — “Super Bowl LV is on Sunday, February 7, 2021, and it’s one of America’s favorite annual celebrations… The Arlington County Police Department is teaming up with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to remind football fans everywhere that Fans Don’t Let Fans Drive Drunk.” [ACPD]
Still No Back to School Date Set — From Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán: “Return dates for additional student groups have not been set yet… I am committed to making these transitions as soon as it is safe enough to do so — looking not only at the health metrics, but all available information regarding health and safety, mitigation, instruction and operations — knowing that there are risks in every scenario.” [Arlington Public Schools]
N. Va. Leaders Call for Vaccine Changes — “A coalition of local governments in Northern Virginia is calling on Gov. Ralph Northam to streamline the release of COVID-19 vaccine doses and provide more transparency and equity into the process. The letter signed by 14 local government leaders was sent by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission to Northam on Sunday.” [InsideNova, Twitter]
More Buzz for Local Fried Chicken Sandwich — “A local chef is getting a lot of attention for his fried chicken sandwich… Rock Harper is the owner and chef of Queen Mother’s restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. ‘To fry chicken better than me you gotta be a woman, at least 67, and have a lace apron, if you don’t at least meet that criteria you can’t deal with me,’ Harper says.” [WJLA]
Car Flips on GW Parkway — From Tuesday afternoon: “ACFD is on scene with a crash involving an overturned vehicle on the northbound GW Parkway near Key Bridge. An additional ambulance has been requested to the scene.” [Twitter]
New Arlington Police Recruit Class — “ACPD’s 23 recruit officers in Session 144 at the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy started their journey to become police officers today with the commencement of classes. Best of luck Session 144!” [Twitter]
Preservation of Rouse Estate Still a Long Shot — “Even if Arlington government leaders get behind the effort – and that remains a big ‘if’ – efforts by preservationists to save the Rouse estate on Wilson Boulevard from the wrecking ball may simply run out of time. ‘What you have going on is a race,’ County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac told County Board members on Jan. 23, a race between owners of the estate demanding the county government approve a demolition permit on the one hand, and preservationists seeking to have the site designated a local historic district on the other.” [InsideNova]
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.
Board Balks at Preservation Request — “Efforts to place the 9-acre Rouse estate at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and North McKinley Road into a local historic district appear to have pushed the property owner to move forward with the ‘nuclear option‘… And, county officials say, there is not much they can do to prevent it. ‘Our hands are pretty much tied,’ County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said Dec. 12, effectively rebuffing a request that the county government take stronger actions.” [InsideNova]
Board Responds to Reopening Request — “A request that Arlington County Board members use their influence – whether through sweet-talking or something more forceful – to get county schools back up and running fell largely on deaf ears Dec. 12. Board members said they were working with their School Board counterparts, but had no power to force a reopening of schools that have been shuttered since last March.” [InsideNova]
Local Nonprofit Expands Aid — “Since April of this year [Arlington] Thrive has provided more than $5 million is assistance to 1,300 families and individuals, a dramatic increase from the $805,000 Thrive provided to families and individuals during the same period last year. Typical requests to Arlington Thrive used to be for one or two months rent but since the pandemic now extend to six or seven months.” [Press Release]
Church Continues Drive-Thru Donations — “Clarendon Presbyterian Church recently announced that it will continue holding monthly Drive-thru Food and Toiletry Collections to support our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. Since the first Collection in June through the most recent one in December, the community donated the equivalent of 756 brown paper bags of groceries – an estimated value of $30,000.” [Press Release]
Northam Proposes State Budget — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday proposed a state budget that would restore some spending frozen earlier this year amid uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic, updating a spending document that the General Assembly just finished tinkering with last month.” [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
County Board Candidates So Far — “Announced Arlington County Board special election (to replace Erik Gutshall, who sadly was forced to resign while being treated for brain cancer) Democratic candidates… so far are: Barbara Kanninen; Chanda Choun; Nicole Merlene.” [Blue Virginia]
Arlington Allocates $300k for Emergency Help — “Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz has allocated $300,000 from the FY 2020 budget to meet increased demand for emergency financial assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. The money will be provided from the FY 2020 budget contingency fund to Arlington Thrive, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to County residents who experience sudden crisis.” [Arlington County]
Gov. Northam’s Reopening Conditions — “Gov. Ralph Northam offered what he called a ‘blueprint’ Friday for easing business restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lifting of restrictions will include a phased approach based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Beyond a steady decline in new cases, the state will also have to increase testing and contact tracing, while ensuring hospitals have the necessary capacity, Northam said.” [InsideNova]
Group Urges Northam to Take More Action — “We respectfully request that you immediately implement the following low-cost, high-impact actions: Empower local governments… Maximize social distancing… Expand mask usage… Deploy approaches that have worked elsewhere to cheaply scale up testing… Leverage volunteers to cheaply scale up contact tracing… Convert unused college dormitories into voluntary isolation facilities… Implement ‘safe travel’ rules to prevent importation of new cases.” [EndCoronavirus.org, Google Docs]
Arlington History Jigsaw Puzzles — “In Arlington County there are locally-designated historic districts, which provide the greatest protection for our historic resources… In order to celebrate these locally designated districts AND to provide some relief during the COVID-19 quarantine/stay-at-home order from our local and state governments, Preservation Arlington has put together two collections of online puzzles.” [Preservation Arlington, Jigsaw Planet]
History of Arlington Meteor Caper — A dull black meteorite, found in Murray, Kentucky, in 1950, had gone missing from a Vanderbilt observatory display case, replaced by a suspicious-looking black-painted papier-mache rock… law enforcement sleuths had found fingerprints traced to former observatory employee and student Hugh Heefner Howard, 24. The perpetrator had brought it to his Arlington River House apartment at 1111 Army-Navy Dr., where our cops arrested him for grand larceny.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Stolen Car Leads to Arrests — Several people were arrested after fleeing a reported stolen car on foot in the Green Valley neighborhood Monday afternoon. At least one of those arrested was a juvenile, according to scanner traffic. [Twitter]
Group Lists Properties Set for Demolition — “Demolition permits for a total of 159 homes, plus a number of other properties, were approved by the Arlington County government in 2019, according to an analysis by Preservation Arlington… In addition to homes, three garden apartments, 11 commercial buildings, two civic buildings and several other structures also were being readied for razing.” [InsideNova]
Doorways CEO Departing — “Doorways announced today that the agency’s President and CEO, Caroline Jones, MSW, will be leaving the organization in February. Since 1978, Doorways has operated at the many intersections of homelessness, poverty, and intimate partner violence, responding to community members in crisis.” [Press Release]
ARLnow Needs You — Help ARLnow set the direction for our news coverage and offerings in 2020 by taking this quick 10-question survey. So far, the average survey-taker has spent about 3 minutes answering the questions. [SurveyMonkey]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Another Chase Branch Coming to Arlington — Following its purchase of the former Walgreens in Clarendon, JPMorgan Chase is now planning a second bank branch in Arlington. The new branch will reportedly be located at the northwest corner of N. Randolph Street and Wilson Boulevard in Ballston. [Washington Business Journal]
Preservationists Eye Local Log Cabin — “A retired florist, Cal Marcey is worried over possible destruction of one of Arlington’s remaining log cabins, to which his ancestors have ties. A new owner has purchased the early-19th century Birchwood cabin at N. Wakefield and 26th sts., and the plans — renovation versus teardown — are unclear.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Record Round for Arlington Startup — “Arlington safety and security startup LiveSafe Inc. has raised $11.1 million in fresh funding, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. It’s the company’s largest round so far and puts its total funding at about $25 million, according to a review of previous SEC filings. LiveSafe did not respond to requests for comment.” [Washington Business Journal]
Business Group Wants Better Bus Service — “A group of chief executives from the greater Washington region says deficiencies in bus service are holding back growth in the region. The region’s bus network possesses valuable assets, including more than 3,800 buses and a growing system of limited-stop service and bus rapid transit lines, but the region hasn’t fully leveraged the potential of the network to help solve its transportation challenges.” [Washington Post, Greater Greater Washington]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley