Friday, November 24, 2006

Boo Boos

Ouch (I)

Old Town insiders are chortling up their sleeves about the plight of local businessman and preservationist Boyd Walker (son of former City Council member Lois Walker), who is currently in hot water with the City's Planning & Zoning Department over the partial demolition of the historic Ice House at S. Payne and Commerce Streets.

Last year Mr. Walker, who owns a chunk of valuable real estate in the neighborhood and served as Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald's campaign manager, led the protracted protest against the demolition of historic buildings in the 1500 block of King Street. It was a righteous fight that the Growler supported.

Now, however, Mr. Walker is in the doghouse over what looks like an unsanctioned demolition of part of the Ice House, which he had hoped to turn into a breakfast restaurant. Normally a partial demolition like this would require a BAR hearing and various building permits, but apparently Mr. Walker did not obtain the paperwork and necessary approvals.

Mr. Walker claims in his defense that his workers were simply pulling down old plywood sheets that had covered the front of the derelict building for years. He says that no-one realized the plywood was supporting the building's canopy, which promptly fell off.

Nevertheless, neighbors are unhappy and the Alexandria Times had a field day with the story, running front page before and after photos of the structure under the caption "Preservationist Runs Afoul With The City." Mr. Walker responded with a long letter about the importance of the historic building and his future plans, but which curiously skirted the issue of why he didn't follow the City's procedures.

P&Z staff are prepared to do some dumpster diving to examine the fallen canopy pieces. If they confirm that historic material was destroyed, they may levy fines of $1,500 or more on Mr. Walker.

Meanwhile, Mr. Walker is organizing a new City preservation group, to be called the Greater Alexandria Preservation Alliance. The group will have a kickoff meeting on December 9 at Lloyd House from 1 to 3 pm.

Ouch (II)

Also in the category of "what were they thinking?," the Old Town Theatre on upper King Street has been shuttered by Code Enforcement for the past few weeks after city staff discovered that owner Roger Fons had put up an unauthorized second movie screen. The large screen was suspended from the second floor ceiling — a real no-no, since inspectors feared it would destabilize the roof.

Mr. Fons, who is a civil engineer, explained in an almost comically frank interview with the Washington Post that he took the stealth action in order to help his struggling non-profit operation. He hoped the revenue gained from a second theater would offset the cost of making things right with the City once the renovations were discovered, and that it was a calculated risk that failed.

Currently Mr. Fons is appealing for donations to help keep the Alexandria institution going.

Ouch (III)

The Alexandria Floral Company building, a landmark 1939 structure at Prince Street and Daingerfield Road, has just been demolished — indeed flattened — by its owners. City staff were powerless to stop the destruction of the showroom and greenhouse that constituted one of the last surviving mid-century buildings in the area, since the block is not part of any historic district. Most likely a new office building will rise on the site in the next few years.

It's all the more a pity given the recent successful renovation and reuse of the old Art Deco building at Prince and Peyton, formerly occupied by the Morris Katz car radio service.