August 21, 2017
Historic preservation is not always accomplished through the same methods, and it’s certainly not the same everywhere you go. That’s why Nick sat down with Lauren Oswalt McHale, President of the L’Enfant Trust in Washington, D.C., to compare notes on some of the Trust’s biggest programs. This includes their massive conservation easement program, as well as the Trust’s work using a revolving fund to redevelop historic properties in the Anacostia neighborhood in Southeast D.C., an area whose history has too often been ignored. This is PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] Based in Washington D.C., The L’Enfant Trust’s mission is to protect the district’s historic neighborhoods and streetscapes. They’ve got a few ways of doing it including through their Conservation Easement Program, which includes over 1,000 historic properties; and the Revolving Fund Historic Property Redevelopment Program, the first of its kind in the nation’s capital. How does it all work? Lauren McHale, the president of The L’Enfant Trust is here to clue us in this week on PreserveCast.
From Preservation Maryland Studios in the historic podcast district of Baltimore, this is PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] This is Nick Redding, and you’re listening to PreserveCast. Today, we are joined in studio by the president of The L’Enfant Trust, Lauren Oswalt McHale, and we’re going to be talking all things preservation in our nation’s capital, which is an interesting, unique, diverse, growing, difficult place, I would imagine, to do preservation. And The L’Enfant Trust has some really interesting programs and really interesting perspectives on how they do their work. So we were excited to have the opportunity to bring Lauren in. Got her to come up from Washington, D.C. to our studios here in Baltimore to talk with us a little bit about what they’re doing there in Washington, D.C. So Lauren, thanks for joining us today.
[Lauren Oswalt McHale] Thank you for having me. I’m very excited to be here.
[NR] So you work just about an hour or so south of us. And in some ways, I’m sure it’s similar, but in some ways, it probably couldn’t be more different because of what all is happening in D.C. right now. But before we get to that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you got into preservation, why you got into the field, and how you ended up at The L’Enfant Trust.
[LOM] Well, it really started with my parents. My father taught American history for over thirty years in the Indianapolis Public School System, and so he had a huge influence over me. And our family vacations were always centered around a historic place, so I just kind of grew up loving history. And also, growing up just outside Indianapolis in more of a rural community, I witnessed a lot of beautiful farmland being destroyed and chopped up into poorly planned housing developments and that sort of thing. And I just really felt strongly about wanting to do something about that. I didn’t know what to call it. I didn’t know I could go to school for that. There was an opportunity. I was in Madison, Indiana, which is a historic town along the Ohio River, and I was talking to my mother about these beautiful places and how I wanted to do something to ensure that they were always around. And she said, “Well, I think you need to talk to Reid Williamson, president of Indiana Landmarks.” And I didn’t know who he was or what that organization was, but she had met him years ago through her work. So she called him and he said, “Have Lauren write me a letter,” and it’s history from there. I volunteered. I interned in college, and then actually worked there for a while after undergraduate.
[NR] So you’re another one of the graduates of the Indiana Landmarks program. You’re a –
[LOM] That’s right [laughter]. I’m not a Ball State grad, which a lot of them are.
[NR] Yeah, no, but Marsh Davis at Indiana Landmarks jokes that he runs the “Indiana Landmarks Program,” because there’s so many ex-staffers of them out in the field, because they’re so big.
[NR] I think a lot of people would be surprised to learn that they’re probably one of the largest state-wide preservation organizations, other than the National Trust, out there.
[NR] So that’s what that Eli Lilly money will do for you.
[LOM] It certainly helps [laughter].
[NR] Yeah, well, that’s awesome. So from the cornfields of the Midwest to Washington D.C., how’d you end up in D.C.?
[LOM] I was always interested in coming out this direction and working in in the D.C. area. I felt like it was the center of preservation because you have so much history here, but you’ve got the National Park Service and all these non-profit organizations. And I didn’t know I would stay as long as I did, but I definitely wanted to come to D.C. and have that experience.
[NR] And how long has it been?
[LOM] Eleven years.
[NR] Okay, great.
[NR] So tell us a little bit about the L’Enfant Trust. What should we know about them? What do they do? How big are you guys? That sort of detail.
[LOM] Well, we were founded in 1978, so we’re not quite as old Preservation Maryland but we’re getting there. We have a small staff. We have three full-time employees right now and a part-time photographer that goes out and helps us with our conservation easement program. And we do two things primarily: that is our conservation easement program where we protect over 1,100 historic buildings in the D.C. area, and then also our historic properties redevelopment program, which is a revolving fund for acquiring and rehabbing distressed historic properties.
[NR] So tell us a little bit about the easement side. I mean, I know there is a lot of people in the preservation community who do that and there is probably an equal amount who are terrified of easements. So, Lauren, why don’t you tell us just for the listeners who may not be familiar, how would you define an easement?
[LOM] An easement, we call them conservation easements but they’re also referred to as preservation easements. It is a agreement between a non-profit organization or it could be a local government, and a private property owner, that essentially promises not to change the exterior or sometimes interior features of their property without the review and approval of the easement holding organization. And it’s a binding agreement that runs with the land and is binding to all subsequent owners. So it’s really a way to preserve a property in perpetuity, and it is an added layer of preservation that can be used to protect a property. And many of the properties we hold are also in local districts that are national register districts, so they do have a level of protection there but this is – it goes a step further. And that is actually one of the requirements if the owner is interested in taking the tax incentive that they’re eligible for, they have to be in a national registered district, or a contributing building in that district, or individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
[NR] How did you end up with that many? Do you buy them? Are they donated? How do you care for them? What are the costs? What’s it like?
[LOM] They’re donated to us. So it is a private property owner who decides that they want that added layer of protection on their historic building. And oftentimes, there is a tax incentive that goes along with that, which can be very helpful to someone who’s restoring their property or they put a lot of money into it years ago and this is a benefit that they can get later on.
And it was really started – our founder started the L’Enfant Trust before historic preservation laws really came into force in D.C., and there was a lot of midnight demolition. You’d wake up one morning and part of K Street was gone. They thought, “There has got to be something we can do about this,” and they called it voluntary preservation. So it wasn’t the city government coming in and saying, “We’re going to designate this area and you have to preserve your building whether you like it or not.” It was something that private owners could choose to do. So that’s how it got started and it’s grown from there. Oftentimes, it’s just someone talking to their neighbor about, “Well, I see you have that plaque there, what does that mean?” And then they’re interested in doing it and they give us a call, and it kind of goes from there so.
[NR] What are the costs on your end though? You have to have staff, I guess, that staff the program?
[LOM] Absolutely. We have a full-time historic preservation specialist. That’s what she does, Kate Kenwright. every day she’s working with property owners, and architects, and contractors, and reviewing changes from simple restoration projects to “we’re building an addition at the rear of our property” or “we want to convert our carriage house into a studio and apartment.” So that keeps us very busy and the cost associated with it is at the time of donation we asked the property owner to give us what we call fair share contribution. And that is just a percentage of the fair market value of the property. It’s usually less than a half a percent, the fair market value of the property, so it’s pretty minimal. But it helps us keep our fund up so that if we would have to go to court and challenge somebody over a violation or something like that –
[NR] You’d have the money to do it.
[LOM] – we have the money to do it.
[NR] So have you ever had to go to court?
[LOM] We have. Yeah, and almost 40 years of being in D.C. we’ve only had to twice.
[NR] That’s not bad in D.C.
[LOM] It’s not bad.
[NR] It’s a very litigious place.
[LOM] It is. It is.
[NR] Knock on wood! [laughter]
[LOM] We’ve been successful both times. Our deed or the conservation easement deed that’s recorded with the land records is a very strong document and we’ve been blessed in that area, but we really make every effort to work with property owners. These aren’t museum properties, they’re homes. Families grow. Things change. And so we really try to work with people on compromising and trying to find a solution that works for everybody.
[NR] And are you trying to inspect them at least once a year? Is that the goal?
[LOM] We absolutely inspect once a year.
[NR] And how many did you say you had again?
[LOM] The total is 1,136.
[NR] How do you inspect them all once a year? Will you do multiple properties a day?
[LOM] It takes several months. We start in January when there’s no leaves on the trees and then one thing about – D.C. is only 10 miles wide at its widest.
[NR] Right. Yeah, so the travel is not intense.
[LOM] And you have several that are just on the same street or in the same neighborhood and so you can get to them pretty easily, and that really helps.
[NR] Do you have any sense for percentages? Are you mostly putting easements on residential? Is it commercial? Or is it a good mix?
[LOM] We have both. The majority are residential structures. But we do have a number of commercial buildings.
[NR] What’s your biggest building that you have an easement on? Do you know?
[LOM] Biggest building… Well, that’s hard. That’s a hard question. Actually, right next to my office, 1350 Connecticut Ave, which is a beautiful kind of flat iron building that’s right on Dupont Circle. It’s quite large. So we hold an easement on that property.
[NR] Yeah. And I imagine the review challenges with something like that are intense.
[LOM] When they have 945 windows, yeah. It’s a little [laughter] – it can be intimidating. Yeah.
[NR] Easements are not the only thing you do.
[NR] You also have a revolving fund program that seems like it’s really been growing in recent years. When did that get off the ground?
[LOM] We started the revolving fund program in 2012. We were kind of at a point in our organization where we wanted to take on something new. We wanted to be more proactive in preservation. And we also noticed a lot of need in the D.C. area. And not in the historic core area where the monuments are and where a lot of the tourists go. But those neighborhoods around that area that are still very much a part of D.C. and have a wonderful history in their own right. But they’re often overlooked. And some of those neighborhoods have had very little investment over the years. But there are people there that are proud of the history and they want to see these places saved. And so that’s one reason why we…
Well, to back up a little bit, Indiana Landmarks has a revolving fund program and so that was an inspiration for me because I saw how their program really transformed neighborhoods in Indianapolis. And D.C. is a very different place but I thought the same concept could work in these other neighborhoods. So we focused our work in Historic Anacostia, which is east of the Anacostia River but it is in D.C. So it’s separated by the river but it’s still a part of D.C. And that area has an incredible history. Frederick Douglass made his home there, that was incorporated in 1854. So it was one of the first suburbs of D.C. And Navy Yard workers made their home there. St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital was a huge employer in that area. So it really has a fascinating history and kind of has a small town charm to it. You have a lot of single-family detached houses on sizable lots, and sidewalks, and a little main street. And you kind of forget that you’re in D.C.
[NR] Yeah. It’s a part that most tourists would never see.
[NR] Yeah. Well, why don’t we take a quick break? And then when we come back maybe we can talk a little bit more about how the revolving fund program works and also sort of the big challenges in Washington D.C. that I guess might be sort of the growing pains associated with a city on the rise. And talk a little bit about how you’re dealing with that at the L’Enfant Trust when we come back here on PreserveCast.
Maryland: Mini America
[Stephen Israel] I’ve got eclipse fever. I’ve got eclipse fever. As I record this, the great eclipse of August 21, 2017, is mere hours away. Hopefully, all of you listeners out there have your glasses, or at least one of those DIY camera obscura boxes ready to go. Just don’t look at the eclipse with the naked eye, okay?
Anyway, seeing as how Lauren is here representing the L’Enfant Trust, I got to wondering what do the name L’Enfant and the phenomenon of eclipses have in common? Well, the answer is a legendary man from Maryland: Benjamin Banneker. Benjamin Banneker was born on November 9th, 1731, as a free black man in modern-day Ellicott City, Maryland. His parentage is not known for certain, but at the time an individual’s freedom was determined by their mother’s status. And some historians believe that Banneker’s maternal grandfather was an African man from the Dogon tribe named Banneka who was purchased by, and eventually had a child with, a White woman named Molly Welsh.
You see, the Dogon people have a famously intricate knowledge of astronomy. And the theory goes that as a Dogon man, Banneka taught Molly, and she later passed this knowledge on to their grandchild, Benjamin. Regardless, Benjamin Banneker was a singular figure of the eighteenth century. He was in the position unlike almost any other Black man on the continent. Between working on the gristmill of the Ellicott family, he had time to pursue his passion for the study of celestial bodies and mathematics. Over time he developed a local reputation for his knowledge and abilities, including clockmaking and writing a series of almanacs. And in 1788, George Ellicott loaned Banneker books and equipment so that he could pursue more formal study of astronomy. And within a year, Banneker was able to single-handedly use his mathematical skills to predict the timing of a solar eclipse. An impressive feat for any individual at the time.
But his big break moment came in 1791 when Andrew Ellicott, who had been tapped by Thomas Jefferson to assist in the surveying and planning of the site for the new federal capital city, had to temporarily leave that project. After showing his almanacs to Jefferson, Ellicott was able to hire Banneker to take his place in surveying the area that today makes up the District of Columbia, and allowing Banneker to join the ranks of Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Banneker’s work assisting in the creation of Washington D.C. was vital. But some elements have reached near mythic status. For example, there is no real evidence that he ever replicated the entirety of L’Enfant’s plans by memory, a feat which has often been attributed to him. But even so, Banneker’s achievements are worthy of praise. Bet you didn’t think it would be so easy to link L’Enfant Trust with the eclipse, huh? Anyways, there would definitely be more to tell about Benjamin Banneker, but I’ve got to catch this eclipse. And you’ve got to get back to PreserveCast.
Do you have questions? We may have answers. If at any point during this podcast you’ve thought of a question that you have for us or maybe one of our guests, we’d love to hear about it. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try and answer it right here on the air on the next episode of PreserveCast.
[NR] This is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast. Today we are joined in studio by Lauren Oswalt McHale, who is the president of the L’Enfant Trust, one of the great preservation organizations working here in Washington D.C. When we took our break we had just sort of heard about how they have, basically, two big programs. One, their easement program. Then also their historic property redevelopment program, their revolving fund, that is working largely in the neighborhood known as Anacostia in Washington, D.C. And you were telling us that Anacostia is an area that sort of was disinvested over a long period of time. It’s historically an African-American community as well?
[LOM] It has. I mean, if you go back to when it was first incorporated in 1854, it was not primarily an African-American neighborhood then.
[NR] But today it is?
[LOM] But today it is and it has been for some time. After the Civil War, you really started to see the neighborhood change.
[NR] So how did you get started in this? What was your first project that you guys tackled?
[LOM] We acquired our first property on 14th Street in historic Anacostia and it had been property that was sitting vacant for decades. There were break-ins, and rodents living in the house, and lots of bad things going on. And we actually found it just by talking to the community and [asking], “What are your concerns?” and “Where are these problem properties?” And that sort of thing.
[NR] So you were holding community meetings to talk with the community? You didn’t just kind of walk in and say, “We’re going to do a project here?”
[LOM] No, we didn’t. We absolutely had meetings and private meetings too. It may have been in somebody’s living room or just meeting them out on the street. Anacostia’s a neighborhood that we had not worked in before, so we took it slow. And they’ve had a lot of developers and politicians, everything come through there and promise things and then it doesn’t happen. And we were cautious.
[NR] And you’re not headquartered there.
[LOM] And we’re not headquartered there, no.
[NR] Because you’re in the center part of the city? Are you in Dupont Circle?
[LOM] Dupont Circle. So we took it slow and we talked to people, but it was pretty clear where these problem properties are. And some are privately owned and some are owned by the city. They’ve been sitting there for decades, just neglected and not properly secured so there’s a lot of unsavory things going on around there.
[NR] So you got title to one and then you go through the process just like you’re the developer?
[LOM] We acquired it. We had to kind of track down a maze of owners and figure out all that and back taxes and all that sort of thing. But we got it together and we were able to purchase that property. That’s the one thing that kind of makes this all difficult is because you have enormous rehabilitation costs because the property is in such awful shape, then when you also have to pay to acquire it –
[NR] Right. And extinguish back taxes and things like that.
[LOM] Exactly. That financial gap starts to grow.
[NR] So how did you finance it? I mean, did you just internally you had the resources?
[LOM] We did use some of the money that we have fundraised and built up over the years. We also had two very generous grants from the 1772 Foundation, a family foundation out of Rhode Island whose been enormously supportive of our program. And then also individual donations and quite a bit of in-kind donations from local businesses, and lumber yards, and that sort of thing.
[NR] So that first property you rehab and, obviously, you slap one of your easements on it, I’m guessing.
[NR] And then did you sell it? Do you rent it? What do you do with it?
[LOM] We sold this property and the one that we did right after that at market. Both were sold to first-time homebuyers. One was a D.C. firefighter, so that was a great story. And the neighborhood was thrilled, so happy to have neighbors in these houses to kind of reclaim part of their street again.
[NR] So you sell it at market, which, I guess, in that area, you didn’t recoup your costs when you sold it at market.
[LOM] No, no, we did not. And we knew that going in and we were prepared for that. But the question is how many times can you do that.
[NR] Right. So how many times can you do that, Lauren?
[NR] Twice, okay. Okay. So what are you doing now?
[LOM] Well, now, we realized soon after starting the program that the number one problem in the neighborhood are the city-owned buildings.
[NR] Even though Baltimore and D.C. are very different, there’s a commonality that we have.
[LOM] Right, and so it didn’t really matter what we were doing. That big looming problem of city-owned properties was still there.
[NR] Do you have any sense for the scale of it? How many are you talking about in that neighborhood?
[LOM] In that neighborhood, I think they have over 20 buildings that are vacant and –
[NR] And that’s a pretty small little neighborhood?
[LOM] Yeah. I mean, the district is 550 buildings. And so that’s a pretty good slice of that.
[NR] So these zombie-owned city buildings.
[LOM] Right. And then, of course, they own buildings in other parts of the city as well. But the number of years that those properties have sat there that – if somebody rehabs one house here and there, it wasn’t really going to have the impact that the neighborhood needs, unless these city-owned properties… something was done.
[NR] So how do you deal with that?
[LOM] Well, we’ve worked very hard with trying to work with the city and the Department of Housing and Community Development, in particular. They’re the largest holder of these vacant properties. And I mean, ever since we started our program, we started conversations with them. And then once we finished our two rehab projects, then we could show them, “Hey, look what we did.” We really started to press them a little bit on this issue and meet with them and to, “We’ve got to find a solution here.” And bringing them examples of other revolving funds around the country that partner with their local government.
[NR] Right. Right. Right. Right. What was your goal with them? You wanted them to maybe capitalize a revolving fund for you or work in partnership, provide some financing, or all of the above?
[LOM] Exactly. All of the above, but mostly sitting down with us and coming up with a plan for these buildings. And we were willing to bring money to the table. They could hopefully bring money to the table, and we could get this done together. I mean, we have the ability to fundraise and seek grants and that sort of thing that is kind of out of their wheelhouse.
The door was closed on us more than once and so we sought the help of City Council. And the Chairman of City Council, Phil Mendelson, really guided us through this process. And he was really upset with the Department of Housing and Community Development. And I don’t think he may have been fully aware that the problem was as bad as it was until we toured him around the neighborhood and he really understood what was going on. So he drafted legislation that would have four of those properties owned by the city transferred to the L’Enfant Trust for rehabilitation as workforce housing. That’s within the affordable spectrum, which we were very excited about and really kind of provides an opportunity for mid-income city employees to find homes that –
[NR] Which is really hard in Washington, D.C.
[LOM] It’s very hard.
[NR] So it’s hard to work a blue collar job and live in the District. Most people probably can’t.
[LOM] Yeah, and when you have police officers and firefighters have to live outside the city, this doesn’t make any sense.
[NR] Right. Which kind of gets at one of those things we were pointing at, where you have this burgeoning city and all these great things happening economically. But what that also means is, just like everywhere in America, we have this affordable housing crisis going on. And it’s really just fantastic to hear that you guys, as preservationists, are trying to make preservation a part of a solution to that problem, which is great. So what happened?
[LOM] So legislation was approved by City Council, we had enormous support. The community came out in great force and testified on behalf of the legislation. It was really an exciting time, but the mayor was not on board with this. I think that there was a battle going on between City Council and the mayor, which happens. And in her defense, she feels that her agencies are doing what they’re supposed to be doing and these things take time and that she’s not going to have City Council step in and start directing her agency heads and –
[NR] So she vetoed it?
[LOM] She didn’t. She chose not to sign it and not to enforce it. So the legislation is now law, it’s on the books; but it’s been ignored.
[NR] What an interesting place. So to be continued, I guess.
[NR] So this is far from over.
[LOM] It’s far from over. Supposedly the Department of Housing and Community Development has been working with another developer on possibly getting these houses rehabbed but there hasn’t been much movement on that. We haven’t seen any stabilization going on or anything like that. So it’s still kind of up in the air.
[NR] Would you consider the L’Enfant Trust an advocacy organization?
[LOM] I would not.
[NR] Right. Because there’s also the DCPL [D.C. Preservation League] –
[NR] – which does a lot of sort of the advocacy side of the work in the District.
[LOM] And they do a great job. Yeah.
[NR] But it’s interesting that you kind of found yourself in an advocacy position.
[LOM] Absolutely. No, it was new territory for us. We’ve always kind of tried to stay out of politics and that sort of thing –
[NR] And now you’re the –
[LOM] – as much as we can. And then we were kind of front and center. So –
[NR] Sometimes you can’t avoid it.
[LOM] Exactly. If you’re going to stick to your mission and you feel strongly about what you’re trying to do and you know it’s the right thing, you find yourself in those situations.
[NR] So you’re dealing with obviously affordable housing issues and sort of taking aim at that through your revolving fund program. But for people who are listening that maybe are from outside of the Mid-Atlantic and aren’t familiar with this incredible rebound that D.C. has made in the past 20 years, maybe just paint a brief picture of what’s going on in D.C. and some of the challenges that poses for preservation?
[LOM] Sure. What D.C. is experiencing right now is similar to New York City, actually. You have very high land values and immense pressure on the smaller residential lower-density neighborhoods. And it is a real challenge to balance preservation of these places that – I mean the rowhouse neighborhoods of Washington are like the rowhouse neighborhoods of Baltimore. I mean that is so much about the city. And then you have to balance that with changing and growth, which we need. We have people moving to D.C., hundreds every month, and they need places to live and it’s just a real challenge. And so how do we do that without sacrificing our history and these unique neighborhoods that we love, and people want to live in them. But then there’s this constant pressure of “there’s not enough room for everyone.”
[NR] Right. And so I guess, well, first and foremost I guess it was good that you launched your easement program when you did because you probably couldn’t get easements on some of these structures now.
[NR] And also as a follow up to that, are you getting as many easements as you once did or has it tapered off? As the economy goes up, do you see easements go down? Or does it track?
[LOM] It has definitely gone down. In the early 2000s, there were a couple of organizations that got into a bit of trouble with the IRS and caused problems for other preservation organizations. And so we saw a big decline then. And it hasn’t really come up from that.
[NR] Yeah. Everybody got kind of cold feet about that then.
[LOM] Right. And we understand that. And then we have plenty to keep us busy.
[NR] Yeah. 1,100. You probably have – is there any organization in the country that has more?
[LOM] No. We are the largest easement holder in the country. Yeah.
[NR] Wow. Okay.
[LOM] But yeah, that definitely cooled the easement donations. But we have had a few and – handful in the last couple of years. And when you look at the history of the easement program and that incentive, it ebbs and flows and there have been times where there’s been no easement donations. The IRS is really kind of cracking down on that program and then there’s times where it’s kind of flourishing. So we’ll see what happens in the future but…
[NR] So what’s on the horizon for you guys? I mean, I think a lot of preservation groups I know, ours included, are sort of looking at the future. We always are. It’s funny because we’re an organization that in theory… both of our organizations are looking at the past but we’re so intensely focused on what’s coming ahead and how to get ahead of it. Is the Revolving Fund Program really where you’re putting all your emphasis now? Any new things on the horizon for you guys that you’re working on?
[LOM] Well, I mean that definitely is something that we are still very focused on. And we want this program to succeed. And we think it could have a tremendous impact on D.C. That said, we’re really wanting to get more into community engagement and some educational programs and that sort of thing. And we have a great constituency. We have these easement owners that we work with every day. And we have the rest of D.C. and trying to engage them in preservation more and to understand what preservation really is. There’s still a lot of myths around preservation. And I think talking to people about what it really is. It’s not about telling somebody what kind of windows they can have or looking at a house museum. It’s about sustainability, and green building, and community identity. Just places that matter.
[NR] I guess, there’s a reason that people are flocking to D.C., and there’s a lot of different economic drivers for that. But part of it is the charm of the place. It’s walkable. It’s fun. There’s cool stuff and I think that organizations like yours and others are part of the reason that that is the case. So in a sense, you are part of the reason that D.C. is flourishing.
[LOM] Well, I’d like to think so [laughter].
[NR] Yeah, absolutely. Lauren, if people want to get in touch with you or they want to learn more about the L’Enfant Trust, how can they do that?
[LOM] They can reach me at Lauren, Lauren@LEnfant.org. And that’s L’Enfant without the apostrophe.
[NR] Why don’t you spell L’Enfant for us, too?
[NR] Sounds good. Well, before we let you go, we try and ask everyone who sits down with us about their favorite historic building. You were given this question in advance so you had some time to think about it on the long commute, I’m sure, from D.C. to Baltimore. So what do you got?
[LOM] It’s very hard to pinpoint my favorite building.
[NR] That’s what everyone says.
[LOM] But one of my favorites is Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass’s home, in Anacostia.
[NR] Okay. Tell us a little bit about it.
[LOM] It sits on the highest point in Anacostia. So when you go there, you can pretty much see it from all over the neighborhood. When you go there, the views of downtown D.C. are spectacular. He purchased it in 1877 and made quite a few alterations. But it’s a beautiful Gothic Revival Italianate Victorian structure; it has all those influences. It’s just a really beautiful house, beautiful location. But you really get a sense of who he was and his accomplishments, which were extraordinary. And over 70 percent of the contents in the house are original to the house, are original to his family. And it’s just a wonderful place to visit.
[NR] And it’s a unit of the National Park Service now, right?
[LOM] It is.
[NR] So you can visit it?
[LOM] Oh yes.
[NR] So anybody can go and visit?
[LOM] Anyone. And I’ve been there several times. It’s a national historic landmark. And it’s a place that I wish more tourists in D.C. would go visit.
[LOM] Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, I think with – I think it’s the 200th anniversary of his birth is coming up and Maryland can claim him as one of our own, born on the Eastern Shore just like nearby Harriet Tubman. He was born in Talbot County. She was in Dorchester. But just a tremendous history there. And hopefully, with the creation of Harriet Tubman National Park and sort of this nexus, you could really stitch together quite the African-American history tour if you wanted to between our two locations, between the District and Maryland.
[LOM] Maybe we should talk about that.
[NR] Yeah. Absolutely. That sounds like a lot of fun [laughter]. Well, thank you so much for joining us and for all the good work that you’re doing. I know it’s tough to work in a city like D.C. for a variety of different reasons, particularly in the line of work that you have chosen. But thank you for all the good work you’re doing and thanks for joining us today here on PreserveCast.
[LOM] Thank you very much, Nick.
This podcast was developed under a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Milestones Heritage Area and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Park Service or the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
This week’s episode was produced and engineered by Ben and Stephen Israel. Our executive producer is Aaron Marcavitch. Our theme music is performed by the band Pretty Gritty. You can learn more about them at their website: PrettyGrittyMusic.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @PG_PrettyGritty.
To learn about Preservation Maryland or this week’s guests, visit: PreservationMaryland.org. While there, you can check out our blog and learn about what’s current in historic preservation. We’re also on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Twitter @PreservationMD. And of course, a very special thank you to our listeners. Keep preserving!
Lauren Oswalt McHale is the Board President of the DC-based Latrobe Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians.