Breaking News: A Dangerous Turn for St. Elizabeths Hospital

Posted on: January 8th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments

In a dangerous turn for St. Elizabeths Hospital, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) voted today to approve the General Services Administration's (GSA) master plan for the six-million-gross-square-foot Department of Homeland Security headquarters consolidation. It is a conditional approval: the National Park Service must turn over parkland for the access road and planning for the East Campus portion must be completed. GSA must also submit a funding request for the rehabilitation phases of the project before new construction can begin - although realistically, that funding may not be secured.

National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe testified on behalf of the organization that the master plan was premature and posed extraordinary harm to St. Elizabeths. Instead, he and others advocated a mixed-use, low-impact development with a federal anchor tenant that would preserve the site and benefit the neighborhood. Representatives from the Brookings Institution, the D.C. Preservation League, Alexander Company, and the National Coalition to Save Our Mall also testified in opposition to the consolidation proposal. Peter May, who represents the National Park Service on the NCPC, delivered a moving statement on behalf of the Department of the Interior in opposition to the plan.

In the end, the approval of the St. Elizabeths master plan sets a terrible precedent for America's National Historic Landmarks. These exceptional places are accorded special protection under federal law. In the case of St. Elizabeths, those protections were overlooked in favor of real estate considerations. Such a precedent could jeopardize our most important historic places.

Read National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe's testimony and the online version of an op-ed that appeared in today's Washington Post.

- Nell Ziehl

Nell Ziehl is a program officer for the Southern Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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4 Responses

  1. Preservationist

    January 9, 2009

    Preservationists ought to put up or shut up on this one. If the DHS plan will result in such a significant loss of integrity endangering the property’s NHL status then NPS should begin the process of delisting the property, i.e., downgrade its listing from NHL to a basic National Register property. A bolder but unfortunate move would be to delist the property altogether. It would at least demonstrate that effects comments are not idle musings and local jurisdictions that defer to Section 106 decisions and SHPO comments may be able to take something away from this event.

  2. DHS Headquarters Plan Approved * Asylum Architecture, History, Preservation * Kirkbride Buildings

    January 10, 2009

    […] some differing views on this development, see these two write ups on other blogs: A Dangerous Turn for St. Elizabeths (Preservation Nation) and St. E’s West Campus Wins Final OK (And Now, […]

  3. PreservationNation » Blog Archive » St. Elizabeths Hospital: A Q&A on Section 4(f)

    February 5, 2009

    […] Administration (FHWA) regarding its Section 4(f) evaluation of the proposed redevelopment of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act is the strongest federal […]

  4. PreservationNation » Blog Archive » St. Elizabeths Hospital: A Q&A on Section 4(f)

    February 5, 2009

    […] Administration (FHWA) regarding its Section 4(f) evaluation of the proposed redevelopment of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act is the strongest federal […]