Is this St. Elizabeths Hospital’s Last Hour?

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

 

Today, the National Capital Planning Commission could decide the fate of the National Historic Landmark St. Elizabeths Hospital, an irreplaceable collection of historic brick buildings and designed landscapes with spectacular views of downtown Washington, D.C.

In 2002, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed St. Elizabeths Hospital as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in an effort to raise awareness about the vacant and decaying site. The National Trust and others have endorsed the Urban Land Institute’s recommendation for mixed-use, public-private development at St. Elizabeths that would benefit - not detract from - the surrounding community (full report).

Now, St. Elizabeths Hospital faces a potentially devastating threat if the National Historic Landmark is re-developed as the new consolidated headquarters of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

For three years, the General Services Administration (GSA) has pushed an oversized, six-million-gross-square-foot redevelopment of St. Elizabeths over the objections of preservationists and other advocates for sustainable urban development. The National Park Service has criticized GSA's plan as "wholly incompatible" with preservation of the National Historic Landmark (full report), while the Brookings Institution has called the proposal a “lost opportunity” for Washington that would offer little or no benefit to the surrounding neighborhood (full report).

To its credit, GSA has improved the current master plan for the DHS headquarters based on comments from the coalition of preservationists dedicated to preserving the National Historic Landmark campus. However, we do not yet know what the Obama Administration's priorities are for DHS. The National Trust and others are urging President-Elect Barack Obama to reconsider this devastating proposal in favor of a solution that will preserve St. Elizabeths Hospital and bring greater benefit to the local community.

Read the online version of an op-ed by National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe 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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