SILVER SPRING, Md. – The century-old buildings of The Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s historic district could receive a facelift.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes has joined preservations in urging the Army to restore the 190-acre campus off East-West Highway, which at different times has housed an all-female preparatory school and Army rehabilitation buildings.
“It’s a unique place of important historical value,” said Sarbanes, D-Md.
Sarbanes last week joined state Sen. Sharon Grosefeld, D- Montgomery, and members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Save our Seminary in urging the Army to restore the 190-acre, 24-building campus.
“The site is too special to let go,” said Bonnie Rosenthal, head of Save our Seminary, a volunteer organization dedicated to preserving historical sites.
The historic district’s 24 buildings include former sorority houses shaped like a Dutch windmill, an English castle, a Japanese pagoda, a French chateau and an Italian villa.
The district, also known as the Forest Glen Annex, sits a few miles from the main campus of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which treats active-duty and retired military personnel and their families.
Sarbanes in June sponsored an amendment to the fiscal 1997 Defense Department authorization bill, requiring the Army to develop a repair plan for the historic structures at Walter Reed. The amendment passed unanimously, and a 120-day study is being conducted to determine the extent of the damage.
Sarbanes said the amount of money needed to stop the building’s deterioration will be determined when the Army submits an action plan to Congress. Congress must approve the plan.
The buildings will be restored so they can receive new tenants, who will carry the financial burden of making additional repairs, Sarbanes said. A senior citizen complex is one consideration, he said.
He predicts, however, the buildings will have multiple users, such as religious and nonprofit organizations.
Said Grosefeld, “We want creative people to put the area to very good use.”
Added Sarbanes, “We want a win-win solution.”
Passage of Sarbanes’ amendment followed approval in 1990 of a military appropriations bill that had directed the Army to repair the structures, said Sarbanes’ press secretary, Jesse Jacobs.
That bill allotted $1 million to the county government and local citizen’s groups for repairs and planning, and $2 million to the Army for repairs. But all $3 million was spent on architectural planning and design work, Jacobs said.
“The buildings are deteriorating at a faster rate than ever,” Sarbanes said.
It’s not known how much money will be needed, said Kara Peterman, a Sarbanes spokeswoman. “We really want to wait so we don’t wrongly estimate the amount,” she said.
The first structure, an inn, was built in 1887 by county architect W.P. Lipscomb and then was sold to a Norfolk, Va., couple who owned a junior college in Norfolk. They added 23 other buildings to the campus and turned it into a prestigious women’s preparatory college, called National Park Seminary.
The school changed ownership during the 1930s and then was bought by the Army in 1942 for use as a rehabilitation center. It served soldiers hurt in World War II and other engagements through the Vietnam War.
It was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1972, the same year officials began shifting its staff and equipment back to Walter Reed’s main medical center in Northwest Washington.
The buildings, now vacant, suffer from holes in the roofs, broken windows, severely peeled paint and weathering. “It’s a classic situation where a little money spent earlier would have done a lot of good,” Sarbanes said. -30-