FOREST GLEN – A run-down group of buildings long known for its “eclectic” architecture was named Maryland’s “Treasure of the Month” Thursday. But that may not be enough to save the historic and nearly deserted site from collapse.
The National Park Seminary, part of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was identified Thursday by the Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000 as one of the state’s most endangered historic resources.
But that designation will only put the 26-acre property in the running for $450,000 in state funds, at the very most. Supporters estimate that it will take millions to restore the historic site.
“This treasure is threatened by non-use and an uncertain future,” said Bonnie Rosenthal, executive director of Save our Seminary (SOS). “It is imperative that there be a coordinated effort to preserve it.”
While local, state and federal officials pledged Thursday to work together to save National Park Seminary, none of them promised any money toward the effort.
As one of Maryland’s treasures, the seminary is eligible to receive a chunk of $450,000 the state has earmarked for historic restoration and preservation projects. But Louise Hayman, executive director of Maryland 2000, said that up to 400 state projects could be competing for that money by January. And even the full $450,000 would not be nearly enough to return the seminary, complete with 25 buildings, a three-story ballroom and a once-elegant dining room, to its full glory.
Fred Gervasi, a board member of SOS, estimated that it would take tens of millions of dollars to get the entire property back in working order.
The seminary was originally an inn in the early 1890s and went on to become an all-girls school and a junior college before being bought by the military. The owners of the girls school added the unique buildings around the turn of the century, including a pagoda, an English castle, a windmill and a Swiss chalet.
The Army has owned the property since 1942, when it converted dorms into a convalescent center and living quarters for Army personnel. The seminary has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972, but Gervasi said the property deteriorated quickly once the Army opened a new Walter Reed hospital in the 1970s.
The Army plans to sell the property, through the General Services Administration, to a private buyer. SOS said the property could be on the market as soon as February.
“We’re not so concerned about who the owner is, but what they do with it,” Rosenthal said. “We’re concerned that they preserve it . and keep parts of it open to the public.”
She said the property could be converted to housing or to office and retail space by a private investor. But the cost of renovating the buildings, many of which have broken windows, damaged roofs and destroyed interiors, could be prohibitive, Gervasi said. He said the last study projected a $10 million gap between the costs of restoration and the value of the property when completed.
SOS has already started renovating the building where Thursday’s announcement took place. The group has spent about $40,000 a pagoda-style building that once housed Army personnel, repairing its windows, fixing plumbing and painting the exterior. That money has gone toward materials – volunteers have done all the work.