Former York Theater Building Fails to Achieve Landmark Designation
Despite a very positive staff report recommending that the former York Theater building be designated as a historic landmark, the Historic Preservation Review Board decided against the nomination by a vote of 5 against, 3 in favor. Based on the comments of a few of those voting against the nomination, it appeared that the building’s history and importance to the development of the neighborhood was diminished in value simply because they did not think the building achieved a level of aesthetics they were looking for in a former theater building.
From the beginning the nomination was difficult due to the Fisherman of Men Church’s (the current owners) opposition to the nomination.While the nomination was not at odds with the stated goals and plans of the current renovations by the church, their opposition as stated at the hearing tended to boil down to this:
- As a property owner, what right did anyone have to tell them what to do with their property;
- How would they be impacted in the future by a landmark designation (in some of the comments, rooms for classes or even building higher on the property was mentioned, though no immediate plans are known); and,
- The church did not think it was appropriate to support a landmark nomination for a theater that was built in a white neighborhood and catered to white patrons, which in their opinion would glorify segregation.
Honestly, this last point disappoints me. While I have heard others state similar sentiments before, in a city like Washington where segregation once existed, one could argue that no building from the city’s segregate past should be preserved or protected as every building — black or white — was in response to segregation. Sometimes a historic structure is just that. Also, to protect sites that are only significant to one segment of the community and destroy the rest, in my opinion, diminishes the value of even the buildings that remain because they represent an incomplete and biased story.
In the case of the theater, there was nothing sinister on the part of owner Harry Crandall when he built it. He merely wanted a theater in every major section of Washington. Following the York, Crandall built the Lincoln to serve the African-American community on U Street. Unlike the York, the Lincoln achieved landmark status with significant support in the its community.Churches, Historic Landmarks, History comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.