To the Editor:
Why preserve the Carver Nursery School? Why preserve history?
There was a day when Alexandria’s waterfront was a real working waterfront; when it had some working-class character. There was a time, too, when African Americans couldn’t attend local public schools and depended upon places like the Carver Nursery School to educate their children.
The era of “separate but equal” is an indelible part of Alexandria’s history that must be preserved. It is embodied in a building that is as important to save as the hotel where George Washington dined. But the history told by the former Carver Nursery School will soon be forgotten if our primary motive is money and the right to develop whatever you own as you see fit.
Bill Cromley, who owns the former Carver property, and the City have made no serious effort to preserve this building because they want to develop it.
Why such indifference to this piece of Alexandria history? The City wants more tax revenue, period. They want it along the waterfront, Beauregard Avenue, or in the Parker-Gray Historic District. For City officials, preservation seems to revolve around efforts to brand Alexandria as historic, while actively turning it into another sterile, Chevy Chase-like luxury shopping area. They appear to care little about the town’s African-American history, or, for that matter, about preserving the history of Alexandria beyond its economic value as a marketable “brand.”
The Washington Post Company’s recent announcement that they want to put on the auction block both of the Robinson Terminal warehouses, one of which houses the Alexandria Seaport Foundation’s training school for young, at-risk men and women, highlights the urgent need for the community to come together over what sort of waterfront vision is consistent with our historic character. In that sense, waterfront development and the preservation of the Carver Nursery have a lot in common.
The city wants to put hotels on the waterfront, which will drive out organizations like the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, which is trying to mentor young men and women, many of whom are African American, while restoring and building boats that were once part of the history of the Alexandria waterfront. In Parker-Gray, where the old Carver Nursery School is located, rezoning is allowing developers to replace lower-rise structures with higher, higher-density ‘smart growth’ buildings that resemble the more claustrophobic parts of Chevy Chase.
It’s true that preservationists like Mr. Walker have an obligation to do more then just sound an alarm, but without the efforts of Mr. Walker and a sliver of the older African-American community the former Carver Nursery School building would already be razed. There are surely ways, too, that we can develop the waterfront in ways that don’t sever our link with our history and the Potomac.
Opponents (of saving the Carver property, or revising the waterfront plan) perpetuate the idea that some histories are worth more than others, and that Alexandria is nothing more than a brand to be marketed to the highest bidder. A recent editorial in the Alexandria Times described the rights of private owners like Mr. Cromley as one of our “dearest rights in America” as if ownership of private property is the only value a vibrant community should hold up in high esteem.
But is development patterned on Crystal City and National Harbor alone really what is going to makes a town like Alexandria vibrant and alive and worthy of its history? I don’t think so.
Preserving Alexandria’s African American history is just as important as preserving the home of Robert E Lee. We are sustained by our history in Alexandria, all of it, even history that is less than a 100 years old. The former Carver Nursery School is a testament to a part of Alexandria’s history that is all too quickly being pushed under the developer’s bulldozer for the sake of more revenue. There are surely ways that we can save this building and the history it represents through creative adaptive reuse.
Goodbye cultural history, hello condominiums and density. That’s Alexandria’s real future if we don’t start taking historic preservation more seriously.