Alexandria’s Department of Planning and Zoning is proposing the development of a Del Ray Historic Preservation Plan as part of its work for fiscal year 2014, according to the Del Ray Citizens Association newsletter.
The plan is aimed at preserving the mid-20th century commercial Art Deco buildings on Leslie Avenue by creating a new National Register Historic District and potentially expanding the existing boundaries of the existing Town of Potomac Historic District to include Art Deco buildings on Mount Vernon Avenue.
The Town of Potomac Historic District was established in September 1992, honoring the Town of Potomac that incorporated in 1908 when several subdivisions merged.
The area was developed beginning in 1894 as the communities of Del Ray, St. Elmo, Mt. Ida, Hume and others popped up following a grid plan independent of that of Old Town Alexandria.
A planned community, Potomac’s proximity to Washington, D.C. made it a popular place for employees of the U.S. government to live. Additionally, the area was located adjacent to the massive Potomac Yard of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad, making it convenient for railroad workers and travelers alike. The separate communities united to form the Town of Potomac, which had its own mayor, council and public safety services. In 1928, the town had 2,355 residents.
Potomac was annexed by Alexandria in 1930, bringing its existence to an end.
According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination application:
The Town of Potomac Historic District includes most of the former town of Potomac (the subdivisions of Del Ray, Del Ray 11, St. Elmo, Abingdon, Hume and parts of Mt. Vernon), which retain a large concentration of residential architecture from the 1890s through 1941. Residential styles represented include predominantly Foursquares, Bunglows and Colonial Revival buildings, as well as Folk Victorian, modified Queen Anne, Tudor Revial and two Mediterranean Revival buildings. Five blocks on Mount Vernon Avenue, where commercial buildings are now concentrated, include examples of Art Deco and Moderne as well as many vernacular two-story brick commercial buildings built with apartments above stores. Most of these date from the 1920s. Two churches (one of which was mail ordered) and the 1920s parish house of another represent religious themes in the town's development. The town's combined Fire Station and Town Hall, built in 1926 to consolidate municipal functions and provide a meeting hall for social gatherings, represents civic and social history.
... While changes have occurred in the area of the Town of Potomac through its history, it still retains much of the ambience of its heyday. Most of the original residential sections are intact, retaining the houses and the open streetscapes with large trees, big backyards and 15-foot setbacks. Buildings which were important to the town’s history remain, including its churches, many early commercial buildings, and most important of all, the Potomac Fire Department and Town Hall.
Today, the Town of Potomac Historic District is bordered by Commonwealth Avenue to the west, Route 1 to the east, E. Bellefonte Avenue to the south and Ashby Avenue to the north. It includes 690 contributing structures and 1,840 acres.
The preservation plan also calls for creating a residential pattern book for new construction and alterations to structures within the Town of Potomac Historic District.
Al Cox, architect and manager with the Historical Preservation Section of Planning and Zoning told the DRCA:
As Del Ray has continued to gain in popularity and property values have increased, there is economic interest in constructing or expanding the residential properties to their maximum development envelope. We have already seen this development pressure lead to a loss of character-defining architectural features, as well as the total loss of contributing buildings through demolition. I believe that a pattern book could provide proactive design guidance to homeowners and builders, without the regulation and expense of a local design review board. …a National Register district is only honorific and would enable these properties to obtain state and federal rehabilitation tax credits, so a district is not generally opposed by the property owners.”
Cox gave a presentation about the Art Deco architecture in Alexandria, including classic forms and late-type Streamline Moderne styles in Del Ray, during November’s Del Ray Historical Preservation Conference.
Cox cited the success of the event, which drew more than 150 attendees, as a sign of interest in preserving Del Ray’s historic buildings.
The city would likely need to hire a consultant to complete the plan, which could be completed in about a year with assistance from the DRCA.
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