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Mayoral mansion moving forward

Committee to examine sites; Hillís old Navy hospital still in the running

(Published July 31, 2000)


Staff Writer

The Districtís prospects for establishing a mayoral mansion on Capitol Hill improved slightly last month when a nonprofit organization abruptly moved out of the location favored by the D.C. City Council.

Friendship House Association Inc., which has leased space in the old Navy hospital at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE since 1997, moved out of the mansion the third week of July. Donald Hense, executive director for the organization, would not comment on why the group vacated the premises.

The group signed a three-year lease on the 22,000-square-foot mansion last summer, agreeing to pay the city $13,000 a month. The cityís Office of Property Management (OPM), which controls the Districtís leases and buildings, did not return phone calls asking whether the lease was canceled or if Friendship House is still liable for the remaining two years of the lease.

The council passed emergency and permanent legislation July 11 to establish a committee to investigate properties as possible sites for a mayoral residence. The bill is expected to by signed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams by Aug. 3 and then sent to the control board for approval.

Once the bill becomes law, the mayor would appoint four members of the committee and the city council would approve four members to the board. The director of OPM would be the ninth member of the committee.

Three names that have been mentioned by council Chairman Linda Cropp as possible nominees are former mayor Walter Washington, former councilman H.R. Crawford and Ethel Kennedy, a Northern Virginia resident who is the widow of former U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

The old Navy hospital, which has an assessed value of $1,673,500, has been the favored location for a mayoral mansion since the idea was proposed last year. One possible wrinkle in the plans could come from the fact that the city government doesnít own the mansion. D.C. tax rolls and an official at the General Services Administration say the building actually belongs to the federal government even though the District has had administrative control over it since 1963.

A group of Navy veterans has been trying to gain control of the former hospital to establish a naval medical museum on the site.

Estimates for acquiring and restoring the mansion have been placed at as much as $11 million. Council members have said they want the bill footed by private donations rather than city funds. After The Common Denominator reported April 10 that the billís original language left open the possibility that the city would pay for the entire project, the language was changed to place a higher priority on raising private funds.

The mansion has been the target of vandalism lately, but a council aide said most of the damage in the mansion was the result of flooding that happened this spring on the first floor and basement.

The city currently owns three other mansions ó the Old Embassy Building No. 10 on 16th Street NW that houses the Department of Parks and Recreation, Brooks Mansion at the Brookland Metro station, which was recently leased to DCTV, and the Danzansky Funeral Home near 14th and U streets NW.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator