Adams Morgan ANC Meeting With Zoo Officials
Introduction to the transcript by Eddie Becker
Contact: Eddie Becker 202 332-1000
This is a partial transcript of the July 9th Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Community (ANC) meeting concerning the effort to preserve an African American Cemetery, and a Landmark building from destruction. Both sites plus the area along Rock Creek, have an association to the history of slavery in Washington, DC.
The ANC meeting polarized by race during a discussion related to the demeanor of the ANC chairperson. Racial tensions are easily ignited. This nation has a longer history of slavery then of so called emancipation. One people can't remember while others can't forget. Clinton calls for an apology for slavery, while we have all but forgotten it ever happened here in this neighborhood. Three hundred years of slavery has left us with a terrible legacy. A history that belongs as much to white people as anyone else. So let us dig into the Archives and the Libraries and lay that history out. Preserve the artifacts that give it it's physical form and picture what it was like two hundred years ago, and what it could be like a two hundred years from now. Eddie Becker
Bob Hoage from the Office of Public Affairs at the National Zoo (202 673-4789 202 673-4905) introduced Robin Vasa, Assistant Director Facilities Management (202-673-0214) and Margie Gibson from the Public Affairs Office.
Robin reads a copy of the Statement:
As a result of meetings this spring with representatives from the Mt. Pleasant and Adams Morgan citizen organizations, the National Zoo has taken several actions with respect to community concerns regarding the Zoo's Adams Mill Road gate area.
While reading from the text, Robin Vasa put the next paragraph in her own words:
"The remaining three dumpsters we intend to relocate as soon as we can. As we intend to purchase an additional trash truck that will allow us to remove those dumpsters. We plan to regrade the area and regrade it back to it's original grade and seed it to prevent erosion and allow that to become a buffer area between the road and the park area - the garden area."
Robin Vesa continues from the text:
The mulch Operation, once proposed to be moved to the site close to Walter Pierce Park, will remain in its existing location next to parking lot E. Future plans call for the mulch operation to be relocated to an area adjacent to parking lot C, the Zoo's central parking lot.
End of the Zoo Statement.
William K. Scheirer, ANC representative (202-232-8827):
Is the Holt House a Historic Landmark?
We have asked our Preservation Office to give us a formal statement and reading of the quality of the preservation aspect --- required if status on the landmark roster --- so that we're clear on --- I don't have the answer for that.
Are you prepared to agree that the Holt House has some standing as a historic structure?
It's part of - all the Zoo - the Zoo is a Historic site. So it's listed - it's on the register the historic register. What we are trying to find out is specifically the requirements for that building. So we are waiting for a reading from downtown on that building.
So the fact that you went through a feasibility study suggests that you are not convinced of the desirability of any further deterioration.
No that is not the intention.
So why don't you scrap the feasibility study and just preserve it?
Because I have to get a reading from downtown on the exact status and the requirements for preservation so that I can determine what are - so that the Zoo can determine what it's actions should be with regard to that building.
In other words you want to preserve it but you don't know yet what is required?
Robert Hoage, Zoo Public Affairs chief:
Miss Vasa has answered your question as best she can. The Zoo wants to take a feasibility study and get a determination from the Smithsonian of a specialist in the field as to exactly how this building is defined as architectural or historic value. So she doesn't have that information now, so you will just have to wait for more specific answers.
And what we're doing tonight is to tell you where we are right now. There is a lot that is still going on. And we will be coming back with additional information as decisions are made. Or as we gather information - I don't have all that information yet. William Scheirer:I'm not usually this dense but I'm kind of confused about what you have in mind for the Holt House. It sounds as if now you have not yet decided what level of preservation you wish for that house if any.
That is what the feasibility study will tell us. What we are going to do right now is fix the holes in the roof and stabilize the building. That we will be doing definitively, I have money for that. To do more than that I need a feasibility study and I need some directions from the Smithsonian or what actions they want to take, how the building might be used. To determine what kind of restoration, if restoration, all of that. So at this point all I can tell you is that we are going to stabilize it right now. I'm going to come back with you with more information.
Dan Horrigan, ANC Chairperson:
If I can interject right here for a second, The ANC is participating in an Ad-hoc group that is addressing these issues in some details with the Zoo.
I know but I think this is an important matter.
It is a very important matter
But quite frankly I can't understand what they are saying.
Well follow-up in the appropriate forum.
Well it's a very simple question, by feasibility study do you mean whether it is feasible to do it or not or do you mean what is the most feasible way of doing it?
Whether it is feasible to preserve it or not.
OK, thank you that is what I thought you were saying. That is what I oppose.
Audience participant Anne Sellin (202-387-7782):
It was designated separately, the Holt House, around 1970, and put on the National Register for Historic Places. It has national importance It is very important. When you say you have to get a directive from downtown about what the status of the historic nomination is, you mean from Cynthia Field?
Yes Cynthia Field. She is working on getting me some clarification on the requirements of that building.
Well if I understand what Cynthia Fields has already said, the Smithsonian can ignore the Federally mandated 106 process, which is triggered when a landmark building is altered or damaged in some way. And it seems to me the Smithsonian--
We are not lawyers.
We are going to wait for Cynthia to give us a formal statement on it. She is very concerned about designation. She is not somebody who normally would - who would even give me ever - she has never given me the impression that she would not observe regulations - Federal Regulations. I'm sure she is going to come back with your information but I'm going to wait.
Could we have more about your schedule for patching the roofing and gutters which is doing great damage?
I don't have the specific schedule yet. I'm trying to fit it in. I'm trying to get the contractors done. To do contracting in the Federal Process we have to follow all kinds of guidelines. It takes time. And our contracts office is at the end of the year so it takes a little longer. So I can't give you anything on that right now.
Before I call on this woman in the back, I want to point out that there are a group of people in this room who are involved to get into this subject in great detail with the Zoo. Could you raise your hands.
Sheila McCormick, ANC member:
I'm not one.
You're not. There are people in this room who formed this ad-hoc group. To address this with the Zoo.
Three committee's Eileen Crawford, Eddie Becker and Marc Gervais.
Right I would ask that those who are interested in this get in touch with those people. There is a more appropriate forum to ask the loads of questions and good questions to the Zoo. Now the last question.
Ajna Seewaa (202-269-5990):
A lot of emphasis has been placed on the Holt House. I'm interested in the cemetery. It is very important to me. What is being done to ascertain that these are in fact a burial ground for Native American and African Americans? What are you doing about that?
There is actually some research going on right now, to look - Cynthia Field's office - to look at the property lines the boundaries the history of the site and we are gathering all that information together we will be giving all that information that has the property lines plotted on it to our civil engineers so that they can plot it out so they can see where the property actually fall. In addition, we do not intend to dig up that area in any way. We intend to restore what may potentially be a burial area to a buffer area. So that it is a natural respectful area.
We will move on.
I had asked before-hand if I could address the group. My name is Eddie Becker, one of the coordinators of the Ad Hoc committee.
Yes you are. Go ahead if you have a question.
I have done allot of the research so we already know some of the facts. I think that it is interesting ---
Excuse me Mr. Becker if you would like to make a presentation on the subject, please convene a meeting but we have ANC business.
Todd Mosley, (ANC member):
He has every single right to speak.
Linda Softli, (ANC member):
I told him that he could speak. This is the forum, Dan quiet down. We are at the whim of these people. We are elected officials.
Aaron Goldstein (ANC member):
OK that's fine, if we are going to let him talk can we decide which of these other items we are not going to talk about, cause this is a Zero sum game here. So if we are going to go on forever with this that's fine but let us remove some of the other items from our agenda.
I don't intend to go on forever.
Two minutes starting now.
We have stumbled onto the history of slavery in Adams Morgan. Included is a cemetery for African Americans, adjacent to an area on Rock Creek where there was milling, stone quarrying, a saw mill and well known people like John Quincy Adams. There is a whole lineage of slave owners who owned the property and worked those areas. As it turns out, the person who John Quincy Adams contracted with to run the mill owned slaves as well. John Quincy Adams eventually came out against slavery. That transition was made while he owned that mill. We derive part of the name of Adams Morgan from him. The Holt House has in it the original slave quarters in the basement. (Turning to representatives of the Zoo) It is well known, is it not, among people who work in the Zoo that there are slave quarters in the basement of the Holt House?
Not to my knowledge.
It is in Smithsonian documents. Now according to a historian by the name of Paul Sluby (301-630-1910), there is a slave cemetery located between a creek and the original Adams Mill Road. The Zoo now calls the original Adams Mill Road, the Blue Road.
(Paul Sluby in a clarification a few days latter, stated that his reference may be to slaves buried in the Quaker cemetery. Ed)
Eddie can you cut this short? I don't want to hear this. We spoke about this about a week ago. What we agreed I thought was that you would put this on paper so that those people who were interested would be able to see what those issues are and that you would only highlight those issues tonight.
I was just trying to make the connection between the slave area along Rock Creek, the possible slave cemetery and the house which was used by the overseer with the slave quarters within.
(Addressing the Zoo representatives
Unfortunately, you were unwilling to meet with the Ad hoc group, though we would have told you all this. We would like to participate in the process with the Smithsonian to uncover the history of the community - as is required in the Historic Preservation Act. This is a formal request on behalf of the Ad Hoc Committee for us to participate with you to uncover the history of that site which is currently in the custody of the National Zoo and the Smithsonian.
I'm glad to hear of the research being done by the Zoo folks on the cemetery but in the absence of a commitment on the Holt House I would like to move that this ANC take a position that the Holt House should be preserved.
I second that motion.
Ajna Seewaa, from Audience:
My emphasis is on the cemetery. It is not that I want the land to be beautified. I think that it needs to be restored back to its original condition. And I think we need to find out whether it is in fact a burial ground. If it is then we should do something more than that.
There is even a history of when diggings were going on.
It seems to me that folks should not be asking for the right to have input and it should not be just guessing about whether it is or is not a cemetery. The fact of the matter is that the Historic preservation Act of 1966, section 110 and 106 apply to developments on all Federal Land. It is amazing that the Smithsonian is unaware that it is responsible for compliance, which stands for the preservation of historic cites across the country. This discussion which is taking place is a right of the public under that Act. This process should be taking place in connection with that Act. There needs to be a memorandum of agreement by the Council for Historic Preservation to make sure that the input of the community as to how the research is to be done and what the kinds of preservation and memorialization plans will take place. That input has the backing of the Law. That does apply here. So this is astounding to me that you are unaware of the law that you should be operating within at this point.
We are not unaware of the law. We are aware that we do have to follow those requirements. I was very surprised of that expressions that Cynthia Field might ignore those because that has never been my experience that she would do that. She is the Preservation Officer at the Smithsonian. I do have to go to her for a clarification statement and -- I -- there is quite a bit of research that the Smithsonian is now doing to clarify these particular issues for us as well as the communities.
I offer a friendly amendment to my own motion that the Zoo be encouraged to continue it's efforts to determine the nature of the burial grounds there and take appropriate action.
I Second that.
All in favor, Aye. Opposed none. Sustained.
The motion Carries. Bill will you draft that letter to the Zoo? Click here to read the ANC letter.
The ANC moved on to other business.
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