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Historic Districts Considered for Riverdale Park, Part I


Proposal Affects Wards 1, 2, 4, and a Corner of 3

By Chris Davis

For a decade, Riverdale Park has been taking steps toward seeking a historic district, something Mt. Rainier, Hyattsville, and University Park have done to protect their older neighborhoods. Beginning with a "windshield survey" by Howard Berger of the county's Historic Preservation Commission in 1991 and the formation of a preservation association in 1992, the town has been studying and celebrating our historic houses. After The Riverdale Story won awards in the mid-1990s, Riversdale was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997, and many houses underwent long-awaited restorations, the Mayor and Council thought it was time in 1998 to officially seek our own district.

Building on Existing Designations

Riverdale Park is home to historic sites besides Riversdale: the Harry Smith House on Oliver Street, a National Historic Site; the Read-Low House on Riverdale Road, the Warren House on Oliver Street, and the Wernek House on Queensbury Road, all County Historic Sites; and Calvert Memorial Park in the Town Center, a County Historic Resource. These properties are considered of value historically regardless of whether they are located in a historic district. And all are in neighborhoods with equally impressive homes that have not yet been honored.

Sweating the Details

The preservation association began working with Mr. Berger in the fall of 1998, documenting 1,033 of the town's houses from our westernmost boundary to the Northeast Branch, taking photographs and surveying every one. We spent so much time at each house that some residents mistook us for code enforcement!

Unfortunately, although fine older homes stand in the neighborhoods east of the river, long-standing infill development makes their designation unlikely at this time. For example, many Victorian homes were torn down on Riverdale Road to make way for mid-rise apartments in the 1950s.

For 18 months we cataloged houses and organized thousands of photographs into their neighborhoods. In 2000, the Mayor and Council received a grant for a consultant to prepare our detailed National Historic District application. That nomination proposes two historic districts, West Riverdale and Riverdale Park.

Homes on Cleveland Ave in 1904 Proposed to be part of the Riverdale Park Historic District are these homes on Cleveland Avenue, as seen in 1904. Left: originally home to Charles E. Kerfoot. Right: originally home to Joseph A. Dodge.

Setting Boundaries

West Riverdale Park, the residential neighborhood west of the business district on Route 1, is being nominated in its entirety. Riverdale Park, the original subdivision of the town platted by the Riverdale Park Company in 1889, covers a much larger area. All of Ward 4, everything west of the B&O Railroad tracks, is part of the nomination. In Ward 1, the neighborhoods from Tuckerman Street south to Oliver Street to the ward's boundaries on 49th Avenue are being considered. In Ward 2, the houses from Tuckerman Street south to Riverdale Road, from 49th Avenue to Taylor Road, are featured. And in Ward 3, the few homes on the mansion's northeast corner are included.

Even though each proposed district has newer houses, some even built as late as this month, the number of historic properties built before 1950 far outnumber those built later, and West Riverdale has only 4 properties of 65 that are considered "noncontributing," or not historic for the purposes of our nomination.

Coming up in Part II of this story in next month's Town Crier, learn about rules and protections, tax credits, and the remainder of the nomination process.

Chris Davis, Ward 4 Councilmember, is President of the Preservation Association of Riverdale Park; 301-277-6615, cdavis@apa.org.

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