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Brass Medallions Are Guides to Local History

by Borderstan.com July 5, 2010 at 10:33 pm 0

Borderstan dc historical homes

1530 15th Street NW: The Alma Woodsey Thomas Home. She was an artist and teacher and the house is on the National Park Services’ National Register of Historical Places. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Tom Hay

You may have noticed the large number of homes in our neighborhood with brass medallions on their facades, bearing the name of a trust or preservation organization. The medallions usually are the indication of a facade easement.

The home of the late Alma Woodsey Thomas on 15th Street NW is a good example. She was an African American Expressionist painter and art teacher and the first graduate of Howard University’s art department. You can find other such houses and buildings in the Dupont, Logan and Shaw neighborhoods.

In a recent Housing Counsel column in The Washington Post, lawyer Benny L. Kass provides a great analysis of facade or preservation easements.

In a nutshell, the owner of a property in an historic district may grant a facade easement to a local preservation organization. The owner is restricted from making changes to the facade under guidelines established by the organization. There is potential for significant tax incentives for the property owner based on the value of the property.

To qualify a property must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or be located in a registered historic district and be more than 50 years old. Vast portions of Logan and Dupont are considered historic district. Among them are Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Greater U Street, Strivers’ Section, 16th Street, 14th Street and Shaw.

Alma Woodsey Thomas home Borderstan 15th Street NW Luis Gomez Photos

A sign on the front fence of the Alma Woodsey Thomas home on 15th Street explains its historical significance. (Luis Gomez Photos)

The DC Office of Planning Historic Preservation Office has detailed maps and an inventory to check to see if your property is in one of the designated districts. The HPO also has some useful online guides for homeowners in a designated historic district.

Kass does point out many of the potential challenges a homeowner may face when becoming a party to such an agreement. Homeowners are cautioned to consult with their tax and legal advisers before undertaking the process.

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