A Brief History – 1980s

Intro | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s

The Old 1899 Post Office is a massive bulwark of the city’s historic charm. Without it, all that frozen bureaucracy on Pennsylvania Avenue would become unbearably oppressive. Besides, it was there first.

— Wolf Von Eckardt

Don’t Tear It Down’s activities continued into the 1980s and local preservationist Karen Gordon served as President from 1981-1982, before moving to Seattle.

In 1984, a major event took place—the re-opening of the restored Old Post Office. Also, by then the historic preservation ordinance had successfully withstood challenges that could have weakened it.

Later in 1984, the Board of Directors refocused the organization and changed the group’s name to reflect a citywide, rather than just a downtown interest in historic preservation. The new name, the DC Preservation League, reflected an expanded organization and goals. “These initiatives,” wrote President Robert A. Peck (1983-1989) in the newsletter, “reflect a consensus of the Board of Directors that it is time for a change; that the District of Columbia needs a strong and sophisticated organization; and that the current structure of Don’t Tear It Down will not permit us to evolve into that organization.” At the same time the Board determined “to expand and reorganize the Board of Directors. We propose to reach out for a board membership encompassing community and business leaders who have demonstrated a concern for architectural quality and the well-being of the Washington community.”

But the story has not always been about imposing buildings. Thanks to Don’t Tear It Down/DCPL’s sponsorship of historic district nominations, many small neighborhood buildings stand protected, symbols of the early development strengths that created them. In 1987, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Planning and Housing Association, DCPL initiated the Joint Project on Preserving Small Buildings Downtown. This led to a proposal for the creation of a Downtown Historic Preservation District. One important aspect of this proposal was a provision to allow for the transfer of development rights to sites outside the historic district. A modified version of the original proposal was passed by the Zoning Commission.