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Deciding What History Is Worth Saving In Alexandria

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William Cromley, who owns the nursery school building, says
it would take hundreds of thousands to dollars to restore it. He has gotten approval for demolition.
Jonathan Wilson
William Cromley, who owns the nursery school building, says it would take hundreds of thousands to dollars to restore it. He has gotten approval for demolition.

By Jonathan Wilson

A former nursery school building in Alexandria, Virginia is now on the list of the ten most "endangered" historical sites in the Commonwealth.

But the building's owner says tearing it down is his only option.

The building housed Carver Nursery School for African-Americans in the 1940s. In 1950 it became an American Legion post and a community center for African Americans in Alexandria.

Two years ago developer William Cromley bought it with the intention of restoring it.

"That's my job," says Cromley. "That's what I do, I restore old properties."

But Cromley says soon after he bought it, he realized there was little he could do with the building. It was in disrepair and covered in asbestos.

The city of Alexandria refused to accept it as a gift, so Cromley applied for, and got, approval to demolish it.

Now a group of preservationists has filed a lawsuit to stop him, arguing that buildings in historically black neighborhoods have gotten less protection than their counterparts in white neighborhoods.

Gwen Day attended Carver Nursery School in the 1940s.

"So many times our buildings have been destroyed before we even knew what was on the drawing board, or what was coming up," says Day.

The case goes to court in November. Cromley says he knows the case will be difficult.

"It's not a simple debate," he says. "It's very nuanced and intelligent people can disagree on whether this building needs to be preserved."

Cromley says another possible resolution could come if the preservationists find someone else to buy the property, which has been appraised at $1 million.

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