Historic Designation for Palisades Recreation Center

With the help of ANC3D, our DC Historical Preservation Board gets its wires crossed (again) to the detriment of the Palisades.   The HPO has landmarked the park and thereby preserves the sad, little fieldhouse.   Their summary explanation:

Palisades Playground and Field House, 5200 Sherier Place NW, Case 15-13.

The concurred with the Advisory Neighborhood Commission in favor and Board designated the Palisades Playground a historic landmark in the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites. The Board requested that the nomination be forwarded to the National Register of Historic Places for listing as of local significance, with a period of significance stretching from about 8000 B.C. until 1936. The fieldhouse is to be considered a contributing building and the archaeological resources collectively a designated archaeological site. The Board requested that the nomination be edited for more information about the parcel’s prehistoric and historic background and archaeological resources and on the role of the Public Works Administration in the development of the playground. Vote: 5-2.

I wrote a letter to the Current newspaper but it was never printed.

Here’s my cry in the forest:

The DC Historic Preservation Office’s conclusion that the Palisades Park Recreation Center be landmarked due, in part, to its prehistoric significance is an irrelevant argument and plagued by preposterous claims.  A lot of the park’s prehistory was destroyed during the construction of the new baseball and soccer fields, and though some areas do remain “intact”, how keeping the field house would protect the site’s prehistory is anybody’s guess.   From plans I have seen of preserving the field house, improvements to the structure would entail additions to its footprint – one of the few ways of salvaging a non-functioning structure.    This of course would run counter to the preservation of the site’s American Indian history by disturbing what remains of the park’s “still intact soils.”  If that fact goes unquestioned, I suppose it is no surprise that researchers felt they could compile a report based on unfounded dates.

The report claims they “found undisturbed Native American artifacts there from 8000 B.C. to 1700 A.D.”   I do not doubt that signs of American Indian were found at the park since the previous park redevelopment unearthed many stone tool and pottery artifacts.  Suggesting the site goes back 8000 B.C. however is disingenuous.  Twelve years ago, when nobody seemed to care much about the prehistory of the site (especially those who today use the prehistory argument for keeping the depression-era building), I collected various carbon samples in situ when a retaining wall for the soccer field was constructed.  I raised money from interested neighbors to have one of the samples radiocarbon dated.   Choosing the deepest sample associated with a stone projectile point, we received the date of 781 A.D.  +/- 26 years.  There are more samples to be tested and plenty of artifacts in the Palisades Museum of Prehistory that give generalized time periods,  but nothing goes back anywhere near 8000 B.C.    Real research would have condensed the likely time span of human occupation, and considered the evidence found in the Palisades Museum of Prehistory.  However no inquiries were ever made on part of the researchers, and any evidence for such dates are non-existent (or have been omitted from the report).  In reaching a conclusion to the landmarked status, the HPO used every imaginable argument in favor of landmark status for the field house – and in the irrelevant case of the park’s prehistory, even pseudo-science was deployed.

Doug Dupin

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