Former home of Vienna civic leaders spared from wrecking ball ... for now

Vienna Town Council members voted Nov. 16, 2020, to delay until Dec. 7 their decision on whether to raze a home and outbuildings on town-owned property at 124 Courthouse Road, S.W. The house and land previously had been owned by late former Vienna Mayor Charles Robinson Jr. and his late wife, former Council member Maud Robinson.

A sprawling home previously owned by a late former Vienna Mayor Charles Robinson Jr. and his wife, late former Town Council member Maud Robinson, will not be demolished just yet.

The Vienna Town Council unanimously agreed Nov. 16 to postpone until Dec. 7 its decision on a contract to raze the home.

Council members had been slated to approve a contract with Tysons Service Corp. to demolish the single-story house and its additions, plus the detached garage and outbuildings at 124 Courthouse Road, S.W. The contract’s $28,000 cost included a $2,595 contingency allowance.

Council member Howard Springsteen moved to delay decision on the house’s demolition, saying there was “no rush to take it down.”

“It’s not a 911 emergency that it needs to be passed tonight,” said Springsteen, who formerly was president of the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department. “I’d just like people to be able to savor it for another two or three weeks. We really can’t use [the house]. It’s not [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant.”

The Council in December 2019 purchased the Robinsons’ house for $1,438,500 and agreed to name a section of Northside Park after Maud Robinson. Town officials tentatively intend to use the nearly three-quarter-acre property for parkland, but the Council will decide upon its final usage.

Vienna officials listed several reasons for wanting to raze the site’s buildings. Abandoned and vacant properties  are more prone to crime (especially arson), can lower the value of surrounding properties, pose higher health-and-welfare risks, and raise costs for local governments, officials said.

The proposed contract’s scope also would include asbestos abatement, capping of water and  sewer services within the property, installation of a construction entrance and siltation fence, leveling of the site with fill dirt and the sprinkling of grass seed and straw on disturbed areas.

A pre-demolition asbestos survey, conducted by Geller Environmental Labs and involving a visual inspection and collection of some samples, did not find asbestos-containing materials in the structures. Because not all of the housing materials were sampled, town officials will assume they contain asbestos and treat them accordingly.

The Robinson’s bought the home in July 1951. Fairfax County lists the home as having been built in 1925, put portions of the structure date back to at least 1870, said Vienna Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Herman.

Charles Robinson Jr., who had served on the Council before being elected mayor in 1976, died in January 2000 after nearly 24 straight years as mayor.

Springsteen recalled how well wishers had gone caroling at the house that winter to buck up the spirits of the mayor, who was dying of lung cancer.

The Council later in 2000 appointed Maud Robinson to fill the unexpired term of member M. Jane Seeman, who had been appointed mayor following Charles Robinson’s death. Maud Robinson served on the Council through 2009, but remained active in town affairs until late in her life.

The Robinsons’ house has been vacant since Maud Robinson’s death in March 2019 at age 96. Town officials turned off all utilities at the home except for electricity, which was used to operate timers to give the illusion the home still was inhabited.

Maud Robinson bequeathed the town $7 million for sidewalk projects and $20,000 to Historic Vienna Inc. (HVI), a group with which she long had been associated.

HVI member Nancy Moats compiled a history of the Robinsons’ home, where the couple frequently entertained (they enjoyed serving beef Burgundy to their guests) and held receptions for people seeking public office, she wrote.

“Upon entering the side door, one stepped back in time to the Civil War era,” Moats wrote. “A charming room full of light, a vintage fireplace face and [mantel], painted a Williamsburg green, and lovely wooden floors flowed into a charming kitchen. Kitchen cabinets and antiques reminded one of days gone by.”

During the decades they owned the home, the Robinsons added a large living room/reception area and extended the part of the house facing Cottage Street, S.W., turning that section into a guest suite. Former farm buildings, including a chicken house, added charm to the property and remind visitors of a simpler way of life, Moats wrote.

HVI president Anne Stuntz recalled how the Robinsons’ house was the go-to place for people who had found stray cats. Stuntz said she hoped town officials at least would endeavor to save the home’s oldest section, perhaps as a base for programming at a future park.

“We lose so many old buildings in town, and usually the excuse is a big shrug, and ‘What can you do, the owner can do what he/she wants to do with his/her own property,’ with the implication that if someone who cared about history owned it, they’d make an effort to save it,” Stuntz said.

[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

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