Updated Wednesday, July 11, 11:56 p.m.
Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2:38 p.m (Breaking News)
Incoming University President Steven Knapp will live in Alumni House following a restoration of the 158-year-old building, University officials confirmed Wednesday.
Knapp will be the first University president to live on campus since the University relocated to Foggy Bottom in 1912. The building is currently the headquarters for alumni relations – housing many staff members – and is a venue often used by student organizations.
“I have a strong interest in living on campus to gain a full appreciation for how the residents of the community – students, neighbors, business and government employees, and others – relate to one another,” Knapp said, according to a news release.
Thurston Hall and Potomac House – both underclassman residence halls – are within close proximity of Alumni House, which is located on the corner of 20th and F streets. Alumni Association offices will relocate to the second and third floors of the University Club.
The University plans to sell the home on Bancroft Place, where University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg lived for his 19-year tenure. The house was assessed at $2.9 million. Proceeds from the sale will go directly into the endowment, the news release stated.
Director of Media Relations Tracy Schario said although Knapp considered several on campus locations, Alumni House was the most appropriate.
“Since (Alumni House’s) original purpose was that it was a private residence – and it’s well suited to return as a private residence – it made sense to select that location.”
In June, Knapp said he was considering a townhouse that is used for visiting faculty but it interfered with the construction of the F Street residence hall.
The building was erected in 1849 as a private residence for a Navy captain, before it was renamed as the F Street Club in 1933. It is a D.C. historic landmark and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Steedman-Ray House.
The structure is also currently valued at more than $1 million, according to the D.C. property assessment records.
Because of the building’s historic status, all restoration plans must first be reviewed by the D.C. Commission for Historical Preservation. The University will present its renovation plans to the Commission on Fine Arts July 19, Schario said. She added that the Office of General Counsel is examining D.C. law to see what other city agencies need to be involved.
“It’ll take a few weeks, months. Who knows with city agencies?” Schario said. “It’s hard to predict a timeline.”
Construction logistics, including building materials and disability access, will be discussed at the July 19 meeting, Schario said.
In the meantime, the Knapp family will live in an apartment in the West End neighborhood several blocks from campus, the release stated. Knapp said in June that the apartment he would rent is likely not big enough to entertain besides small dinners.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg will step down Aug. 1 but said he is pleased with Knapp’s decision to live on campus. Trachtenberg said he can only foresee one major problem.
“University presidents are very noisy, and it may be that when he’s partying he’s going to disturb the kids living in Thurston Hall,” Trachtenberg said, “But other than that I don’t see any problems.”
Trachtenberg said he did not live on campus because Alumni House was not available, and it was difficult for his children to get to school from Foggy Bottom.
“I lived on campus at the University of Hartford, so I’ve had the pleasure and the experience of living on a university campus,” Trachtenberg said. “Because I was (off campus at GW), I had to reach out in ways that I didn’t have to when I was president at the University of Hartford.”
Several members of the Foggy Bottom community said they are pleased with Knapp’s decision to live on campus.
Elizabeth Elliot, executive board member of the Foggy Bottom Association said Knapp’s presence on campus would put him closer to important community concerns.
“I’m sure we would like to have a good relationship with (Knapp) and I think living in the neighborhood and experiencing some of the issues that we talk about here is fortunate,” said Elliot, who can see Alumni House from her home.
David Lehrman, a commissioner of the Foggy Bottom/West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said Knapp’s move into Alumni House is a positive sign for his presidency.
“I can’t help but see that as a very optimistic sign that he’s committed to being engaged, to being energetic, to having a new approach – and don’t forget a new president wants to have a new approach – so this is a very impressive way to start out,” he said.
Knapp was traveling and unavailable for comment as of Wednesday evening, Schario said.
-David Ceasar, Andrew Nacin, Eric Roper and Jake Sherman contributed to this report.
This article appeared in the June 20, 2007 issue of the Hatchet.