70 Neighbors Petition to Protect Historic Woodland House

1890s house at 610 Fulton Avenue: After owner’s passing in February, property is up for auction and possible subdivision. (Staff photos by George Southern)

Falls Church Times Staff

May 24, 2010

Woodland House at 610 Fulton Avenue sits on over one acre of property in the center of Falls Church City.  Originally built in the 1890s, the house has been in the Shefer family since the 1960s, but the owner died in February 2010.  The house and surrounding property is expected to be sold by sealed bid auction next month.

Neighbors are concerned that, since the house sits on one of the few large residential tracts remaining in Falls Church City, the property could be subdivided into standard lots. In addition, the property contains a dramatic poplar tree that is at least 100 years old and which occupies virtually the entire southwest corner, or about one-quarter acre.

Therefore, the neighbors claim in their petition to the city, “the siting of the house together with the tree would complicate a developer’s plan to subdivide the property and construct dwellings, whether multiple single family or townhouses or other types of residential units.”  They expressed their concern that the size and location of the lot would create pressure on the City to compromise the historic house and its property “in the name of economic development of the City.”

In the petition, the neighbors call on City Hall to preserve both the historic home and poplar tree, establishing an official position, either by legislation or resolution, against development of the property.

Auction by sealed bid is expected in June.

May 24, 2010 


42 Responses to “70 Neighbors Petition to Protect Historic Woodland House”

  1. Cathy Quinn on May 24th, 2010 10:58 am

    Are more signatures needed?

  2. Glenn Baker, Falls Church on May 24th, 2010 12:19 pm

    Does the house’s designation as “historic” provide it any protection from demolition? It’s in poor shape, but still of great historical significance, and deserves to be preserved and restored. The size of this plot, the magnificent house and outbuildings, and surrounding massive old trees makes it one of the few remaining areas that retains the feel of historic Falls Church. (I used to live next door, and sometimes saw wildlife such as deer and foxes pass through.) Development would destroy that, and with it, another piece of “The Little City.”

    The owner of Woodland House also owned several adjacent properties, which together would make a very large tract, ominously attractive to a developer.
    What means are available to citizens interested in protecting this historic site?

  3. Kathleen Nebeker, City of Falls Church on May 24th, 2010 2:09 pm

    It’s a beautiful house and property. However, I don’t think the city has the money to fairly compensate the estate for its value. And, I imagine that is what would have to happen if the right to develop it were taken away.

  4. Rob on May 24th, 2010 3:42 pm

    Why don’t the 70 signatories form an LLC, pony up some cash and submit the highest bid? I’d bet $2M for that one acre would have a shot – that’s only $28.5K each! Alternatively, I’d bet a good cabinetmaker could create some great kitchen cabinets from that poplar tree for the replacement homes.

  5. Richard Alpert on May 24th, 2010 4:02 pm

    And you are all wondering why the city is strapped for money – unnecessary purchases like this one – it is inevitable that the lot will be parceled and houses built on it – look at Lincoln Avenue and West Street for a fine example of what happens when an owner passes away.

  6. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on May 24th, 2010 4:30 pm

    This is a complex situation. On the one hand, I’m sure everyone in the neighborhood (and beyond) would love for that house and lot to remain (and for someone to fix up the house). On the other hand, apparently the Shefer family acquired the land 50 years ago and should be allowed to profit from owning it all this time.

    If the house was encumbered by a historical designation when they bought it then I could see some limits being placed on what can be done. But otherwise it seems like the estate (or future owners) should be able to do whatever is allowed by zoning in that area.

    Rob’s suggestion is fair – although unlikely to happen.

    I don’t quite get the reference to economic development. I don’t think the City does anything to actively encourage redevelopment of residential lots – and I wouldn’t consider that economic development.

  7. Carol Jackson on May 24th, 2010 11:11 pm

    The property is within the City’s historic preservation ordinance for all residential properties built prior to 1911. Within that protection it was cited for demolition by neglect, but City chose not to enforce the HARB’s challenge under the existing ordinance.

    It can not be torn down without a HARB review and approval for cause within the criteria identified by the Historic Preservation Ordinance.

  8. Louis T. Olom, Falls Church, VA on May 24th, 2010 11:38 pm

    If the property is promoted well, the house could find a buyer. A number of us were involved in an older house located on Broad Street and Fairfax just below The Falls Church. VPIS, led by Keith Thurston, worked hard to acquire, purchase, and move it at 5:30 a.m., and it is now located on East Broad Street. The great Wollenberg House on Lincoln was also saved by the family and sold to a new family that has occupied it for a couple of decades.

    If we keep on destroying part of this city’s historic character, we shall surrender completely to developers bent on further urbanizing this lovely little city. It is hard to watch it being over-commercialized. We have become one of the country’s best. And when the IB program was introduced in 1981, local real estate and businesses flourished. It has continued despite a temporary recession which we have conquered in the past in this education city.

  9. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on May 25th, 2010 12:03 am

    What is HARB and HARB’s challenge? Who (or what) cited it for demolition and who at the City has the authority to not follow this HARB’s challenge? When was it cited for demolition?

    I think it would be great if someone would buy it and live in it. It is sad to see some of these older building go but it’s hard to figure out what to do in some cases. Didn’t the City just decide to sell an old house it owned? I wonder if that one will be torn down.

  10. Carol Jackson on May 25th, 2010 12:22 am

    HARB: Historic Architectural Review Board (appointed citizens) with authority under City’s Hist Pres Ordinance. HARB cited Sheffer’s residence for demo by neglect several years (maybe 10) ago. His attorney protested. City Attorney at that time decided not to pursue enforcement of HARB’s complaint against owner.

    Debra Gee in Planning Dept is staff liaison to HARB. She keeps all their records.

    Pendleton House will have same situation when City tries to sell. Can’t be demo’d without applying for approval by HARB. If denies demo permit, then owner must market for 1 year at full market rate to look for buyers before allowed to demolish by right. See Sec 38 Ordinance. Hopefully buyers who want to retain will be found for both houses. HARB is a great advisory resource for historic house owners. Talk up this volunteer citizen board. Charlie Moore, local and talented architect, is HARB Chair and a walking encyclopedia. It was a privilege to serve with him until I moved out of the City.

  11. Barb Cram, Falls Church City on May 25th, 2010 9:26 am

    This property is a beauty and has such wonderful potential. Our house looked liked this and after 4 years of working every day we could finally move in. I can only hope there is some solution for this preservation that is market driven that will polish this jewel of a property. WHEN EXACTLY is the auction?

  12. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on May 25th, 2010 10:51 am

    Thanks for the info about the HARB (I should probably learn more… my house is about 20 years older than the Sheffer’s house).

    So the HARB requested the house be demolished 10 years ago… seems like unless it has been improved since then they’d approve demo (or request/require it) again.

    It would be really great if a buyer could be found. I could imagine a wealthy person who appreciates the location and charm of Falls Church and also old houses might consider it. There will be price pressure from residential developers though, that’s for sure.

    I doubt the sellers have much interest in promoting the sale to someone who would keep, and renovate, the house. Could VPIS or some other organization do anything to promote it? I’m not sure how one finds people interested in properties like this though.

  13. Sara Fitzgerald on May 25th, 2010 11:58 am

    In my old neighborhood in Arlington (corner of Fillmore Street and 24th Street) near Woodmont School and Spout Run Parkway, a large parcel of green was threatened when a longtime owner died. Heirs were within their rights to sell to a developer for subdivision. Wealthy neighbor offered what they had wanted and then resold to a single family. It WAS developed as a mansion, but at least this enabled much of the greenery to be retained and the density to be preserved.

  14. vlfrance, City of Falls Church on May 25th, 2010 2:41 pm

    Interestingly, a school used to operate out of the house (obviously not public); I would assume this was prior to the Shefer’s purchase.

  15. vlfrance, City of Falls Church on May 25th, 2010 2:41 pm

    I’m referring to Woodland House…

  16. Victoria Kwasiborski (Falls Church City) on May 25th, 2010 2:51 pm

    DIrectly behind us is another old house–the one across the street from TJ. The house was built in 1914 so it isn’t protected by HARB. The owner is elderly and in poor health, with her only living relative being a nephew who is a developer. Unfortunately the house isn’t much of a jewel except to the most enthusiastic of renovators with deep pockets. I know it’s only a matter of time before we’ll be saying goodbye to the trees, birds, and wildlife–just imagine how much infill could be plopped down on that nearly 2.0 acre property.

  17. Lindy Hockenberry, City of Falls Church on May 25th, 2010 4:44 pm

    That used to be the Shefer School run by the mother. The house across from TJ is the Fellows house and a few years ago the city was actively trying to purchase it for open space/park land. No matter how hard we tried, we were not able to get the owner to sell. Barry Buschow and I were on the open space task force at the time. We were able to get the Hamlett site that runs from Broad to TJ—a huge purchase, after having it on the city’s wish list for thirty years. We also tried to work out something with the family of the Pine St / N. West St property, but couldn’t meet the owners needs. Also, it really was too small and not safe for a playing field. We tried to purchase the Park Ave property, but the original owner wouldn’t sell it to the city—complicated. I think that the new owner would have liked to sell to the city, but now there is no money available. Many other properties were added to the city’s open space during that time. I hope the new council will continue the great work that has been done through the task force—now part of Parks & Rec.

  18. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on May 25th, 2010 5:12 pm

    For the Fellows house, which Victoria mentions is about 2 acres – what does zoning allow for redevelopment? How many lots could it be split into? I know the City is working on updating some of the zoning, would any of those updates impact lots like this?

  19. Steven Hill (Falls Church) on May 25th, 2010 7:03 pm

    Andy–If I am not mistaken, “demolition by neglect” is a term of art used under historical architecture codes to describe the gradual deterioration of a building through failure to conduct routine maintenance. I am not certain what the VA/Falls Church code provides, but demolition by neglect could be anything from serious structural problems to cosmetic issues, such as broken fixtures, peeling paint, etc. It does not necessarily mean that building is condemnable and should be demolished. That being said . . . it does beg the question of how much more the structure has deteriorated in the years since the demolition by neglect citation. From the street, the house looks much worse than in the photo, and the porch appears to be sagging on the west side (or perhaps that is an intended roof line angle–it is hard to tell). I understand the desire to save the house, but at the end of the day this may be a structure that has been allowed to deteriorate so much that no one will want to undertake the labor and expense to fix it up. We’re not the Hamptons and this is not Grey Gardens with Jackie Onassis ready to swoop in with her millions, unfortunately.

  20. Victoria Kwasiborski (Fall Church City) on May 25th, 2010 8:43 pm

    Andy, our house behind Ms. Fellows sits on roughly one-third of an acre, so the plot across from TJ could conceivably hold at least 4-6 single-family homes. much like Fellows Ct adjacent to the house. We consulted our attorney about any possibilities for that plot several years ago, but at the time Ms. Fellows (or her nephew) was unwilling to sell. There was a site survey about three years ago on the property, but nothing since–my thinking is that her nephew missed the chance to sell. For now. I’ve had some conversations with Ms. Fellows and have found her to be rather curmudgeonly, and now that she’s ill, who knows what she might be contemplating.

  21. Cathy Quinn on May 26th, 2010 12:27 am

    The Schefer Schools existed in Falls Church in the old house and I believe Alexandria for many years. They started on S. Oak Street on a porch and then moved to N. Lee St. I believe in the late 50’s. Anton and I grew up together as neighbors and the neighborhood kids had summer “plays” on the big front lawn. The house was beautiful then. He had no siblings but had cousins and a fiance. The name is actually spelled SCHEFER.

    Andy, your house should have a plaque on it stating that it is certified with an historic registry number.

  22. Carol Jackson on May 26th, 2010 1:40 am


    The HARB cited the Woodlands owner for allowing the house to be ” demolished by neglect”/ The purpose of the citation was to enforce the City’s code requiring owners of protected historic properties to fix and maintain whatever had been causing the neglect and resulting deterioration. The HARB did not grant nor encourage demolition of the home–just the opposite. At that time the owner fought the HARB’s Ordinance authorized demands to fix up the property and the City decided not to enforce.

    The HARB’s role is to protect and advise sensitve renovations of historic properties. Your house should have a covenant on its title requiring you to go thru HARB review every time you apply for permits that authorize certain changes to the outside of your home. Paint is not in that category, but about every other improvement or change is. Consult Debra Gee in Planning–she’s the best resource.

  23. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on May 26th, 2010 8:48 am

    Cathy, thanks for the history – I love hearing old stories about Falls Church. And yes, my house does have a plaque and a covenant on its title – no big, ugly additions for me! Fortunately, previous owners did a lot to restore and preserve my house so it’s in pretty good shape.

  24. Les Brorsen, Falls Church City on May 26th, 2010 4:45 pm

    My understanding is that HARB’s intervention actually resulted in a new roof and gutters being put on the Woodland/Fulton Street House which has served to preserve it. It does have a roof that looks less than 10 years old on it today. I don’t think there should be any doubt about its ability to be renovated and brought back to life. And after HARB went to the effort to help preserve it 10 years ago, there is no reason to think demolition of the house would or should be permitted.

  25. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on May 26th, 2010 10:49 pm

    So did the HARB pay for the cost of the new roof – or they just issued a citation that required the owner to put it on?

    So maybe the only way demolition would be permitted at this point would be if the house didn’t find a buyer at a market price after being listed for one year? Hmm, that certainly increases the chances of finding someone who might be willing to renovate the house.

  26. Carol Jackson on May 26th, 2010 11:11 pm

    I think you’ve got it, Andy! HARB does not assist with rehab or maintenance–they are purely regulatory according to their charter within City Historic Preservation enabling ordinance. Glad you are a sensitized historic home owner. The City doesn’t have enough of these protected properties. Next thing to disappear will be bungalows between 1911 and 1940. They are not protected, even tho Historical Commission and HARB and others have recommended to the City that the HP Ordinance be expanded to include this finite and vulnerable class of special genre of single family residences. Falls Church and North Arlington used to be heavily populated with bungalows, but they are an endangered species of house style–so compact on their lots that they invite tear downs.

  27. Tom West Falls Church City on May 27th, 2010 5:53 pm

    Too bad about the house’s deterioration, this property has been one of my favorite Falls Church homes for 15+ years. Watching it decay was tough.

    Equally tough is the overwhelming likelihood that the heirs can do anything they want with the property, neighbors and HARB notwithstanding. Unless somebody (not me, unfortunately) comes up with the cash, this property is likely to go the way of Evans Farm and Midgetville in Vienna. Keep in mind that that Mclean property and the Vienna set of homes were on historical preservation lists, absolutely unique, and contributed to the beauty of their communities, and each had tons of great trees, supported civic pride, standard of living, etc..

    But they were also privately owned, and despite a zillion signatures, front page Washington Post Metro stories, tv bits, and protests all the way to the FFX Board of Supervisors, the property heirs nevertheless sold to the highest bidder, in both cases developers.

    Virginia is pretty high legally on property rights relative to other states. If I’m playing the role of heir to this property, you can be sure I’d have much confidence going to court to preserve my ability to do anything I want with it. Which hopefully includes keeping as much of it intact as possible and keeping trees, etc.

    But history is not on that side. Just sayin’.

  28. Michael Volpe - Falls Church on May 29th, 2010 12:59 pm

    If there is any good news thus far in this story it is that on April 15 the Virginia Supreme Court denied Anton Schefer’s challenge to amendments to the Falls Church City Code limiting the height of residential buildings on substandard lots. See the attached decision. http://www.courts.state.va.us/opinions/opnscvwp/1090803.pdf.

  29. Suzanne Updike on May 29th, 2010 3:09 pm

    I didn’t realize that Schefer was the one who challenged the City on height restrictions for substandard lots….. The court decision notes he has 12 lots — is Woodland House property made up of 12 substandard lots or are some of his lots on other property?

  30. Alison Miller, Falls Church on May 30th, 2010 6:13 pm

    I contacted Auctions by Hartman and was told that their auction is only for the personal contents of the house, not the house itself.

    The personal representative for the estate is listed in the Arlington County probate court records, available on-line at no charge. I do not recall his name but his address is in Richmond, VA. He would be in charge of the estate, including disposition of the house.

  31. Bob Clarke, Falls Church on June 4th, 2010 7:03 pm

    The contact for the Shefer house auction is Joy Krimowski, a paralegal at Williams Mullen, who can be reached at jkrimowski@williamsmullen.com or 804-783-6565

    The executor is O B Meade, Jr. at 804-285-1510 or wynandra@verizon.net

  32. Bob Clarke, Falls Church on June 24th, 2010 8:02 am

    Sale date for the house is set for July 23rd by sealed bid to executor above

  33. Robert Jones, Falls Church on July 9th, 2010 11:15 pm

    I was able to get some intel on this sale and we need to act very fast or this property will be gone forever and replaced with lots of new development. The executor of the estate is out of Richmond. He has no interest in preserving the property as his commission is based on the sale price. Several developers are submitting bids with the intent to hold and list the property; then when it doesn’t sell, demolish it and build several new homes.

    I have faith in our city government but we need them to pass a city ordinance that this property cant be torn down. I don’t know anyone in city hall but if you do please contact them and lets save this house This property is to valuable to lose. I do know there are several restorers that want the home to preserve it but they cant compete against a KB Homes, Toll Brothers etc…. the only way we can save it is to ensure developers don’t want to mess with the city on this. HELP HELP HELP

  34. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on July 10th, 2010 2:19 pm

    Could the City really pass an ordinance to limit the value the current owners could get from this property? I’d be uncomfortable with that kind of approach.

    I’d love for someone to save this property and restore the house – but I think is should be done at market prices. It just doesn’t seem fair to deny the current owner the right to get full value for the property.

    Now, if there’s a way to update the zoning to beef up the current requirements for redevelopment on the lot (i.e. prevent sub-standard houses from going up) then I’d strongly support that. If the developers are limited to appropriately sized houses it could swing the value proposition – making it more feasible for someone to purchase the property as is and renovate the house.

  35. Liz Tenney, Falls Church on August 1st, 2010 12:32 am

    Any further news on the sale of this beautiful home? I am really hoping somebody does purchase it for renovation and it is “lovingly restored.” I recently saw a picture of it c. 1970 and it looked great. The executor of this estate should advertise it in Preservation Magazine and several other nationwide publications. Heck, even at a few million, it would be a bargain compared to some of the other areas close to major metropolitan cities (NY, LA, Chicago, etc.). Oh if I only had the money…

    (ED: For anyone who missed it, here’s the link to the 1970 photo.)

  36. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on August 1st, 2010 12:22 pm

    Advertising in Preservation Magazine sounds like a great idea. I’m not sure if the executor of the estate could be convinced to do it – but maybe VPIS could work with them to make it happen?

  37. Liz Tenney, Falls Church on January 20th, 2011 6:34 pm

    I drove by today and noticed that they had cleared out almost all vegetation around the property. You can really see the entire house, such as it is, from top to bottom. Just about the only thing standing is the old tree (100 yrs?). Does this mean it’s going up for auction soon? I don’t know why I am so obsessed with this house!

  38. Gordon Theisz, City of Falls Church on January 20th, 2011 10:12 pm

    Liz, it is now owned by a developer. See this link from a recent article in FCT:

  39. Edward bottomley, London` on November 21st, 2011 3:58 pm

    my grandmother’s(who passed away 15 years ago) cousin(who also passed away) is the last owner to live in the property, i would hate to see the property be split into smaller portions, we need to save things that remind the new generation about the past. my father has also been to the property a couple of times, but that was a long time ago

  40. TFC on November 22nd, 2011 5:00 pm

    Anyone know of any news about the property? I think I heard the developer had submitted a proposal but had included use of the little alley as part of the offset.

  41. A. Smythe on November 28th, 2011 2:53 pm

    A foundation has been dug and poured for at least a month.

  42. Joan Merriam, Ingleside, Illinois on March 9th, 2018 8:51 pm

    I was a teacher at the Woodland House from 1976 to about 1979. Anton Schefer’s mother came from England and started a tutorial school for students with learning disabilities. After his mother died, Anton took over.
    I was surprised to hear that he died and very saddened to see the 2010 photo of the house’s poor condition. It broke my heart upon further inquiry that the house was practically demolished. I always hoped that some day I could go back to see it again.

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