Eight months after Novant Health-UVA Health said it would put Annaburg Manor up for sale, City of Manassas officials delivered some surprising and welcome news for those hoping to preserve the stately, 126-year-old home for public use.
City officials announced Friday, Oct. 19 an agreement to buy the manor and its 3.6 acres along Maple Street and Portner Avenue to create the city’s 16thpublic park.
The Prince William Hospital Corporation, part of Novant Health, has agreed to sell Annaburg Manor to the City of Manassas for $846,000. The price reflects the current tax assessment of the property, according to Manassas Town Councilman Ian Lovejoy.
The sale will not affect the adjacent Caton Merchant House, an assisted-living facility behind Annaburg Manor, which is also owned by Novant Health, said Lovejoy, who serves on the Caton Merchant House Board of Directors.
The city will use some of the $8 million it has already collected from selling city-owned land being developed as “The Landing at Cannon Branch.” The mix of townhomes, restaurants and commercial space is coming to fruition near Va. 28 and Va. 234.
The city expects to eventually make $20 million from the sale of the entire 40 acres slated to be used for the project, Lovejoy said.
Future use of the manor home TBD
It’s not yet clear what will become of the white-columned manor house. Built in 1892 as a summer home for Alexandria brewer Robert Portner, his wife Anna, and their 11 surviving children, Annaburg Manor is perhaps most famous for being the first private residence in the U.S. to have air-conditioning. The system was adapted from Portner’s own invention, which he originally developed to refrigerate his Tivoli-brand lager beer.
Named for Portner’s wife, Anna, Annaburg was once the center of the 2,000-acre Liberia Plantation and included a deer park, fountains, a greenhouse and a swimming pool.
The hospital acquired the home in the 1960s and used it as part of its nursing and rehabilitation center until 2006. Since then, it’s been boarded up and unused.
According to a recent city study of the home, it would cost $2 to $3 million to restore it, Lovejoy said.
The city is looking for a willing nonprofit to take that on the project, if such a group can be found. As part of the deal, the Prince William Hospital Corporation is offering a $75,000 “challenge donation” to a nonprofit that can raise enough to match the grant and more to “preserve, renovate, repair and maintain Annaburg Manor,” according to the city’s news release.
Right now, Lovejoy said, the city’s move to purchase the property is less about the home and more about preserving the land for park space.
The property could have been gobbled up by new development, which Novant Health-UVA Health could have pursued by right. The area is zoned residential and could have become four new residential lots.
But city council members would also like to see the home eventually used to the benefit the community, Lovejoy said.
“I would love to see a nonprofit approach the city to use the house as maybe a museum site or an additional cultural attraction,” Lovejoy said.
Wolfe: ‘Broad support’ among councilmembers
The council had been discussing Annaburg’s fate in closed session for months, according to both Lovejoy and Councilman Mark Wolfe (D).
The city made the announcement about the sale agreement Friday, Oct. 19 because the Prince William Hospital Board of Trustees met Thursday, Oct. 18, and agreed to the parameters of the deal, Wolfe said.
The city council will eventually hold a public vote on Annaburg Manor. Wolfe said there is “broad support” among councilmembers to purchase the property.
The city and Novant have entered into a 60-day review period, during which city staff will assess the condition of the house to ensure it’s not in worse shape than they expect. If it is, the city could renegotiate the sale price, Wolfe said.
Wolfe said he, too, is grateful for Novant’s willingness to find a community-based solution for Annaburg Manor. For Novant, the agreement delivers some revenue for the property while eliminating a “sore spot” over whether the health system was taking sufficient care of the historic home, Wolfe said.
“To me, at the end of the day, I couldn’t envision a situation where we would have allowed the house to be demolished and the green space to be lost,” Wolfe said. “That wasn’t acceptable to me.”
Indeed, Steve Hersch, head of the nonprofit Manassas Landmarks, was among those who had been critical of the health system’s maintenance of Annaburg. Back in February, Hersch and others said Novant seemed to be pursuing a strategy of “demolition by neglect” of the manor house.
The City of Manassas Architectural Review Board voted late last year to recommend the city create a new historic district around the Annaburg property to offer a modicum of protection for the home.
Hersch said he was surprised by the sale agreement and called it “a great deal” for the city.
“I think it’s just wonderful because a year ago people were worried the darn thing wasn’t going to be standing,” Hersch said.
In a news city release, Steve Danziger, chairman of the Prince William Hospital Board of Trustees, said the sale is the result of the health system’s desire to respond to the community’s concerns about Annaburg.
"We listened to community sentiment that this beautiful and significant property not be used for a future healthcare facility,” Danziger said in the release. “We are pleased to join the city's efforts to restore this property as parkland for community use through a contribution of $75,000 for restoration and maintenance of the space."
Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org