Preservation leader girds for battle

January 15, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

Donna Ware, chairman of the Annapolis Historic District Commission, lives, works and thinks the past. But she is not so preoccupied with antique doorknobs and colonial moldings as to be unaware of the politics of her job. In fact, she can be quite adept at the political game.

During her five years on the commission, Ms. Ware has overseen plans for the development of a parking lot and county courthouse and the renovation of Main Street.

Each time she has secured critical design changes, despite public opinion that often swelled against her and the commission.

Now Ms. Ware, 43, a preservationist who works as the Anne Arundel County historic sites planner, is steeling herself for another fight.

She must protect the authority of the all-volunteer Historic District Commission, which must approve all projects in the city's Historic District, against City Council members who would limit the commission's power.

Alderman M. Theresa DeGraff has introduced a bill that would establish new guidelines for the commission, including giving the mayor authority to fire individual members at will.

Ms. Ware said she sees it as an "isolated strike" against the commission.

"That measure makes the commission a political pawn," she said quietly. "I would probably resign over something like that."

But Ms. Ware's friends say that resigning is the last thing she will have to do, judging by her track record.

"She has an uncanny sense of what's politically correct," said Michael Day, a fellow preservationist at the Maryland Historical Trust who has known Ms. Ware since she came on the commission.

"She can take a situation that's politically hot and bring it down and bring people together for discussion," he said. "In that sense, she's a consummate politician."

But Ms. Ware, who loves to explore creaky old buildings, is not the schmoozing sort. She much prefers to be at home with her husband, Al Luckenbach, and their pet squirrel, Burley.

She associates mostly with other preservationists, people who love history as much as she does.

"I don't really know that many people in the community," Ms. Ware said. "When I walk around Annapolis, I'm always looking at the buildings."

Ms. Ware's love of history was fostered at an early age. She and her brother and two sisters spent childhood summers exploring the woods and fields in northwestern Pennsylvania, where their German ancestors settled in the 1840s. Or their father, Clyde Ware, took the family to Williamsburg, Va., Sturbridge Village, Mass., and other historic spots.

When they were at home in Lakewood, the Cleveland suburb where Ms. Ware grew up, they went to plays, concerts and museums in the city.

"I was a classic nerd type," Ms. Ware said.

Soon after she graduated from Emory and Henry College in southwestern Virginia, she found work at a historical society in Roanoke, Va., and from there cultivated expertise as an architectural historian. Since then, she has coordinated studies of old textile mills and tobacco warehouses in Virginia and lobbied to preserve old buildings such as the Earleigh Heights Depot on the B & A Trail. And she has written two books on historic preservation.

Nine years ago, she was conducting a field study at a historic property called Howard's Inheritance when she met Mr. Luckenbach, the Arundel County archaeologist. He was in some ways her opposite, louder, brash at times. Yet Ms. Ware calls him her "kindred spirit." They married in 1990.

Now, they share an office at the Department of Planning and Code Enforcement where Day-Glo-colored baseball caps brighten a work space otherwise crammed with topographic maps, file boxes and photographs of artifacts and dig sites.

The office and their waterfront home in Eastport are refuges from the political battles Ms. Ware fights, Mr. Luckenbach said.

"I get to see the unreserved side of Donna," said Mr. Luckenbach. "She has to keep a lot of things bottled up. She has to maintain her equilibrium and composure when everybody from both sides is screaming at her."

It was the screaming over plans for the reconstruction of Main Street that led to Ms. DeGraff's bills. City officials tried to enact what critics thought was a more modernizing blueprint than the Historic District Commission favored.

The commission got what it wanted, but angered council members in the process.

"The Historic District Commission must consider economic development and the impact on local economies in its decisions," said Ms. DeGraff.

She and Alderman Ellen O. Moyer heap praise on Ms. Ware, but accuse other commission members of promoting their own agendas as Historic District residents.

"There's a new frustration with the current board," Ms. Moyer said. "When you wear different hats, you have to be able to keep them straight. I think Donna Ware is able to do that, but I'm not sure all members are."

Ms. Ware jumps to the defense of her fellow commission members. "These are qualified people, and there was a reason why all of us were selected for this job," she said. "We weren't just put here to make other peoples' lives hell."

The friction created by telling people what they can and cannot ** do to their own property is something that nags at Ms. Ware. But her affinity for the past and its preservation always seems to win out.

"There's all the intrigue and discovery as you delve into the past," she said. "I look at history as a part of living."

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