Publication Date

November 19, 2018

Perspectives Section

Behind the Scenes at the AHA, Features, From the Executive Director

AHA Topic

AHA Initiatives & Projects

Post Type

AHA Announcements, From the Executive Director's Desk


  • United States

Because of Perspectives editor Allison Miller’s popular column Townhouse Notes, readers of this magazine know that the AHA lives in a Washington, DC, townhouse—a double townhouse, to be precise. Lest anyone flash to images drawn from any chronicle of the Georgetown elite—or even the charming façade that heads Allison’s monthly column—rest assured that AHA staff members do not labor in the lap of luxury. The AHA purchased one townhouse at 400 A Street SE in 1956 and combined it with the one next door in 1962; it is unclear who committed the sin of stripping the buildings of all vestiges of their 19th-century origins. The utilitarian result lives on, modified somewhat by additional work two decades ago.

The advantages to our rabbit warren are many. Nobody can accuse the AHA of following fashion; the cubicle craze blew right by us. Nearly all staff have privacy, doors they can close. Well, almost close in some cases. And herein lies one of the many minor irritations that our hardworking staff endures, from aging bathrooms to windows that don’t quite seal to HVAC systems whose flaws leave some staff running fans in the summer and electric heaters in the winter. It’s time to make the workplace more comfortable, more aesthetically appealing, and more efficient.

The advantages to our rabbit warren are many. The cubicle craze blew right by us.

More important, however, are two major deficiencies, one an imperative and the other a desideratum. The AHA headquarters is not accessible to people who use wheelchairs or who can’t climb stairs easily. All AHA members should have access to our headquarters. Our townhouse also lacks enough room to host meetings of our governing Council, program committee, and collaborators on special projects. In the space we now have, convening meetings of the full staff is at best a challenge, because not everyone can fit at our conference table. I’ve never been comfortable with a situation in which some people are at the table and others are on the periphery. As a place for staff and Association members to work, meet, and collaborate, our headquarters needs a more welcoming demeanor.

The AHA Townhouse

The AHA townhouse is getting a new look.

Renovation, however, is complicated on Capitol Hill. Befitting an association of historians, we’re in a historic district. This means that creating an accessible entrance is a challenge, because the façade can’t be changed, other than in the rear of the building, which is not an acceptable solution. Courtesy of our colleagues at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, we found the ideal architects, who are not only imaginative enough to solve that thorny dilemma, but also sensitive to the needs of a membership association committed as much to fiscal and environmental responsibility as workplace imperatives.

Our renovation will entail six main elements:

  • Moving the main entrance, currently accessible only by a steep flight of metal stairs, to the ground floor, accessible by ramp.
  • The creation of a meeting room on that ground floor, with a capacity of 25, including updated technology.
  • The complete renovation of the ground floor to include a kitchen, two bathrooms (shower included), and two offices.
  • Converting the second-floor kitchen to office space, with some modest reconfiguration of space (without moving walls).
  • Cosmetic work (replacing carpets, repainting, repairing all windows and doors, etc.).
  • Installing a solar roof and improving climate-control efficiency through insulation, modernized controls, etc.

And, of course, we will have a bicycle rack.

Renovation will take approximately six months. We will begin in mid-January 2019, relocating our operations temporarily to a co-working facility within two miles of our headquarters. Each member of the AHA staff was offered the choice of working at home, at the relocation site, or some combination of the two. We look forward to learning about new approaches to work, space, and networking that are central aspects of these spaces, but in the end, we are dedicated to our perhaps old-fashioned commitment to the combination of community and privacy that characterizes our time at the townhouse.

Today, the building is not accessible to people who can’t climb stairs. All AHA members should have access to our headquarters.

The AHA Council has approved a budget of $700,000, coming from a combination of savings, investment earnings (yes, we reduced our proportion of assets in equities in January in anticipation of this expenditure), and fundraising. We have already received pledges and donations for more than 10 percent of the total and will be asking first our Council and then the general membership to pitch in. Given the modest cost and the time frame, we have chosen not to hire a fundraising consultant or conduct a glossy capital campaign with goals, thermometers, or festive galas; our members’ resources are better spent on the work itself. We hope that our members, colleagues, and friends will respond to a solicitation that sets out the proposition plainly, clearly, and perhaps even with a bit of historical context.

Donate here to help support our renovation efforts.

James Grossman is executive director of the AHA. He tweets @JimGrossmanAHA.

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