Professor J. Peter Byrne Installed as John Hampton Baumgartner Chair

April 7, 2016 —

The installation of Georgetown Law Professor J. Peter Byrne as the inaugural John Hampton Baumgartner Jr. Chair in Real Property Law on April 4 not only celebrated Byrne’s distinguished career in land use and historic preservation law but also honored a notable alumnus whose bequest made the chair possible.

As Byrne stated in his address, Baumgartner (L’48) once represented the owners of the historic Willard Hotel, which was planned to be demolished  in a 1960s-era proposal to revitalize Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol. 

The Willard  closed under threat of government condemnation; government policy then shifted to historic preservation, prohibiting demolition of the structure. The owners were awarded  compensation in a 1977 case, Benenson v. United States. The litigation saved the hotel by encouraging congressional appropriations, and it reopened in 1986 as a historic landmark. 

Today, historic preservation law covers 20 percent of the city’s buildings while “the city of tomorrow” continues to evolve, Byrne noted. Contemporary  problems include gentrification, lack of affordable housing and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Land-use policy goals must continue to “emphasize social equity and sustainability while maintaining community and character,” Byrne said. 

Professor Louis Michael Seidman, who spoke at the event along with Dean William M. Treanor, praised Byrne’s commitment and dedication. “This professorship is the first installment on a debt that none of us will ever be able to repay,” Seidman said.

Byrne, who joined the Law Center faculty in 1985, teaches courses in property, land use and historic preservation. A former associate dean for the J.D. program, he currently serves as the faculty director of the Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Program and the Georgetown Climate Center. He is also the current District of Columbia Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation. 

“We may all be grateful to Jack Baumgartner for giving Georgetown a chair in real property law,” Byrne said. “We can hope that this grateful incumbent and future holders of the chair will use scholarship, teaching and service to help foster communities that are beautiful, sustainable and just.” 

A webcast is available here.

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