Woman's Club Party House: A Tax Shelter? 

Correction: In the print edition, the photograph that ran with the story was not the Bolling Haxall House, which is located at 211 E. Franklin St. Style regrets the error.

The city assessor's office is investigating whether the foundation that owns the Bolling Haxall House, a historic building on Franklin Street and home to the Woman's Club, should start paying property taxes.

City Assessor James Hester says he questions whether the foundation has the right to be exempt from the local taxes. “Even if they're entitled to an exemption,” he says, “they have to show us that they're not using it for other income purposes.”

His office plans to ask the City Attorney's Office for an opinion on the matter.

The house, an Italianate mansion built in 1858 and purchased by the club in 1900, is a certified Virginia Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was transferred to the Bolling Haxall Foundation after the group became incorporated in 1989.

Property owned by the foundation is exempted specifically from local taxation in state law so long as it is “used by it exclusively for cultural and historical purposes on a nonprofit basis.” At issue, Hester says, is that the Woman's Club, which rents the property from the foundation for $1 a year, often rents it out for private events, such as wedding receptions.

A rate card on the club's Web site indicates that on weekends, use of the parlors, auditorium, ballroom, kitchen and board room runs $3,500 for 10 hours. There's no charge to use the piano but there is a $120 tuning fee. For the club's fiscal year that ended in April, rentals netted $158,066. It brought in $93,250 and $124,502 during the two preceding years.

The building is assessed at $2.36 million and could be generating $28,429 this year in property taxes.

Courtney Hyers, a Woman's Club trustee, is “very, very comfortable that [the building] is tax exempt,” she says. “The Bolling Haxall House is tax exempt because the Bolling Haxall Foundation is a tax-exempt entity.”

The club, founded in 1894, does charitable civic work and provides educational courses and lectures for its members, in addition to offering yoga classes. Throughout its history, the club has also served as host to such speakers as Amelia Earhart, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Ralph Nader and David Brooks.

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