Castle in the News: Moving Beyond the Sensational 2016 Media Blitz Toward Balanced Reporting

Presenting four dozen media links to tree house coverage in the local and national press, and on local blogs, since fall 2015.  The bizarre zoning kerfuffle over a kids play fort was been covered by the Washington Post, in several news stories and a couple of op-ed pieces.  In the broadcast realm, footage of the castle-themed play fort aired on NBC affiliates across the country in early 2016.  TV audiences learned about what Slate Magazine dubbed "DC Tree House-gate" from Chicago to Chattanooga and Madison, from Des Moines to the Bay Area. The story also made the USA Today Network on-line edition. 

We found it interesting to compare and contrast coverage the story generated from the Hill with that from farther afield.  Older neighborhood commentators--CapitolHillCorner blog, Hill Now blog, Hill Rag--mostly cast us as willful law breakers.  Local writers got quotes from the objecting neighbors to use in their lead stories.  They also interviewed Jim Loots, the former ANC 6B0-03 commissioner who advocated for the tree house's destruction on behalf of the neighbors.  What they didn't do was interview us, or any tree house supporters.  By contrast younger journalists reporting for media with a City-wide reach--WaPo, DC'ist, Popville, Metro Bugle, Channel 7 CBS WJLA and ABC WUSA9 TV news teams--spun their coverage in a balanced manner. 

The coverage most supportive of the tree house and its builders was found in two magazines with a national reach - Slate Magazine and Field and Stream.  Their writers presented our family as having been caught in a mess of bureacracy in a city where personal freedoms are incresingly curtailed, with the tree house as "monument to freedom."  In short, the battle of the alley tree house narratives on the best use of 20" of alley air space over mulch was drawn along clear generational and geographical lines. 

We draw your attention to the media links prefaced with an asterix for the most in-depth and accurate reporting.  Dip into these reports to get a feel for how media coverage of the tree house war has tilted away from looking at a spat between neighbors and toward a story about abuse of authority on the part of the DC government. 

NOVEMBER 28, 2020

Family Saves Tree House. WUSA CBS9 follows up on their two eary 2016 stories on the treehouse with this upbeat 1-minute clip on the ending.  The Yee girls give a selfie video tour of the treehouse.  The castle is depicted as it always should have been seen, nothing more than a fun play space for kids sticking out a few inches over mulch, blocking nothing.

NOVEMBER 25, 2020

*The Post's Final Tree House Story. Dana Hedgpeth at the Washington Post covers the treehouse settlement  with her 4th and final piece in a series of articles launched in the late fall of 2015.  She explains that the tree house has won a stay of execution until 2024.  The story generates almost 250 comments.

Capitol Hill treehouse dispute ends: It must come down - The Washington Post

*Tommy and Kelly Show Podcast: Made in DC:  The Tree House Story. Tommy McFly and Kelly Collis, popular local podcast hosts at the Real.Fun.DC radio channel, playfully discuss the result of five years of litigation in the tree house case, determining that "The family won basically".  Their tree house-related banter runs from minute 16 to minute 24 of the podcast.

DECEMBER 27, 2018

*DCist bloggers Return to Archibald Walk after a 3-Year Break.  The first in a three-part series on interesting DC alleys by Dean Madsen, architectural writer for the popular DCist Food, Culture, Art & Events Blog.  Archibald Walk is one of 10 interesting alleys the writer steers visitors to.

DECEMBER 28, 2018

*Dispatch from the Capitol Hill Tree House War 3.5 Years In. Summary of developments by the witty Deane Madsen. He pretty clearly has a soft spot for the tree house, and the dragon-fly watchers who defend the castle.  


JANUARY 16, 2018

*The DC Urban Turf Real Estate Blog Scoops the Story on the Federal Lawsuit.  Blogger Nena Perry-Brown focuses on DDOT's alleged denial of due process to the tree house builders in her write-up.

*The WASHINGTON POST Provides an Update on the Tree House Controversy after a 2-Year Break.  Dana Hedgpeth describes how Bing files suit in Federal court to challenge DDOT's abusive permitting practices. The article generates several hundred comments.

JANUARY 12, 2018

Rebecca Summer, University of Wisconsin at Madison PhD student interviews ANC 6B Commissioner and Deputy Chairman Nick Burger.  Summer was researching her doctoral dissertation entitled "The Urban Alley: A Hidden Landscape of Social Change in Washington DC."  Burger talks about the "fascinating case" of the tree house controversy and the "massive" brouhaha it created on "Archibald Court SE" [sic] on pg. 21 of the interview transcript.

JANUARY 20, 2017

Intellectual Take Out, a Refuge for Rational Discourse.  "Is there a War on Childhood in America?"  Blogger Lillie Thomas asks the question "Is there really a war on childhood?"  She refers to the "war" WaPo columnist Petula Dvorak had written about a year earlier in the context of the Hill tree house controvery, and similar NIMBY struggles.

JANUARY 2, 2017

Popville "The Beautiful Life" Blog, "Well this [Treehouse] is Awesome." 17 Comments. Pictures of a just-built tree house in 16th Street Heights NW which elicit entertaining comments from readers poking fun at the DC anti-tree house movement launched by some of the Archibald Walk neighbors.

AUGUST 30, 2016

LIT's Living on the Hill Blog, "Archibald Walk on Barracks Row Heritage Trail - an Inhabited Alley in DC."  Capitol Hill social blogger "Lit" describes a peaceful walk on Archibald Walk, after the PSC meeting.  She posts several good shots of the host elm in full bloom, in contrast to the pictures and video footage of a starkly bare tree during the winter 2015-2016 media bliz.

JUNE 10, 2016

Arafen Design: Tree House on the Walk Arafen, a popular web site devoted to "Interior Architectural Detail" runs a tree house pictorial display with a picture of the Archibald Walk tree house.

FEBRUARY 25, 2016

Capitol Community News/The Hill Rag. "The Death of Archibald Walk" and "Historic Preservation Fails Archibald Walk." Andrew Lightman, Hill Rag editor, runs two lengthy, highly biased pieces on the DC Historic Preservation regime's "failures" in regard to preserving the historic walkway.  The articles contain many factual inaccuracies because Lightman contacted objecting neighbors, and the ANC 6B-03 commissioner representing them, but not us before writing the articles.  We were unaware that the HR was doing a feature on the tree house before publication. Lightman portrays us as lawbreakers who refused to submit to ANC review of our project before construction.  In fact, no permitting official had instructed us to do this. Lightman also claims that the DIY tree house was built from a kit supplied by a (fictious) company, and describes its platform as being 70 SQF.  The fort's footprint is less than 30 SQF.  Nobody the Hill Rag editor interviews for the articles has ever been inside the tree house.

Lightman omits mention of how Ellen was only granted a public space construction permit after following senior DDOT officials specific instructions to apply for the authorization. He describes the tree house not as a temporary play fort but as a structure in the same category as out-buildings with permanent foundations.  And he presents the tree house as having been built in the property's front yard, when official land plats clearly show that it's located at the rear land boundary of the lot.

FEBRUARY 8, 2016

DC'ist Blog, "Capitol Tree House Builders Plan Rescue."  43 Comments. DC'ist columnist Rachel Sadon writes about the family raising money to rescue the tree house and raise awareness of the dearth of tree house-building rules in DC.

*Scribd On-Line. The Psychas-Yee's Proposed DC Tree House Rules. Our "Rule-Making Petition" to DDOT, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs-Construction and the DC Historic Preservation Office, submitted in January 2016.  The several city agencies the family petitioned ignored the detailed proposed rules (four pages). FEBRUARY 5

*Capitol Hill Blogger, and retired US Dept. of State official, Sig Cohen Considers the Conflict Resolution Angle on the Castle Clash with "Washington's Latest Controversy over a Tree House."  Cohen views conflict from the perspective of a retired diplomat and mediator in the 'hood.  He notes that the Psychas-Yees got every government authorization they were told was needed, yet the neighbors demanded more.

Washington Metro Bugle, "The DC Tree House Controvery."  The Bugle considers the tree house controversy on January 8th, and again on the 9th, in "Morning Rundown #109."…/capitol-hill-treehouse-…/

JANUARY 30, 2016

w/reddit r/Washington DC Redditon Discussion.  A reddit blog discussion about the location of the tree house.  Most comments are pro-tree house.  13 Comments.

Tough Conversations Blog, "Washington's Latest Controversy...Over a Tree House" A look at the tree house conflict by Hill-based community mediator Sig Cohen.

Scoop Nest On-line Tweets, Washington DC. Tree house photograph and statement regarding the PSC Ruling from Washington DC

JANUARY 29, 2016

*DC’Ist Blog:  Poll “Should the City have Let the Tree House Stay Put?” This poll on the popular DC blog pokes fun at tree house fever.  More than 600 of 900 respondents voted that the city government should have left the tree house alone.

Fox 5 DC WTTG. "City Committee Votes Against Home Owners Tree House" by Tisha Lewis. The promised letter from the PSC "notfiying the owners of the next steps" has never come, for reasons unknown.  Lewis posted the article on Facebook.

WJLA ABC7, "DC Tree House has to Come Down."  Probably not, look for updates on this web site as the family stays in court.

Rare News, "DC Committee Just Rules on the Tree Fort That Divided a Neighborhood Because of 20 Inches." Video Clip from ABC.  Rare staff writer Kayleen Tanner highlights community support to move the tree house back 20 inches.  She notes that "even kids fun is regulated by Washington DC."

JANUARY 28, 2016

*The WASHINGTON POST Considers the Public Space Committee's Ruling that the Tree House Cannot Remain in Public Space with "The Tree House that Divided a Capitol Hill Neighborhood has to be Moved." 126 Comments. Dana Hedgpeth describes our initial reaction to the Commitee's ruling: we will inch our fort back to save it.

*The Iconic Magazine for Sport Hunters and Fishermen Considers "The DC Tree House Controversy." Field & Stream editor Bill Heavey wants American kids to get outside more, including by playing in tree houses such as the Psychas-Yee's fort.  He criticizes the DC city government and neighbors for trying to interfere with getting kids outside.

UX Green Bay Press Gazette, "Permit Denied for Controversial Capitol Hill Tree House."  This Wisconsin CBS affiliate reports on the story.

WUSA9 CBS Reports on DDOT's Public Space Committee Ruling with "Permit Denied for Controversial Capitol Hill Treehouse." Cursory report summing up of how the PSC ruled, and what logic the members seem to be following in reaching their decision.

4 NBC Washington. "Permit Denied for Controversial Capitol Hill Tree House" and "Playtime is Over in DC" on Facebook. 55 Comments. Victoria Jones reports on the PSC ruling and posts a quiz on Facebook, asking "Do you think this tree house should come down?"   She writes that the Psychas-Yees told her they had been granted a "temporary 10-day permit" which was not the case.  DDOT "balcony" construction permits always close after a specified timeframe (in this case, 10 days) and don't need to be renewed after work has been completed.

Greater Greater Washington.  "Tear this Tree House Down."  Blogger Brandon Casey writes \of how the PSC denied a request to allow the Capitol Hill Tree house to enroach 20 inches into a public alley.  He doesn't mention that the tree house builders already had a permit for the "enroachment" (small projection into unpaved alley air space).

Scoop Nest On-line, "Permit Denied for Capitol Hill Tree House."  The Daily Mail On-line newswire reports on the PSC ruling.

Juice On-line, Des Moines News Wire.  "No Permit for Capitol Hill Tree House."  Reporting on the tree house from the heartland, picked up from the NBC wire.

Capitol Hill Corner Blogger Larry Janezich, "City Says No to Tree House on Archibald Walk."  7 Comments.  Blogger Larry Janezich's third, and final, post on the tree house.  The PSC did not in fact say "no" to the fort itself.  Members voted to overrule the 20" public space construction permit DDOT issued to the Psychas-Yees although the Committee lacks the authority to review, let alone revoke, closed permits.  

Janezich does not address the issue of unlawful ANC and PSC review of a closed public space permit the city agency has not lawfully revoked, the basis for the family's legal appeals.  He describes the permit as temporary (DDOT's spin to the media).

7 ABC WJLA.  "DC Tree House to Come Down."  Innacurate reporting from Channel 7 on the PSC decision. The Psychas-Yees give statements to other media outlets that day stating that they will move the tree house back to save it.

JANUARY 21, 2016

The Play Atlanta Blog: Our Children Deserve a Child-Friendly City.  Blogger Cynthia Gentry's post on the Capitol Hill Tree house controversy from the perspective of a child-friendly urban planning advocate in the state of Georgia.

JANUARY 19, 2016

*SLATE MAGAZINE Describes how "Children's Tree House in DC Tests America's Committment to Liberty."  The story makes national news.  Slate reporter Nora Caplan-Becker calls the tree house as a "monument to freedom."  She terms the backlash in the media against the PSC ruling as "DC Treehousegate."  She concludes by calling a "vote for tree houses is a vote for quality of life."

*Popville Blog, "The Infamous Capitol Hill Tree House."  70 Comments. Several good photographs and mostly pro-tree house comments on the popular decade-old blog of the "Prince of Petworth," Dan Silverman, something of an urban tree house enthusiast.  The pictures generate mostly pro-tree house comments, probably from a younger and more child-minded group of readers than those who responded to Capitol Hill-based reports (CapitolCorner blog, the Hill Now blog, Capitol Community News/the Hill Rag).

Silverman followed up his first piece with an update a few days later.

Capitol Community News, "The Tree House Backlash Continues.  Neighbors Battle over Alley Structure at the ANC 6B Meeting" Christine Rushton reports on the first of two January ANC 6B meetings.  She reports that the commissioners voted to recommend that DDOT withdraw the 20" balcony projection permit issued to the Psychas-Yees six weeks earlier.  Her take on the ANC's role is inaccurate.  The ANC vote simply noted that the type of permit DDOT issued to the family was should not cover alley space.  See the ANC letter to the PSC under the "Castle Paper Trail" header.

Washington Post, "The Real Way Building a Treehouse is Part of the War on Children" by Tom Toles.  Short-op ed in response to Petula Dvorak's piece the day before.  The award-winning editorial cartoonist Toles gets it wrong: the parents did not in fact willfully "flout" zoning laws.  On the contrary, they applied for, and were issued, a valid construction permit authorizing the tree house.  Toles has never contacted the family.

JANUARY 18, 2016

*The WASHINGTON POST Columnist Petula Dvorak Ruminates on "A War on a Tree House --and Childhood Itself." 368 Comments. Petula's 9-year-old reports that the tree house is "so cool."  Did Dvorak's motivate DDOT's leadership to think twice about generating more bad press for the City government?  

DC Reddit r/washington dc Capitol Hill Tree House, Message Board. 108 comments, mostly along the lines of "The kids will outgrow the tree house in a few years, the neighbors and DDOT should just leave the thing alone."

JANUARY 15, 2016

*The WASHINGTON POST First Considers the Tree House Controversy with "This Tree House Extends 20 Inches into an Alley and It's Dividing a Community." Remarkably, this article by Metro Section reporter Dana Hedgpeth generates 650 on-line comments.  Marcou tells her that the tree house builders should have "got a permit and gone through a process."  Which permit?  Which process?  DC tree houses with footprints of less than 50 SQF do not exist to DC government before they are built, apparently, including those that overhang the "property owner's street box" (the language of the Psychas-Yee's DDOT permit).

Popville "The Beautiful Life" Blog, "Random Reader Rant and/or Revel." Popville readers react to the WaPo article on the tree house war that same day.  Readers comment on the Archibald Walk neighbors' outsized reaction to a kid's fort off a scruffy alley off another alley.  The conventional wisdom from Popville is that the neighbors, ANC6B and the PSC should have left the tree house, and the family, alone.

*DC Urban Moms (DCUM). "Residents Upset over Capitol Hill Tree House."  83 Comments, the most recent posted in September 2017. Thread on the popular "DC Mommy Fight Site."

Fox 5 DC WTTG Takes a Look at "Where the Capitol Hill Tree House Controversy is Heading." and "Neighbors Feuding over Tree House in Capitol Hill."  Fox interviews the spokesman for the neighbors.  The family declines to be interviewed after Fox reporters stake them out aggressively.  The Fox news desk editor apologizes to the family the following day.

JANUARY 14, 2016

The Hill Now Blog, "ANC Sides with Neighbors, Votes to Oppose Tree House on Capitol Hill." Sean Meehan, real estate blogger, runs a biased headline without having contacted the Psychas-Yees. He fails to explain that the ANC merely voted to comment that DDOT issued the wrong type of permit to the tree house builders. The ANC did not oppose the fort itself, or recommend to DDOT that the permit be revoked.

NBC Chicago 5, "DC Neighbors Spare over Castle-Style Tree House." Reporter Carissa Dimargo gives basics and posts half a dozen good pictures of the tree house.  Metropolitcan Chicago tunes into the DC tree house story.

The story also aired the West Coast, on the evening broadcast news for NBC Bay Area.

4 NBC Washington, "DC Neighbors Spar over Castle-Style Tree House." Reporter Mark Segraves interviews a neighbor, who claims that the tree house is in his front yard.  In fact, the neighbor's front door opens onto F Street Terrace.  Indeed, none of the historic facades of the six Archibald Walk houses open to the walkway.  The families decline to be interviewed, wanting privacy in face of the sudden onslaught of press coverage.

JANUARY 13, 2016

Capitol Hill Corner Blog, "ANC6B Votes to Oppose Tree House Extension in Public Space"." 13 Comments Janezich's second and least accurate post.  His take on ANC 6B review of the 20" projection permit is that the commissioners vote to oppose the tree house's extension into public space.  In fact, the ANC leadership successfully steers the Commission to a vote merely indicating that DDOT should not have issued a "balcony" permit to cover the tree house overhang because such permits cannot cover public alley air space. The vote left the door open for DDOT to take the ANC's objection to a balcony permit into account by issuing the family a different type of permit.

*WUSA9 CBS, "Tree House Controversy in a SE DC Community."  The first TV news story on the tree house.  CBS' coverage draws several others local TV camera crews to the alley by the week's end.  The spokeswoman for the objecting neighbors tells Channel 9 that “If it had been built on their property, you know, that’s their business."

The WUSA story was picked up by the LAHU USA Today Network, including in the Lansing Slate Journal and the SCTimes.

JANUARY 11, 2016

Capitol Hill Corner Blogger Larry Janezich Breaks the Story, "Tree Masion has Archibald Walk Residents Up in Arms" 33 Comments. Janezich talks to objecting neighbors, and quotes the ANC 6B commissioner advancing their cause, but does not contact us.  The blogger later accepts our family's invitation to visit the tree house. He then attends public hearings where the structure's future is debated.  Janezich does not note that the platform of the roofless "tree mansion," quoting an objecting neighbor, is less than 30 SQF.  

We were angered that Janezich did not give us the opportunity to present opposing views to those expressed in this piece scooping the story.  For example, his article doesn't provide background as to the inappropriateness of the ANC 6B becoming involved in the tree house matter given that we held a closed construction permit before their zoning committee came at us.  Neither does the local blogger mention that only one neighbor had complained to the City about the tree house before DDOT evicted an alley forest (with large planters standing mid alley) dating to the 1990s.  After the forest went, a dozen alley neighbors, blaming us for the loss of the forest, signed a petition to get the tree house torn down.