Dear Ian,



The NAR should not exist as it is.  PortAmerica is almost certainly not a corporate body.  It is a thing, a real estate development (unrealized to be sure), and thus should be a geographic added entry.  Because it was never built, it would not exist in any geographic data base.  Had it been built, it might have attained the status of a recognized neighborhood or inhabited place.  There would have been one or more corporate bodies behind the project, doing things like assembling the tract, securing financing, hiring the architects, etc.


In a previous career I worked in architectural and engineering services for real estate developers, and they tend to keep the actual structure of their projects secret for lots of reasons, not all of them sinister.  That is, there almost certainly was a corporate body behind the proposed development, but it was probably one or more limited partnerships or a real estate investment trust.  Its name might be totally different from PortAmerica.  In the set-up phase, a broad title that disguises the intent generally best serves the purpose.  Only when the project is up and running and being managed might there be a management entity with PortAmerica in its name.  Generally, developers create separate legal entities for each project, so that if one collapses like this one, the creditors cannot attach the assets of other projects.  As I wrote in other posts, these relationships can only be reconstructed by a search through foundational legal documents, such as filings with state divisions of corporations, or public registries of deeds and mortgages, since the developer’s private files are off-limits short of a subpoena.  It is work for a lawyer or investigative reporter, not someone whose experience ends with novels or children’s books.  The NAR as composed looks a lot like the work of someone with little or no experience of interpreting administrative documents like the proceedings of Senate hearings.  It is very likely that the relationship is correctly spelled out in the text (meaning don’t trust the title page – read the fine print), because Senate hearings tend to follow the trails of money and ownership and bring the right party into the open.


The fact that one developer failed for whatever reason and another bought the same property and gave it a new name is just another example of the complexity of corporate property transactions that I tried to bring to people’s attention earlier.  It is questionable if there is even an earlier-later relationship, since we don’t consider the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel an earlier form of the Empire State Building, even though they occupy the same piece of ground.


Primary documents of unbuilt designs are common in the archives of developers, manufacturers, designers, engineers and architects, of which we have a good number.  We create many local records for shopping centers, golf courses, real estate subdivisions and the like, and in no case do we treat them as corporate bodies, because the name of the developer or owner is  known as being the creator of the archive.  Private building projects, especially unrealized ones, are unlikely to come to the attention of writers and then catalogers without some touch of scandal or notoriety, unless, perhaps, one collects ephemeral handouts, like one for a health spa that I collected as a postscript, because it will occupy the shell of a dead department store whose construction records we have.


Even as a geographic entry, the name ought to be qualified as “Real estate development” or “Proposed real estate development,” and not just by county, since as noted, it is not a real port, and this type of naming of waterside residential developments is becoming more common as real ports are concentrated as container ports and waterfronts are repurposed.


Yours truly,

Chris Baer

Hagley Museum and Library





Any comments on the NAR below?


I have at my desk several documents about the PortAmerica project. Other than two or three "official" publications of the U.S. Gov't, only one book is retrieved in WorldCat (record also below, only three holdings; it’s in In general there is a wealth of silence about PortAmerica. I wondered if it eventually morphed into the National Harbor, which appears to occupy the same site, but apparently not.  I didn't find much info about PortAmerica elsewhere either.  Here are links to a couple of articles in the Washington Post, which seem to confirm my suspicions, although the National Harbor isn't mentioned.


Nor does anyone appear to have found just cause to create a NAR for the National Harbor (also called National Harborfront).  People might think that a "harbor" is actually a port, and you can indeed dock small craft there, but I doubt that H 405 Establishing Certain Entities in the Name or Subject Authority File would apply, since it isn't "really" a port so much as a suburban residential/commercial development typical of those that surround America’s cities.


My question about the NAR is: should it exist?  PortAmerica doesn't, never has, except in the minds and documents of those working on it.  Perhaps it should be edited to replace the qualifier or something.  One possibility: a 667 note that it isn't to be confused with the National Harbor.




Ian Fairclough

Cataloging and Metadata Services Librarian

George Mason University


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OCLC 778423911

020  9780533164936

24504The Tragedy of Portamerica ǂb And Other Developments from Tysons Corner to Istanbul.

260  ǂb Vantage Pr ǂc 2012.

720  Lewis, James T.


010  n  87846563

040  DGPO ǂb eng ǂc DLC ǂd DLC

1102 PortAmerica (Prince George's County, Md.)

670  U.S. Cong. Senate. Comm. on Environment and Public Works. PortAmerica project oversight, 1987: ǂb t.p. (PortAmerica) p. 2 (Prince Georges County, Md.)