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The Strange History of Freedom Park

by ARLnow.com June 8, 2011 at 3:57 pm 10,511 32 Comments

Greater Greater Washington ran an interesting article yesterday comparing Rosslyn’s Freedom Park to a newer, more well-known elevated urban park — New York City’s High Line.

The two are vastly different in terms of use, writer Dan Malouff concluded, but yet are similar in concept. For instance, the High Line was once a freight rail line designed to transport goods to and from the city more efficiently than ground-level rail. Freedom Park, on the other hand, was originally meant to be an elevated highway to help move commuters into the District more efficiently than Wilson Boulevard and N. Lynn Street.

For those who weren’t around in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, the idea of Rosslyn’s “Loop Road Bridge” may seem a bit wacky. N. Lynn Street does get backed up at rush hour, but hardly enough to justify a whimsical, Disney World-esque elevated highway that ran in between skyscrapers and over existing roads, and which did nothing to alleviate traffic on the real bottleneck: the Key Bridge. At the time, however, transportation planners believed that the Loop Road Bridge was “the final piece to a road system that would reduce traffic in the Arlington high-rise district,” as Washington Post reported Charles W. Hall wrote in April 1993.

Nonetheless, after 20 years of planning, construction on the bridge abruptly stopped in 1990 when significant engineering problems were discovered. The county fired its construction contractor and a legal battle ensued. The bridge — unfinished and unfit for vehicle traffic — remained an eyesore until 1994, when the County Board finally voted to turn it into a park with the help of a developer.

Greenery, a fountain and covered dining areas were envisioned for the park. Concerts, events and food vendors were also part of the plan. Only part of the vision has materialized — Freedom Park does have planters and greenery, and is a somewhat popular destination for workers on their lunch breaks, when the weather is nice. But now, in 2011, the park can hardly be considered the vibrant destination that county leaders had hoped.

The fact that the Newseum moved from Rosslyn to D.C. in 2008 did not help matters. The museum made use of the park for some of its artifacts.

“The opportunity to create a park… is a substantial amenity for the community, and it links nicely to the Newseum, which is expected to bring millions of visitors to Arlington,” County Manager Anton Gardner told the Post in March 1994.

So far Artisphere, which opened in the Newseum space last year, has not utilized the park. More photos, after the jump.

  • YTK

    Rosslyn has always had the aura of a ghost town, even during a workday. It’s a disjointed vapid place.

    • OX4

      Say wha? Have you been to Rosslyn?

      • Balls Crossing

        Urbanists think a place is dead if it doesn’t have vendors selling crap on every sidewalk, flash mobs, buskers, etc. They call that “vibrancy.” People walking purposefully to/from work disturbs them.

        • Malthus

          Sub-urbanists think a place is dead if someone builds a cul-de-sac just like theirs off the same collector road – then they leave, chop down another forest and build a new house on a cul-de-sac 10 miles further out … and repeat from sea to shining sea.

        • RK

          This made me LOL.

        • urbanist

          I had to work in Rosslyn for a few months. It was soul-stifling. God help me if I had to live there too. And it’s an urban area.

    • NOVApologist

      I’ve worked in Rosslyn for 15 years. It is not the entirely soulless office canyon it once was (at least not during the day). The huge new Deloitte / Corporate Board building has brought an influx of young professionals to dilute the traditional federal employee / government contractor population (not that there is anything wrong with government contractors or federal employees). There are food trucks and ACLU and Greenpeace solicitors. The Starbucks has a line out the door each morning and the panhandler population has increased dramatically. Is it as “vibrant” as downtown DC? No. But it has come a long way just in the past few years.

      • Craigie

        Don’t want to rain on your parade, but the type of work Deloitte does, at least in the DC area is called “government contractor.” Nothing new to see here . . .

    • Terry

      Uhm, really? Have you ever been there during the day? I had friends in town yesterday who said it reminded them of a cleaner Manhattan – obviously that’s a bit (okay, a big) of an overstatement on their part but still, it’s a pretty bustling place during the day.

  • dino

    Open Air Dremos!

    • b0rk

      Bring it back!

  • JamesE

    9th street between ballston and va square should be converted to a park (with Dremos in the middle)

  • Wildhair

    As a Rosslyn resident, I can sadly say that this sad, hidden, little park shouldn’t be compared in any way to the High Line in NYC.

    I walked the High Line over Memorial Day weekend, and it’s a gem in formerly run down part of the city. Well built, well used, and it creates a wonderful way to stroll undisturbed for (soon) 18 blocks above the conjestion of NYC.

    Much like the road it’s built on, Freedom Park goes nowhere and serves no purpose, just like the Artisphere next door.

    More poor planning from our County “experts.”

  • Hattie McDaniel

    Rosslyn needs some nightclubs.

    • Southeast Jerome

      Nobody lives there so that’d prob never happen. The only people that live in Rosslyn are the elite that wouldnt venture out of their Ivory Towers (think Turnberry Tower and the Waterview)

      • JS

        I live in rosslyn; statement false. turnberry and waterview might be the most prominent complexes there, but they are by no means representative of the population that does live there.

      • Vinh An Nguyen

        12,000 people live there with a median age of 30. Surely some would like to go get there groove on.

        • Wildhair

          Damn straight. The Continental is OK (when the drunk 20-something gamers aren’t swarming the place), but a little diversity would be nice.

          • Toneman31

            If “Here” inside the Artisphere were ever open, that would help. Same for Domaso in the Palomar. A good sports bar right by the Metro could make a killing.

  • Stu Pendus

    Hideous tube guardrails everywhere. How inviting.

    • Foolish Consistency

      But once you sit down and have a good chat with a hideous tube guard rail and get to know them, they are really quite nice !!

  • RPSB

    Just so it’s clear, this is a private park — owned and operated by Monday Properties. And they close the dang thing so early you’d never be able to use it after work. They say “dusk,” but it’s usually more like 6.

    • Stu Pendus

      I guess that explains the ugly security gate. Freedom Park, indeed.

  • Curious462

    Rosslyn has a metro stop and is walking distance to Georgetown, Arlington Cemetery and so many tourist sites. Even Freedom Park has some nice views of the DC skyline. So I always wonder why Rosslyn isn’t a bigger tourist hub with more restaurants, cafes, nightlife and shopping. Seems weird to waste this prime location on office space and lunch spots.

    • (another) Greg

      Rosslyn was a tourist hub once upon a time. …but that was back when it was a haven for prostitution and booze.

      • ArlForester

        You mean the good ole days, yes? 😉

  • Lacey Forest

    The GGW article states that what is now Freedom Park “…was turned over to private land owner Monday Properties, and converted to operate as a plaza.” Does this mean it was deeded to Monday Properties and they own it, or does the county retain ownership and Monday Properties just has some sort of lease or operating agreement? It would be nice if the county still owned it — more could possibly be done with it given the right imagination.

  • ArlForester

    So if the Artisphere doesn’t use it like the Newseum did that would just be another failure of the Artisphere. I gotta say, if nothing else, that place is consistent.

  • Terry

    If the Arlington Board wants to see more people using Freedom Park maybe they should try adding some tables/chairs and perhaps a water slide. I walk through it sometimes and, while it’s pretty, there’s really nothing to do. Also, they lock it up at like 6pm. My friend and I got locked in a couple of weeks ago and had to climb over a fence to get out…

  • karzai

    Freedom Park has degenerated into a useless nowhere. At one time, when the Newseum was there, it had a beautiful memorial to slain journalists, it had symbols of freedom, and even briefly a small food stand. They took all that away when they moved downtown to the big Newseum. Now, nothing. It defies logic why the County and Artisphere can’t get together and figure out a compelling use for the Freedom Park outdoor space.

    We left Rosslyn for Clarendon six years ago and thank ourselves every day for that. Rosslyn simply has not emerged; very few restaurants have located there, and the new tall buildings going up will not likely produce that much afterwork foot traffic.
    But, there is always hope….

  • KArlington

    This is what a great urban space looks like:
    http://www.fastcodesign.com/1664032/the-second-phase-of-nycs-high-line-is-even-better-than-the-first-slideshow#18

    Rosslyn has a looooong way to go.

  • X-Westfield-er

    Freedom Park is owned by Monday Properties. Before Monday took over it was owned for 20+ odd years by Westfield Realty Inc who built 1101, 1100 & 1000 Wilson blvd, the three buildings that freedom park spans. It’s goes no where because it is simply part of a low roof between 1000 & 1100 that they extended over to 1101 when Freedom Forum moved in and built the Newseum, which has since moved to DC. When the Newseum moved the JOURNALISTS MEMORIAL out in 2008 to take it to it’s new home in DC, it left Freedom park without much to look at, That’s for sure. Why Monday Properties is not capitalizing on the space is anybodies guess. It’s too bad though, because it’s really a very nice place to spend a break, or lunch hour, and I’m sure it would make a nice place to spend after hours or a weekend day in Rosslyn. A bar or deli up there, at least in the warm months, would be very pleasant.

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