Then and Now: Rosslyn Circle

by Katie Pyzyk May 22, 2012 at 1:15 pm 7,235 56 Comments


The picture on the left is the area formerly known as Rosslyn Circle, taken around 1925. Records indicate the businesses shown were on Agnew Avenue, which is now Lynn Street. They stood at the base of the newly finished Key Bridge, which replaced the Aqueduct Bridge in 1923.

Rosslyn, and this section in particular, used to be considered a rough area. After the Civil War ended, many soldiers stayed behind. They drove out the farmers who previously owned the land in Rosslyn, and set up saloons, gambling houses and houses of prostitution. Thievery and murder were a regular occurrence, and locals knew not to walk there at night, if at all.

By the early 1900s, fed up residents wanted to rejuvenate the area and formed groups such as the “Anti-Saloon League.” They worked to change Rosslyn’s colloquial slogan from “Gateway to Perdition” to “Gateway to Virginia.” It took decades to drive out the unsavory elements.

By the 1950s, big plans were in the works to fully transform Rosslyn Circle and the surrounding area from a slummy, dangerous part of town teeming with pawnbrokers into a business hub sporting high rises. Much of the area was razed, both to accommodate the new buildings, and to make way for the completion of Interstate 66.

By about 1963, nearly all of old Rosslyn was gone, and businesses and industry poured into the area. Adding to the renewal was the promise of a Metro station, which was completed in 1977.

The photo on the right shows what the area near the old Rosslyn Circle looks like today.

Historic photo courtesy Arlington Public Library’s Virginia Room.

  • Enough already

    Now its full of cyclists running red lights all day

    • E

      Yeah, bikers really have no regard for the red light. I am happy when they are making mistakes like that. You are 100% correct Enough Already, please start ticketing these bikers police!

    • D'oh!

      And cars that run red lights all day and fail to yield to crosswalk traffic. And pedestrians that jaywalk. What’s your point?

      • Bob

        What’s your point?

        • Wilbur

          The point is that cars own the road. They pay for it. They work for it. It’s their taxes. Therefore everyone else who doesnt work and doesnt pay taxes should get tickets. If we dont ticket bicyclists, the terrorists win because how else will we promote our oil dependent ecomony?

          Ticket the scaflaws!

    • Bandersnatch

      Just when the last cyclist hate thread was starting to roll off the page… yea!

      Perhaps the cyclists should universally dismount and stroll at the slowest pace possible (think walker standard) in front of the cars taking that right turn. The safest way to proceed, fully 100% legal and any car that encroached on their pedestrian progress could/should be ticketed. That. Would. Be. Awesome. 66 exit would be backed up for milllesssss!

      • Bollardsnatch

        I’m IN!

    • YTK

      i actually saw a cyclist run a red light and get hit by a car — biker was lucky — bike had more damage than biker, BUT the biker DID get a ticket and a summons.

  • HighViewPunk

    It sounds like Rosslyn was pretty vibrant around the turn of the 20th century.

    • Arlington, Northside

      It was, but then it was a dump for the middle to mid-late 20th Century.

  • nunya

    very cool. love those old photos.

    i think id prefer gambling halls and houses of ill repute. i could do without the thievery tho.

    • Kiffee

      “Gateway to Perdition” – awesome!

    • WeiQiang


  • Jesse

    I think “saloons, gambling houses and houses of prostitution” sounds a lot more exciting than what’s there now. It would definitely take the tedium off the 8 hours I have to spend there every workday.

    • fauxnews

      Maybe a new business plan for Artisphere?

      • nunya

        call it the Aunt Annie’s ThundaDome. there’s room for the BoomBoom.

        • Eponymous Coward

          I think some would argue Artisphere is a gambling house, but alas, the County is the only one at the table. And the house is winning.

          If you’re selling it off and turning it into a club, then “Gateway to Perdition” is hands-down the winner for branding.

    • DarkHeart

      If we did bring back a cathouse to Arlington, it would impress on The Leg how important it is to fund NOVA road projects so they could get back and forth from Richmond in relative ease.

      • Mr T

        what do cats and their houses have to do with any of this?

        • WeiQiang

          Keep your cats AND your houses off my lawn!

    • YTK

      Well, judging by what we’ve been hearing on the news lately, all of that is still around. I agree, Rosslyn is a boring tedious blah place.

  • Tim

    When I saw the title, I thought you were referring to the 1970s/1980s Rosslyn Circle idea, though I don’t think it was called that.

    Around that time, the businesses in Rosslyn pushed the county to create a circle of roads enclosing the neighborhood. Nowadays we can see what was actually built of it: 19th Street, N Nash Street, 17th Street, Freedom Park and Kent Street.

    The ramp connecting 17th/Nash streets and Kent Street were built by two groups that didn’t coordinate too well, so it was built at two different levels. Around this time, Arlington was trying to move away from the car-centric idea anyway, so they just dropped the plan. Thus, Freedom Park.

  • drax

    See what paradise we could have had if only those dang developers hadn’t come along with their density and stuff?

    • South of 50

      There have never been bad, crime-ridden, immoral neighborhoods amongst dense high rise developments?

  • John Fontain

    If there is a lesson to be learned from the 1925 photograph, it’s that bringing a trolley to Columbia Pike will surely lead to “saloons, gambling houses and houses of prostitution.” I mean, there was a trolley in Rosslyn back in 1925 when these other ills plagued the area. Correlation, you know.

    • nom de guerre

      Don’t need a trolley to bring those things to Da Pike-they already exist there now.

    • DarkHeart

      That Trolley appears to be filled with Lightning!

  • TJLinBallston

    It sure ain’t perdition now.

  • Plunkitt

    So we have gone from, ” saloons, gambling houses and houses of prostitution” to beltway bandits and saloons.

    Gott’a love progress !!

    • nom de guerre

      beltway bandits = highway helpers

    • Toots

      …and public fappers and testicle festivals. (the festival for the rest-a-y’all)

  • South Side Chris

    About 8 years ago, WETA made a documentary called Arlington: Heroes, History & Hamburgers. It was full of good stuff like this. Haven’t seen it for sale on DVD but would would buy a copy if somebody knew where to get one.

    • Dan

      When they aired the program you could get a copy for a donation …..have you tried contacting WETA ??

    • drax

      It’s now called “Arlington: Pizza, Frozen Yogurt and Hamburgers.”

    • ballstoncmyk

      looks like the ARL library has several copies. definitely will have to check it out. thanks for the tip, Chris!

  • Rickshaw-A-Go-Go

    Sounds a like like the Columbia Pike of now, just substitute Undocumented Full Time Residents for Confederate Soldiers.

  • novasteve

    There are still a couple historical buildings that can be torn down. I won’t rest until Arlington House becomes a Froyo place!

  • G::TheNativeArlingtonian

    My dad, who moved to the county as child in 1939, says that when the family first arrived in Arlington they came across Key Bridge into Rosslyn. Upon seeing Rosslyn he and his brothers and sisters started crying because they thought it was such a terrible looking place compared to where they came from (West Orange, NJ. At the time a very affluent area).

    Not only was Rosslyn home to all these dens of ill repute, but also for oil tank farms, a brewery (where the Marriott sits now) and a lumber yard. Supposedly there is a tunnel buried under Rosslyn somewhere that was a home to booze runners, gamblers etc.

    • novasteve

      Your dad missed by only 17 or so years that Aqueduct bridge that key bridge replaced. Where was the canal that fed it from the virginia side?

    • malaka

      It’s still there – it’s called Donaldson Run.

      • WeiQiang


      • Poutana

        Yasou agape mou

      • G::TheNativeArlingtonian

        Negative. Donaldson Run is about two or so miles upstream, above Potomac Overlook Park, off Military Road. The canal that intersected with the Aqueduct Bridge was the Alexandria Canal that ran all the way from the city of Alexandria, emptying in the Potomac just upstream of Old Town. But you novasteve is right, Key Bridge was built in 1923, and the Old Aqueduct Bridge ceased operation, before it was torn down (except the VA side abutment, and the last part of the bridge on the DC side next to Potomac Boat Club) in 1962.

    • Nic Cage

      Secret Tunnels?! Booze Runners?! Gambling?!

      I just have one question…


      • DarkHeart

        It would surely be better than Arlington Road.

    • BlueSkies

      Bring back the brewery!

  • Hattie McDaniel

    I think the “Anti-Saloon League” must still be active in Rosslyn. That would explain why there are no decent places to get a drink there.

    • novasteve

      I swear ARlington has made me give up on Alcohol. Carrie Nation still operates from the grave. She didn’t even need to attack bars with axes, she just needed to make bars suck, like here in Arlington.

    • wat

      What’s so bad about continental, other than the decor?

      • Justin Russo

        The food.

        • Z

          You shut your mouth. Fried pickles are the best!

  • Justin

    Looks like more interesting businesses were there back then.

  • CourthouseChris

    I miss the old Lightning auto parts store – back then my car got 40 rods to the hogshead and that’s the way I likes it.

  • kelpie

    This has some info on bootlegging and the anti-saloon folks in Arlington in the 20s: http://www.ourredneckpast.blogspot.com/2011/08/ku-klux-klan-and-redneck-mafia-in.html

  • Alex

    I like the NOW much better!

  • YTK

    Turn the Artisphere into a Roller Rink. Hold Roller Derbies there too. Serve REAL food and beer.


Subscribe to our mailing list