Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Manager: Say No to Rouse Historic Designation — “With much of the physical infrastructure on the site now a pile of rubble, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz wants County Board members to throw in the towel on designating parts of the Rouse estate parcel as a local historic district… While recommending that the County Board reject the historic designation, Schwartz also proposes that staff be directed to come back by October with a report on potential ways the site could be incorporated into Arlington’s historic-preservation and/or affordable-housing efforts.” [Sun Gazette]

Police Looking for Missing ManUpdated at 8:45 a.m. —  The Fairfax County Police helicopter assisted with the search for a missing Arlington man Sunday afternoon. Early his morning, ACPD announced: “[The missing man] has been safely located. Thank you to everyone who assisted by sharing this information.” [Twitter, NBC 4]

DCA Noise Meeting Tonight — “An online public meeting on April 5 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. will discuss aircraft noise north of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The Aircraft Noise Mitigation Study meeting, to be hosted by Montgomery County (Md.) Council member Andrew Friedson and Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey, is a follow-up of a meeting held last year by those localities.” [Sun Gazette]

Amazon Cites Va. As Example for Voting Rights — “UPDATE: @Amazon says it opposes state efforts to limit voting rights, urges states to follow Virginia’s lead and make it easier to vote.” [Twitter]

Wakefield Makes Football Playoffs — “For the second straight season and third time in four campaigns, the Wakefield Warriors have qualified for the football region playoffs. Wakefield (4-1, 3-1) clinched a 6D North Region Tournament berth with a 13-0 home victory over the Falls Church Jaguars on April 1 in National District action. It was the team’s final regular-season contest in this condensed high-school schedule.” [Sun Gazette]

Reminder: Water Switch in Effect Today — “It’s… that time of year again: the time when your tap water starts to smell a bit like a swimming pool… On Monday, April 5 the disinfectant used in Arlington County’s drinking water will be temporarily switched from chloramine to chlorine.” [ARLnow]

Nearby: New Store Coming to Bailey’s Xroads — “Five Below is moving into the former Pier One space at the Bailey’s Crossroads Shopping Center. Pier One closed in early 2020. Five Below specializes in items for teens and tweens mostly priced at $5 or less. The stores feature toys, snacks, cosmetics, room décor, sports items, accessories, party supplies, and $5 t-shirts.” [Annandale Blog]

Photo courtesy Christina Schnoor

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Brian Hannigan just lost a battle he’s been fighting for the better part of a decade, and all that’s left now is to hope the end result isn’t too detrimental to his neighborhood.

Hannigan, president of the Dominion Hills Civic Association, has been one of the voices for years telling Arlington County that it should purchase the nine-acre Febrey-Lothrop House, at 6407 Wilson Blvd, when it became available.

Formerly home to businessman Randy Rouse before his death in 2017, the property is also known as the Rouse estate. While the house has undergone numerous renovations and expansions over the years, portions of it are believed to date back to before the Civil War.

It’s now being demolished, in anticipation of expected single-family-home development on the site.

The County Board took up the question of whether to designate the property as historic, requiring preservation or, at least, greater archeological efforts and documentation to be performed before development could occur, but the discussion was too little, too late, and a demolition permit for the house was approved administratively before any historic preservation designation could be enacted.

Though disappointed, Hannigan says he’s at least hopeful that the site won’t be up-zoned for denser development.

“I think it’s a done deal,” said Hannigan. “We received assurances from the trustee, the owner, that they have no interest in pursuing a sale that would involve rezoning.”

The potential historic designation is still on the books for discussion at meetings in April, but the house is already partially torn down.

According to the county website, Arlington County Historic Preservation staff were able to access the property prior to demolition. Hearings on the historic designation of a portion of the property are expected to proceed as scheduled at the Planning Commission and County Board, despite the home’s demolition.

It’s unclear what would be targeted for preservation if approved, though some on the County Board previously said possibility of pre-Columbian artifacts on the site, based on records of Native Americans activity in the area, was more compelling than any historical aspects of the house itself.

The designation is scheduled to be discussed at a Planning Commission meeting on Monday, April 5, and at the County Board on Saturday, April 17.

“I’m disappointed Arlington County didn’t step up,” Hannigan said. “Personally, been advocating for the county to target this land and acquire it for years, but those pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Two years ago county did put the site on the Parks Master Plan as generational and unique opportunity for acquisition. The language they used was appropriate, that if it goes on the market it’s gone forever. Well, that’s what happened.”

Hannigan said he hoped the land would be acquired by the county and preserved as open space, but now those hopes have shifted warily towards advocating against any potential rezoning.

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To the anguish of preservationists, the Febrey-Lothrop House — also known as the Rouse estate — is in the process of being torn down as of Wednesday morning.

A crew is using heavy equipment to demolish the aging mansion at 6407 Wilson Blvd, the origins of which are historic in nature, according to those that have waged a campaign to save it following the death of its long-time owner.

Built prior to the Civil War war, the original house on the estate was largely replaced by a new building in the early 20th century, though some parts of the original structure may remain. Aside from age, those arguing for the building’s preservation also point to the estate’s role in hosting Civil War encampments and some of its notable past residents: business magnate and aviator Howard Hughes, actress Audrey Meadows, and sportsman Randy Rouse, who passed away in 2017.

Rouse’s trust reportedly plans to develop the 9 acre Dominion Hills property, near Seven Corners, as a collection of single-family homes.

The demolition comes after the Arlington County Board scheduled a hearing in April — following a unanimous Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board vote — to consider a historic designation for the property that could prevent such demolition, if approved.

County officials said recently they were still planning to move forward with the hearing, but they were unable legally to prevent the owners from demolishing the home and other structures on the property in the meantime. A demolition permit was issued earlier this month; some initial prep work was performed in January.

In a statement to the County Board this weekend, a local preservationist who was leading the charge to save the estate called it a “sacred site,” citing the probability that it was originally built by enslaved labor. The statement also said its demolition would be “equivalent” to destroying crematoriums at a notorious Nazi concentration camp.

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Morning Notes

County Still Prepping for Preservation Hearing — “Even though the razing of the Rouse estate may be at hand, the Arlington County government’s historic-preservation staff is taking the steps necessary if public hearings on preservation of the site go forward in April… But nearly all parties now expect that the buildings on the 9-acre site will be razed before those hearings occur.” [Sun Gazette]

Preservationist Compares Estate to Auschwitz — Tom Dickinson, who’s leading the charge to save the Rouse estate, directed the following statement to the County Board over the weekend, referencing the likelihood that enslaved people built part of the estate: “If you, the board, do not intervene to stop this destruction of this sacred site, your individual and collective legacy will be stained forever by a lack of honor and respect for those who labored and suffered to create these structures at this site, and the desecration of them… It would be the equivalent of allowing the destruction of the crematory ovens at Auschwitz.” [Sun Gazette]

Northam Further Easing COVID Restrictions — “Governor Northam has further amended Executive Order 72 to modify public health restrictions in place to prevent transmission of COVID-19. These changes come as Virginia’s vaccination rate is steady and case counts are fluctuating. Effective April 1, limits on social gatherings will increase from 10 to 50 for indoor gatherings, and from 25 to 100 for outdoor gatherings.” [Arlington County]

NAACP Head Receives FBI Community Award — “FBI Washington Field Office (WFO) Assistant Director in Charge (ADIC) Steven M. D’Antuono is pleased to announce Mr. Julius Spain, Sr., as the recipient of the 2020 FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award (DCLA) for WFO. Mr. Spain serves as President of the Arlington Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).” [FBI]

Arlington Free Clinic’s Vaccination Effort — “Officials and community organizations are scrambling to close this racial gap in vaccine access. One such organization is the Arlington Free Clinic, which serves uninsured adults, many of them undocumented immigrants, in Arlington County. The clinic is holding vaccination days twice a week and working with other local social service organizations to develop an alternate pathway for low-income communities of color to get vaccinated.” [WAMU]

Former AP Bureau Chief Dies — “Charles Lewis, a former Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press and The Hearst Newspapers who tirelessly advocated for the release of AP journalist Terry Anderson from kidnappers in Lebanon, died Saturday. He was 80. Lewis, of Arlington, Virginia, died at a hospital from complications from cancer.” [Associated Press]

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(Update 5:15 p.m.) Demolition has begun on the exterior of the old Kann’s Department Store to make way for George Mason University’s Arlington campus expansion.

A University spokesperson confirmed to ARLnow that demolition of the interior began in November and the exterior demolition began this week. It’s expected to be completed in the fall.

Fencing went up in November around the mid-century building that has a long Arlington history.

First opened in 1951 as the suburban branch of a popular D.C. department store, Kann’s Department Store at 3401 Fairfax Drive became a gathering spot for many in Arlington. The department store featured three-floors, an escalator, a restaurant called the “Kannteen,” and monkeys.

Yes, the shoe department had a large glass-windowed monkey display with live monkeys from Brazil.

To this day, Arlingtonians hold fond memories of shopping at the department, as Charlie Clark documented earlier this month for the Falls Church News-Press.

In 1975, GMU acquired the building at Virginia Square.

For many years, it was used to house GMU’s law school (named after the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016) and became known as the “Original Building.” It was thought at the time that it was only law school in the country that had an escalator.

In an alumni remembrance from last year, many former students recounted how this building was where they bought clothes as a kid and earned their law degree as an adult.

In soon-to-be-demolished building’s place and on the same site will go an expansive, new, glass and steel building perhaps emblazoned with a distinctive green “M” at the top.

When demolition of the old building is completed, the university will begin design and construction work on the $250 million expansion. Money for the expansion, spurred by the arrival of Amazon’s HQ2, is coming from a combination of state funds and private donations.

The new building will have about 360,500 square feet of space, and is expected to be LEED Platinum-certified. It will house faculty from Institute for Digital InnovAtion and the university’s new School of Computing.

The expansion will help create “the Rosslyn-Ballston Innovation Corridor, an innovation district that will be the first of its kind in Virginia,” GMU says.

The university is expected to occupy about 60% of the space while private companies may lease other portions of it. GMU is predicting that the expansion will add 3,000-4,000 additional students to the Arlington campus by 2024.

Last month, GMU’s Board of Visitors authorized the university to begin negotiating with Mason Innovation Partners, a consortium made up of developers and investors, as the developer of the expansion project.

Following the demolition, construction is slated to start in the spring of 2022. The building is scheduled to open in the summer of 2025.

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(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Arlington County was in a race against its own bureaucracy to save the Febrey-Lothrop estate from demolition — and it seems the County lost.

The Dominion Hills mansion, owned by sportsman Randy Rouse until he passed away in 2017, had also been home to Howard Hughes and actress Audrey Meadows. Of greater historic interest to County officials was the fact that the estate grounds, which had been a hunting ground and gathering place for pre-Columbian Native American tribes in the area, had been left virtually undisturbed for centuries.

The owners of the estate have been pursuing a demolition permit parallel to an effort from preservationists to try to give the property a local historic designation over the objections of Rouse’s trust. The designation would require additional archeological and preservation work before any development could take place on the property.

The County Board was amenable to the designation, unanimously voting to send the designation back to the Planning Commission on April 5 for approval, before returning to the County Board on April 17.

The house, which has sat on the hill in one form or another since before the Civil War — documentation suggests the original home was largely replaced by a new building in the early 20th century — may not live long enough to see that designation bear fruit.

The last holdup in the demolition permit process was a land disturbing activity (LDA) permit, but County officials confirmed that the demolition permit was issued last Friday after the LDA permit was approved. Previously, County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac told the County Board that the county could be hauled into court if it were to delay approving a properly-submitted demolition permit application.

The same day the permit was approved, a letter from Barrett Consultants P.C. was sent to neighbors informing them of the impending demolition activities.

“This letter is being sent to inform you that the owner of… 6407 Wilson Boulevard intends to perform the demolition of the existing home and/or structures located on the premises of the property,” the letter said. “The demolition and subsequent excavation of the structure will begin in the very near future.”

“In preparation of starting, appropriate tree protection measures will be installed, as well as proper silt fencing to help mitigate erosion and preventative purposes to adjacent properties,” the letter added.

With the permits in hand, there are no impediments under Virginia law preventing the owners from tearing down the house and thus preempting efforts to save it with a historic designation.

As of this writing, on Wednesday afternoon, the house was still standing.

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With the Highlander Motor Inn in its final days, the 57-year-old motel was paid one last visit over the weekend by long-time fans.

About 100 members of the motorcycle club Boozefighters rolled up on Saturday afternoon to pay their respects to the place they’ve stayed and partied at every Memorial Day weekend since 1992 while participating in Rolling Thunder.

The Boozefighters were first founded in 1946 by World War II veterans.

“[The Highlander] let us get away with stuff that other hotels wouldn’t have,” says Jeff Thompson, president of the Falls Church chapter of the Boozefighters. “Wonderful memories. It was important for us to say goodbye.”

In honor of the Boozefighters’ long-time patronage of the Arlington motel, they will be getting the iconic neon sign that has welcomed passersby on Wilson Blvd. The sign will come down next week, owner Billy Bayne confirms, at which point the club will take it to their museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

For decades over Memorial Day weekend, Highlander Motor Inn was the site of hundreds of motorcycles and veterans from around the country, barbequing and reminiscing in the parking lot.

Bayne — who also owns the Crystal City Restaurant gentlemen’s club — says the group rented the motel every year and it was a “big party,” which the hotel was happy to host.

Rolling Thunder ended its annual D.C. rally in 2019, and this year is set to meet at a New Jersey 4-H fairground.

CVS was expected to take possession of the Highlander and begin demolition this month, but that has been delayed. According to Bayne, April 13 is now the new target date for this to happen.

Bayne’s family operated the motel since the early 1960s, before shuttering it earlier this year. Bayne still owns the land the motel sits on.

One of the Highlander’s last acts was as temporary COVID-related housing. In April 2020, Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services rented out the entire motel to provide quarantine and isolation space for low-income individuals living in overcrowded or congregate settings.

Beyond keeping the sign, members of the Boozefighters were allowed to spray paint and ride their bikes inside of the motel, as well as take a few other mementos.

“Only because it’s being torn down,” Jackie Bayne, Billy Bayne’s sister, told ARLnow. She dubbed the raucous sendoff “The Highlander Swan Song.”

Thompson says said he kept a room key, a key chain, and the number off of the door of the room he’s stayed in for the last 20 years.

“I’m very sad to see it go,” he said. “Billy and Jackie were such gracious hosts. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this at any other hotel.”

 

 

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Photos courtesy of Boozefighters Falls Church chapter/Simon Vansteyn

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Morning Notes

Possible Rabies Exposure in EFC — “On Saturday, January 30, a raccoon was reported in the area of the 6900 block Williamsburg Boulevard… in the East Falls Church neighborhood. This animal was showing signs of neurological symptoms and was caught and removed by Animal Control after potentially having contact with a pet. The raccoon tested clinically positive for rabies.” [Arlington County]

Rouse Property Showdown Heads to County Board — “With a unanimous vote, Arlington’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board kicked the controversy over preservation of the Rouse estate on Wilson Boulevard up to the County Board. The action, taken Jan. 27 after the matter was fast-tracked through what ordinarily would have been a much more drawn-out process, puts the advisory body at odds with the owners of the 9-acre property, who want to raze the buildings and sell off the tract.” [InsideNova]

Pike McDonald’s Robbed by Irate Customer — “The suspect was in the drive thru line of a business and became irate over an issue with their order. The suspect then parked their vehicle and entered the business yelling and threatening the victim. She slapped items out of the victim’s hand, then pushed her out of the way and stole an undisclosed amount of cash from the register, threw food items on the floor, and damaged property, then fled in a vehicle prior to police arrival.” [ACPD]

Local Businessman Pleads Guilty to Fraud — “An Arlington businessman pleaded guilty today to making false statements to multiple federal agencies in order to fraudulently obtain multimillion-dollar government contracts, COVID-19 emergency relief loans, and undeserved military service benefits… Robert S. Stewart, Jr., 35, was the owner and president of Federal Government Experts LLC, an Arlington-based company that purported to provide various services to the U.S. government.” [U.S. Dept. of Justice]

Volunteers Working to Widen Mt. Vernon Trail — “Volunteers removed overgrown grass and mud from the trail between Memorial Bridge and TR Island in January widening the trail by more than a foot in some spots. Volunteers also fixed drainage of three areas where winter ice sheets were forming. We have multiple upcoming volunteer events through March to continue widening the trail.” [Friends of the Mt. Vernon Trail]

Super Bowl Safety Reminder — “Super Bowl LV is on Sunday, February 7, 2021, and it’s one of America’s favorite annual celebrations… The Arlington County Police Department is teaming up with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to remind football fans everywhere that Fans Don’t Let Fans Drive Drunk.” [ACPD]

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The former Residence Inn hotel in Pentagon City is being deconstructed.

While the demolition is not as dramatic as that of the Holiday Inn implosion in Rosslyn, it will similarly make a mark on a portion of the county’s skyline.

The demolition is taking place after the hotel, located at the corner of Army Navy Drive and S. Fern Street, was purchased by Amazon for nearly $150 million in September.

The tech giant plans to use the property to expand the second phase of its second headquarters campus. The first HQ2 phase is currently under construction, with an anticipated opening in 2023, while the county approval process for the second phase is expected to start later this year.

A company representative tells ARLnow that demolition of the hotel is scheduled to wrap up this summer. The extra space will be used for extra amenities for Amazon employees and local residents, we’re told.

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The day has arrived: the former Alpine Restaurant is currently being demolished along Lee Highway.

The long-time local restaurant at 4770 Lee Highway is being torn down to make way for The Children’s School, a three-story daycare facility for the kids of Arlington Public Schools employees. The facility will also be home to Integration Station, a program for kids with developmental or other disabilities that intermingles with The Children’s School.

The new building is expected to house more than 200 children and will have both underground parking and a small amount of surface parking.

Alpine Restaurant served Italian cuisine and was in business for 44 years before closing in 2010 upon the owner’s retirement. It was acquired by the owners of the Liberty Tavern Restaurant Group, which ultimately decided against opening a new restaurant there.

Hat tip to Betsy Twigg

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As a large Arlington estate nears a potential demolition, a local historic preservation group is fighting to have the estate’s main house saved.

The Febrey-Lothrop Estate — also known as the Rouse estate — is a 9-acre site at 6407 Wilson Blvd, near Arlington’s western border with Fairfax County. On it sits a more than 100-year-old home that has housed prominent business figures and celebrities over the years.

With a demolition permit application pending, a local nonprofit hopes that the county government can intervene and preserve the building.

“Over the past 150 years, the Febrey-Lothrop Estate has graced the Upton Hill neighborhood of Arlington,” the Arlington Historical Society (AHS) said in a letter recently sent to the County Board. “Despite war, twentieth-century alterations, and major development of the neighborhood, the manor home and grounds remain a proud, historically significant Arlington landmark.”

The original home on the property was built before the Civil War and once hosted a Union encampment and hospital. The property later became residence of Alvin Lothrop, co-founder of Woodward & Lothrop Department Store; Howard Hughes; and most recently businessman Randolph Rouse and his wife, Honeymooners actress Audrey Meadows.

According to an application for a historical district to protect the home from demolition, filed last year against the wishes of the estate of its late owner, the original home was destroyed and replaced by the current colonial revival-style house in 1907. The Arlington Historical Society, however, says portions of the original home and subsequent additions are likely still part of the building.

“Given the historical significance of the Febrey-Lothrop House, the Arlington Historical Society believes the property must be saved for future generations,” AHS said in the letter. “With requests for demolition permits already in the pipeline, AHS feels an urgent need to prevent harm coming to the Estate.”

The organization requested that the County Board and County Manager issue cease and desist orders, preempting the proposed demolition. AHS also requested that the county’s Historic Affairs and Landmarks Review Board quickly recommend approval an application for Local Historic District designation and forward the designation to the County Board for approval.

The county has already listed the site for potential conversion into a public park in the Parks Master Plan (page 162), though so far it remains owned by Rouse’s estate. The historic district application notes that the property “is extremely attractive to developers for townhouse, condo, single family home, and retail commercial establishments,” due to its large size.

“Over the past 15 years, Arlington has lost many historically and architecturally important buildings to the wrecking ball,” AHS wrote in its letter to the County Board. “Let’s not let another gem go unprotected.”

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