Arlington, VA

When future Arlingtonians look back at last year, what are some items that will tell the story?

The Center for Local History at the Arlington Public Library is curating a time capsule of 2020. The project is titled, 2020 Unboxed, and will contain objects representing life in Arlington during the momentous year.

The themes for the collection include:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic
  • Racial justice and civic unrest
  • Arlington County’s naming centennial
  • The 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage
  • The 2020 Census

“The time capsule is a snapshot of today as well as a gift for the future, preserving an account of a particular period in time,” said library director Diane Kresh, in a press release.

The Center for Local History will be reaching out to community organizations and leaders to collect items for the project, but residents are encouraged to donate objects that demonstrate how life in Arlington was affected or altered by the pandemic as well.

Submissions can be made online or mailed to Arlington Public Library (P.O. Box 3655, Arlington, VA 22203). All submissions that are donated will not be returned.

The items will be collected for the next nine months, through September.

The time capsule collection will be exhibited online in October during American Archives Month. After the exhibit period ends the time capsule will be sealed and stored in the Arlington Community Archives for preservation and future research.

The library’s COVID-19 archives website has more information on the project.

Arlington is no stranger to time capsules, though sometimes a time capsule stays stored long enough that most people forget about it.

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Arlington County is in a race against its own bureaucracy to preserve the Febrey-Lothrop House, an estate that has sat in one form or another at 6407 Wilson Blvd since before the Civil War.

The County is rushing through the local historic designation process for the the mid-19th century property. It voted on Tuesday to advertise hearings on the potential historic value of the property in April.

The process is accelerated by the owner’s applications in December and last month for permits to demolish the buildings on the property, and an apparent effort to front-run any historic designation. The 9+ acre estate is owned by a trust established by sportsman Randy Rouse, who passed away in 2017.

The permit is administrative — meaning outside of the need for County Board approval — and was approved. Cynthia Liccese-Torres, coordinator for Arlington County’s historic preservation program, said the demolition permit will be not actually be issued until approval of an associated land disturbing activity permit.

Parallel to this administrative approval, an application filed last year by an Arlington resident to give the estate a local historic designation was reviewed by the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) in November. The HALRB found that the home met eight of 11 criteria for the designation and recommended that the structure of the home and the surrounding property be designated as a local historic district overlay.

The property owners — who seek to demolish the building and sell the property for redevelopment — have repeatedly objected to this designation. Staff noted that despite having been in contact with the owners, they had not been given access to the property to research it, which has hamstrung efforts to make a more thorough report.

Meanwhile, in mid-January, workmen at the house started to demolish the roof until the County issued a stop work order.

“Staff made numerous good faith attempts to access property, [but] staff has still not been able to gain owner’s consent for time and date to view property,” said Richard Woodruff, chair of the Arlington Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board. “These issues taken by owners gave cause to believe that the house is at substantial risk of being damaged or destroyed.”

Woodruff said there is plenty of information on the property — even without an first-hand inspection — that says there is likely historic significance that could be lost if the area is demolished and redeveloped by-right.

“It was an upper middle class 19th century farm owned by prominent families,” Woodruff said. “We know Native Americans hunted on the hill and Civil War soldiers on both sides of war camped there. That land has not been disturbed and may contain artifacts, even pre-Columbian artifacts.”

Additionally, Woodruff noted the main house contains portions of the original 1855 structure, and key figures like Howard Hughes lived and stayed at the home in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“Anyone who has driven by property knows it represents uniquely pastoral image of Arlington,” Woodruff said. “What is there, known and unknown, could be lost forever. We know owners want to sell, but there are no immediate buyers. It would be premature and a complete disaster for these buildings to come down before any of that is known. If you agree this property is worthy of protection for future generations of Arlingtonians, if you believe some or all of it should be protected, then please figure out how to do it and don’t wait until it’s too late.”

Tom Colucci, from the law firm Walsh Colucci Lubeley & Walsh P.C., spoke on behalf of the owners and reiterated earlier objections to the historic classification.

“We request that the Board stop this runaway freight train to nowhere,” Colucci said. “What has happened is this was initiated by one individual who had no economic or other interest in the property and staff took the ball and ran with it. There have been a lot of things rushed with this because the owner has a desire to demolish these structures. These buildings are not in good condition, some are not in safe condition, and there are overriding policy decisions that have not been considered. Does the Board want to put itself in a position where it tries to thwart an otherwise legal act of a property owner by using this process?”

Colucci said the historic overlay would significantly devalue the property and would cause concern among potential buyers. Colucci also noted that the property has an R-6 zoning — single family homes — and the owners are currently only interested in redeveloping it within that zoning.

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Morning Notes

Arts Group Pushing for New Venue — “As part of its recently adopted strategic plan, [Embracing Arlington Arts] plans to use the coming three years to build community support for a performing-arts venue that would include a black-box theater and ancillary classroom and office space. Efforts would also be made to identify a site and start raising funds.” [InsideNova]

APS Changing Student Camera Policy — “In response to challenges teachers are experiencing engaging students with cameras off, we have adapted our policy regarding the use of cameras during instruction time, based on input we have received from teachers, staff, parents, the Distance Learning Task Force, and advisory committee members. We are asking teachers to encourage students to turn on their cameras during synchronous instruction and while directly engaging with peers and staff.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Spotlight on Arlington Man’s Heroism — “A must read about Arlington’s Paris Davis, the former publisher of VA’s Metro Herald. His heroism in 1965, while commanding a Special Forces team in Vietnam, seems worthy of the Medal of Honor. But those who served with him say the Pentagon kept losing the paperwork.” [New York Times, Twitter]

Local Nonprofit’s Work Highlighted — “Mohammad Ahmed, 30, gave up working as an Uber driver in March for fear of infecting his wife, 3-year-old son and two elderly parents who live with him. When he couldn’t pay the rent or electric bill for their two-bedroom apartment in Arlington, a local charity funded mainly by taxpayer dollars stepped in.” [Washington Post]

Metro Reducing Rail Service — “Metro this week began reducing Metrorail service during peak commuting hours because of low usage while saying it will boost Metrobus service as new commuting trends emerge during the coronavirus pandemic. The transit agency referred to the changes as a way to ‘normalize’ rail service.” [Washington Post]

Local Economy Expected to Grow — “Greater Washington’s economy will rebound in 2021 as Covid-19 vaccinations become more common and the weather warms up, according to a new regional economic forecast released Friday. That means 3.5% growth in the gross regional product in 2021, a sharp rebound from the 2.9% drop in 2020. But the region will only see a full recovery in 2022, with 4.1% projected growth in the local economy.” [Washington Business Journal]

Many Office Workers Will Stay Remote — “Working in D.C. will continue to look different for the greater part of this year due to the coronavirus, a new study shows. Employers expect less than a third of their employees to physically be in the office in the first quarter of this year, but by the fall, they expect 75% of their staff to be back, according to a study.” [NBC 4, Washingtonian]

Flickr pool photo by GM and MB

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Morning Notes

Arlington Man Dies in Texas Crash — “Early Sunday morning, police responded to a three-vehicle crash which resulted in a man’s death and an arrest of a 42-year-old woman… The driver involved in the head-on collision with Sanchez, identified as 33-year-old Eyob Demoze of Arlington, Virginia, died at the hospital.” [Fox 29]

TSA Catches Loaded Gun at DCA — “Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers caught an Arlington County, Virginia, man with a 9mm handgun loaded with seven bullets including one in the chamber at a Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport security checkpoint early this morning, Monday, Feb. 8.” [Press Release]

Historic Marker to Mark Fmr. Trolly Stop — “The Arlington Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board has approved placement of a marker to denote the one-time ‘Livingstone Station’ on the Washington & Old Dominion Railway. The marker will be placed at Old Dominion Drive and 24th Street North, which was believed to be the location of the station. 24th Street originally was known as Livingston Ave.” [InsideNova]

Marymount Students Top Nat’l Contest — “Two Marymount University students achieved national recognition for video stories they created to illustrate how the resurgent civil rights activism of 2020 and the ongoing movement for racial equality has personally impacted them.” [Marymount University]

Syphax Descendant Holds History Talks — “His pandemic-era Zoom talks have included exploration of family patriarch William Syphax (circa 1773-1850), who bought his freedom in 1817 and set up a business next to the historic Carlyle House in Alexandria. This Syphax worked with a neighbor, Quaker pharmacist and abolitionist Edward Stabler, to save money to free the rest of his family.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Commuting Hazard This Morning? — From the Capital Weather Gang last night: “We can’t rule out some very light, spotty mixed precip before/around sunrise Tues. Slight chance of slick roads mainly N & W of Beltway.” [Twitter]

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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 Mount Salvation Baptist Church cemetery — which served as the final resting place Black Arlingtonians denied access to white graveyards — could be granted a historic district designation by the Arlington County Board.

As part of the consent agenda at its Jan. 23 meeting, the County Board approved advertisement of public hearings to review the designation of the cemetery at 1961 N. Culpeper Street at the Monday, Feb. 8 Planning Commission meeting and at the Saturday, Feb. 20 County Board meeting.

“There are many community members in this church and I’ve been there to listen and pay respects,” said County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti. “This is historic preservation done well to help us remember our African-American community and history. The final resting places in this burial ground, it’s important for us to recognize this for historic preservation.”

The Mount Salvation Baptist Church congregation has gathered in the Halls Hill/High View Park neighborhood since the first church was constructed on the property in 1892. That church was later demolished with a replacement church build in 1975. The earliest marked burial at the cemetery was a woman named Helen Thompson in 1916, but a staff report on the cemetery said there are likely older, unmarked graves on the plot dating back to the church’s founding. There are a total of 89 confirmed burials at the site.

“There are two other historic African American cemeteries in Arlington County that are designated as local historic districts: most of Lomax African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Cemetery in Green Valley and Calloway United Methodist Cemetery in Hall’s Hill,” a staff report said.

The report noted that Mount Salvation Baptist Church was as much of a social gathering place for Black Arlingtonians in the late 19th century and early 20th century as it was a religious institution.

Both the trustees of the church and Arlington’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board support the designation.

Part of the designation could also open the way to a barrier around the cemetery to limit pedestrian through-traffic.

“Church trustees have expressed a desire to discourage casual pedestrian traffic through the cemetery,” the report said. “The installation of a permanent fence around the cemetery would deter such activity; recommendations for appropriate fencing types are included in the accompanying proposed Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery Local Historic District Design Guidelines.”

Image via Arlington County

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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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Broadcasting legend Larry King died on Saturday, at the age of 87. Though his status as a television celebrity is well established, less well known is where he rose to fame: here in Arlington.

King moved to Arlington from Miami shortly after his Larry King Show picked up national syndication from the Arlington-based Mutual Broadcasting System in 1978.

King’s show was produced in the Mutual Broadcasting studio at the top floor of the office building at 251 18th Street S., next to the Crystal City Metro station. Back then, the building’s street address was known as 1755 South Jefferson Davis Highway, the Crystal City Underground shopping plaza had recently opened, and the neighborhood was only beginning to emerge as a major commercial center.

“Mutual radio moved to Crystal City when no one was there and nothing was there — there were four buildings and the Crystal underground,” recalls Tammy Haddad, King’s radio producer in the early 1980s and later the founding Executive Producer of his CNN show.

It was from that studio that the late-night Larry King Show was broadcast across the country until it went off the air in 1994. Initially, it aired from midnight to 5:30 a.m., though the hours shifted over the years. The radio show featured an extended interview followed by live listener call-ins, and eventually aired on more than 500 radio stations nationwide.

The quirky program was a hit: King’s following grew so quickly — with millions of listeners staying up into the wee hours — that the open call-in portion of the show would crash the circuits of the entire 703 area code, at least according to King.

When Larry King Live launched in primetime on CNN in 1985, King would drive from the CNN studios in D.C. to Crystal City to host the radio show. Famous for his work ethic, King kept that grueling schedule up for years.

While working out of Crystal City, King lived in the Rosslyn area. For a couple of years he lived in The Virginian apartment building, before moving to the nearby Prospect House condo building, famous for its monumental view of D.C. and the Iwo Jima memorial.

King later briefly moved to McLean before decamping for Los Angeles, according to Patrick Piper, who produced King’s radio show after Haddad. (An Associated Press article from 1991 noted that King was arguing to have one of his divorces heard in Arlington “where he lives and works,” instead of Philadelphia where his estranged wife still maintained a residence.)

Stories from King’s radio days abound.

For one, King was cast as himself in the 1984 comedy classic Ghostbusters.

“The people filming the movie Ghostbusters called and asked me to play myself in the movie,” he wrote in his autobiography. “They shot me, cigarette in hand, behind the mike.”

While the setting depicted in the film was definitely the Crystal City studio, Piper wasn’t sure whether it was actually shot in Arlington or on a soundstage. It did look like one of the secondary studios in the office, he said.

Getting to the studio late at night was not easy for the in-studio guests, Haddad remembers.

“The guests used to have to enter the Crystal underground entrance, which was unmarked, it never said Larry King radio show, it never said Mutual radio… and then they’d have to go to the building and [get] let up,” she said. “So you have to really want to be a guest on Larry King to get there.”

Many celebrities arrived via humble Arlington taxis

“We used to send the guests on Red Top Cabs,” Haddad said. “So we pick up Mel Brooks, Danny Kaye, you know, all these guys.”

One regular on-air guest was then-Congressman Al Gore, who lived five minutes away in the Arlington Ridge neighborhood and would drive himself over to the studio late at night.

“Al Gore and Larry had a special relationship,” Haddad said.

Crystal City might not have been as centrally located as downtown D.C., but King wrote that it helped him stay much more plugged in to national news and media than staying in Miami.

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(Updated at 8:40 a.m.) Bad news: the Marceytown treasure is probably a myth.

It’s one of those little local history stories that, according to local historian Kathryn Springston, starts from one fact but gets distorted by years of retelling. The good news, Springston says, is that behind many of the exaggerated local legends are equally fascinating but underreported true stories.

Springston is planning to discuss some of hidden legends of Arlington’s history in an upcoming four-weekend lecture series covering Arlington’s pre-colonial history up through the beginning of the 21st century.

The program is part of the Smithsonian Associates Streaming series and will run every Saturday in February from Feb. 6 to Feb. 27. from 9-11 a.m. The program is $100 for members and $110 for non-members.

Springston has been hosting walking tours in Arlington for 40 years, but said she had always wanted to do a longer, online lecture series.

“I used to do walking tours, which were terrific, but they’re always so short,” Springston said. “I wanted to give people more… When we switched to virtual programs and doing this all online I kept thinking: maybe this would be a good time.”

The chance came when Springston broke her foot last year and she was asked to appear as a guest speaker on tours.

“What we came up with is an abbreviated, short course,” Springston said, “but if it works, I want to make it longer and more in-depth. Even with eight hours, my husband always said I could go nonstop about Arlington history.”

The last class will cover the arrival of the Metro and government contracting jobs in the region, as well as the struggle to desegregate Arlington. It’s an area Springston said is rife with unsung hometown heroes, like Dr. Oscar LeBeau, a local who Springston said fought passionately against segregation for years.

It’s a story Springston says is important to tell, particularly in contrast to efforts to lionize some local figures like Frank Lyon, for whom Lyon Park is named.

“People raise up Frank Lyon as a hero, but if you look at deeds it said no one who was not Caucasian could live or work on his properties,” Springston said.

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Workers are removing roof shingles from the Febrey-Lothrop house in Dominion Hills.

The 114-year-old home, which preservationists have been trying to save against the wishes of the current owners, currently has a demolition permit application pending with the county, after having a sewer cap permit approved.

While the demolition permit has yet to be issued, what might be prep work was underway this afternoon, ahead of expected rain tonight. A worker in a full protective suit and ventilator could be seen removing roof shingles — potentially asbestos shingles.

That has prompted alarm among some of the local preservationists hoping to pressure the county to somehow stop the demolition. An online petition calling for the demolition permit to be denied, despite county officials suggesting that would be illegal if all the paperwork was otherwise in order, is currently up to about 875 signatures.

The home sits on a 9+ acre estate most recently owned by sportsman Randy Rouse, who passed away in 2017. Local activists have been pushing Arlington officials to buy the property, preserve the house, and use the rest of the property for a park or other public uses — something they say is a “generational” opportunity, given the lack of large, open privately-owned parcels in the county.

The county is set to study the property, to determine whether it should be given a historic district designation that would restrict changes, but the owners appear to be moving forward with a demolition project before that could be put into place.

An accountant representing the trust that owns the property did not respond to an earlier request for comment from ARLnow.

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