In 1900, Black people comprised more than a third of Arlington’s population and lived in 12 neighborhoods in the county.
Over the last 100 years, however, the population and the variety of places Black people can afford to live has dwindled, according to a new video from the Alliance for Housing Solutions, a local advocacy organization.
People who identify as Black currently account for 8% of the population, according to Arlington County, and the Alliance video said those who make the median income for Black residents can afford rent in only three census tracts.
The video chronicles the decisions at the local and federal level — combined with gentrification, rising housing prices and a lack of options — that have forced out much of Arlington’s Black residents.
It ends with a message supportive of Arlington’s Missing Middle Housing Study, which is exploring options for allowing more types of small-scale multifamily housing, in more parts of the county, via zoning changes.
“It’s time to ask ourselves if we are ready to dismantle the walls of indifference once and for all and build an Arlington where people of all walks of life are welcome and can afford to live,” the video says.
The video comes a few weeks before the virtual kick-off event for the “Missing Middle” study on Wednesday, Oct. 28.
The housing patterns seen in Arlington today were set in the first half of the 20th century, the video says. Construction rates for suburban single-family homes and garden apartments boomed, but many deeds in Arlington restricted ownership to white people. In 1938, Arlington banned row houses — the primary type of housing for Black residents, and a common feature in Alexandria and Washington, D.C. — which were deemed distasteful.
Some barriers were legal, while others were physical.
In the 1930s, residents of whites-only communities around the Black neighborhood of Hall’s Hill built a 7-foot cinder block wall to separate their communities. In the 1940s, the federal government evicted Black neighborhoods to build the Pentagon and nearby roadways.
Although the Civil Rights Era ushered in school desegregation as well as open and fair housing laws, both federal and local, the video says many parts of Arlington look no different than when they were building during Jim Crow and legal segregation. Historically Black neighborhoods are characterized by aging homes that do not comply with zoning regulations that were put in place after the homes were built.
“In many ways zoning rules that govern Arlington’s low-density residential areas have become more restrictive over time, while only a small part of the county’s land was made available to meet the growing housing needs of the area,” according to the video.
Today, single-family detached homes account for nearly 75% of zoned property in Arlington, according to the Missing Middle Housing Study. The study partially links the shortage of townhomes, duplex, triplex and quadruplex options — called middle in reference to their size, not their price point — to policies with racist origins.
A reversal of some of Arlington’s restrictive zoning policies is a deliberate choice “the County could make to correct the mistakes of the past and pave a new path for Arlington’s future,” the study’s authors wrote. If Arlington chooses to do nothing, “the structural barriers and institutional racism embedded in the County’s land use policy would remain.”
Screen shots via Alliance for Housing Solutions/YouTube
Arlington resident Trudy Ensign turns 100 years old this Sunday, and she is “not ready to give up.”
Ensign, who was born on Oct. 4, 1920 in her family’s farmhouse in southwest Iowa, left her new teaching job there to work in communications for the Army Security Agency during World War II. She has lived in Arlington ever since, most of it in her current home in Ashton Heights.
Just a few days shy of her centennial birthday, some might think she is ready to move into a retirement home or move in with family.
“Somebody may be looking at this real estate,” she said, and stops to laugh. “But I think I’ll keep telling them how the roof leaks and they’ll go someplace else.”
Ensign attributes her longevity to her clean life (she was never a heavy drinker) and her uncomplicated adolescence on an Iowa farm.
Her 100 years could also be attributed to her sense of humor. She says it is “the best thing you can have in life” because she always sees the good in situations and people always treat her well.
She gives a great deal of credit for her position in life to her older siblings, who practically raised her.
“You had a lot more parents than everyone else did,” she said. “You were actually raised by your family.”
One of her older siblings paid for her to go to Simpson College, where she studied to be a teacher. After graduating in May 1941, she moved home and began teaching.
Her career dramatically changed, however, when a Department of Defense recruiter came to town.
“He came into my classroom with a suit on, and so he got my respect, of course,” she said.
He offered for her to work for the Communications Section of the Army Security Agency, processing communications from all over the world.
Ensign knew she did not have a home to go back to after her father remarried, and her older brothers and sisters encouraged her to get out of Iowa and try something new.
“They pushed me out of my nest, and it was good for me,” she said. “At the same time, I knew I had their support.”
She stayed with the agency for the entire World War II effort and for the rest of her career. Her memories of that work are recorded in an oral history at the Arlington Public Library. In 1946, she married William Brown and soon after, they moved to Arlington and bought a house in which to raise their growing family.
“This was a little village at the time,” she said. “There was almost no negative part about it.”
Everyone lived there for the same purpose — government work — and had small weekly salaries.
“You didn’t have to pretend you had money because you know you didn’t and they didn’t either,” she said, laughing.
She and her husband William joined the Clarendon United Methodist Church, where she held numerous leadership positions over the years. After William died of cancer in 1977, she married Allen Ensign, another member of the church and the head usher, in 1984. He died suddenly in October of 2000.
Dealing with the death of a husband is “always tough,” she said, after a long pause.
“[William], he had cancer, you knew his time was limited, but with [Allen], he just came down one morning and was walking through the dining room to the kitchen, and fell and was dead, right like that,” she said. “Those kinds of things are tough when you’re not expecting any problems because no one is ill. The first thing you do is call on your neighbors to help you get through it.”
Those neighbors are her church community. After so many years of volunteering with the church, tracking births, baptisms, weddings and new memberships as secretary and keeping congregants caffeinated during social hours, she considers the parishioners to be her family.
Clarendon Methodist recognized her contributions in 2015 and dubbed her “a faithful servant.”
On the day of her birthday, the church is celebrating with a pandemic parade, cookies for neighbors and friends and a food drive. Her daughter in Florida will come up with her husband and two grown sons, and her daughter living in Alaska will celebrate from afar.
Although she thinks about moving to the Sunshine State, Ensign is not ready to go south just yet. But that does not matter.
“It’ll be sunshine wherever I am,” she said.
Eight months ago — on Jan. 29, 2020 — the employees of ARLnow and our sister sites all gathered to celebrate ARLnow’s 10th anniversary.
Together with friends, family and readers, we all packed into Bronson Bierhall in Ballston to drink, eat and chat. There were no masks to be seen. Social distancing was not yet a thing that was being practiced.
It would prove to be one of the last times those in attendance were able to enjoy such an evening.
Two days before the event, ARLnow published its first reference to the novel coronavirus. Just six days before that, the first coronavirus case in the U.S. was announced.
The following is a timeline of those fateful few weeks between our first mention of the virus and the first confirmed case in Arlington.
- Jan. 27 — Health officials were investigating a possible coronavirus case in Northern Virginia.
- Jan. 29 — Local pharmacies, including Preston’s on Lee Highway, report selling out of surgical masks.
- Jan. 31 — “With the Virginia Health Department investigating a second possible case of coronavirus in Northern Virginia, Arlington County is preparing for the worst-case scenario: a local outbreak.”
- Feb. 4 — Tests on both possible coronavirus cases in Northern Virginia came back negative. There are still no local cases.
- Feb. 13 — “Arlington Public Schools is barring recent visitors to China from schools.”
- Feb. 27 — Another Northern Virginia resident was being tested after contracting coronavirus-like symptoms.
- Feb. 28 — “As the global coronavirus outbreak spreads and the stock market sinks, both Arlington County and Arlington Public Schools are ramping up their public outreach on the disease.”
- March 5 — During an online Q&A, Arlington’s health director urges residents to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly.
- March 5 — Most local stores have been picked clean of face masks, hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol.
- March 6 — Arlington Public Schools says it is “preparing for the possibility of school closures in the future, if necessary.”
- March 9 — “Arlington County and the Virginia Department of Health have announced the county’s first ‘presumptive’ case of coronavirus.”
That first local case was followed two days later by the suspension of the NBA season, widely seen as a turning point in the country’s response to the pandemic, and four days later by the announced closure of Arlington Public Schools.
Amazon Makes Local Donations — Amazon has made a some substantial recent donations to local charitable organizations. Arlington-based Doorways for Women and Families received $100,000 from Amazon “in COVID-19 relief to keep survivors safe in housing and hotels,” while newly-created Project Headphones received $75,000, which “allows us to get headphones with mics for all grade levels in @APSVirginia.” [Twitter, Twitter]
Clement Blasts ‘Missing Middle’ Housing — “‘Missing middle’ may be two words totaling 13 letters, but depending on which side of the Arlington political divide you are on, it may qualify as a single four-letter word. The proposed housing policy, which in theory aims to find ways to stop Arlington from becoming an enclave of the very wealthy with some low-cost housing thrown in as fig leaf, came under withering attack from a veteran campaigner during the recent Arlington Committee of 100 County Board debate.” [InsideNova]
Food Hall Coming to Rosslyn Development — “The first level of the new concept will include a bodega that carries everyday essentials and prepared food for dine-in or to-go. The second level will offer seven food stalls, including an oyster bar, coffee bar and diner concept. There will also be access to a main bar, full-service dining area and a communal work lounge.” [Washington Business Journal]
County Offering Free Online Job Training — “City of Alexandria and Arlington County residents can get free job skills training online as part of ‘Skill-Up City of Alexandria and Arlington County,’ an initiative of the Alexandria/Arlington Regional Workforce Council, Alexandria Workforce Development Center, and Arlington Employment Center. The online classes are funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.” [Arlington County]
Recollection of Racism in Arlington — “There was a time, Araya recalled, when Blacks couldn’t walk along the north side of Columbia Pike without getting frisked by police. So for an African American to walk from Green Valley to see friends in Halls Hill, ‘You had to know the route through white neighborhoods. It was like the Green Book for Arlington.'” [Falls Church News-Press]
Cemetery Likely to Get Historic Status — “The cemetery at Mount Salvation Baptist Church in Arlington is now virtually assured of becoming a local historic district. The county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) has approved the nomination, setting the stage for public hearings before the Planning Commission and County Board.” [InsideNova]
Local Man Convicted of Embezzlement — “A well-connected Virginia financial advisor was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison for embezzling approximately $8 million from money that the U.S. government and a hospital had entrusted to him to set up annuities for 13 people who were the beneficiaries of medical malpractice settlements. Joseph Edward Gargan, owner of The Pension Co. in Arlington, Va… is a relative of the late President John F. Kennedy.” [Claims Journal]
Arlington County has undergone drastic changes over the last 100 years to become what it is today.
An interactive storybook and map will be paired with the discussion. The session will also feature a “conversation with the members of the Complete Count Committee appointed in 2019 on their experiences with working on the 2020 census,” according to Schwartz.
“Viewers can expect a summary of how Arlington of today compares with the Arlington of 100 years ago on a number of measures, including population, family size, demographic makeup (race, age, gender, languages spoken, housing types),” Schwartz wrote in an email.
Schwartz added that the discussion will include “a history lesson on what Arlington looked like and some stories from 100 years ago that shed some light on the Arlington of today.”
The broadcast will explore the county’s transformation since its naming as a nod to the Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery — an association that is now under scrutiny. The name was officially changed from Alexandria County in 1920 to avoid being confused with the city of Alexandria.
Arlington County grew from a primarily rural area of farms — the last of which closed in 1955 — as its population steadily increased and new developments were established.
Farms gave way to housing developments, new businesses and modernized infrastructure over the years. The population followed suit as an increase of federal workers spilled into the area during the 1930s, as National Airport opened in 1941, as World War II saw the construction of the Pentagon, and as the Metrorail corridors were introduced in the 1970s.
The county’s population has grown exponentially from the 16,040 residents counted in the 1920 census, which included sections of Del Ray and the City of Alexandria that were part of the county then, according to Arlington’s website.
Arlington County has grown every decade since 1920, except in the 1970s when the area’s population dropped by 12.4%. However, the population rebounded and steadily grew to 207,627 in 2010, according to census data.
The latest estimates peg the county’s population at 228,400, a 10% increase from 2010. A forecast by the county shows the population growing to 301,200 in 2045.
“Today, Arlington is a diverse and inclusive world-class urban community with a population that continues to grow at approximately 1% per year,” the county website says.
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
Italian Deli Coming to Pentagon Row — “Napoli Pasta Bar, the Bib Gourmand-designated Italian restaurant in Columbia Heights, will expand into Northern Virginia next month when it adds a sister deli in Arlington. Napoli Salumeria is expected to open in early October at 1301 South Joyce Street… The Pentagon Row space was largely turnkey ready, as it formerly functioned as a deli called A Deli.” [Eater]
Shirlington Movie Theater Reopens — The AMC Shirlington 7 theater reopened earlier this week, after closing over the weekend. A PR rep said the closure was due to a “plumbing issue.”
More Hazy Skies Possible — “More smoke from western wildfires likely to stream into DC area tonight and into Wednesday. Skies unlikely to be as blue as the past several days.” [Washington Post, Twitter]
Restaurant Break-in on Pentagon Row — “At approximately 10:41 a.m. on September 21, police were dispatched to the report of a larceny. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 12:25 a.m., two suspects forced entry to a business, causing damage, and stole an undisclosed amount of cash and items of value. The suspects are described as males, wearing hooded sweatshirts, masks, and gloves. The investigation is ongoing.” [Arlington County]
Cooking School Adapts During Pandemic — Cookology at Ballston Quarter mall was just hitting its stride when the pandemic hit. After shutting down for weeks, the cooking school reopened via “Cookology Live” virtual classes. And now, the business has secured outdoor space at the mall’s covered “Instagram Alley” in which to hold in-person classes. [Washington Business Journal]
Apartment Building Designated as Historic — “The Glebe Apartments (now known as Knightsbridge Apartments) in the Ballston area has been placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register… The apartment complex, located in the 200 block of North Glebe Road, is an example of garden-style apartment units that were constructed in Arlington from the 1930s to the 1950s to provide moderately priced housing for a growing number of federal workers and, after World War II, returning veterans.” [InsideNova]
Today: ‘Spirit of Community’ Event — “Please join us for the 2020 Spirit of Community celebration on Wednesday, September 23 at 12 p.m… The program will include interviews with Chris Nassetta, President and CEO of Hilton, and Steve Presley, Chairman and CEO of Nestle USA.” [ARLnow Events]
Confederate Costumes Cause Controversy — ” Party City is racing to clear its shelves of children’s costumes celebrating the Confederacy. An Arlington, Virginia mom of two adopted Black children, was shocked to find the Party City store at Bailey’s Crossroads selling Civil War rebel costumes emblazoned with the Confederate flag.” [WUSA 9]
Parent Group Calls Out APS — From the Black Parents of Arlington: “In addition to tracking incidents of racism, APS needs to implement mandatory anti-racism and implicit bias training for all teachers and staff throughout the system on a regular basis. Moreover, APS must begin to track incidents of racial and ethnic hostility and make these findings public. The time is now. We will no longer wait. Arlington’s Black children deserve better.” [Facebook]
Pizzeria to Open Next Month in Clarendon — “A storied Connecticut pizza shop is making one of its biggest moves, opening a new location in Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood next month. Colony Grill is gearing up to debut Oct. 13 with a 5,200-square-foot space, taking over at 2800 Clarendon Blvd. for the Gallery Clarendon art installation pop-up that shuttered in February. The restaurant offers seating for 170 guests in three different areas.” [Washington Business Journal]
New Potomac Bridge Moving Forward — “With the state budget in tatters and commuter levels at record lows, now might hardly seem the right moment for Virginia to embark upon a $1.9 billion rail project. However, the recent conclusion of the Long Bridge’s environmental impact study has cleared the way for the commonwealth to do just that.” [Virginia Mercury]
Eagle Scout Project at Fire Station 5 — “A special project is taking shape to honor the victims of September 11th.
A piece of steel from the World Trade Center was brought to the Arlington County Fire Department nearly ten years ago. Now, a local high school senior and aspiring Eagle Scout wants to transform the area into a place where people can gather.” [WUSA 9]
Arlington Man Jailed in Belarus — “A U.S. diplomat warns that her Belarusian American husband’s health is in ‘immediate danger’ following his late-July arrest by security forces of the authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Vitali Shkliarov, a political analyst and dual citizen who worked on the presidential campaigns of both Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, was detained while visiting his parents in his hometown of Gomel, Belarus, in the runup to the country’s Aug. 9 presidential elections.” [NPR]
County Reaffirms Fair Housing Commitment — “Arlington will continue to follow the federal government’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, despite the federal government’s July 2020 action to rescind that rule within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the County Board said in a resolution approved at its September 15 Recessed Meeting.” [Arlington County]
Local Historian Dies — “It is our sad duty to announce the passing of beloved historian Ed Bearss, one of the legends of the battlefield preservation movement and a long-time member of the American Battlefield Trust board.” [National Parks Traveler, Twitter]
It’s easy to miss, but its small size belies its local historical significance. Here’s what the historic marker says about the cemetery:
Five generations of the Southern, Shreve, and related families are interred in this burial plot. The Shreve family in Arlington dates from the arrival of Samuel Shreve from New Jersey about 1780. Shreve purchased a tract of land near Ballston in 1791. The earliest grave (1832) is that of John Redin (Sixth Continental Line), a veteran of the American Revolution. Redin’s daughter married Richard Southern.
But there’s even more to the cemetery than that. You can thank one of its occupants for helping to popularize tomatoes as a food. Until the mid-1800s, tomatoes were largely regarded as an ornamental plant.
More from an article on the Arlington Public Library website:
Of the two Shreve family cemeteries in Arlington, the Southern-Shreve cemetery could possibly lay claim to having a more unique history. Located on the north side of Fairfax Drive, between North Frederick and North Harrison streets, the cemetery sat near the property of Richard and Frances (Redin) Southern. Richard Southern was a landscape architect and horticulturist, who became known for pioneering the use of the tomato as a food. It may seem hard to believe in these modern times, but prior to Southern’s efforts, the tomato was widely regarded as being poisonous and was only used for decorative purposes.
The land was given as a dowry by Frances Redin’s brother, a prominent Georgetown attorney, and was the burial place of John Redin, father of Frances and her brother. This generous act may have been precipitated by the fact that the Southerns cared for John Redin during his final years. He was buried in the garden of the Southern’s home in 1832, his gravestone being the first in what was to become the family cemetery.
Being neighbors of the Shreves, Birches, and Balls, the families intermarried and the house and property remained in the Shreve family until 1904.
There are approximately 20 marked stones in the cemetery, which is still in fairly good condition today, with the most notable being that of Richard and Francis Shreve, who were both killed by lightning on June 25th, 1874. The inscription reads: “Struck by a thunderbolt from Heaven, they both lay down and died, they left three lambs whom God had given them, may he for them provide.”
Protest Outside Westover Post Office — About 15 protesters held a “Save the U.S. Postal Service” rally outside the Post Office at 5877 Washington Blvd in Westover yesterday. The two-hour lunchtime demonstration was organized as part of the American Postal Worker Union National Day of Action. [@KalinaNewman/Twitter]
Historic Review Board Likes Shirlington Plan — “The Arlington County government’s historic-preservation advisory body seems generally satisfied that retention of historic features will be seen as an important component of the redevelopment of the Village at Shirlington. In particular, the low-slung storefronts along Campbell Avenue are expected to be protected from the wrecking ball, even as taller and more dense development likely will be allowed immediately behind them.” [InsideNova]
New BBQ Restaurant Opens Patio — “Smokecraft Modern Barbecue is excited to debut its much-anticipated patio, now open daily for outdoor dining and drinking. Arlington residents and visitors can now enjoy Smokecraft’s award-winning barbecue outside on a socially distant patio, consisting of 38 seats.” [Press Release]
TTT in Clarendon to Host Virtual DJ — Updated at 9:30 a.m. — “Beginning Friday, September 4… TTT (Tacos, Tortas & Tequila) known for its casual Mexican-influenced fare is adding an exciting bit of fun on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons with virtual DJs. Guests dining on the first floor and on the third floor TTT Rooftop, which seats 82 and offers wonderful views on the city, will enjoy watching and listening to live streaming DJ performances via large screen projection.” [Press Release]
Family Pushing for Arlington House Change — “Descendants of Charles Syphax have been courting lawmakers for the past few months to make the change, said Syphax family historian Steve Hammond, who lives in Sterling, Va. The family’s effort is motivated as much by a desire to accurately honor the full history of the property and the enslaved people who lived there as it is by any antipathy toward Lee.” [Washington Post]
Nearby: Back to School in Falls Church — Students have started the fall semester, virtually, in Falls Church. A TV news segment shows teachers conducting their virtual classes from their actual, physical classrooms. [NBC 4]
AIM to Spotlight Arlington’s Black Community — “In 2018, Arlington native Wilma Jones published a book about the neighborhood she grew up in. My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood details the evolution of a community of freed slaves, which was founded after the Civil War… Jones and Arlington Independent Media (AIM), a nonprofit organization, are launching a multi-part series called UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington.” [WDVM]
Interview with Interim Police Chief — “After 29 years with Arlington County, Virginia, Police, Deputy Chief Andy Penn knows a concerning trend when he sees one. Just weeks before moving into the role of interim chief, Penn said addressing an uptick in deadly overdoses was an immediate focus. As of Aug. 18, the county had lost 16 people to overdose deaths, according to Arlington County police data.” [WTOP]
Flu Vaccines Now Available at Giant — “Giant Food announced Monday flu shots are available at in-store pharmacies, including locations in the Arlington area. The flu vaccines are administered by Giant pharmacists and do not require an appointment. A copayment is usually not required through most insurance plans.” [Patch]
Here’s Why Glebe Road Was Closed — “For those wondering, Glebe was blocked just north of Ballston [Sunday] night due to a vehicle that rammed a house’s gas meter, causing a leak. No injuries were reported, some nearby homes were briefly evacuated, per ACFD spokesman.” [Twitter]
Storms Possible This Evening — “[Monday was] the beginning of a several-day stretch of storm threats. [Today] the Storm Prediction Center has the region under an ‘enhanced risk,’ or Level 3 out of 5. On Wednesday, it’s a slight risk at Level 2. As with tomorrow, damaging winds will be the main threat.” [Capital Weather Gang]
Since 1972, Arlington House — the recognizable Greek revival mansion atop the hill in Arlington National Cemetery — has been officially called “Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial.”
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is now planning to propose legislation that would remove the Confederate general’s name.
Beyer said today, as first reported by the Associated Press, that it’s time to drop Lee from the official name of the house, from which Arlington County gets its name, logo and seal. The general lived in the house, but its history goes beyond his time there, both before — it was built by George Washington’s adopted son around the turn of the 19th century — and after — when it was seized during the Civil War.
“The choice of Lee’s home for the site of a national military cemetery was intended to be a punitive measure against Lee, who himself said after the Civil War that he opposed erecting Confederate monuments,” Beyer said in a statement sent to ARLnow. “Given these considerations and requests from members of the community, including descendants of enslaved people in the area, I am working on legislation to remove the reference to Robert E. Lee from the official name of Arlington House.”
“Part of the reckoning with the history of racism and slavery in America and in our own community has been a reexamination of public symbols,” Beyer continued. “I absolutely support that process, including the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from the U.S. Capitol and taking other actions that make it clear we do not revere Confederate leaders or approve of the cause for which they fought.”
Beyer’s push to remove the name comes as Arlington County is in the midst of a series of proposed renamings, some brought about by the national racial reckoning that followed George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police.
A name change process has been launched for Lee Highway (Route 29), and new names have been proposed for Henry Clay Park and the S. Abingdon Street bridge over I-395 in Fairlington. Previously, Washington-Lee High School was renamed Washington-Liberty and Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1) was renamed Richmond Highway.
The Arlington branch of the NAACP, meanwhile, called last month for Arlington’s logo and seal to be redesigned in order to remove Arlington House from each, calling it “divisive and racist” and “a symbol of a slave labor camp.”