Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

A frozen-in-time document capturing Arlington circa 1952 came to me through a friend. The illustrated ad from the old Washington Star proclaimed, “Now open: One of the most distinctive developments in Metropolitan Washington real estate history.”

For just $19,000-$27,000 (substantial cash required), Arlingtonians aspiring to own property adjoining the Washington Golf and Country Club could buy into Broyhill Forest, a planned community of 150 homes in eight styles that “represent the utmost in refinement, in luxury and in value that will increase with the years.”

As owner of a Broyhill colonial myself, the ad reminded me that Broyhill endures as one of our county’s most storied names.

Northern Virginia is dotted with subdivisions with such monikers as Broyhill Heights, Crest, Hill, Park, McLean Estates and others. My friend Carolyn Connell, an agent for Keller Williams Realty, says the solidly built colonials and ramblers “are known for good bones.”

According to a brief family history of M.T. Broyhill and Sons written by the patriarch’s grandson, Marvin T. Broyhill Sr. came to Arlington from Hopewell, Va., in the late 1930s to capitalize on what he successfully predicted would be a post-World War II housing boom. In 1946, sons Marvin Jr. and Joel (the future Congressman) returned home from military service and joined M.T. in establishing three businesses: the construction company, a rental firm and an insurance agency.

By 1952, the Broyhills were building 3,000 homes a year. The company was declared “the world’s largest builder of brick homes” by the National Brick Institute. The Broyhills also became the single biggest customer of General Electric appliances (even the kitchen cabinets were GE).

In 1958, Mrs. M.T. Broyhill was named “businesswoman of the year” by the Chamber of Commerce.

Reggie Massey, a realtor retired from Better Homes who sold many Broyhill homes in the late 1960s, told me their value by then was not quality as much as location. Arlingtoninans now wanted speed in getting downtown.

The neighborhood remains characterized by the Broyhill “enclave.” In 1951, M.T. Broyhill built a huge white house on the hill at North 26th and Vermont streets, boasting multiple bedrooms, a ballroom and indoor pool. His son Joel set up in a spacious home next door, and Marvin on the other side of Joel. Cousin Tom was round the corner, and the company’s engineer across the street.

“With the compound, you had family around you all the time,” recalls Jeanne Broyhill, my high school contemporary now chairing Arlington’s Committee of 100. Her father Joel was elected to Congress in 1952 and served 11 terms. In 1967, he moved the family to a specially designed mansion on Old Dominion Drive dubbed “The House by the Side of the Road.”

The congressman’s previous house is now owned by Bobby Tramonte, owner of the Italian Store in Lyon Village. Tramonte, who grew up nearby knowing the Broyhills as a Little League sponsor, recalls asking his dad at age eight how much the big Broyhill mansions cost. And the woman who sold him the house in 2002 had done legal business with his father. “It was some sort of karma,” Tramonte told me.

Rep. Broyhill, who died in 2006, was an effective Republican not popular with Arlington Democrats, Tramonte notes. The neighbors still tell stories of young “protesters” in cars doing figure eights on his lawn, damaging the boxwoods.