Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

The great neighborhood sign caper came into my view by happenstance.

As I drove by the entrance to my boyhood Arlington neighborhood last month, I was stunned to behold a key ingredient gone missing: the white three-dimensional letters spelling “Rivercrest” had been removed from the two curved brick walls at North 38th Street and Military Road, where they had labeled the subdivision since 1960.

I raced home and e-mailed a bulletin to a dozen former Rivercrestians with whom I maintain diplomatic relations. From Arizona, Jim demanded an investigation. From Rochester, N.Y., Jennifer wrote, “Yikes, keep us posted.” From Charlottesville, Jonathan wrote, “Maybe wild kid vandals swiped them.” From Arlington, Alan moaned, “I am just crushed by this. What can I do from a political or PR end?”

Subdivision signs erected by homebuilders—presumably to confer a touch of cachet on their carved-out rows of new homes—are not uncommon in Arlington. Within blocks of Rivercrest you find can fancy signs reading “Chain Bridge Forest” and “The Glebe.”

On Yorktown Boulevard stands a pair of curved “Crescent Hills” signs erected six decades ago by the Broyhill builders. (They look a little worse for wear, but no one I consulted on the block knows who’s in charge of them.) And fronting a cluster of modern houses on Lee Highway, opposite Overlee pool, stands a chiseled sign reading “Stonehurst.”

Our Rivercrest sign, I’m reminded by realtor and local boy Dean Yeonas, was created by the Dittmar builder in a style used on several 1950s-era projects. “The entrance signs add an identity and help frame the community,” he says.

Ross Richmond, a realtor and developer who sold the Stonehurst houses, says signs “provide an important sense of community and belonging.” Richmond lives in the Franklin Park subdivision at the Arlington edge of McLean, where he and an informal group of neighbors erected a sign because they “all care about Franklin Park.”

Not surprisingly, the county has addressed the identity sign issue on a more official—and egalitarian—basis for Arlington’s larger jurisdictions. As part of the Neighborhood Conservation Program, it funded 44 sets of signs (photos are on the county website) “to better identify the neighborhood and help to foster an increased sense of community and pride among residents,” says the Community Planning, Housing and Development Department.

County landscape architect Jill Yutan walked me through the process of how citizens request eligibility for funding and work with her on choosing a unique design. County engineers install the signs. “Almost the whole county has been done,” she says, noting that small signs in the sets cost $1,200-$1,500, the larger ones $3,500.

Because Arlington has little open land left for building, new subdivision signs are rarer, Yutan notes, “but you see them further out in Fairfax.”

In a community like Rivercrest, says Yeonas, “the signage is maintained by whatever association or loose group of homeowners decides to take charge.”

Calls to current residents solved the mystery. The white wooden cursive letters—which were refurbished 12 years ago by two Rivercrestians—were cracking, the civic association president told me. So the board collected money from “everyone in Rivercrest” and a neighbor is making long-lasting black letters for mounting after the wall gets power-washed and landscaped.

Black letters will require getting used to, old-timers agree. But now we don’t have to organize a protest.