Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpThere’s only one mom in the universe who could tell me, “Here’s my daughter’s bedroom, where ‘Damn Yankees’ was written.”

Yes, that reference to the book that became the 1950s hit musical was uttered in Arlington by Moley Evans, who lives with her husband Nicholas and two children in the historic house known as Alcova.

Named as a shortening of “Alexandria County, Virginia,” this fine property on South Eighth Street in Alcova Heights goes back as early as 1836. The site was a Union hospital during the Civil War.

Evans, a teacher now running a day camp, took me on a tour to show off how she and her husband, a federal relations professional, have modernized an Arlington institution while preserving its other-era charm and literary flavor.

Originally a farmhouse under the names Spring Hill Farm and Columbia Place, Alcova was built by Washington carriage maker John Young, according to Eleanor Lee Templeman’s “Arlington Heritage.” It is among the county’s oldest structures, after the Ball-Sellers House (1760) and Arlington House (1802).

In 1915, the Young family sold the home and 142 acres of orchard to state Sen. Joseph Cloyd Byars of Bristol, Va. It was he in the 1920s who added four handsome columns and a porch, along with gardens and brick walkways, scavenging a mantle and shutters from abandoned homes in Georgetown and wrought-iron gates from the U.S. Capitol. Byars built the surrounding subdivision.

The next owner, Allen Coe, sold the home in 1950 to a pair of writers on their second marriages. Radio playwright Lucille Fletcher (1912-2000) wrote the thriller “Sorry, Wrong Number,” made into a 1948 movie starring Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster. Her husband Douglass Wallop (1920-1985) wrote the 1954 novel “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant,” which became “Damn Yankees.”

In 1964, Alcova went to Smithsonian botanist Dan Nicolson and his zoologist wife Alice, who ushered the home into the modern era, complete with Arlington Historical Society tours.
The Evans, living in nearby Arlington Heights, learned by word of mouth in February 2012 that the Nicolsons after 56 years and raising their own children were putting Alcova on the market. At $950,000 for a house Moley fell in love with, the couple gained nearly an acre of land with tall oak and award-winning gum trees, a modern kitchen, a stylish wooden curved staircase and French doors, capped off by a wrought-iron ALCOVA sign on the screen porch.

In return, they had to do heavy repainting (preserving some vintage wallpaper in a closet), lift a bedroom ceiling, customize the kitchen and close off a basement stairway designed “for the help.”

Where many old houses are “creepy, this one was warm and friendly,” says Evans, enjoying the pleasant bells ringing from the nearby United Methodist Church. She’s pleased when passersby stop in.

***

Fun reminiscing on the Facebook site “I Grew Up in Arlington, Va.” in recent months has devolved into a cognition test for Arlington’s aging boomers and their elders. It started in June with a challenge to recall the old phone number system from the 1920s-60s using abbreviated names for the prefix. “So back in the day, what was your phone number? Mine was JA 7-5281,” came the kick-off query. Dozens have weighed in with recollections of numbers starting with Kenmore, Jackson, Orchard. I passed the memory test—JA-73360.