Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpTo report on Arlington’s present this week would mean mentioning that crews completed demolition of the half-century-old “Blue Goose” office building at Fairfax Drive and N. Glebe Road.

That not-exactly-quaint blue-paneled high-rise was used for decades by the CIA and the Federal Aviation Administration before Marymount University took it over and is now executing grander plans.

A current-day round-up might also mention that the long-awaited Part II of the Italian Store sandwich shop will open any minute at the Westover shopping center, following months of delays for owner Bobby Tramonte to modernize the building.

But to write about Arlington’s past – which is often most rewarding over the long haul – obliges me to uncover something new about something old.
Most Arlingtonians are familiar with Fletcher’s Boathouse, the canoe and kayak-rental facility operated out of the 19th-century stone structure on the D.C. side of the Potomac along the canal. I was recently approached by Joseph Fletcher, who, before the National Park Service concessionaire took it over in 2005, worked there as an expert fisherman and fourth-generation stalwart of that family. He offered fond memories of cross-Potomac family ties to Arlington.

Fletcher, now in his 80s and living in McLean, told me his grandfather married into Arlington’s famous Donaldson family, whose property off N. Marcey Road gave its name to the swimming club. “Both he and his wife are buried at Walker Chapel along with my great grandfather and his wife,” he said.

The Donaldsons’ property (modern-day Potomac Overlook Park) was also the site of the “Little Italy” rock quarry in the early 20th century. Fletcher recalls rowing there with some older boys in the 1940s two or three times a week. “I also remember riding with my dad to see an older lady, his aunt whom I think must have been my grandmother’s sister with the maiden name Donaldson, at the end of Marcey Road.”

Fletcher recalls she had two large boxwood bushes and covered her living-room chairs with newspapers as a shield from the sun. “I also remember a small house midway up the hill just below Donaldson Run that was vacant, and which burned down one night,” he said. He also remembers the boilers left over from the Potomac cliffside quarrying (stones that built much of Georgetown University), which remain today. “We used to fish for white perch out from the boiler and two boxes just upstream from what was called the Guinea Camp back then,” he said. “We also fished off the Virginia shore at a place called Dixie Landing.”

The old boatman who spent 60 years on the river still owns a partially rotted fishing net rim that his friend Lee Havener’s father used skillfully. And he recalls a cement block manufacturer named Gum Boots who lived in a cement block house off Old Glebe Road near Walker Chapel, whose bricks helped construct much of Cherrydale.

Most intriguingly, Fletcher says he recalls a “beer joint” called “Mackie’s” where Pimmit Run reaches Chain Bridge. It was across the Virginia side bridge entranceway from the old fishing tackle shop and gas station many of us recall there until the early ‘60s.

“The Virginia blue bells are so pretty each spring there,” Fletcher said. “I go to shore to walk amongst them and remember people who have passed away that were friends of the boathouse.”


Plastered on streetlamp poles around Ballston are dozens of rogue advertising posters reading, “Will pay up to $300. Junk cars, vans, trucks.”

My friend Robert Lauderdale, who has long tangled with the law as an anti-sign-pollution vigilante, pointed out that several of these posters have been spraypainted over in black. The county can’t remove the signs because the streetlights are property of the Virginia Transportation Department, he told me.

I called the number, identified myself as a columnist and twice got a man who promised to call me back. I’m not waiting by the phone.