Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpMy neighborhood called East Falls Church throws off outsiders who assume with that name, it can’t be part of Arlington.

Indeed, our civic association a few years back took a vote on changing from the cumbersome Arlington-East Falls Church Civic Association to a simpler “Tuckahoe” or “Somerset.” No go, said the prevailing traditionalists.

The confusion goes back before the 1930s, when – as marked by our neighborhood sign emblazoned with a train car – East Falls Church split from Falls Church proper. It’s one of many stories I savor that unfolded walking distance from my home.

Last summer, an item in the Sun-Gazette’s history column reported that in August 1939, Tex Ritter and His Musical Tornadoes performed at the Lee Theatre. That emporium stood at the East Falls Church shopping strip now a public storage at Lee Highway and I-66.

Tex’s visit would be followed in the 1950s by country singer and sausage king Jimmy Dean, whose home stands at 1708 North Roosevelt. You want more historic houses? We got ‘em.

The 1892 George Crossman farmhouse on Underwood merits a historic plaque for the still-inhabited structure built by our area’s principal landowner in the latter 19th century. Next to the BB&T Bank on Lee Highway is the 1876 Eastman-Fenwick house (which inspired a development of modern homes in the same Victorian style). Albert Eastman was an Army of the Potomac Civil War veteran (he defended Chain Bridge). In 1946, his granddaughter Eleanor moved into the house with her husband, State Sen. Charles Fenwick.

The beautiful green and mustard Victorian home built in 1889 at Washington Blvd. and Roosevelt St. is called the Fellows-McGrath House.

Our enclave’s earliest landmark is the District of Columbia boundary stone placed in 1791 by Benjamin Banneker. (His namesake park is at 18th and Van Buren streets.) But East Falls Church really came into its own in the 1890s, when Army troops camped here for the Spanish-American War.

I’m indebted to former Tax Analysts writer John Iekel’s research for details of the community’s now vanished commercial ventures along the W&OD Railroad.

Among them: the 19th century Thompson’s grocery store, Ware’s Pharmacy, Boyd’s Fine Shoe Repair, the Eatwell Café, Call Carl auto repair and Snyder’s Hardware (now a used car lot). The Northern Virginia Sun and the Virginia Democrat once had newspaper offices near the strip largely demolished in the 1960s to make way for I-66.

You can still taste the old neighborhood by strolling behind the East Falls Church Metro. Several higgle-piggledy old wood frame houses include extensions literally abutting the sidewalks – which would never pass modern setback codes.

The passions behind East Falls Church’s secession are hard to grasp today. Talk surfaced in 1921, and articles in the Washington Star from ‘30s describe the Arlington Civic Federation offering water and sewer lines to Falls Church.

The neighborhood’s gray zone created “an intolerable confusion of overlapping government agencies in this area,” said then-Commonwealth’s Attorney Lawrence Douglas. In 1932, my predecessor citizens petitioned in Circuit Court to join Arlington. The town of Falls Church complained it would lose 60 per cent of its business district and 30 percent of its land.

The judge ruled for separation, which took effect at Midnight, April 30, 1936.

The march of history continues. The entire East Falls Church Metro complex has been slated for new development – someday.

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Pretty big Arlington news that Gov. Terry McAuliffe last week compromised with Republican lawmakers and forged a deal to widen I-66 and add tolls.

County board members said they were “disappointed,” given the county’s opposition to widening that, one could say, dates back to the 1960s, when early plans called for twice the number of lanes we ended up with.

My concern was whether the wonderful bike paths that hug the commuter route are threatened. Del. Patrick Hope assures me they are protected as part of the road’s existing right of way.


Correction: The farmhouse on Underwood was corrected to George Crossman. It was mistakenly noted as Isaac Crossman.