Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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When an historic home is threatened by a developer, preservationists should mull the option of jacking up the house on a flatbed truck and moving it to more welcoming pastures. Of course, it would not be cheap.

A famous application of such a remedy in Arlington involves the 19th-century Eastlawn home at 301 South Kensington St. in the Glencarlyn neighborhood, stomping grounds of the county’s seminal Ball family.

That venerable wood-frame two-story home was transported not once but twice—the last having been photographed 40 years ago this month. A collage showing the transport is displayed at the Glencarlyn Branch Library with shots taken by Bill Barns, thanks to efforts by Eastlawn enthusiast Dudley Chapman.

Eastlawn was originally built in 1868 as a summer house to the larger home of Confederate Civil War veteran Henry Howard Young, according to the “Glencarlyn Remembered” history. Descendants expanded the bedrooms and parlor into the 1930s, when it was owned by the Stetson family, whose daughter Margaret was born in 1900. It was she who would make the preservation moves.

When law professor Charles Stetson (her father in law) died in 1958, the land was sold to builders of Northern Virginia Doctors Hospital. Eastlawn was cut in half and moved (cost: $8,000) closer to Carlin Springs Road. On reassembling it, Stetsons added a Mount Vernon-style center hall.

But by 1966 the county was ready to condemn the property to expand the hospital, so authorities bought back the land to build the medical offices you see today at 611 Carlin Springs. It was déjà vu all over again.

Margaret Stetson, a retired English teacher, had moved to North Arlington. She was 75-years-old in 1976 when she got a call from hospital administrator Ray Hemness saying she could have the house in which she was raised for peanuts if she would move it.

Lo and behold, Stetson wrote in a personal history, Marion Sellers, owner of the Arlington’s oldest residence (the Ball Sellers house), offered to sell Stetson two lots.

But obstacles materialized. Neighbors objected, as did the Long Branch Nature Center, which feared damage to wildlife. And the first cost estimates were astronomical– $104,000 for the Virginia Electric and Power Company to drop telephone wires so the home’s tall chimney could pass. She had to petition the county to help pay.

Stetson got help from her home improvement jack-of-all-trades Bob Shannon.

She found a Fairfax contractor and planned a two-block route at a cost to her of $56,000 (VEPCO came down to $23,000).

On June 16, beginning at 9:29.a.m.,the Washington Post reported, the home traveled on a flatbed truck supported by steel beams on dollies equipped with aircraft tires, preceded by a bulldozer. Through the hospital parking lot and woods, the trip ended at 5:00 p.m.

“75 or 80 people watched,” recalled Shannon. “A carpenter took out the ductwork and numbered the pieces so it could be put back together.”

After years of helping Mrs. Stetson refurbish the home, Shannon would buy it. He and wife lived there from 1983 until this April (when his daughter took over), opening it up occasionally for tours on annual Glencarlyn Day.

“I am trying to save a beautiful old house,” Stetson wrote in 1976 while negotiating the big move. “Does Arlington have so many it can afford to destroy what can never be replaced?”

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Want a Lustron house? An Arlington example of that famous post-World War II enameled steel prefab home is yours for the asking.

Keller Williams Realtor Steve Vekony, owner/developer of the home at 2915 S. 7th St, is willing to give it to whomever will haul it away.

County historical preservation coordinator Cynthia Liccese-Torres, a Lustron specialist, has spread the word but notes the county already acquired a Lustron a decade ago.

So if no one bites, Vekony told me, in July it’s coming down.