Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpThe glass-tower village of Rosslyn is known historically for its long-vanished pawnshops and brothels.

But back in the first half of the 20th century, it was the scene for a more wholesome activity: bowling.

This was among the Arlington heritage tidbits I learned when I sat in on the weekly gathering of three eighty-something siblings from the Davis family.

We reminisced about shared memories of growing up in Cherrydale, surfacing nifty details about how Arlington through the generations has changed.

Lee, Joan and John Davis are as Arlington as Lee Highway. All were born in the 1930s to a father named Ernest Galt Davis, the bowling alley owner, race horse trainer and nationally recognized marbles champion by age 12. While swimming in the Potomac as a teen, he had taken a shine to Helen (nee Davison), a Cherrydale neighbor who was a tomboy athlete in the first graduating class of Washington-Lee High School.

They wed in 1931 and raised the kids on 1729 Nelson Street (originally Fairfield Street). “This probably was Cherrydale’s best time,” said daughter Joan, who went to marry neighbor Russell Amos Hitt, scion of the construction firm family. “When it rained, everyone came to our front porch and played,” recalled eldest daughter Lee, a former Pentagon employee.

The Davis kids went to Cherrydale Elementary (20 years before I did), and attended St. George’s Episcopal Church (as did I).

Their father’s Rosslyn Bowling Alley (duckpin) was at 18 Harlowe Ave. (now Moore St.). By the 1950s, nearby competition included the Rosslyn Ten Pin on Moore St., Clarendon Bowling Center on Irving St. and Colonial Village Bowling Center on Wilson Blvd. (In the 1960s, my contemporaries bowled ten-pin at Skor Mor on Quincy St. and duckpin at Pla Mor on Fairfax Drive at Glebe Road.)

News clips show the Davis parents starring in a 1930 national duckpin tournament in Washington. They set records in mixed competition. “Rosslyn Girls Real Threat in Pin Test,’ read a headline about the “Bowling Belles.”

Galt Davis hired a boy named Billy Stalcup (his family ran the McLean-based furniture and hardware stores), a friend who became a nationally recognized duckpin champ. In 1943, the alley raised $96,000 for the war effort.

Daughter Joan recalls accompanying her father into a black neighborhood to pick up the young boys who performed the monotonous job of pin setting. Her father told her, “Don’t even think for one minute that you’re better than those boys – you’re just luckier.”

One of the black employees drowned in Potomac – other such tragedies were recorded in the privately published history of the Davis family going back to the late 19th century. Their grandfather was a Potomac tugboat captain based in Alexandria before he died at their Cherrydale home.

Son John Davis, who worked for the bowling alley and Cherrydale Sports Fair, wowed me with his recollections of nearby businesses: Bernie’s Pony Ring in Lyon Village, Sam Torrey’s Shoe Repair (still around) when it was at Monroe and Lee Highway, the Luzi family (who owned a cleaners, a car wash and a candy store) and Temple’s Barber Shop in Cherrydale. In Rosslyn, he remembers Samaha’s market, Dickey’s Seed Corn, Arlington Trust and the Jewel Gallery. We knew the same Cherrydale families – Newman, Dortzbach, Griffin, their gardens and crops.

It was a time and a place, said Lee, “When everyone took care of everyone. And no one locked their doors.”


A baseball memory from my Arlington youth: “Wanted: Senators Batboy.” The poster in the hallway of my elementary school set off speculation among my pals over whether our parents would let us apply for that job – which we assumed came with tutoring.

Today’s Washington Nationals, like all pro teams, hires boys 17 and up from regular schools to serve both the home and away teams.

A Nats spokesman tells me the boys’ pre-game duties include cleaning the clubhouse, neatening lockers, stocking refrigerators, scrubbing cleats and collecting laundry. Gameday tasks, besides collecting bats after each at-bat, include setting up gum and seeds in the dugout, plus cleaning the post-game bench.