Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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I marked Memorial Day with a stroll around the Arlington site that has been called the “exclamation point” to the symbolic line across the Potomac to the National Mall.

The six-decade-old Netherlands Carillon– though looking a bit worse for wear—offers touching patriotic music and a spectacular view of the downtown monuments.

You access the gray tower and its two bronze lions where Rosslyn meets Arlington Cemetery, amidst spring greenery and gardens off N. 14th and Meade streets.

On Saturday, I joined about 50 compatriots for the noon bell-ringing (they’re not always on time, a National Park Service park ranger told me). It was charming to pick out the Army’s “When the Caissons Go Rolling Along,” the Navy’s “Anchors Away,” the “Marines Hymn,” the Air Force’s “Off We Go in the Wild Blue Yonder” and the British-originated “Col. Bogey March.”

The carillon was a gift from the Dutch for our helping them turn out the Nazis in 1945. “From the People of the Netherlands to the People of the United States,” reads the simple inscription.

A display photo from 1952 shows Dutch Queen Juliana with President Truman, to whom she gave a silver bell as promise for the future carillon.

Within two years came the 49 bells of varying sizes (a 50th was added later), together weighing more than 30 tons. Each bell is decorated with an emblem representing a group within Dutch society.

But then it took years—all of Europe’s economy in the 1950s was still recovering from the war– to fund building of the 127-foot tower to house them.

Dutch Architect Joost W.C. Boks produced a design that broke with the “fascist brutalism” of Europe in the preceding decades. Though not all in the Washington area welcomed the modernist addition to skyline, the exhibit notes.

First installed on a nearby site, the completed carillon was moved and dedicated on May 5, 1960, the anniversary of the liberation of Holland. In 1964, the continually grateful Dutch added 10,000 tulips to the site to help Lady Bird Johnson with her G.W. Parkway beautification effort.

Today, the regular bell concerts are put on free of charge by volunteer director Edward Nassor. He climbs stairs to the 83-foot platform and plays bells with a hand on the clavier and his feet on pedals. The bells reach four octaves, plus two notes, the Park Service tells you.  A computer does the routine ringings at noon at 6:00 daily.

As much as I was soothed by this scene—it’s one of Arlington’s most tranquil images–I couldn’t help but notice the graffiti on faded blocks and rusting joints of the carillon tower.

Just steps away, at the more crowded Iwo Jima statue (officially the United States Marine Corps War Memorial), a sign explains that the Iwo monument is being rehabbed thanks to funding from Washington philanthropist David Rubenstein (who also gave millions to redo Arlington House).

The carillon was refurbished once in 1970s and again in 1990s in time for the 50th anniversary of liberation of the Netherlands from the Nazis.

I learned that the National Park Service has committed $4 million to again spruce it up, with hopes that a partnership with Dutch entities will raise another $600,000.

Let’s hope both budgets come through.

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Westover Beer Garden impresario Devin Hicks told me he is grateful to his fans in that tight-knit community who descended on the county board last week and emerged victorious.

Under current zoning law, Hicks was recently told to reduce the garden’s seat capacity by two-thirds, in June. So his attorney appealed and neighbors rallied on a “Save the Beer Garden” Facebook page.

The county instead will work toward an October change that could permit Hicks’ current seating as a site plan. Said Board Chair Jay Fisette: “Part of Arlington’s success has been in creating active public spaces and a vibrant pedestrian realm.”