Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


As the Internet continues to shrink newsrooms and alter reading habits, the health of the community newspaper is on my mind.

In Arlington, we’re fortunate to maintain an array of choices, from the Sun-Gazette, to the Connection Newspapers, to the online ARLnow and portions of the Falls Church News-Press.

Most Arlingtonians also depend for broader coverage on the Washington Post, Washington Times and the Examiner.

The aforementioned all have ancestors and erstwhile competitors, many of which molded my career.

The oldest (and still going, after a fashion) newspaper that circulated on our streets is the Alexandria Gazette. It goes back to 1834 as a successor to several papers dating to 1800, according to a Library of Congress reference. It began as a voice of the Whig Party but gradually adopted the southern Democratic Party view. (Today, nearly a century after Arlington County separated from Alexandria City, it is published by the Connection Newspapers as the Gazette-Packet.)

The Evening Star appeared downtown in 1852 and, renamed the Washington Star, lasted until 1981, when its final parent (my then-employer) Time Incorporated shuttered it. (Today Time is confronting its own digital-age survival challenges.)

The Post (where I did two stints) arrived in 1877 as a “four-page organ of the Democratic Party,” the Britannica says. It was joined in the 20th century by the original Washington Times, the Times-Herald and Washington Daily News.

In Alexandria County, following the 1846 retrocession and the Civil War, a slew of newspapers appeared, among the most prominent in the 1870s: The Daily State Journal.

A crusading Arlington paper was the Monitor. In the early 20th century, it was owned and edited by attorney Frank Lyon, builder of Lyon Village and Missionhurst. He used it to pressure for closing of violence-prone saloons in Rosslyn and Jackson City.

In 1930, the Arlington Sun appeared. It was taken over in the late 1950s by New Deal intellectuals (it made little money) before it was sold to Herman Obermayer in 1963. Obie (whom I counted as a friend) ran the paper with a conservative line until selling it in 1983. The Leesburg-based Sun-Gazette chain perpetuates it today.

An Arlington Chronicle was published from 1941-51, or perhaps longer, according to the stewards of the microfilm collection at Central Library’s Center for Local History.

In 1946, our first black-owned newspaper, The Virginia Arrow, launched in Halls Hill under the editorship of Naomi Thompson-Richards, according to a neighborhood history.

Add to that the Arlington Daily, a yellowing copy of which I own. The Jan. 5, 1950, front page—packed with national news– reports that an addition to Westover’s Walter Reed Elementary School was postponed, and the county is fighting the private Arnold Bus Lines over a fare increase.

The Arlington News, which I recall from the 1970s, was cited in a 1976 Congressional Record for its coverage of alcoholism.

The early ‘70s also brought a chain with zoned editions that included Arlington called the Globe Newspapers. An editor there gave me my first shot at town council coverage. That period also brought the Arlington Journal, part of a round-the-Beltway chain (where I first launched a column) that was eventually subsumed by the Examiner.

Newspaperdom has always been dog-eat-dog. But in an age of instant global communication and drinking-from-the-firehose distractions, let us hope the focused intimacy of our hometown newspapers endures.


A crowd of Arlington history types was recently challenged to name a national business started in Arlington. Their (eventual) answer: The Five Guys purist hamburger chain.

From humble beginnings as a carry-out on Columbia Pike in 1986, the firm launched by the Murrell family now boasts 1,500 locations worldwide and another 1,500 in development, says its website.

Hat tip to the blog “Pike Wire” for a fun history that notes that the original Five Guys location closed in 1998 and is now Dave’s Seafood & Subs.