Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


For a north Arlington guy, I’ve spent an unusual chunk of time lately enjoying the surprises of south Arlington.

This month I passed a relaxing evening with a book club of mostly retired federal employees who live on or near spring-blossom-bedecked Ridge Road (access to which, I’m convinced, seems harder for north Arlingtonians mentally confined by I-395).

They’ve loved the neighborhood for decades, and they’re less likely to visit restaurants in Clarendon or Ballston than those in Crystal City. They informed me that a favorite, Cafe Italia, on South 23rd St. since 1976, was evicted, according to sheriff notices on the restaurant’s door.

At the Arlington Historical Society annual dinner this month, I listened as the Aurora Hills Women’s Club was thanked for its tremendous contributions to the upkeep of its museum, at the Hume School on Ridge Road. (The latest: a check for $5,000.)

I recently had drinks with realtor Tonya Finlay, who runs Neighborhood Real Estate LLC, out of the charming yellow wooden cottage at the corner of Arlington Ridge and South 23rd.  That little house decades ago housed as many as six agents marketing “summer homes.”

In the fun-fact department (local edition), some of the shortest streets in Arlington can be found along South Glebe Road, on your left if you’re heading toward Jefferson Davis Highway. Sloping mini-lanes with names like High and Grove.

At a Leadership Arlington Breakfast last month, I heard remarks by Leslie Ariail, chair of the Washington Forrest Foundation, which since its founding in 1968 has focused on South Arlington. Her family fortune is from “one of Arlington’s oldest businesses” (going back to 1908, with roots earlier). Her grandfather B.M. Smith started a variety of real estate interests on Columbia Pike, and later became a county board member, school supervisor and member of the Arlington Hospital Board of Directors, I read in a company history. B.M. Smith and Associates more recently built the Penrose Square apartments and retail outlets.

In fiscal 2017, the Forrest foundation gave $820,425 to 60 Arlington organizations working to provide a safety net, education and community development. Recipients included South Arlington stalwarts like the Arlington Free Clinic, the Arlington Food Assistance Center and the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization.

(The larger Arlington Community Foundation hardly neglects south Arlington — its president Jeannie Broyhill told me they just completed a house fundraising tour there).

Finally, I imbibed at Army-Navy Country Club with author and defense industry consultant Marty Suydam. Last November, AuthorHouse published his south Arlington walking tour book titled “Walks with Charley: Sniffing Arlington Ridge History and Mystery.” Though he delivers tongue-in-cheek comments about his dog, Suydam did painstaking research on the area, scouring, for example, the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps that go back to the 1930s.

During World War II, housing developments were built nearby and named for Confederate Generals J.E.B. Stuart and Jubal Early, though they later were torn down due to county zoning violations, he writes. Suydam provides a neat cross-reference to old neighborhood street names before they changed in 1935: Ridge Road was Mount Vernon Avenue, Army-Navy Drive was Old Georgetown Road, and 23rd was Fraser Street.

“The Ridge is an area that keeps unveiling something new,” Suydam writes. “I’ve been walking the area for nearly 25 years, and discover something new every day.”


Every local news outlet last week reported Arlington’s elevation as the nation’s “fittest city.”

The ranking comes from the American College of Sports Medicine’s index for “both healthy behaviors and community infrastructure.”

I was more amazed that our physical fitness feat spawned a TV gag on “Weekend Update” during the May 19 “Saturday Night Live.” Oddly, the producers of the joke – better left unrepeated (my wife says) – felt they needed a map to show those New York hipsters Arlington’s location.