Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Our Ballston crossroads, at the start of World War II, was hardly the neon commercial hub the county flocks to today.

So, when the Greystone Restaurant was first opened by an entrepreneurial family on N. Glebe Road at Carlin Springs Road, it thrived as the sole eatery in that vicinity.

For nearly 50 years, the purveyor of refined comfort food served county officials, business and military leaders and families invited by slogans: “All roads lead to the Greystone….Where you will like to eat and like what you eat.”

I recently traded recollections with 96-year-old Beatrice “Bea” Root, now of Bethesda, who worked the counter at her parents’ restaurant while a high schooler. The grill launched in 1941 by Robert and Gertrude Goldman and managed by A.R. Parker was a family affair, with her aunt Mildred running the office and typing menus, daughter Debbie later helping with hostessing.

“Two or three dollars bought you a complete dinner, with appetizer, soup, entree, two vegetables, salad, dessert and coffee,” said Bea. Rolls included.
The 1942 menu offered braised beef tenderloin tips for 60 cents, fried jumbo oysters for 55 cents and Grape Nut Pudding for 10 cents. Then came wartime inflation. By 1947, the broiled filet mignon set you back $1.75, the breaded veal chop $1.15. A glass of Nina sherry was 30 cents; Pabst Blue Ribbon on draft was a dime.

Bea recalls the two rooms of booths, a bar, uniformed waitresses and a kitchen staff of five: Marion the chef, her assistant Jack, and Becky the pastry chef producing fresh and homemade (except the hamburger rolls and bread). A family garden provided fresh produce.

The Greystone was celebrated in a Feb. 22, 1941, Washington’s Birthday newspaper ad signed by neighboring enterprises, among them Old Dominion Floors and Arlington Electric Co.

Because of the hardships of fuel rationing, Bea’s parents bought a home next to the restaurant to avoid a commute from downtown. But Bea wanted to finish her senior year of high school (class of ’43) at Central (now Cardoza), so she took the bus across the Potomac from the new Arlington digs. At Christmastime 1944, she witnessed a frightening fire that burned the Greystone.

Insurance permitted remodeling. In 1948 she married Samuel Root, of the jewelry store that was on Wilson Blvd. and later on 19th St. in Rosslyn. (Her son Jerry runs it today in McLean.)

Jerry Root still owns chairs (reupholstered) from the Greystone, plus matchbooks, plastic stirrers and business cards. His sister Debbie has dishes and a Greystone child’s seat. Clippings show that Jacqueline Bouvier (Kennedy), as a young photojournalist, did an “Inquiring Camera Girl,” interview at the Greystone. Another visitor: Chicago’s world-famous 8-foot-2 tallman Don Kohler, in Arlington in 1952 to christen the Hecht Co.

Memories of segregation cloud the sunny recollections. When Bea caught the bus just outside the restaurant for downtown, she would ride with Greystone staffers who were African American. But by law, they had to sit in the back, as enforced by the driver. “But they were part of our family so I sat as close to them as I could.”

In 1988, after a brief new proprietorship, the Goldman family sold Greystone and their house to Goodyear Tire. And that favored haunt in Ballston was no more.

Widespread hopes for renaming Lee Highway to honor interracial marriage pathbreakers Richard and Mildred Loving were dashed last week.

That choice had topped the voting in the process run by the nonprofit Lee Highway Alliance. But the chief executive of Caroline County, where the Lovings’ drama unfolded in the mid-1960s, warned this columnist that the family would object.

County Board member Katie Cristol told me she spoke with grandson Mark Loving, “who expressed his family’s strong desire that Lee Highway in Arlington not be changed to feature his grandparents’ names, explaining that they were private people and the family would like to ‘keep it that way.’ “Ignoring these objections would be “disrespectful.”