Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

The multi-hued palette of complexion and clothing that populates Columbia Pike was captured in crisp photography, ready for the rollout exhibit of 50 images, in March 2020.

Then came the pandemic. So Lloyd Wolf, the photography teacher and talented lensman for hire who has been shooting on the Pike for four decades, had to bide his time as “business fell off a cliff.”

We met last month at his favorite Pike haunt, Café Sazon, after I reviewed three volumes of photography he has shepherded with help from longtime collaborator Paula Endo. Their latest paperback, “Transitions: The Columbia Pike Documentary Project,” showcases stunning portraits and interviews by Wolf and Sushmita Mazumdar of personalities of all walks from 2015-2019. You can see more at cpdpcolumbiapike.blogspot.com.

The folks profiled include county board member Katie Cristol; longtime Pike developer BM Smith’s president David Peete; civil rights pioneer Joan Mulholland of the Barcroft neighborhood and recently arrived Ethiopian immigrant Rozina Nigussie, a Washington-Liberty High School student who hopes to become a doctor. The ongoing project is funded by a Virginia humanities grant.

The “soul” and diversity of the four-mile stretch called the Pike was captured by a team of photographers in the smaller hardback “Living Diversity.” It delivers scene photos: diners inside restaurants, crowded sidewalks, costumed festivals, storefronts, a volunteer fireman, and a mariachi band. Published by Wolf’s friends at the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, it’s distributed by University of Virginia Press.

Wolf is a 1970 graduate of Fairfax’s J.E.B. Stuart High School, which was renamed Justice High in 2018, and whose father worked in early computing — Dad was in on the Arlington-based Advanced Research Projects Agency project that helped spawn the Internet. During his nine years teaching at the H-B Woodlawn program, Wolf began his Pike work in 1979 to produce “The Arlington Photographic Documentary Project” with Endo under a grant from National Endowment for the Arts.

Their work has received worldwide coverage, including by the Voice of America.

One frustration is that Arlington has too few galleries, Wolf complained. His team’s work has been shown at Walter Reed Community Center, the George Mason campus, and the Columbia Pike Library, where the librarian was “a wonderful fellow, but not a curator.” He likes displays at Central Library.

A Glencarlyn resident, Wolf thinks plenty about Arlington’s North-South divide. Though he declined to take a position on the ill-fated Pike streetcar, he said the idea that “the north supposedly has more wealth and less diversity is not entirely true.” The Buckingham and Westover apartments, for example, are in the north, while the affluence on Arlington Ridge Rd. is in the south. “But in general, south of Route 50 is less well off, is more affordable, so it attracted a lot of immigrants.” And there’s less of the “attitude” of snobbery, he agreed, though “some resentment of North Arlington,” whose residents may come to the Pike only occasionally for a meal.

But Wolf is worried by change. With the arrival of Amazon, older structures are threatened to make way for higher-income housing. The Westmont Shopping Center on the Pike at S. Glebe Rd. is coming down to be replaced by market-rate apartments. “The Pike is less diverse than 10 years ago,” Wolf said. “You can tell by walking around.”

The Postal Service’s troubles persist, as confirmed by friends’ tales of mail weeks late.

But here’s a sympathetic word. I was recently hoisted on my own petard in an attempted gag. My brother and I have long corresponded using real addresses, but with fake identities for the recipient. So I mailed him a book addressed to “Long Snapper” Clark, an in-joke reference to his high school football days as center on the punting team.

The book in transit got separated from the envelope. Weeks went by before I received a bureaucratic form apologizing, with a USPS invitation to file for an investigation.

I filled it out (the probe is ongoing). And felt deservedly sheepish for tasking the federal bureaucrats with chasing down a stray item belonging to “Long Snapper.”