Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Ten years ago this month, my daughter Elizabeth married Evan at the Hendry House.

That picturesque Victorian-type home at Fort C.F. Smith off Spout Run is owned (and rented out) by Arlington County.
There’s a back story there with lessons for today’s struggling efforts at historic preservation.

The 19 acres was acquired at taxpayer expense in 1994 after a major dustup. The 1927 home was built by physician Ernest Hendry. He married Anne Pearce in 1939, and they decorated the property with exotic ornamental and specimen trees, as the National Park Service report noted in a 1999 report on the Civil War fort.

The property “has survived the intensive development of the region and is an island-remnant of Arlington’s early twentieth-century landscape,” it said. “The estate is locally significant as an early twentieth-century estate without peer in Arlington and as physical evidence of the former suburban character of Arlington.”

Numerous times in the 1950s, Hendry applied unsuccessfully to the county for rezoning, as property taxes were high. (The land offers access to the Potomac, and is adjacent to the historic Cedars mansion, now headquarters for the National Prayer Breakfast.) Hendry died in 1976.

In 1988 his widow and son Ernest Jr. began renovations to convert the home to a bed and breakfast, as recapped in Sherman Pratt’s “Arlington County, Virginia: A Modern History.” But instead they engaged with developer John G. Georgelas and Sons and real estate broker George Bonaface to subdivide the land. Plans called for 41 new homes in the Woodmont neighborhood and possibly a retirement community overlooking the river.

Neighbors were unhappy. More than 500 showed up for a Sept. 29, 1985, meeting, and a Parkway Citizens Association (now the Woodmont Citizens Association) objected to new homes. The whole roster of players got involved: The Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board, the Planning Commission, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Arlington Historical Society for Arlington Civil War Heritage.

It was an uphill battle for preservationists — a bond referendum in 1979 to acquire the property had suffered a rare rejection by voters.

“It was really a question of funds,” recalls then-county board member Mary Margaret Whipple. The large Hendry tract had “always been a property the county thought it would add to the park network in a meaningful way. But any capital purchase has to be really thought-out as to whether the value to the community is worth the expenditure.”

The Historical Affairs board concluded that acquiring the land would be a “unique opportunity; a site of this potential may not be found again in Arlington.”

On Feb. 28, 1987, the county board voted 5-0 to approve Historic District Designation for the Hendry tract’s 92,000 square feet. The developer then filed what became a prolonged lawsuit against Mrs. Hendry for lost income.

On Sept. 9, 1994, the board voted to acquire the property as public land for $5.25 million from the Anne P. Hendry Living Trust and Ernest and Judith Hendry.

Fort C.F. Smith Park opened in October 1996, and the Hendry House, after suitable renovations to make it even more handsome, opened as an event venue.

Today a weekend wedding rental there costs Arlington residents $2,200, only a $200 hike over what it cost me.

Intriguing new memoir just out about an unusual Arlington boyhood.

David R. Kuney, an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University, published “On Rockingham Street: Reclaiming My Family’s Jewish Identity — Our Journey from Vilna to the Suburban South” with WIPF & Stock.

Growing up in a postwar rambler his family owned from 1952-73, Kuney navigated assimilation issues and attendance at the Arlington-Fairfax Jewish Center. He joined the first classes ever at the newly built Tuckahoe, Williamsburg and Yorktown schools.

“Yorktown was my parallel universe in the secular gentile world,” Kuney writes. “I was surrounded by synagogue talk at home, and had attended Hebrew High School, and yet my daily life was mostly devoid of anything Jewish.”

Most astonishing to me personally is that his former house literally abuts my own backyard