Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

The two-decade-old saga of what in my neighborhood was called “The Monster House” has a new wrinkle.

The looming, not-family-friendly structure at 27th and N. Sycamore sts.—whose owners have long struggled to keep the place occupied—on May 9 sold for $1.6 million, per Zillow.

The purchaser is the Fairfax-based Pathway Homes Inc. The nonprofit plans to convert the awkward three-floor, seven-bedroom house (zoned R-6 in single-family residential) to a home for 15 residents (with professional staff present) for a program for Arlingtonians suffering from mental illness, substance abuse and other disabilities.

There is nervousness within the Williamsburg and East Falls Church civic associations. Members participated May 3 in a “courteous” Zoom Q&A with Pathway officers. County planning official Cedric Southerland had reached out to the associations in late April as he prepared a decision on a special assisted living use permit, which the county board had planned to consider in June before it was postponed.

I stopped by to visit current occupants of 6430 N. 27th St.: four James Madison University alums awaiting the schedule for moving out. The young men, who’ve been paying $4,000 monthly, showed me the downstairs gym and reported some dozen recent visits from realtors. They know the cavernous place “is not suitable for a family.”

I recounted some history of the controversial site. The lot containing a conventional home was purchased in 1998 for $159,000 by George Washington University Professor Paul Kingery, a specialist in youth violence prevention. He stunned neighbors by constructing in 2001—without an architect—a non-descript pale-blue box that dwarfed neighboring homes.

Rumors spread that he planned a dorm for troubled youth, on which Kingery remained vague. But he ran into trouble with the Board of Zoning Appeals, which begged him to hire a design firm to improve its appearance. Kingery moved in for a while (I chatted him up), but eventually declared bankruptcy and relocated to Hawaii. In August 2004, N P Investment Co. bought “the Monster House” for $993,600. A year later, it was purchased by Falls Church architect Sam Yoon for only $455,000. He used it to showcase his high-end art (he also gave me a tour).

Yoon improved the home’s appearance, adding attractive brown siding, design motifs and shrubbery, plus a stone driveway for several cars.

But when Yoon wanted out, even the luxury-specialist realtors had trouble (I always thought it should be bought by a rock band). In 2017 he sold it to Shafik Aasef, who rented it out and this year put it up for sale. When Arlington County announced a proposal for service contractors considering the home, Pathways used donated money to buy it.

The Williamsburg association is weighing several concerns, according to a May 6 memo. They include: adequate parking, whether the residents would have private bedrooms to ease therapy, and the lack of yard space, which might mean outdoor gatherings of smokers. But overall, I’m told, neighbors are supportive.

Springtime walks on the W&OD trail reveal that trails up the historic site near Madison Manor known as Brandymore Castle no longer seem threatened with erosion caused by joyriding mountain bike recreators.
Following damage to the often-muddy natural trails at the site (shown on British maps from 1649), county natural resource managers, volunteers at Arlington Trails and members of Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts have been cooperating on signage and education to protect local plant life.

Appreciation for the marked mound grew this winter after avocational historian Luke Burke published, with the Friends of Brandymore Castle, archaeological evidence suggesting a Civil War connection. “The trench and embankment at Brandymore bear a resemblance to Civil War earthworks, but there is no documentation that positively identifies earthworks at the project site,” cautions Burke. “A battery on the hill could have provided defense against Union forces advancing up the road now known as Roosevelt Street.”

He includes maps that list 19th-century area landowners. Further research could produce signs of a Native American presence.