Commentary, Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Since 1940, our county’s motorists have gone for repairs at Joyce Motors, on N. 10th St. at the mouth of Clarendon.

But under the Clarendon Sector Plan Update the county board approved April 23, Joyce is slated to enter our collective memory bank, its future undetermined, though honored in a coming new high-rise.

Not everyone among the neighbors, historic preservationists and proprietors feel that tribute does justice.
In an April 13 presentation at the Arlington Committee of 100, builder Ryan Orr, vice president-development at Orr Partners, listed his firm’s prestige Arlington projects: the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. HQ, George Mason University’s law school, the remodeled Washington Golf and County Club, the YMCA and the Centro Arlington mixed-use building off Columbia Pike at George Mason Dr.

Under the new Clarendon plan, Orr will construct “The Joyce” — 240 apartments (some slated affordable) at 11 stories, plus 3,000 square feet of street retail for restaurants with below-grade parking. The emblematic façade of Joyce Motors will be integrated in the design of the off-white exterior.

The interior theme will be gas stations of old, with “green racing stripes as a bit of a homage to the building that was there,” Orr said. Elevator banks will display gas station logos from across the county, “a relational theme” he hopes will be “not too cheesy, not too Disneyland,” as the project’s contribution to the “walkable village” in an “underutilized corner.”

Five area civic associations, before the board’s vote, raised “serious concerns” about the overall Clarendon remake, saying it short-changes parks and affordable housing. It was organized by Ashton Heights Civic Association president Scott Sklar, a longtime customer of Joyce Motors. “The new building is just a massive building — not an ‘architectural statement’ as it should be,” he told me. “I would like the historic frontage kept with a grass strip and native plants and trees.”

The replacement of Joyce drew thumbs-down from the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board. In March, it wrote to the county board backing a Planning Commission motion that urged “full frontage preservation in situ for Joyce Motors, a building ranked Essential in the county’s Historic Resources Inventory….Only six of these porcelain-enameled, boxlike service stations remained in Arlington by the late-Twentieth Century,” with Joyce now the only one.

At a June 22 Committee of 100 session on preservation, Chairman Dick Woodruff criticized the county’s priorities, saying, “façade preservation…is not historic preservation.” Arlington boasts a colorful history of service stations, emblematic of the nation’s post-World II infatuation with wheels and highway adventures. Directories from the 1950s—60s provided by the Center for Local History listed such stalwarts as Scot Gas of Cherrydale, across then-Lee Highway from Gray’s Texaco (my father’s favorite); the Lee-Lexington Gulf Station where singer Jimmy Dean hung out and Ben’s Friendly Service (Mobilgas) at S. Walter Reed Dr. and Four Mile Run.

Susan Myers, granddaughter of Joyce’s founder Charles DeCoye Joyce, told me neither her grandfather nor her father Franklin Joyce ever bought the building, despite trying. That meant the sale was done by the Jones family, requiring the auto shop (run daily by her nephew as she operates the financials remotely) to move to temporary quarters next door. “We weren’t talked to about it, but were given six months to move, then an extra year.”

Myers is glad her late father didn’t live to see the updated Clarendon plan.

The spirited team of volunteers who help 350 Arlington senior citizens “age in place” have won the government’s Arlington Cares Distinguished County Service Award. Activists in the nonprofit Arlington Neighborhood Villages will gather July 12 for a virtual celebration and spiel on the group’s work presented by Bob and Mary Stump.

The eight-year-old network of 400 volunteers aged 20-85, about half of them active, drive 55-and-older Arlingtonians to medical appointments, deliver food and medical supplies and check on registered members of the “village.”

During pandemic year 2021, volunteers fulfilled 2,680 service requests, donated 8,610 hours and drove 30,100 local miles.