2024-06-16 11:41 PM

Our Man in Arlington

At least one edifice on renamed Langston Blvd. is not being renamed. The Lee Community Center at Lexington St., for decades a red brick gathering place that dates to 1926, is now in county purgatory.

    Its empty state has left erstwhile users (before the pandemic it hosted senior history lectures, voting, pottery classes, and leaf bags for autumn pickup) reduced to speculating on its future.

     Except for a playground with swings and basketball hoops, the building that once honored the top Confederate general is now chiefly a site for glass recycling bins.

      “The building’s HVAC equipment is 20-25 years old and nearing the end of its useful life,” explained Katie O’Brien, the Environmental Services Department’s communications manager. “Spare parts are no longer available. Replacing the roof-top HVAC units would require major renovation, including invasive removal of embedded asbestos and recreating the interiors to meet current accessibility standards.”

         What eventually becomes of the onetime Robert E. Lee Elementary School may spark controversy. The Plan Langston Boulevard nonprofit, in its new Preliminary Concept Plan Report, outlined three scenarios for the land, assuming the building goes, in its broader vision of a spiffier five-mile boulevard that addresses larger needs such as lower-cost housing and healthy small businesses. In coordination with offerings at the Langston Brown Community Center up the road, the Lee Center could be subdivided into a combo of senior housing, public recreation and school space.

      That may not thrill all nearby in the Leeway Overlee Civic Association. Members tell me they favor returning the center to its previous mixed-use role. “The current sentiment does not seem to reflect making the property a public/private partnership,” their statement said. “Should the county determine that the facility be shuttered and mothballed, the community would seem to prefer that the bricks be replaced with sod.”

      That past-its-prime structure, however, retains fond memories for alums of the school, which closed in 1971. Dave Swerdloff recalled doing first and second grade in the mid-1950s braving bullies while walking from 22nd Rd. “We referred to the school by its full name, Robert E. Lee,” though few kids understood Lee’s impact, he said. “The building looked to my young eyes the way a school should look: A brick building with what I could only see as a grand entrance and, out back, fields to play in,” plus summer recreation activities like making potholders and lanyards.

    Larry Lachance, who attended soon after the building expanded in 1957, walked just four minutes from his house on N. Madison St. “Of course it was perfectly safe and parents didn’t escort you,” he recalled, and he eventually became a safety patrol. “My fifth-grade teacher was Mrs. Miller—I don’t know her first name. I thought she was nice, and I’m pretty certain I learned something.”

    Larry Batstone, also an ex-Madison St. resident, enrolled in second grade in 1952, in the post-war era when new Arlington schools were opening and splitting siblings. The kids, “nearly all of whom walked to school, used Lee as a playground after school and during recess, and I often brought a ball glove,” he recalled. “But you couldn’t get your clothes dirty, or you’d have to go home and come back.”

     At age 79, Batstone is puzzled at the modern-day erasure of Lee the man. “I look at it as kind of a piece of history, and a lot of history is going away.”


       A majestic home built in 1890 on a strawberry farm in Bellevue Forest may soon meet the wrecking ball.

     The white-wood 3,626-square-foot, five-bedroom estate on 1.5-acres with an historic elm tree at 3575 N. Roberts Lane was sold in April for $3 million.

      Longtime owners Michael and Audrey Wyatt (a former secretary of the Arlington Community Foundation) signed it over to Doug Root of Blackfin Real Estate Investors and Iron Fish Construction.

      He told me he will not subdivide the property and plans a new home “very similar in style to the existing home.”

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