Commentary, Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

    A rare streak of good news for historic preservationists.

   The county board appears poised to grant local historic district status to the handsome, 1912-vintage “Anderson House” home near Virginia Square. Owner Marie Schum-Brady worked with the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board and a rich county preservation staff history to lay the groundwork, which will enforce future design review and —perhaps— lessen risk of a tear-down at 3500 N. 14th Street.

Secondly, the 1897-vintage “Birchland-Weaver” home at N. Glebe Rd. and Williamsburg Blvd., owned from 1961 to 2021 by the Page family, is undergoing a history-minded expansion/renovation by John Rosenbaum of Bedrock Development. “It’s not a recognized historic district, but I’m working diligently to restore it and keep a lot of the historic character,” he said of the home built by the Weaver hardware store family. That includes reusing the cupola and adding a New Orleans-style porch up front.

  Thirdly, credit the current owners of the Greenberg/Dehart house at 2002 N. Roosevelt St., where Andrew and Megan Szwez completed a historically conscious renovation of an 1899 home with an already remarkable past. Ironically, their East Falls Church home is across Washington Blvd. from what until recently was the Fellows-McGrath “Memory House—equally old—but which was demolished last December. (Builders of an expected two new homes on that lot are just beginning work.) The two gabled, tall-columned homes have a common history.

   The Szwez family—he a technology consultant and she an Arlington teacher—this fall allowed me a tour of the handsome yellow Victorian with its wrap-around porch. They bought it in 2007 for $1.1 million after “falling in love” with it on Craigslist. They learned the colorful back story. Back in 2002, the Sarris family (also preservationists) sold the historic home for $400,000 to Lewis and Erica Beardsley, he a structural engineer and she an attorney. With the goal of “preventing its acquisition by builders,” they told The Washington Post, they came up with a plan to transport the house and rotate it 90 degrees. Working with Fredericksburg-based Ayers Home Movers, they moved the 95-ton house (all but the dirt basement) over two days using trucks with special double transmissions. The amazing feat preserved the 19th century home while creating lots for two new ones.   

    With 11 rooms, five baths, 10-foot ceilings and a widow’s walk, the house—its onetime dirt basement now a modern rec room–is among the best of Arlington’s Victorian-era past. It boasts polished wood stairs and door frames, decorations like an antique sofa, desks and chairs along with rockers on the porch.

   The next renovation came in 2012, when the Szwez’s sunk $400,000 with Falls Church-based Moore Architects to modernize the kitchen (an island, industrial-scale stove), reposition stairs, add a bathroom and make the attic the master bedroom. Some wood had rotted, and plumbing and electrical work was modernized. Architect Charles Moore used old pine roof beams for a breakfast table and selected 19th-century-style light fixtures.

Then in 2021, the owners built out into the still-sizable yard, installing an outdoor kitchen and patio with a chimney. Some floorboards from the demolished companion home across the street were re-deployed. What Andrew Szwez especially likes is that the rooftop “widow’s walk is accessible from the master bedroom.”

   The home is now assessed on Zillow at $1.6 million. But not for sale.

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  Marymount University brass summoned the public on Nov. 29 to showcase the latest on its proposal for new athletic facilities on valuable Arlington property. The plan for a soccer and lacrosse field and running track would involve reconfiguring the county’s nearby salt storage dome and mulch pile. But it would come with public access, enhanced green space and refurbishments of the Washington-Liberty baseball and softball diamonds.

   Objections were raised from the audience by former school board member Noah Simon, representing neighbors, who said the proposal, well-vetted three years ago, was rejected by neighbors 12-1. There’s disagreement over the signals being sent by county officials. More to come.