2024-06-14 11:33 AM

Our Man in Arlington

I maintain both an historical and personal attachment to the neighborhood called Glebewood, just off N. Glebe Rd. a block south of Langston Blvd.

A slice of its vintage 1930s cottage-style row houses are listed on the national and state historic registers. And my parents in 1974-76 lived in one of the nearby modern townhomes of Glebe Common (just two years after the neighborhood’s Dominion movie theater—formerly the Glebe—closed).

I also recently learned that Glebewood shares with certain other Arlington developments the unfortunate legacy of legally enforced racial segregation.

You’re basically in Glebewood if, like me, you patronize businesses like the Sherwin Williams Paint store or the Livin’ the Pie Life pastries and coffee haunt. The Glebewood Village Historic District, designated two decades ago, comprises 5.9 acres on seven blocks with 105 brick, two-story Colonial Revival homes in alternating colors built 1937-38. The leafy intersections of 21st and N. Brandywine Sts. lead to lovely Slater Park.

My personal memories of those blocks in the 1970s include the time some tranquility-loving neighbors—my mother included—sought to block construction of an assisted living facility a block south on Glebe Rd. It is today Sunrise Senior Living. But I also recall from my mornings walking our dog noticing that a succession of chain-link fences prevented easy passage through to the nearby African-American enclave of Halls Hill.

Many 21st century Arlingtonians became aware of the “segregation wall” after a vestige of its cinder blocks several blocks away at N. Culpeper and 17th St. was marked in 2017 with a ceremony and historical sign. That informal structure—rolled out gradually by individual homeowners in the 1930s to separate the races—was finally dismantled by local black school kids in the 1950s, and officially by the county in 1966.

The existence of racial covenants—deed and sales agreement language that forbade whites from selling homes to blacks or Jews—became common in the 1920s but had faded by the 1960s. They are only recently being researched. A group of academics led by Marymount University sociology professor Janine DeWitt so far has uncovered two land records for section 1 of Glebewood Village. They read:

“This conveyance is made upon the condition and restriction that neither the said property nor any part thereof nor any interest therein shall ever be sold, transferred, conveyed, devised or leased to anyone not of the Caucasian Race.” 

Modern residents have a Glebewood Civic Association, but its leader did not respond to inquiries. During a recent walk through my one time stomping grounds, I chatted with several neighbors. None were aware of the old covenants, except vaguely in one case. But all said they were fond of the tranquil neighborhood. Which is understandable. I also noted that Slater Park today allows easy foot traffic between Glebewood and once-segregated Hall’s Hill.

          ***

How many of you recall the Cherrydale fixture called Progressive Cleaners? (Slogan: “Arlington is progressive, so are we.”)

Visible from the 1940s until just into the 21st century was a mural that westbound drivers saw from what then was Lee Highway depicting the Trylon & Perisphere from the 1939 New York World’s Fair. (Its original meaning was said to symbolize either Faith, Hope and Charity, or Aspiration and Despair.)

Cleaners founder Joe Fuschini, I’m told by my boyhood friend Gary Glover, who is his grandson, admired the fair’s theme of progress after launching Progressive in 1937. So he wrote to the fair’s managers and asked for permission to reproduce the image. It was granted at no charge, provided that Fuschini (and his later partner Ed Glover) would encourage visits to the fair, which lasted for years until 1941, and before a new version opened in New York in 1964.

Gary Glover followed his father into the business, later expanding a successful chain of dry cleaners in Richmond called Puritan.

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