Arlandria: Then and (Almost) Now

The topic of a lecture by Krystyn Moon, associate professor at the University of Mary Washington, at a recent Alexandria Historical Society lecture--"From Arlandria to Chirilauga: The Remaking of a Northern Virginia Neighborhood, 1960s to 1980s."

Where? The name obviously combines "Alexandria" and "Arlington," but more precisely: 

  Four Mile Run, at the north of the area, flows into the Potomac and once gave the entire area its name. Photo from Arlandria-Chirilagua Business Association.

Four Mile Run, at the north of the area, flows into the Potomac and once gave the entire area its name. Photo from Arlandria-Chirilagua Business Association.

Leading up to the late 1800s--including during the Civil War--the area was a rural part of Alexandria County, as Krystyn referred to it, "a marginal space between Alexandria and Washington." Roach's Mill was one of the area's few dwellings/businesses. The Michigan troops who came into Alexandria across the Long Bridge in May 1861 would have marched in or near it.

  Roach's Mill, Civil War-era sketch by Alfred Waud, now in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Roach's Mill, Civil War-era sketch by Alfred Waud, now in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

As Krystyn described, in the late 1800s, the area became a "streetcar suburb," referred to by several small neighborhood names (not yet Arlandria). Unusual for the time, blacks owned homes in a section called Sunnyside. Several public places, such as Hume Springs, St. Asaph's Racecourse, and Luna Park, also operated in the early 1900s, now only captured in street names.

The City of Alexandria annexed the area in the 1930s. Apartments, homes, and shopping areas sprang up after World War II.

Krystyn talked about 3 major changes, beginning in the 1960s: environmental degradation, civil rights, and immigration.

  • Environmental Degradation: Overdevelopment without the necessary infrastructure resulted in a series of floods in the 1960s and 1970s, causing significant personal and commercial property damage. (Flood control measures finally came in 1980.) White flight to Fairfax County, partly because of the flooding and partly because of social and demographic changes...
  • Civil Rights: Two civil rights incidents, one in 1969 and one in 1970, became tipping points. In the first, a white policeman pistol-whipped a black male teen, which led to broader protests about police harassment. In the second, another black teen, Robin Gibson, was killed by a white store clerk. These protests led to a curfew and martial law; they also led to election of the city's first African American city council member (Ira Robinson) and blacks demanding a greater role in city affairs.
  • Immigration: Immigrant communities looking for affordable housing came to Arlandria in the 1970s. While the area is known today for Salvadoran residents (see below), Southeast Asian first came to the area, primarily through the efforts of activist Jackie Bong Wright
  Flooding before 1977, photo from Northern Virginia Regional Commission.

Flooding before 1977, photo from Northern Virginia Regional Commission.

A mapping/data project Krystyn created illustrates the demographic changes in the city, including in Arlandria. In 1965, a map of Alexandria would have shown a scattering of marriage licenses issued to foreign-born spouses, with England, Germany and Canada the top three countries of origin. By 1985, the number many-multiplied, with El Salvador, the Philippines, and Ethiopia as the top three countries of origin.

In the mid-1980s, when I moved to Alexandria, more movement and conflict was underway. Lawton Estates, home to more than 2,500 families, was sold to a developer. Alexandria United Tenants (now Tenants and Workers United) requested the city use eminent domain to block the sale. It did not succeed, but ultimately the developer pulled out of the project. In the 1990s, it formed the Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative and purchased about 280 units. Chirilagua is a village in southeastern El Salvador from which many people in the neighborhood came.  

But the tension between affordable housing and private development continues today.

 

Not a part of Krystyn's talk, but for those familiar with the Foo Fighters: Dave Grohl grew up in the area and the song "Arlandria" refers to the neighborhood.  The Birchmere is also in the heart of Arlandria.