Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpIn the world of consumer finance forecasts, Austin Kiplinger is a walking brand name. What is less-known is that the 97-year-old editor emeritus of Kiplinger Washington Editors spent a very happy childhood in our own Arlington.

“I have lots of memories from 1924, very vivid years aged 6 to 14,” he told me in a crisp phone interview last month. “We lived in Lee Heights, up the hill from Rosslyn alongside the W & OD electric railway near what today is Old Dominion Drive.”

Kiplinger, the son of the company’s founder, said his father and grandfather (a retired carriage maker from Ohio) bought three lots from longtime Arlington landowner Ruby Lee Minor. They built houses on what then was Spring Drive (named for a local water source), today’s Vermont Street. Teddy Roosevelt and White House physician Adm. Preston Rixey “took their weekend drives there,” says Kiplinger, a major collector of Washingtoniana and benefactor of District of Columbia history.

“But our upscale subdivision never caught on–the streets were not paved,” he said. Still, “Mrs. Minor built a tennis court between Lorcom Lane and Vermont Street, one of the great attractions of the neighborhood, though none of us played tennis.”

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As a boy in the 1920s, Kiplinger delivered the Evening Star. “It cost a nickel, and I got two cents a paper,” he recollected. “I really worked for that because of the great distances between houses—If I were in a city, I could throw a paper on every front porch.”

His pal Bob Thomas had a “really big house on Lorcom Lane, with a porch and chicken coop in the back. We converted it into a sports club and held boxing matches,” he says. Kiplinger also recalls playing in Donaldson Run and hiking down to the Potomac cliffs —“I knew every inch of those woods,” he boasts. In the nearby “Marceytown” community was Marcey’s grocery, which offered fresh country meats and produce from the D.C. central market every Thursday.

The future business editor went to elementary school at Carnes, a two-room structure for four grades built in the 1890s near a railroad track at modern-day Glebe Road at N. 26th Street. He also attended John Marshall. “Dr. Sutton, our family doctor, had a house at the end of the street,” Kiplinger remembers. There was also Puglisi’s grocery store, “where I could buy a licorice stick for one penny, before inflation.”

In the early 1930s, Kiplinger attended Washington-Lee secondary school, then led by Principal Vanderslice, whom he imagines few recall. One teacher he has never forgotten was Miss Allen, the Latin instructor, for whom he worked on a newsletter written in that dead language. (Kiplinger can still spell “Ab Ova Usque Ad Mala,” which translates roughly as “from soup to nuts.” Miss Allen “was an iconic figure in W-L history,” Kiplinger says. She encouraged him to edit the publication his sophomore and junior years, promising he would earn “good marks.”

When senior year rolled around, the Kiplinger family publishing company was thriving, so the prodigy Austin was transferred downtown to Western High School. “My teachers in civics expected me to always to know the answer, which was very disconcerting.” He went off to Cornell University and led the career expected in his prominent family.

“Yes, I still visit Arlington,” he told me. And plenty of the modern Kiplinger staff are Arlingtonians.

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I got the chance to knock over a lemonade stand.

Sept. 1, 4 p.m., corner of N. 16th and Greenbrier streets, several girls under-age 5 set up as junior entrepreneurs in a front yard—a klatch of moms nearby chattering away. Parched, I double-parked my car and ordered a 50-cent cup, handing the kid three dimes and four nickles. She became so immersed in counting them, she neglected to pour my drink. I reminded her, but neither she nor her giggly partners acted.

So I grabbed a cup and filled it. The girl then triumphantly offered me my change–two $5 bills. “No, that’s yours,” I said as the moms chattered on. It does take a village.

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