Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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Of all the mansions atop select hills in Arlington, one has stood out in my mind since my boyhood.

“Whispering Oaks,” so named on its plaque at the corner of North Glebe and Chesterbrook Road, affords a swell view of Walker Chapel.

The stately pale-red-brick home fronted with eight columns is surrounded by a wrought-iron fence and two curved storybook driveways bracketing a sloping lawn.

Inside are 5,891 square feet, six bedrooms and eight bathrooms, according to Zillow.com, which estimates Whispering Oaks’ market value at $3.5 million.

The owner, Hakan Yavalar, is president of a management firm in Arlington and a 1977 graduate of Washington-Lee High school. He bought the place in 2002 for $2.3 million, county records show. He’s very private and did not respond to inquiries.

So I went straight to the family that built Whispering Oaks. Billy Martin, current owner of Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown, is one of six offspring of the Martin family who spent childhood years in the house. His colorful memories include that fact that the mansion was designed by his late mother and father, also called Billy Martin (like his grandfather and great-grandfather), a Golden Gloves boxer and pro-am golfer down the street at Washington Golf and Country Club.

Those four generations of Irishmen became known for Martin’s Tavern (opened in 1933) and nearby Billy Martin’s Carriage House (1953-79) and as pillars of Georgetown. The tavern, at which I recently enjoyed a steak, over the decades hosted Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and preserves the booth where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie.

Billy IV, age 55, explained how he lived in Whispering Oaks until age 9, when his parents divorced and moved him to Florida. “It’s a magnificent home and I loved it,” he said. His grandfather, back in the late 1920s when Chesterbrook Road was farmland, built a two-story wood-frame house with a wraparound porch on the same property. Billy’s father inherited it in 1949 and substituted Whispering Oaks in 1954.

“When I was a kid, Chesterbrook and Glebe were only two-lane roads, and there was more property to be had,” he said. The original eight acres was cut to six in the early 1960s when Glebe Road was widened. Martin recalls his father’s friendship with the neighboring Weaver family, who for decades owned a Georgetown hardware store. “Dad was the longest living member of the country club and made a lot of money playing golf.” Some of his gambling winnings he stored in walls of the wood house, Martin said.

In the mid-1980s, Martin’s father sold a slice of the property to J.L. Albrittain Co., which built the gated community Carriage Hill. “He had to get approval from the county and sign a deal that basically said he would never subdivide again,” the son recalled.

Before he died in 2004, the father tried to sell Whispering Oaks several times. Once an “Arab sheik” drove by in a fleet of limousines and brandished a suitcase with $1 million, Martin recalls. “Dad closed it back up and said come back with another just like it.” The sheik never returned.

“Dad turned down $4.5 million after the dot-commers” got rich before he decided to move to Florida, Martin says. “I always thought it would pass to me, but Dad said I couldn’t afford all the taxes.”

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Glen Hilbrand is back on “duty” panhandling on Sycamore Street at his post of 20 years near the East Falls Church Metro. He recently spent two weeks in the Arlington jail.

A judge last month ruled against him on an assault and battery against a competing panhandler. Glen acknowledged to me that he fought with the man who teams up with his girlfriend to work the “turf” on which Glen spends some of the spare change he collects on grass seed for the public median strip.

He says he’d really like to find a job. But that, he says, might require a driver’s license. He may have too many outstanding fines to qualify.

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