Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpThe most contrarian neighborhood in Arlington? Try Lyon Village.

Sophisticates there have tried the patience of many in government over the past century. They’ve gone to court and blitzed county hearings on issues ranging from collective funding of their community house, to residential encroachment from Clarendon’s re-zoned restaurants (the ones disgorging those drunk millennials) to the 1920 bid to secede.

“We are considered to be a pain in the ass because there’s big development going on, and we have a very active civic association,” says Martha Moore, the retired management consultant who’s been active in Lyon Village for more than 35 years. Last April she was awarded the Sun Gazette Cup for volunteerism by the Arlington County Civic Federation.

Moore helped me through the disputatious history of the Arlington neighborhood listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Lyon Village was formally developed in 1923 on the 19th-century suburban retreat and farmland owned by Robert Cruit. Enter Frank Lyon (1867-1955). The onetime newspaper editor from Petersburg, Va., was a Georgetown law graduate who made a career with the Interstate Commerce Commission. He built himself a fine place off Old Dominion Drive (now Missionhurst). He made a bundle developing Lyon Park before he turned to subdividing lots on the 165 acres between Lee Highway and Wilson Blvd.

That set in motion decades of construction of fancier and varied homes laid out on the natural flow of the land, Moore noted. Many were colonials built in the late 1930s by German immigrant Frederick Westenberger, who was profiled in 1993 by his Key Blvd. neighbor Alan Ehrenhalt. Lyon Village gained a vibrant Woman’s Club and civic association, which was instrumental in the new street naming system in 1934, followed by the first Arlington post Office, in Clarendon.

But Lyon omitted one thing. The original sales agreements required him to put aside money for a community house and provide the land. He didn’t follow through. So in the 1940s, Lyon Village activists filed suit, and the Virginia Supreme Court backed them. After fundraising via hayrides and square dances, Moore said, the center finally opened in 1949.

Modern issues continue to cast Lyon Village as the “crybaby neighborhood,” said Moore, who is compiling letters, bulletins and directories for a local history. In 1970s, some resisted Metro because they feared it would bring in burglars and cut-through traffic (Lyon Village has some of our most restrictive owner-only parking).

When Clarendon’s Vietnamese restaurants gave way to pricier mid-range chain eateries, there were cries of “Keep Clarendon gritty,” Moore said. Outdoor patio bars alongside private homes serving until 2:00 a.m. caused tensions, though the alcohol problem has improved, she said. “It all made us very vigilant.”

It was only when Metro was established that Lyon Village homes rose in value. “They’re not great for aging, and the only way to expand them is up, not out,” she said.

At one point, Moore recalls musing to the late County Board chairman Jim Hunter that Clarendon/Lyon Village should secede. Already been tried, he noted, referring to the 1920 application for an independent charter by early Clarendon denizens. (Virginia’s Supreme Appeals Court said no, calling Arlington “a continuous, contiguous and homogeneous community.”

Instead, Moore strives “not to be negative” and works with county staff. But “it was particularly galling when another neighborhood complained – about us complaining.”

***

I noticed a poignant change this weekend during my walk through Tuckahoe Park.

The newly renovated ball field – a joint project of the Parks and Recreation Department and O’Connell High School – has spanking new drainable baseball/softball diamonds that double as soccer fields, along with modern metal benches, batting cages and bullpens.

Last month, the new electronic scoreboard, which O’Connell paid for, boasted a parochial label “Knights” and “visitors.” Now it’s been changed to the more universal “home” and “guests.” The original sign, the county says, was only a demonstration.

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