Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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When I was 12 years old, I was a Washington Post paperboy, spending countless pre-dawn hours traipsing my boyhood Arlington neighborhood of Rivercrest.

Each house, it seemed in the dark, had its own personality, traits I gleaned from making deliveries and returning once a month to collect fees (back when nearly everyone subscribed).

This Thanksgiving, seeking fresh scenery for my morning constitutional, I retraced that paper route. The result is my portrait of a Rivercrest frozen in amber, 1961-72.

This medium-upscale subdivision marked on Military Road by curved “Rivercrest” signs is bordered by the lane heading down to Chain Bridge and Gulf Branch (“the creek,” kids called it) with its adventure trail reaching the Potomac.

Rivercrest offers a quick commute downtown but no 7-11 within walking distance. (If you ran out of milk late at night, tough luck.)  Housekeepers who came from the district took long bus rides. From the sidewalks, you can hear traffic from the elevated George Washington Memorial Parkway. Noise from airplanes was steady enough that we got used to missing lines of TV dialog. The Kilheffer house had a myna bird whose whistling pierced the Rivercrestian air.

Homes on these curved streets are mostly executive-style two-story and split-level spreads, many with columns and bay windows, some high on hills. Most cost well over $1 million (my parents in 1960 paid $35,000).

I began my walk at the vacant lot near the road to Chain Bridge where architect Brockhurst Eustice in 1969 built a nonconforming narrow home. Neighbors filed suit, deeming it out of Rivercrest’s character. The Virginia Supreme Court agreed; he tore it down.

The other “nonconforming” homes were Mrs. Walz’s red-brick colonial smaller than her neighbors’, and the Glovers’ flat-roofed double-doored glassy square, with zoysia grass.

The Glovers owned Progressive Cleaners in Cherrydale. Other commercial names included the real estate families Yeonas and Gosnell, and the Levines, owners of Mario’s Pizza. Politicos included School Board member Lee Bean and attorney Dave Kinney, who in 1968 ran for Congress against the unbeatable Joel Broyhill.

High on the hill of 38th Street lived Arlington county manager Burt Johnson, around the corner from Cliff Carter, top aide to President Lyndon Johnson. There was Watergate attorney Steve Shulman, noted Air Force Gen. Jack Catton, Pentagon general counsel Len Neiderlehner, and the ambassador from Botswana. Architect Jack Redinger engineered Ballston’s recently demolished “Blue Goose” building.

Other neighbors included two CIA officials, a Federal Reserve staffer, a Commerce Department attorney, a World Bank big shot, a Navy management consultant—and two dads with home offices.

Two moments of drama unfolded on steep Oakland Street. One morning a dad at the top of the hill turned his car ignition on and went back in his house for coffee. The sedan rolled down and crashed into a utility pole in my front yard, no one hurt. Similarly, the young Curry girl was once playing in her parents’ parked car. She let loose the brake and, with Mom chasing, sped screaming down across Nelson Street, where only a street sign, which she knocked over, prevented her hurtling into the creek.

Today, you won’t spot many Washington Posts on front stoops. What I saw were numerous unreceived boxes of household goods delivered, on a weekend, by some driver for amazon.com. I wonder if he’ll someday write about Rivercrest.

***

The annual Turkey Bowl tackle football game has been held (rain or shine) on Thanksgiving in the Halls Hill neighborhood for more than 50 years. This year it relocated.

When I drove by High View Park on Thursday, the field was empty—save for some construction equipment.

Sure enough, a friend in that African American community tells me the county’s renovation of the field forced the traditionalists—who play a both a man’s and a woman’s game with uniforms and real refs—to move the action, with its attendant crowds, to Glebe Elementary School.

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