Join me on a ride through Arlington’s craziest streets.
I’ve long cultivated this hobby of identifying routes that flummoxed those high-minded planners who laid down our tidy grid in the 1930s. But I recently deepened my research on crooked lanes by consulting Luis Araya, Arlington’s Transportation Bureau Chief.
A graduate of what today is Washington-Liberty High School, Araya has spent 47 years exploring and surveying our county’s thoroughfares, and approving new subdivisions.
Our street system attempts logic by grouping things numerically and alphabetically by syllables. But topography, state roads and interventions like the building of I-66 in the late ‘70s can foil the logic; Araya agreed.
Some resulting quirks: The famous intersection of N. Vermont St. with N. Vermont St. (at Vernon St. off 26th St. near Donaldson Run). In fact, N. 26th is my nomination for Arlington’s craziest. It winds from East Falls Church near I-66 through the Yorktown neighborhood to Glebe Rd., then transforms into 31st at N. Thomas St. The persistent 26th picks up again further south on Military Rd., only to be chopped up again in the Riverwood neighborhood by the Potomac.
Another jagged dogleg is the historic Little Falls Rd., which, after linking Glebe Rd. to the Yorktown neighborhood, veers up to parallel Williamsburg Blvd., then vanishes. Oops, it picks up a block down Sycamore St. near Bishop O’Connell High School (but requires a triple sign to separate it from Van Buren and 28th). Similarly, N. Ohio St., notable for a bridge across I-66, abruptly converts to McKinley Rd. at 10th Rd.
The one four-syllable street on the grid is Arizona St., off Williamsburg Blvd. at the Falls Church border. Confusingly, it becomes Meridian St. in Falls Church and Fairfax.
We had fun with the shortest streets — Kansas St. near Virginia Square, Lancaster (near Minor Hill), Aberdeen off Washington Blvd. at Glebe (only two houses!), plus some stubs called Hill and Inge on the south edge of Crystal City.
Historian Karl VanNewkirk, who lives in Madison Manor, reminded me his house faces 11th Rd. North — but his address is Rochester St., confusing to taxi drivers. “About 200 yards up Rochester, the houses are in Falls Church — so trash on my block is collected on different days,” he notes. Rochester makes a slight bend and is then called Quesada. Neighborhood children who attend Falls Church schools catch the bus alongside Arlington kids, in front of his house.
Araya notes that street layouts reflect social history. The well-documented segregation wall in Halls Hill (N. Culpeper St. at 17th St.) was part of a larger barrier “not built by any entity,” he said. The original subdivider sold lots to individual Whites who built their own barriers. He points to another segregation wall in South Arlington, north of 17th St., east of Walter Reed Dr., now a fenced pathway near Arlington Village.
There was a time, Araya recalled, when Blacks couldn’t walk along the north side of Columbia Pike without getting frisked by police. So for an African American to walk from Green Valley to see friends in Halls Hill, “You had to know the route through white neighborhoods. It was like the Green Book for Arlington.”
Two notable losses: 40-veteran National Park Service historian Ed Bearrs died Sept. 15 at age 97, in Arlington.
Montana-born Bearrs was a legend for his tours of Civil War battlefields and was honored at an Arlington Historical Society banquet. I spoke to him by phone last year about his late daughter Sara Bearrs, herself a first-class historian who wrote on George Washington Parke Custis.
Also lost was former School Superintendent Arthur Gosling, on Sept. 10, age 83. The Ohio-born social studies teacher ran our schools from 1985-97. He is credited with initiating all-day kindergarten for all, as well as programs for at-risk students, K-12 Spanish immersion, improving teacher pay and promoting women.
I first encountered Gosling in 1993 when he was onstage receiving the “futures” report proposing major school boundary changes (never carried out).