Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

My early springtime treat: A unique and spectacular elevated view of the roiling Potomac River.

I viewed the white-tipped currents from the historic white-and-orange-tiled home called Highpoint, perched for nearly a century 200 feet above Chain Bridge. It changed hands last October. The new owner (whom I’ll simply call Cohen), has taken possession of several multi-million-dollar properties on those palisades. He gave me a tour of Highpoint and shared enthusiasm for the history of that rich — but hard-to-access — neck of the Arlington woods.

This exclusive, highly private neighborhood on Chain Bridge Rd., gets marketed with the “cachet” of McLean. But it’s officially in Arlington. Former neighbors include: famous architect Charles Goodman, AOL co-founder Jim Kimsey, Lisa Najeeb Halaby (now Queen Noor of Jordan) and Congressman Jim Moran.

My host and I reviewed the two-century tale of eight different spans over that Potomac crossing. The Chain Bridge area has seen storage (for safekeeping) of the Declaration of Independence during the British attack in the War of 1812. It was the scene of Civil War drama as Union troops guarded this entry to the capital (a flagpole stand at Highpoint may be a vestige, reports my host).

The promontory was also the site of the colorful High View Hotel, built in the 1890s as a luxury venue, but abandoned in disrepute and then burned in 1912.

Then came the house built 1924-27 by rail union executive William Doak, later Labor Secretary under President Hoover. He and his decorator wife named it “Notre Nid” (French for “Our Nest”) and hosted prominent figures from the Hoover Cabinet and later President Roosevelt, who surveyed the 1936 flood at Chain Bridge.

As housewarming presents, the new owner was given rare images of the High View Hotel and a July 1945 National Geographic with a stunning color photo of the breath-taking view.

For modern flavor, Cohen put me in touch with perhaps the home’s favorite son, Stephen Cox. His grandmother Louise Thorne Trowbridge bought it in 1956 with her husband, Alexander Trowbridge, who son, the Johnson Administration Commerce secretary, visited often. She renamed it Highpoint, remodeled and in 1991 bequeathed it to Stephen’s mother, Joya Bovingdon Cox.

Stephen Cox’s fond memories of family get-togethers include confusion about the property’s location. Mail got misrouted, he told me, and first-responders (including the occasional suicide off the Potomac cliffs) have been confused as to whether Fairfax or Arlington has jurisdiction. (It’s Arlington, I’ve confirmed.) “When I registered to vote in 2007, I presumed that with the McLean address, I should register in Fairfax county,” Stephen said, “but was informed I had to register in Arlington.”

Stephen’s mother was a music lover and environmentalist (Cohen enjoyed concerts in her living room before he bought it). Twenty years before Joya died last June at 95, she donated a scenic easement to the nonprofit Potomac Conservancy to protect the prized view against development.

Cohen renewed it, though it limits renovations. “I’m attached to the house, but it’s in bad shape,” he said, noting that the cliff is listing and the pool already condemned. But he loves “the killer view” that makes the property so special. “The perilous driveway makes you feel like you’re going up a castle in old Europe,” he said. “I love my little corner of the world.”


Workmen last Saturday were preparing the historic Febrey-Lothrop house for demolition. That didn’t stop several dozen masked protesters to gather and carry “Save the Febrey House” signs to the honks of cars passing on Wilson Blvd.

“It’s all about the money,” one complained about the builder’s unfolding plan to raze the mid-19th-century structure and put dozens of new homes on nine acres.

Organized by civic activist John Reeder and preservationist Tom Dickinson (and attended by Civil War historian Peter Vaselopulos), the protest is more likely to generate debate over future policy than to block the tear-down, a step the county board believes it is powerless to take. The estate had been partially demolished on March 24.