House cleaning the other day put my eyes on our collection of golf pencils. Decided to pen some thoughts on my playing days, as well as those with Roberta. We’ve long since retired from the Hacker League, so most of these memories are from the 1990s. I’ve been playing golf since I was a kid but only started collecting the pencils in 1995 or so.
Arcadian Shores, Myrtle Beach, SC
In the summer of 1995, Roberta and I returned to the States from our assignment in Oman. Speeding around in a rental, we were on our way to spend some time with my folks in North Carolina. On the way, we stopped for a few days of fun in the sun in Myrtle Beach. Once known as mostly a summer party destination, this South Carolina locale had grown into some kind of golfing mecca.
We picked North Myrtle to avoid all the traffic and craziness in Myrtle proper. Driving down Highway 17 and approaching the area, I had a few flashbacks to the mid 70s, when Tim and I would cruise down from Greensboro and visit with Robert. He had a party pad close to the center of action. It wasn’t birdies we were chasing back then.
When we were in Muscat, I played with a retired General from India. We played on brown courses such as Ras Al Hamra. Desert golf consists of putting surfaces of oil-mixed sand and a square of astro turf each player carried to substitute for grass. Anyway, it felt great to be back on the real thing.
Deep Cliff, Cupertino, CA
Fond memories of playing this executive course south of San Francisco. We’d get up early on a Saturday morning and zip down I-280 to meet with our friends Bill and Melanie, who lived nearby.
Deep Cliff lies in a hilly transition zone between the Santa Cruz mountains and Silicon Valley. Its warm and dry climate always felt good after leaving San Francisco and its typically cool and sometimes foggy mornings.
The first tee shot here is nerve-wracking with water left and right. Redwoods and sycamores line each fairway. The course is short, however, a balance to the hazards.
One time Bill aced number 8. I hit next and I swear on a stack of Bibles I came very close to duplicating his effort. My ball stopped inches from the back of the hole.
I also remember you had to pay in cash here, weird for Silicon Valley and affluent Cupertino.
Dubai Creek Golf Course, UAE
If I wrote this twenty years ago when we played here, I would have felt the need to give Dubai a little introduction. A world player, this desert behemoth certainly needs none now. Among its bragging rights are Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building and the DP World Tour Championship. It’s the season ending tournament for the European Tour and tops off the Race to Dubai, which replaced Europe’s Order of Merit in 2009.
And that big money tournament is in addition to the Dubai Desert Classic, a regular stop on the European Tour since 1989. Dubai Creek hosted it in 1999 and 2000. The tournament helped put Dubai and U.A.E. on the western map, and it was the first European Tour event in the Middle East. Winners include Ernie Els (3), Tiger Woods (2), Rory McIlroy, and Fred Couples.
By the way, don’t let the word creek fool you. This was some kind of first class experience, worth the four-drive from Muscat. Oman had no green courses at that time.
Dubai comes on you suddenly, an oasis in the sand. We got our fix on Western things, eating at a steak house and shopping at the mall. I was playing well at this point, so I have good memories. On a couple of holes, I remember using tall glass buildings as a target point. It wasn’t crowded, which can spoil a round of golf.
Fort Belvoir, Fairfax County, Virginia
Nothing but a memory now, this was your basic worn-out 9 hole executive track. The fifth tee box was a chip away from Route 1. Retired walk-ons like myself were the mainstay. The course disappeared about ten years ago, giving way to a new hospital.
The hole that stands out in my mind is number 9. A deep bunker guarded the green so you could not roll the ball up. I never went for the green and depended on my short game to try for par.
In my younger years, I always played 18 holes. But playing nine holes only was something I slipped into rather easily. When golf exploded in popularity in the late 1990s, a full round could take five hours plus. I had been spoiled, I reckon, when I played at Pope Air Force Base. They were adamant about slow play. We always finished in a little over four hours.
Happy Trails, Phoenix
In the summer of 1991, the Air Force sent me to Tunisia for an assignment at the Embassy. Tunis did not have a course so the dips and ex-pats would drive to places like Hammamet, a resort area hugging the coast south of the capital city. Tunisia, a moderate Arab country, allowed nude bathing at certain parts of the beach. On one of the holes, you could see down to the sun bathers.
Ok, back to the golf. A guy named Brian, an American who was attached to the Embassy in a civilian capacity, created the “TWalker Cup.” The tournament pitted Americans versus British expats. We had a lot of fun with that one, playing at Yasmine Valley, which had just opened in Hammamet.
I remember sinking a long, downhill putt on the ninth hole to give my partner and me what we thought was an un-surmountable lead. I strutted off the green, filled with joy, but hiding it as required by golf etiquette. Brian, our captain, extended his hand in congratulations.
I’m sure he put us down for two points, but what’s that saying – don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched? The Brits dug in on the back nine and ended up tying us.
We made some few good putts but they answered every time. As part of squadron versus squadron intramural, I had played match play when I was in the Air Force. But there’s nothing quite like playing for your country, and playing well at that.
The most memorable hole at Yasmine was on the back nine, maybe 15. If you played it, you know what I’m talking about. A long par five, it was some kind of nasty. A double dogleg, uphill on the second shot. Architect Ron Bream must have been in a devilish mood that day.
(I see on an aerial view that they changed this hole, straightening it out and making it a par four. Mabruk!)
In the other direction from Tunis lies Tarbarka. Sandwiched between a lush forest and the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, this picturesque town is situated on the northern coast of Africa, just a few miles from the border with Algeria.
Tarbarka’s one golf course (at least at the time) featured several seaside tee shots over sand and rock. Dare we draw a comparison with Pebble Beach?
The one hole I remember well was a par three that required a full carry over the beach and rocks. I hit a four iron flush on to the green and made par.
Shaun Donnelly, the Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission, set up a tournament here for the dips and expats. We used the Stableford system, which the PGA Men’s Tour flirted with briefly at The International in Colorado. Unlike stroke play, you earn points. This system allows a golfer to survive a blow-up hole. Of course, the maximum for the non-pros is a triple bogey.
Anyway, Donnelly was good people, a Redskins fan back in the glory days of the Sweathogs and winning teams. I remember he paid our office a visit from time to time. We shared smiles and talk over the team’s play. This was 1991, a season that saw Washington go 17 and 2 and win the Super Bowl.
I didn’t play a lot in Tunisia, but it was enough to keep my game from getting too rusty.
After Tunis came an assignment to Luke AFB, AZ in Phoenix. As an Easterner who loved the four seasons, I wasn’t sure how I would like it out in the desert west. There were some downsides to living there, but the Valley of the Sun was heavenly for playing golf. If you didn’t mind 6 am tee times in the summer, you could play year round.
And I did. I was lucky and got invited by Bob Dodson and his friend Tom to become part of their foursome. We played every Saturday morning, a rota of courses including Villa de Paz where I lived, Estrella, and Happy Trails. I had never seen a course like Villa, that wound its way past and very close to back yards. OB lurked everywhere it seemed and you crossed over streets several times.
Phoenix and its satellite locals had over 100 courses to play. There was no need to play elsewhere, unless you heard the siren song coming from Sedona Golf Resort. My good friend Howard, who I played with in Tunisia, visited me for three days of golf in the morning and Giants baseball in the afternoon, plus a trip up to Sedona. It lies about halfway between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon. We drove up and met Bob.
Sedona is a work of art, a place with no counterpart in the East. The wiki entry can say it better than I can.
Sedona's main attraction is its array of red sandstone formations. The formations appear to glow in brilliant orange and red when illuminated by the rising or setting sun. The red rocks form a popular backdrop for many activities, ranging from spiritual pursuits to the hundreds of hiking and mountain biking trails.
The golf course was a four star but we picked the wrong day. It rained, so much so that we had to stop playing.
In terms of how well I was playing, this two-year period was my peak. So well, in fact, I framed two scorecards. I broke 80 twice, something I had never even come close to before. Granted the courses we were played had ratings in the high 60s, but I worked on my game and even got a lesson that helped. The pro at Villa had me work on the rotation of my shoulders. That one little tip had me hitting my metals woods much better.
I also replaced my old set of Walter Hagen irons. I can’t believe how long I held out on not getting new clubs. Everybody had new ones except ol’ Jay, who held on with his persimmon woods, scratched up irons and a bit too worn golf bag.
Callaway’s were all the rage at the time and I was leaning to buying them. I thought to myself, these funny looking Pings are not for me. But I did like the black graphite shafts so I gave them a test drive.
I kid you not. With 6 iron in hand, my ball banged the 150-yard sign. Next shot, straight at it and almost hit it again.
I almost slept with my new Ping Zing 2’s that night…
Harding Park, San Francisco
Playing golf in Phoenix will spoil you rotten. I never wore anything but shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. And the poor weather man. On the rare occasions when clear blue skies were not forecast to reign over the valley, he or she got browbeat to death.
San Francisco required an adjustment. Its climate is superb overall, but this was my first introduction to microclimates. Long pants and a golf pullover were essential for city mornings, but quite often, the clouds burn off and by noon, you’re in paradise.
I played at Harding Park a handful of times in the mid 1990s. The drive from the city took about 40 minutes. Green fees were very reasonable. When I played, it was always in the early morning. The dew was still on the first few greens.
The course, surrounded by Lake Merced, is not as scenic as Lincoln Park, but it certainly has a storied history. Before it entered a period of neglect, the course hosted the Lucky International, three San Francisco Opens and the U.S. Amateur Public Links. Winners included Bryon Nelson, Gary Player, fan favorite Chi-Chi Rodriquez, Billy Casper, and local favorite Ken Venturi. Venturi and Johnny Miller knew the course like the back of their hands.
The PGA Tour came to the rescue in 2002 and gave the city-owned course a complete facelift. Harding Park hosted the Presidents Cup in 2009, a WGC event in 2005, and the Champions Tour three times.
So, wouldn’t it be nice to go back and play this beauty once again?
Greens fees for non-residents are $156, so maybe not…
Hilltop, Alexandria/Fairfax County
When I first heard about Hilltop, I thought, really, a golf course on landfill? Doesn’t sound very appealing.
But it’s a fun little track that winds its way up the hill and then back down. You get to warm up, as the first two holes are short par threes.
But then comes number three, up hill dog leg, the toughest hole. Lies are undulating and winds bend the sea oats.
I always loved the ninth hole with its commanding down hill tee shot and no hazards. It’s always nice to finish with a good score and I usually did.
Lahontan, Truckee (Lake Tahoe)
I owe a lot to my brother-in-law Rich. He took me golfing many times, including our mainstay, Shoreline, south of San Francisco.
Perennial Nicklaus-chaser Tom Weiskopf, a 16-time champ on the tour, designed this beauty on the California side of Lake Tahoe. I always liked Tom and followed him several times at Greensboro and Pinehurst.
Nicklaus grabs all attention as a designer but Wieskopf has earned his fair share of praise. He sure hit the sweet spot with Lahontan. And then there’s the natural beauty - Ponderosa Pines, snow-capped peaks. And everything was first class; the attendants cleaned your clubs, stuff like that.
Lincoln Park, San Francisco
Like Harding Park and the Presidio, this was your basic public track when I played in the 1990s. But no matter how poorly the conditions were, the killer views soothed the savage beast. Holes seven and eight looked to the city skyline. Number 17 is the one everyone remembers, a long downhill par 3 that as I recall, I never parred. But what views of the north bay and Golden Gate Bridge.
The layout has a few bit oddities. Between holes six and seven is a long walk past the Legion of Honor building. The home hole on the front nine is number eight. I remember a hot dog stand stood just off the green. From time to time, a pulled tee shots produced a fore! People standing in line had to duck. Once a bouncing ball hit someone’s car.
I didn’t realize it but Lincoln Park is the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway, which was the first transcontinental highway for automobiles across the United States of America.
Meadows Farm, Fredericksburg
A golf course architect with a sense of humor. Funky as they come, Meadows Farm is located just off Highway 3 west of Fredericksburg. It’s a fun play but will also challenge low handicappers.
One hole in particular stands out in my memory, a par three fronted with a waterfall. I remember hitting a great upwards shot on to the green.
Another hole as a baseball theme, complete with outfield signs and a diamond.
The course has three nine hole courses. One, which we didn’t play, has a par 6 hole 841 yards long.
Presidio, San Francisco
But what player with a military ID could complain? I paid just $9 for nine holes. Some players rented carts but I always walked, sometimes with my buddy Joe.
I never played well here, but afterwards, I wound my way downhill to the base where I could pick up a few things from the PX and the Commissary.
Like Harding Park, the Presidio course got a major facelift after years of neglect. Arnold Palmer sunk $9M in the late 1990s. Improvements included a new clubhouse.
I didn’t realize it but this course has a long history. Wiki notes it was built in 1885, making it the second oldest course west of the Mississippi.
Under the guidance of the Presidio Trust, the army base has been transformed into a nice mix of foundations, centers, and schools. George Lucas hopes to build a “Great Lawn,” and studios for Lucasfilm.
I hold fond memories of this special place. The Golden Gate Bridge looms large, framing the container ships cruising past lonely Alcatraz Island, Sausalito in the distance.
NSWC is the Naval Surface Warfare Center. It has a base at Dahlgren, a base about 20 miles east of Fredericksburg. Area bikers may know it better than motorists, as the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail has a terminus at the base’s front gate.
We played this one out of curiosity. Most bases have a separate area for a golf course. This one winds its way through the base. I can’t remember any distinct holes. I hate to say it, but this is truly a forgettable course.
Pinecrest, Annandale, Fairfax County
For about ten years, Roberta and I were weekend regulars at the Fairfax County Golf Courses. Greendale was the closest to our house, but we were never charmed by it.
We played them all at least once and found we enjoyed Pinecrest the most.
It has several funky holes. You could try and drive number two, but a large pond easily dissuaded such a bold effort.
Number four was a par five but easily reachable in two shots. The approach was a blind shot with perils including OB.
The final hole was a short par 3. Then came the short walk to the bar and grille inside what substituted for a clubhouse. Nothing special, it was just your basic 19th hole - tables and chairs, a place to cool off, sip a drink, grab a bite to eat, gaze at your hole by hole result, and then the final act, pulling out the pencil one last time, and signing your scorecard.
Thousands of hours we’ve listened to WAMU/88.5 radio, which is licensed to American University, and many times I’ve passed right by the AU campus.
Always had good intentions to do a look see. Finally got it done earlier this week, a pleasant walk around the campus, which included walking up the long and steep hill on Massachusetts – twice – and around the big circle at Massachusetts and Nebraska.
This walk produced a handful of “I didn’t know’s.”
(Note: WAMU broadcasts content from NPR (Morning Edition and All Things are considered the mainstays), American Public Media, Public Radio International, Public Radio Exchange and the BBC World Service. The Diane Rehm Show is produced at WAMU and has a listening audience of about 2 million. Local public affairs programs includes The Kojo Nnamdi Show and Metro Connection.
Statue of John Wesley is in a pleasant setting at the corner of Massachusetts and 45th.
Metropolitan Memorial Methodist Church
The bad news is the original church, an all-time beaut, was demolished.
In his classic book, Capital Losses, James M. Goode wrote:
It was probably the most important of more than seventy-five Gothic Revival churches that have been built in the Washington area during the past 175 years…. The Church became known as the Westminster Abbey of American Methodism…. Tallest privately-owned building in the city and was long a landmark.
In 1930, the District of Columbia condemned the sandstone building whose Gothic spire rose to a heavenly height of 275 feet (located at C Street and John Marshall Place). It held on until 1956 when it was torn down. The DC Municipal Building rose up in its place in its place.
Heritage Trail Marker
A Tenleytown Heritage Marker was supposed to be along the circle, but it was not there. Not sure what is going on, but it's worth pointing out that the marker is for Tenleytown, AU Park’s neighbor to the east. Maybe they are moving it.
Fortunately, the HMDB contains the information. Top of the Town refers to the area’s highest natural elevation in the District.
A little slice of Korea and a tribute to Jeju Island.
Ward Circle and a center on the east side of the campus.
We regret not being able to spend any time on Women’s History Month, save for this short posting on Eleanor “Cissy” Patterson.
I confess not knowing anything about her until I met Amanda Smith at the National Press Club’s Annual Book Fair in 2011. She is the author of “Newspaper Titan: The Infamous Life and Monumental Times of Cissy Patterson.”
Patterson became the twentieth century’s first woman editor-in-chief and publisher when she bought The Washington Times and The Washington Herald from William Randolph Hearst. Some called her the most powerful woman in America. She once quipped, "I'd rather raise hell than raise vegetables."
Patterson arrived in the nation’s capital in 1930. She merged the two dailies. The paper had ten editions and became the Washington Post of its time.
Patterson purchased Mount Airy in P.G. County in 1931 after it was damaged by a fire. She completely renovated the manor, which is also associated with the Calvert and Custis dynasties. The rural setting afforded her the privacy she needed to host Washington's upper crust of society. Her long and productive life ended in her house in 1948.
We salute Eleanor Patterson, a pioneer in a tough industry.
Our visit to the Octagon House reminded me just how much I love residential museums and historic homes. We decided to start a series on these historic places in the region. Each time we'll post an image of three homes, and you can test your knowledge. The link we provide is either a trip we made there or their official website.
We’ll spread the love as much as possible, and show one from the District, one from Virginia, and one from Maryland.
We begin today with these three.
They say a miss is good as a mile. That old saying certainly applied to my knowledge of New Alexandria, a neighborhood of single-family homes located a mile south of Alexandria and skirted by the G.W. Parkway. Countless times I have driven past it, not realizing New Alexandria has its own identity, one distinct from Belle Haven or Belle View.
I also didn’t know New Alexandria’s roots go back to the latter part of the 19th-century when it was born as a manufacturing town. Hard to believe now, but right there south of the Belle Haven Golf Course stood two furniture factories, a hotel, cottage homes, and a stop on the Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Electric Railway line.
The story of New Alexandria begins in the early 1890s when readers of The Washington Post and The Alexandria Gazette and Advertiser began to see coverage of two news stories. One was the construction of the Washington, Alexandria and Mount Vernon Electric Railway, one of the first such lines in the country. The other was the building of “New Alexandria,” a new manufacturing town about a mile south of the city.
Led by Griffith E. Abbot, a doctor from Philadelphia, a group of businessmen from Pennsylvania and Alexandria built both the town and the railway line. In 1892, Abbot, along with Luther W. Spear and Jacob K. Swartz, arrived in Alexandria. They signed on Park Agnew, a shipping magnate of Scottish descent who rose to become one of Alexandria’s most respected citizens. His ambitions extended to the political arena when he ran for Virginia’s Eighth District of Congress in 1887 (he lost to Fitzhugh Lee, second son of Robert E. Lee and 40th Governor of the state).
The magnates formed the Mount Vernon Construction Company and the Alexandria and Fairfax Passenger Railway Company. Two years later they changed the name to the Washington, Alexandria and Mount Vernon Electric Railway Company, a line they hoped would bring many residents and visitors to their new town.
Abbot and his co-owners purchased 1,600 acres land one mile south of Alexandria. M.B. Harlow, City Treasurer and a well-known booster in the city, supported the company’s efforts. Harlow, whose office was located along the first block of South Fairfax Street (his name is still up there), became famous as the one who suggested the idea for a road from Washington to Mount Vernon. His idea culminated with the paving of the G.W. Parkway in 1932.
In 1892, the New Alexandria town was laid out on an alluvial plain lying between the Potomac River and the wooded hills now home to neighborhoods such as Belle Haven. As noted by Pamela Cressey, the City’s retired Archaeologist, prehistoric peoples inhabited this area, favoring the fishing and hunting.
Around 1700, Major John West built a plantation and a Georgian brick manor on the higher ground to the west. We know this spot today as the Belle Haven Country Club, just off Fort Hunt Road and looking across the Potomac to National Harbor. Four generations of West family members called West Grove home and more than a half dozen are probably buried there. During the Civil War, the occupying Federal army burned the manor to the ground. By the time the New Alexandria group scouted the land, they would have seen the ruins, as well as willows and rushes.
After the Civil War, Alexandria became a key player in the “New South.” Like other southern cities, the seaport felt the need to move beyond Reconstruction. In some cases, Northern capital helped create jobs and make economic gains. As maritime activity continued to decline, manufacturing became a bigger provider of jobs. In the 1890s, residents of the city (1890 pop. 14,339) began to acquire modern conveniences such as the telephone and electricity.
An article (June 21, 1891) in the Washington Post told of the good times in Alexandria. A headline read:
Alexandria Pushes Ahead, An Era of Great Prosperity in the Ancient City.
It was in this atmosphere that the New Alexandria Company dreamed of success.
For many years, the only way across Great Hunting Creek was the Henry Street Bridge, which we know today as Route 1. That bridge was located about a half mile upstream from New Alexandria. The new town needed a direct north-south link with Alexandria.
In the summer of 1892, the company built a 3,000-foot long bridge across the mouth of Great Hunting Creek. The wooden-pile structure was used primarily to carry the streetcars used for the Washington, Alexandria, Mount Vernon Electric Railway, which had a stop in New Alexandria.
By 1896, the full length of the line was completed. The streetcars ran for about 15 miles from the ticket station at 13th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW to Mount Vernon. Excited Alexandrians watched the first cars clamor down King Street on September 18, 1892.
The Washington Post filed several reports:
“The running of the electric cars in Alexandria is such a novelty that almost the entire population turned out yesterday to witness the scene. All day long the cars were crowded, and the company reaped a rich harvest.”
“The crowds yesterday were greater than the number of cars could carry, but 2,500 people went over the road.”
“On each side, Fairfax Street was jammed with people. The crowd was so great that it was impossible for the cars to run on the time set for them.”
The first company to sign on in New Alexandria was the Deis Manufacturing Company in the summer of 1892. W. H. Fletcher of Ohio owned the firm, which made, as the magnate put it, “Everything that goes into houses, such as wood mantles, pine wood ceilings, store fixtures, bar fixtures, fret work and in fact all kinds of interior woodwork.” 100 men, most all from Alexandria, worked in the massive three-story factory and lumber yard.
P.H. Dies, the President, and F.E. Wible, Secretary and Treasurer, lived in homes built at the center of town (12th and F).
Hoping to capture the tourist business, the Hotel Mount Vernon, painted in a cream color and four stories in height, rose up and offered 62 rooms. The star attraction of the town, it had wide piazzas and terra cotta trimmings. A visitor to the hotel described the New Alexandria area in the most pleasant terms:
The scene in the valley makes a charming picture of rural peacefulness and thrift, reminding one of the valley along the Thames in London or the Siene in Paris.
The new town was christened in a formal ceremony in 1894. Two congressmen attended. The Master of Ceremonies, Congressman William Jennings Bryant, would go on to run for President three times and become the 41st Secretary of State.
Real estate literature (“A Story of a New Town.” Wash., D.C. Wilson, 1893) touted the convenient location, healthy surroundings, low taxes, easy terms, and access to Washington, Alexandria and Mount Vernon.
In 1893, the Washington Post said, “the activity on the line of the electric railway and at New Alexandria puts Alexandria almost on a boom.”
The Alexandria Gazette and Advertiser boosted the town’s hopes too:
The Coming Manufacturing Metropolis of the South
That year the Wooden Ware Company signed on. 125 workers manufactured splint baskets.
New Alexandria’s detached location had advantages and disadvantages. Recruiters touted the fresh air, cleaner water, and less-crowded conditions. Alexandria fire and police serviced the town, since it was within one mile of the city limits.
At the same time, the Fire Department was almost two miles away. Fires destroyed the Deis Furniture Factory, the Carson Handle and Spokes plant, and the hotel.
A lot of ink was spilled on New Alexandria, but the town never got going. In May 1895, The Washington Times wrote a scathing report (May 10, “Fall of a Paper City”) that mocked the town:
The croaking of last night’s frogs still ringing in the ears of her only citizen – two manufacturing concerns that flourished there for a while, the quickly petered out.
The Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Electric Railway, which had merged with the Washington, Arlington & Falls Church Railway to form the Washington-Virginia Railway, went into receivership. Buses and automobiles were replacing the privately-financed electric streetcars.
In 1924, the New Alexandria Land River Improvement Company declared bankruptcy and held an auction. Owners of the new Belle Haven Country Club bought about half the land. As noted by their website, the Country Club and the surrounding Belle Haven residential community began together in the early 1920's when David Howell, a civil engineer from Alexandria, purchased the land from owners Mrs. Thomas Wilfred Robinson, Sr. and her brothers. Howell built both the golf course and began the build of the bedroom community.
The late Thomas H. Andrews, father of John Andrews, who grew up in the neighborhood, built dozens of the homes and the first version of the gas station. John holds vivid memories of a childhood spent frolicking in the area before the modern footprint arrived, and an adulthood spent working on projects such as the building the marina at Belle Haven and being part of the crews that put up the original Wilson Bridge in 1960.
Andrews, who was featured in a Washington Post article by Marge Fahey (“In New Alexandria, An Old Way of Life,” November 17, 2001) tells some of his stories at the annual New Alexandria Civic Association meetings. In one of their newsletters he recalls Pat’s Market:
“I first remember Pats Market in 1936 or 1937 being called Merricks’s store. It was about the size of a large modern day recreation vehicle but not nearly as fancy. The Merrick sisters would give the kids, which included me, 2 cents for every Coke bottle we brought in, as long as it was clean. The Merrick Sisters rented the store from the Arnolds who owned much of the developed part of New Alexandria in the 1930s. Pat (Arnold) was a gentle, good man. He served in the military along with four of his brothers during World War II.”
In 1932, a new era kicked off in the Alexandria area with the opening of the George Washington Memorial Parkway (initially called the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway). The developers were off to the races as a suburban boom south of Alexandria was at hand. All traces of the industrial footprint of New Alexandria disappeared. The sole survivor was the grid style layout of the streets and a few homes. Of particular note is the blue house at the southeast corner of Potomac Avenue and Belle Haven. An 1894 map labels it as the home of F.E. Wible, Secretary of the Deis Manufacturing Company.
After the war, new homes went up to serve a bedroom community that benefitted from bus service and proximity to jobs in Alexandria and Washington. Today, about 150 homes form the neighborhood.
Since the laying down of the GW Parkway, hundreds of thousands of cars have driven past New Alexandria, oblivious to the roots of the neighborhood. And that’s ok with the residents whose single-family homes rest peacefully under the oaks and maples. Many are occupied by residences who fell in love and stayed a lifetime. Narrow streets discourage car cut-throughs, and one small stretch feature a rare sight in the inner parts of the D.C region, a gravel road (remnant of I street).
Across the river in Maryland, National Harbor shimmers at night, a jewel with an attractive harbor, new residential homes, and entertainment and dining options galore. One can be certain the sight of its booming success would have been a bittersweet one for the owners and builders of New Alexandria. Abbot and his fellow dreamers saw the potential of a Valhalla on the Virginia side, only to watch it fail miserably.
The reason why is not a simple one, but as pointed out in “Fairfax County, A History,” their business plans proved “unrealistic.” In his essential book, “Alexandria: A Maritime History,” Donald Shomette points out New Alexandria’s developers were “perhaps overly optimistic.”
On the other hand, the pleasant scenes one sees today south of Great Hunting Creek - nesting eagles, picnics in Belle Haven Park, cyclists unmolested by urban traps, foursomes on the fairways and greens - were all made possible by the demise of New Alexandria's first years as a manufacturing town.
Thanks so much to the 25 folks who filled up the Alexandria Archaeology Museum this morning.
It was a great pleasure talking to some of you. My heart warmed when I learned about a half dozen live in New Alexandria. From what I have seen and heard, it is a terrific place to call home.
As I suggested to one of you, your task now is to secure an historical marker for New Alexandria!
My surprise guest was John Andrews. Born in 1934, he’s a lifelong resident of New Alexandria. In the 1930s, the late Thomas H. Andrews, John’s father, built dozens of single-family homes in the neighborhood and a gas station at the corner of Belle Haven Road and 10th Street.
After I finished my talk, John regaled the audience with heart-warming stories of growing up in the neighborhood. He served his country as a Lieutenant at Fort Belvoir and helped build Belle Haven Marina. John talked about the Arnold family, joking they held the keys to the neighborhood.
I hope to post my article tomorrow with some of the images I showed today.
Thanks again to all of you who made this a great Java Jolt, and thanks to Alexandria Archaeology for hosting. Pictured in the above photo are, John, myself, and Fran Bromberg. As City Archaeologist and an authority, she has appeared on C-SPAN, as well as in WETA’s new documentary, Discovering Alexandria.
Polishing the chrome today, the final hours of prep for tomorrow.
Here’s another sneak preview, a photograph taken in the 1930s. If you live on Potomac Avenue in New Alexandria, this is what the street looked like. This is looking north along 12th Street (renamed Potomac Avenue).
One of the things I learned doing this research was the path of the Washington, Alexandria and Mount Vernon Electric Railway. I had always assumed the route it took south of Alexandria was basically the same as the one the GW Parkway.
But as I discovered, this was not the case for not only New Alexandria, as well as some others on the way to Mount Vernon.
The railroad made its New Alexandria stop at the corner of 12th (Potomac) and F (Belle Haven Road). The tracks continued southward along 12th before turning leftward for the Dyke stop. It then paralleled the river for about two miles before angling to the right about where Collingwood Lane meets the parkway.
Anyway, sunny skies and warmer temps prevail tomorrow. Hope to see you at the Torpedo Factory starting at 10 am!
Photo: John Andrews Collection.