Slowly but surely, smart growth and walkable landscapes are coming to the Richmond Highway (Route 1) Corridor south of Alexandria. Led by the "Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation," a slate of mixed-use projects are planned for and being built along the suburban highway from the Beltway to Fort Belvoir.
Media attention tends to focus on the seven-mile stretch as a whole, but this approach ignores historic communities such as Penn Daw and Groveton.
David Versel, Executive Director of the SFDC, recently told Connection newspapers, “There is an unprecedented amount of development activity occurring in the corridor between Huntington, Penn Daw, and Groveton…”
One such project, “Beacon of Groveton” at 6870 Richmond Highway, swung open their doors earlier this month. The luxury apartments (290 units) are located a couple of miles south of the Beltway, near one of the highest points in Fairfax County. Its arrival is a mixed bag for local residents in Groveton and nearby neighborhoods. Some welcome the density approach, while others opposed it.
The wait for this project, the first urban-scale mixed-use development on Richmond Highway, has been a long one. For almost 20 years, on an unkempt lot at the corner of Route 1 and Memorial Avenue, a developer’s lease sign stood on the site, once occupied by the Groveton Elementary School. Finally, in March 2011, the backhoes and hard hats arrived. Small final work continues while over 30 units have seen their occupants move in.
Residents of “Beacon of Groveton” will benefit greatly from its proximities. Old Town Alexandria, National Harbor and the Beltway are two to three miles away, Metro (Huntington) about one, and across the street lies the “Beacon Center.” The rebranded shopping center (nee Beacon Hill Mall) is named after the Beacon Field airport, which had a hey day there from 1926 to 1959.
This strip-mall style shopping center is anchored by a Giant grocery store and Lowe’s Home Improvement store. Groveton also sports banks, drugstores, restaurants and a Target.
The Panera in Beacon Center is popular, and has become one of the area’s most favorite gathering spots. Unknown to most of its patrons is the fact that “City View” once graced the same location. The Alexandria Gazette described the three-story mansion (torn down in 1959) as, “on of the finest of the estates in the Alexandria area.” Views of Alexandria and Washington were part of its appeal.
Landscaping around Beacon at Groveton adds attractive touches and a shuttle bus runs to and from the Huntington Metro. A new bus stand was built, and a handful of small retail facing Richmond Highway are set to open next year, including a new restaurant. A new right turn lane on Memorial helps unclog some of the traffic that previously had to wait for the light to change, if the first car in line was proceeding straight.
In the late 1920s, the Department of Commerce began installing rotating beacon lights along the eastern seaboard to support airmail pilots. For the Washington area they chose this higher flat land at Groveton and erected an 80-foot steel tower.
In its own way, “Beacon of Groveton” also serves as a towering navigational aid. Of course, there will be no flying involved this time around. Just driving, buses, and hopefully, a lot of walking.
A primer (“Beacon Field Airport – Circa 1939”) is available for residents in the Beacon at Groveton sales center (a thankful blogger received a courtesy copy). Each of the eight floors are named with aviation themes, such as the Nighthawk, the Ventura, and the Lodestar.
For historical photos and articles, don’t miss BeaconFieldAirport. One of the many items they have is a history of City View. It appears its location is now occupied by the Panera.
Also be sure and check out the History of Groveton.
Also, a Groveton resident is writing a book (Images of America) on the Groveton neighborhood.
Wayfinding signs for the historic communities are being erected along Richmond Highway. See the SFDC website.
Last time I checked, the Starbucks between Giant and Lowe’s has a photo of the airport, marked with an arrow to show the past/present location.