It’s rare that anything in the historic district of Old Town Alexandria gets torn down (anyone remember that old metal boat shed at the end of S. Union?). And that, of course, is a good thing.
When it comes, however, to the two old corrugated metal warehouses on Union Street, it appears they will meet their fate with the wrecking ball in the coming months.
According to reports in the media, the Robinson Terminal Warehouse Corporation, a subsidiary of The Washington Post, plans to sell the two waterfront properties.
Some residents of Old Town are opposed to tearing down the Robinson Terminals, citing their historic nature. No polls exist that I know of, but it seems for the majority of residents, the question is what to build once they are torn down.
I am not a resident of Old Town and I respect the rights of home owners. My plea is the hope for a solution in the near future. Once a property is built on these two locations, the City can then implement their Waterfront History Plan.
We talked about this before, but I want to mention it again. It’s a remarkable plan, 126 pages in all, but I have never seen it mentioned in the media reports.
Let’s start with a visual. When John Smith sailed up the Potomac in the early 1600s, he was undoubtedly impressed at the sight of the crescent-shaped bay that would become the deepwater port of Alexandria. Where we see the South Terminal Warehouse at the end of Duke Street, he saw a point jutting out. Where we see the North Terminal warehouse at the foot of Oronoco Street, he saw the bay’s other point.
The North Terminal lies on what would become known as West’s Point. This is sacred land among historians and archaeologists, the birthplace for Alexandria. Years before the town was founded in 1749, a small village sat on this point. Hogshead of tobacco were brought it from the interior of Virginia and shipped out to international ports.
The South Terminal sits on Point Lumley. From Alexandria’s earliest days, ships of all kinds were built there. Later, Pioneer Mill stood tall and proud, as one of the largest flour mills in the country.
The finest historians a town could hope for have researched the history of the waterfront. Their findings puts forth a handful of recommendations for these sites. It’s probably unrealistic to expect them all to be implemented, but I can think of two that are a must.
I stopped by the Alexandria Visitor’s Center the other day. A couple from Michigan walked in and inquired about what spots to see. Old Town’s triple crown - Gadsby’s Tavern, Carlyle House, and the Torpedo Factory, were offered, and they were shown a list of museums.
Evoking that sense of civic pride I so often feel about Alexandria, I thought to myself, it’s a shame they only have three hours. Old Town offers so much.
Paradoxically, however, that full measure of pride does not extend to the waterfront. Parts of it are wonderful, but those two old eyesores block the full monty.
Redevelopment of the waterfront is going to happen. I just hope folks my age see it before we see Captain Smith...