Re-development in and near the Parker Gray neighborhood is transforming that part of Alexandria into an attractive walkable urban space. Old warehouses and non-contributing homes are giving way to new places to live, eat and gather. Once over-shadowed by Old Town, Parker-Gray is coming into its own as a desireable place to live.
The trick, however, is how far the pendulum swings.
A lot has been torn down in and around Parker-Gray, a lot still will, and perhaps the majority is ok with that. Personally, I always thought that printing shop at the corner of Henry and Oronoco was an eye-sore. As much as I loved Andy, I knew his car wash on the same block always had a date with the wrecking ball.
And full disclosure, we don’t live in Parker-Gray.
That, of course, doesn’t mean I don’t care about the people and places that make up this historically black neighborhood, Old Town’s twin sister, if you will. I do. And that is why I am writing this, an appeal for your attention and hopefully action.
Recognizable by their mustard-colored stucco and surrounding square plots of green grass, these four buildings lined up along Route 1 North serve as low-cost housing. Built in 1942, the combined 20 units gave housing for African-Americans workers during World War II. Two other housing projects in Alexandria - Cameron Valley for Fort Belvoir and Chinquapin Village for the Naval Torpedo Plant (today’s Torpedo Factory) - were built at the same time. The latter two were demolished in the 50s.
The battle over the Ramsey Homes is heating up. A coalition of caring citizens and organizations such as The Alexandria Society for the Preservation of Black Heritage, Inc oppose the destruction of these historic homes. Their efforts were rewarded a couple of weeks ago when the Alexandria Board of Review turned down the demolition request. The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, who wants to tear them down, is appealing.
Here are some of his points.
– The buildings are of architectural and historical interest, as an example of the use of the Prairie style in public housing, I am not aware of any other examples in Alexandria; furthermore, they are representative of the federal government’s effort to provide housing for African-American war workers.
– Retention of the buildings would preserve and protect an historic area of interest in the city. These buildings are unique, and their open space and setting provide value to their residents, and to the community.
– While ARHA has a goal of “tearing down obsolete housing”, who is to say that if these buildings were renovated, they would not maintain and increase real estate values, given they are so close to a Metrorail station. They certainly stand to educate citizens about American culture and heritage, and make the city a more attractive and desirable place to live. Consider what has happened with James Bland, where now Old Town Commons, already an eyesore, will be obsolete and undesirable real estate within 20 years or so.
– There is no question that retention of the buildings would help maintain the scale and character of the neighborhood.
We also need to point out that what is tragically happening in all these development projects is the significant loss of open space.
Finally, we think it is premature to consider any demolition without a thorough historic structure report and consideration of alternatives. We also request clarification of the role of federal funding or oversight of this project to determine whether consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act should be initiated.
The National Register for Historic Places awarded Parker Gray historic district status in 1984. I remember walking through the entirety of the neighborhood in 2010 when I conducted my survey of historical markers. I fell in love with the place, warts and all.
My favorite place to visit was the old Sarge’s restaurant at the corner of N. Columbus and Queen Street. I would sip coffee there (remember Nicole’s Café?) and chat up the fellas standing on the corner. I had read a little bit about the vibrancy of the neighborhood when it was called “Uptown.” The stories they told me brought it all home with a human face.
The best part of this experience was that I used to think this corner was unsafe and the last place I wanted to be. Talk about pre-judging!
I will be the first to admit I don’t know all the facts surrounding this issue. I did read some of the AHRA report. I understand the need to replace the older units and that does require tearing down old. I understand the need to provide more and more affordable housing. I didn’t have a problem with the demolition of the James Bland Housing. It was sub-standard and seemed to me to be non-contributing in terms of historic appeal.
Participate in the National Register for Historic Places "This Place Matters" campaign.
Visit the Alexandria Black Museum. Permanent exhibit touches on black Alexandrians. Rotating exhibit covers Reconstruction.
Visit the Charles Houston Rec Center. Historical markers and panels.
Read point paper,
Write Letters to the Editor.
Write City Council.
Find out the position of those running for City Council and Mayor.