In the late 1940s, the race was on along Route 1 south of Alexandria. On both sides of the historic road once used by George Washington and situated on the fringes of the farms that spread out on the hills overlooking the Potomac and Alexandria, developers could not build the homes and motor lodges fast enough. In the coming decades, places like Penn Daw, the crossroads neighborhood two miles south of Alexandria, blossomed into a prosperous community.
Seventy years later, a new wave of growth is taking place along the historic corridor. On the heels of mixed-use redevelopment projects such as “The Shelby” in Penn Daw and “The Beacon” in Groveton, the bulldozers and fence wrap have arrived at the former Penn Daw Plaza shopping center (6450 N. Kings Highway). After the L-shaped set of retail buildings is demolished, “South Alex” will rise in its place. The new development, originally called “One Kings/Penn Daw,” will include 400 apartments, 41 town homes, ground level retail, and (“drum roll”) a new grocery store.
A lot of tears probably won’t fall when the wrecking ball hits the target, but this place does hold some stories. In 1959, The Washington Post published an article on a new shopping center at this location, just south of Poag Street in Penn Daw. Finding a home in a new long building with an arc-shaped roof, the “Penn Daw Co-op Shopping Center” anchored the L-shaped shopping center. 25 years later, Giant introduced their new “Straight from the Crate” fresh produce supermarket at the same locale. “Nothing is packaged” the ads said.
And now, residents of the area are once again waiting to find out what grocery store will land at the new development. The bigwig lips are sealed on this one, allowing the company to make a forthcoming big splash announcement.
We’re hearing that “fresh” will once again enter the picture, a concept those Fairfax farmers knew a little something about.
In her book, Groveton: Images of America, Brown explains the origin of Penn Daw. In the mid 1920s, building contractor Samuel Cooper Dawson and Edward L. Pennell, a hotel landowner from Detroit, built the Penn Daw hotel. The cottage style units were one of the first such motor lodges on the East Coast.