Everything about Bob Peck Chevrolet in Arlington was memorable. There was Bob Peck himself, both a car dealer and an Arlington politician, who juggled lacrosse balls in his TV ads. There was that ubiquitous slogan, “Check with Peck,” which seems like it was on the radio just last week.
And then there was that iconic dealership on Glebe Road. The word ”iconic” is way overused, but here it truly applied. The glassy, space-aged spaceship was a classic example of Googie architecture. It was designed by Fairfax architect Tony Musolino, who also designed a number of local high schools and other notable structures.
Then, in 2006, the spaceship was demolished. JBG Properties offered Peck’s son, Don Peck, $26 million and that was too much to refuse. The loss was widely noted, but not too surprising as Ballston transformed from a shabby district to a glass canyon.
But JBG executives said then they would try to maintain the Peck history, and they kept their word: The diamond canopy mirrors the “Chevrolet” diamonds from the old dealership, the ground floor facade is an exact replica, and a Chevy tailfin nearby stands as a historical marker and provides the history of the dealership.
There’s more on how and why this happened, and more photos of before and after, after the jump.
One of the many fans of the design of the Bob Peck dealership was Cynthia Connolly, a renowned artist and photographer who was the director of Arlington’s Ellipse Arts Center in the mid-2000s, and is now the visual curator of the Artisphere. (She also was deeply involved in the D.C. punk scene and Dischord Records in the 1980s and ‘90s, but that’s another story.)
Connolly is a California native who grew up around Googie architecture, which is a futurist style that emerged from California in the 1940s. It’s characterized by swooping, rounded shapes and plenty of glass, giving a sense of flight, and one of the best examples is our own (and Eero Saarinen’s) Dulles International Airport. The Los Angeles International Airport terminal and the TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport in New York are two more widely known examples.
Living in Arlington, “Bob Peck Chevrolet was it for me,” Connolly said. “I loved that building. The big glass windows. It was so futuristic to me.” She photographed the building, and did video interviews with Don Peck and Tony Musolino to record its history.
But 2005 rolled around and she started hearing noise that the dealership would be sold and torn down. “That can’t happen,” she thought, but the world of commercial real estate waits for no aesthete, and soon the deal was done.
But Connolly and others implored county officials to recognize the historic value of the building, and neighbors chimed in too. Michael Leventhal, the historic preservation coordinator for Arlington, said Connolly “was vocal about what could we do to save the building.” He said that it was both the landmark that everyone used to give directions (“turn left at Bob Peck”) and that “it was a landmark of modern design, and it captured everyone’s imagination in a way, good, bad or indifferent.”
JBG recognized the building’s significance. “It is such a landmark for the area,” said Dean Cinkala to The Post in 2006. “We’ll work hard with the community and county planning staff to see how we can carry forward that important history.”
And they did, with design work by architect Steve Smith at Cooper Carry. Recapturing the Bob Peck facade in some way was one of dozens of conditions that JBG agreed to in the Arlington planning review process in order to gain extra density for the building, Arlington planning supervisor Tom Miller said.
The diamond canopy on the building is not the original Bob Peck canopy but ”an exact faithful reproduction,” Cinkala said Thursday. “And the base of the building, that facade is an exact replica of the windows in the Bob Peck showroom.”
Cinkala added, “We thought that was a good way to memorialize what is a great site to many Arlingtonians.” The building opened in the spring and is about half full.
On the east side of the building is a Chevy tailfin with the story of the dealership and a photo of the building in its heyday. It’s a nice nod to the way Arlington once was, and the three elements are a distinctive touch you don’t see on many office buildings anymore.
“It’s totally amazing,” Connolly said. “That architectural element is sweet. It adds something different to a neighborhood that’s so blase with too many beige buildings.”
And so Googie lives in Arlington. A little.