Here’s what you’ll find in North Arlington’s High View Park neighborhood: new million dollar homes and dilapidated bungalows; utilitarian, low-rise apartment buildings and upscale townhomes; no-frills duplexes and attractive, well-maintained homes of nearly every style imaginable.
Here’s what else you’ll find: a fiercely proud, diverse but historically black community determined to maintain its legacy of close-knit neighborliness in the face of accelerating physical and demographic change.
High View Park (HVP), formerly Hall’s Hill, began as a post-Civil War community for freed slaves. Until the 1950s, it was separated from white neighborhoods by an 8-foot high segregation fence, some of which still stands. It has long been a civically active, multi-generational community where kids and adults gather at the playground to play ball or cards or just chew the fat, a place where lives revolve around the neighborhood. Today, its mission is to remain a cohesive community.
“We don’t have an issue with bigger houses, different ethnicities…we don’t resent change,” said Willie Jackson-Baker, a teacher and the president of the John M. Langston Civic Association serving HVP. “We do hope that people who move into larger homes built after a knock-down will make an effort to become part of the community. We want good neighbors.”
Jackson-Baker, who grew up in HVP and returned when her mother died in 2000, said the association sponsors Halloween parties, Black History programs, and summer cookouts. A Thanksgiving Day Turkey Bowl football game pitting young men against their elders — preceded by a women’s flag football pre-game — is organized by locals and draws hundreds of residents and HVP alumni. Activities such as summer men’s basketball tournaments and game nights organized by the Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation, and church-led Gospel in the Park concerts, all help keep HVP family friendly, said Jackson-Baker. Most activities are at the HVP playground, called High View Park; this spring it is under renovation.
The association also represents the neighborhood on issues ranging from playground design to zoning disputes. Cindy Bare, an 8-year Culpeper Street resident with young children, praises its successful opposition to a plan to allow construction vehicles to park in a church lot near her home.
Bare, a marriage counselor, cited HVP’s convenient location and diverse community of Hispanics, whites, Asians and African-Americans as draws, but noted its shifting demographics pose challenges. “There’s a way to transition while honoring history, valuing the sacrifice many made so that we are ‘living the dream’ here, with black and white kids living next door to each other,” said Bare, who is white. “For new people to appreciate this integrated neighborhood, we need to be sure they know the neighborhood’s history so they can love and value it.”
That history was unknown to Rose Yong and her husband, Edwin, when they razed an abandoned bungalow on Culpeper Street to construct a new, larger home in 2010. “We didn’t even know about the segregation wall,” said Yong, a Chinese-American. She became informed when her house was mistakenly constructed five feet too close to the street, necessitating a zoning variance. “We were fighting for our lives and our neighbors testified for us, they saved our house,” said Yong, a flight attendant coordinator.
Yong’s variance passed with some opposition and hurt feelings. She says she now realizes those opposing wanted to ensure the community was respected. “Now we understand how they value their history here,” she said. “My neighbors have a generous spirit and desire to keep a strong community. I absolutely feel like part of this community, and will become more involved with it.”
The neighborhood strives to keep its past alive. The Langston-Brown Community and Senior Center, located within HVP, archives records of the neighborhood’s history. The HVP-Halls’ Hill Gateway Park along Lee Highway features artwork celebrating black families and “memory bricks” inscribed by neighborhood families and businesses. Last month, Arlington County designated the cemetery of HVP’s Calloway United Methodist Church a historic site. “That was a really big deal to the community because it means someone recognizes what we’re preserving here. It makes us proud,” said Jackson-Baker.
A recent jump in sales of probable tear-downs and vacant lots portends further change. Sherry Young, associate broker with Keller Williams Realty, is marketing a home under construction on N. Cameron Street for $1,069,500, the highest price of the six HVP homes now for sale. Young said she expects 10 new, large homes to be built in the community during the next two years, and most or all to list for over $1 million.
Young, whose family has lived in the neighborhood for six generations, says many of the black residents who grew up there, including her daughter, want to return. “But with rising prices, once you move out it’s tough to get back in.”
David Maier, a real estate agent with ReMax Distinctive, said, “newer homes here average $600,000 to $800,000, and they sell well.” Maier’s company, Fine Metro Homes, recently renovated a run-down bungalow on N. Cameron Street, but maintained its size and style in keeping with the neighborhood; it lists for $679,900.
Next door to Maier’s house, retired government employee Barbara Baskerville and her husband, Rudolph, await new neighbors. Four generations of Baskerville’s family have lived on N. Cameron Street, a few houses up from where she now lives. Baskerville’s pregnant daughter, Nicole Smith, said she plans to make it five generations after she and her husband finish renovating the family homestead — expanding it from two bedrooms to six — and move in.
“Everyone in the neighborhood is so proud that they kept that house in the family,” Baskerville said.
Jackson-Baker agreed. “Nicole could live anywhere, but she chose to come back to High View Park.”
Cheryl A. Kenny is a freelance writer.