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Clover-College Park in Alexandria is where history endures but traffic rankles

By Eliza McGraw,

On the morning of Aug. 9, 1974, Gerald Ford walked out the white door frame of the red-brick home he lived in for 19 years in Alexandria’s Clover-College Park neighborhood. When he came home that evening, he was president of the United States.

The complications of Richard Nixon’s exit delayed Ford’s move to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., so the house on Crown View Drive served as the White House for 10 days. The house — and its neighborhood — became a symbol of the presidency as accessible by a typical American.

Clover-College Park, south of Janney’s Lane and north of Duke Street, retains that Main Street USA feeling today, with quiet, tree-lined streets and large lots. The neighborhood offers a wide variety of houses, many Colonial, ranch or farmhouse-style, chiefly built during the 1950s and ’60s.

The streets are named for famous schools — Dartmouth Road, Vassar Place, Yale Drive. Cambridge Road divides the neighborhood, with College Park to its west and Clover to the east. Foliage is plentiful, and some homes even face wooded areas. Local parks include Angel Park, with ball fields and a playground, and President Ford Park, which offers green space and benches.

The area’s grade school, Douglas MacArthur Elementary, sits directly across Janney’s from the community. Both of Katherine Leon’s children have gone to the school — one has now graduated — and she is the co-chair of its RIF Literacy program. She says school-based events include a pancake breakfast with fathers the first month of school, concerts, an ice cream social in the spring and a poetry slam.

“Everybody really cares, and they know your kids, and they watch out for them,” she said.

Real estate agent Betsy Twigg has been selling houses in Clover-College Park for 17 years. She says the original builder, a man named Rozier Beech, disliked monotony, which is why none of the models in the neighborhood are exactly alike. An amateur botanist, Beech even put orchid rooms in many of the houses.

Beech also worked to keep the neighborhood quiet. To prevent cut-through traffic from West Taylor Run Parkway into the Clover neighborhood, he built a house at Dartmouth Road and Crown View Drive, blocking Dartmouth from connecting to Taylor Run Parkway.

Near that house is a small opening in a fence called “the rabbit hole,” Twigg said. Locals use it to walk to the parkway for easier access to the King Street Metro station, approximately a mile away. “We’re sandwiched between 395 and the Beltway,” Leon said. “And yet people can walk to their shopping, walk to the Metro, and you have the small-town experience.”

Residents also participate in family-friendly traditions such as a Halloween parade, which includes a firetruck leading costumed children on a march through the neighborhood. An online discussion group gives residents a place to give and receive recommendations for various services, including babysitting, and talk about local issues.

Recently, locals have debated whether a sign with the neighborhood’s name should be erected across Janney’s Lane from the elementary school, in a green triangle. Residents fall on both sides of the issue, says Helen Lloyd, who has lived there for three years. Some want better recognition for their neighborhood, and others like that Clover-College Park is more of a “hidden gem.”

Tom Walczykowski, who has lived there since 1982, says that, as in many areas of the metropolitan region, traffic proves a perennial concern. “You have Quaker and Janney’s Lane,” he said, “and the goal might be to get to Duke Street and Telegraph Road to get to the Beltway. So it’s just the mentality of people in the Washington metro area. They think, ‘How can I find a better way?’ And that’s called cut-through traffic.”

As with many area neighborhoods, the Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) policy has altered traffic patterns. The BRAC Transition Center building, which went up at Seminary Road and Interstate 395, was of special concern. Cars crossing Alexandria to get onto the Beltway at Telegraph Road cause a backup on Duke Street and Quaker Lane, and look for a cut-through, often through Clover-College Park. The Civic Association has been working with Alexandria and advocating to the City Council to mitigate the problem.

The sign question is not yet settled, which some see as a symbol of the ongoing growth of this historic neighborhood. “Maybe we plant trees there,” said Lloyd, “or maybe we turn it into a wildflower area, with or without a sign. We’re progressing, we’re thinking about how we can make our neighborhood better, more livable. Which I think is a really positive thing.”

Eliza McGraw is a freelance writer.

ZIP CODE: Mainly 22314, but a small portion is in 22302 BOUNDARIES: Janney’s Lane to the north, West Taylor Run Parkway to the east, Dartmouth Road to the south and Princeton Boulevard to the west. SCHOOLS: Douglas MacArthur Elementary, George Washington Middle and T.C. Williams High. HOME SALES: According to real estate agent Betsy Twigg, in the past year, 10 houses sold, ranging in price from $480,000 to $907,500. One home is now on the market, for $998,000. One is under contract, for $599,900. WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Angel Park, President Ford Park, Chinquapin Park, Alexandria Commons Shopping Center, MacArthur Elementary School, Bishop Ireton High School. WITHIN 15 MINUTES BY CAR: Old Town Alexandria, Chinquapin Recreation Center, Bradlee Shopping Center, Del Ray, Shirlington Village, Inova Alexandria Hospital, Fort Ward Park. TRANSIT: Dash buses run to the King Street Metro station, Old Town and other Alexandria locations; Metrobus lines also serve the neighborhood.

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