Neighborhood profile: Lyon Village
By Susan Straight,
Lyon Village, an 850-home, 2,500-resident North Arlington neighborhood developed by Frank Lyon in the 1920s and 1930s, lies between Kirkwood Road, Lee Highway, Wilson Boulevard and North Veitch Street. With Metrorail’s Clarendon and Court House stations on the south side of the neighborhood and Interstate 66 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway on the north side, the neighborhood offers an easy commute for District workers.
“There’s one traffic light to D.C.,” said resident Gary Nordlinger — the one at Lee Highway and Spout Run.
Resident and real estate agent Ruth Boyer O’Dea says that depending on where you work in the District, Lyon Village offers a shorter commute to the city than even some D.C. neighborhoods. “My husband works downtown, and his commute is easier than his colleagues who live across town,” she said.
The Custis Trail provides another easy commuting option. “I bike to work,” said the president of the citizens association, H.K. Park. “It takes 20 minutes to get to Chinatown,” he said.
Besides detached homes, the neighborhood also includes a small number of townhouses and condominiums and the Lyon Village Apartments at Lee Highway and Kirkwood Road. Built in 1941, the apartments are sought-after because of their location as well as their sturdy construction. In fact, the property was designated a fallout shelter during the Cold War. Shelter supplies remained in the basement until about 25 years ago, when civil defense officials removed them.
One of the most recent successful neighborhood enhancements was the completion of the county’s renovations to Lyon Village Park, at the north end of the neighborhood on North Highland Street. Last September, a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated the upgrades to new tennis and basketball courts and a living green picnic-shelter canopy.
The neighborhood is currently working on a canopy over the sandbox, which will be funded by the citizens association and then maintained by Arlington County.
Lyon Village Park has one of Arlington County’s three spray parks, a recreation area with water features for children. That park, within the gated year-round playground, is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day and is very popular with local kids. As a county park, it’s open to all Arlington residents.
Some in Lyon Village were concerned that the spray park would crowd the playground with non-neighborhood kids, but Nordlinger said that has not been the case. “I wouldn’t say it’s more crowded. It just adds more activities for kids to do. I thought it was a great addition,” he said.
Easy commuting is a key part of Lyon Village’s long history. The community was one of the early streetcar suburbs that sprang up around Washington in the 1930s and 1940s. But its history goes back further than that: It was once part of the extensive land holdings of George Mason, a wealthy farmer known as the father of the Bill of Rights.
When one of Mason’s heirs fell into debt in the late 1840s, Robert Cruit, a D.C. butter merchant, bought 200 acres for use as a dairy farm. Cruit’s farmhouse, built in the mid-1800s, still stands in Lyon Village. The late community historian Ditty Boaz said the house was used as a medical facility during the Civil War.
According to the Lyon Village Citizens Association video history of the neighborhood, by the early 1900s a streetcar ran across the north side of the community for commuting into the District. The video, created by association chief Park and his wife, Sarah, is available on both YouTube and the association Web site. Sarah Park, a former television reporter, does the voice-overs for both.
“We had so many great photos from people,” H.K. Park said of the impetus to create two videos — one historical and one contemporary. The neighborhood is planning its 90th-anniversary celebration next year, he said.
In 1923, a lawyer and developer, Frank Lyon, bought 165 acres of the land for $185,000 and subdivided it into lots that he sold for $1,600 to $2,400.
Residents built their own homes in many architectural styles: Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival, Craftsman, Tudor Revival, Spanish Mission Revival. All of the historic structures were carefully documented by historic preservationists when the neighborhood decided to pursue historic designation about 10 years ago.
In December 2001, Lyon Village became the first early-20th-century Arlington neighborhood to be listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register; it was named to the National Register in May 2002.
The National Register designation carries no restrictions on building additions or renovations. But some residents are motivated to make repairs and upgrades on their homes, taking advantage of available county and state tax breaks on renovations for historic structures.
The Lyon Village Citizens Association officially formed in 1926 and even in the beginning dealt with issues such as speeding, street lighting and zoning and development issues, according to Lyon Village’s history. These issues are common to residents today.
“We’re constantly battling development,” said the citizens association’s treasurer, Carl Mattick.
Citizen association annual dues (household, $10; individual, $7) are voluntary, and cover the cost of the e-mail discussion group, printing the monthly newsletter and the biannual neighborhood directory, as well as occasional special causes or projects, according to Mattick.
“What’s happened in the last 20 years is just remarkable,” he said of the development of popular restaurants, bars and residences around the Clarendon Metro station. One of the biggest issues the neighborhood faced was the zoning issue surrounding a major development project on the site of the First Baptist Church on the south side of the neighborhood.
Clarendon residents filed several lawsuit against the proposed 10-story building, contending among other issues that the county and state loans and federal tax credits that enabled the nonprofit developer and church to proceed with the project were a violation of the separation of church and state. The last suit, filed in federal court in 2010, was unsuccessful.
Noise and parking continue to be issues, especially with the construction of a number of rooftop bars, such as the one at Whitlow’s on Wilson. “We’ve worked with them to try to alleviate sound issues,” Mattick said.
Mattick, who lives with his wife in the house she bought in 1978 a half-block off Wilson Boulevard, says that even with the nighttime bar noise, over all the neighborhood has been a good place to live. “I can’t think of any complaints except after 10 or 11 p.m.,” he said.
In fact, the development around the neighborhood has not touched the essential character of Lyon Village, real estate agent Boyer O’Dea said. “You step one block off Wilson Boulevard and you’re almost in a sleepy little quiet neighborhood,” Boyer O’Dea said.
“It’s great to live in a single-family neighborhood that’s a three-block walk to the Clarendon Metro and the urban core. It’s the best of both worlds,” said Nordlinger, a fifth-generation Washingtonian who moved from Georgetown to Lyon Village in April 2002. “If I’d known I was going to like Arlington so much. I would have moved here sooner,” he said.
Susan Straight is a freelance writer.