A Sign of Times Past Bows Out in Ballston As Car Dealer Closes

By Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 4, 2006

Drive through the busy Arlington intersection and you can't help but notice the towering glass windows and the giant, geometric roofline that seems to hover like a suspension bridge.

There's the odd sensation that time is standing still. At least until the traffic light changes.

For decades, the Bob Peck Chevrolet dealership and its unusual architecture at Glebe Road and Wilson Boulevard have served as a county landmark, both as a beacon for drivers trying to navigate across the county and as an emblem of the past.

But that's exactly what it is now: the past.

On Saturday, the dealership closed it doors to make way for offices, retail space and townhouses being proposed for the site by the JBG Cos.

JBG purchased the 100,000-square-foot property in January for $26 million, making owner Don Peck -- the son of Bob Peck -- an offer he said he and other shareholders couldn't refuse in the face of dwindling sales and rising real estate values.

"I didn't think they could possibly offer enough to make it worthwhile, but they did," said Don Peck, 60, who took over management of the company in the 1980s and has fielded calls from interested developers ever since.

Seldom do car dealerships and their sprawling parking lots have such a positive impact on the landscape, but this one, planners say, was different. Different enough that JBG has said it will consider incorporating the building's architecture into the design of its development. JBG still needs a host of county approvals to go forward with the project.

"It is such a landmark for the area," said Dean Cinkala, JBG's partner in charge of the project. "We recognize that, and I think it's fair to say we'll work hard with the community and the county planning staff to see how we can carry forward that important history."

In 2003, Bob Peck Chevrolet was included in a feature on the Arlington County Cultural Affairs Division Web site titled "uncommon places," which sought to celebrate the funky fringes of the county before they vanish.

"Even if you didn't know what was inside [the dealership], the building was from a time when there was expression in architecture," said Mary Briggs, head of the Cultural Affairs Division's cultural development unit. "It was postwar. We were going places. It was the space age. It was probably one of the last relics in Arlington that was that distinctive."

Like its founder.

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