A Space for the Centuries
Thursday, May 25, 2006
The tree-shaded icon of the first American settlements is coming to the middle of Fairfax County, between Tysons Corner and Interstate 66.
When the Vienna Town Green is completed, shoppers at Whole Foods or Starbucks, or people just passing by, will be able to get out of their cars with their coffee, strollers or books -- or their laptops, because the area will have wireless Internet access. They can then walk down Maple Avenue to a landscape of pathways, fountains, benches, flowers, restrooms and an amphitheater.
Just don't call it a park.
"It's a little more formal than that," said Cathy Salgado, Vienna's director of parks and recreation, who is overseeing the project. "It's a traditional green. When you go to Europe, you see things that have been there for centuries. The idea is for this to last centuries."
Right now, the 2 1/2-acre parcel at 144-152 Maple Ave. E. looks more like an abandoned lot, although it is green. Last month, wrecking crews tore down a two-story commercial building from the 1930s. The last of its five tenants -- a bridal shop, flooring and mattress stores, the White Tiger restaurant and a Presbyterian church -- found new homes.
While the town waits for landscape construction firms to bid on the job, a temporary lawn of sorts is growing on the dirt. The green will stretch across that patch and an adjacent parking lot. The back yards of two historic buildings, also part of the green, will run from Maple Avenue to Church Street, ending at the old Washington & Old Dominion Railroad depot.
Vienna officials, who have seen open space in the 4.3-square-mile town gobbled up by development, started to kick around the idea of a green a decade ago. Salgado said they figured that their town of 15,000 might be enveloped by the sprawl of Northern Virginia and that it needed a certain something. With its Halloween parade, seven parks (including one for dogs) and abundance of mom-and-pop stores, they thought that certain something could give the town a Norman Rockwell feel. Vienna has its share of historic buildings, but there was never a place to sit and appreciate them.
"We realized that what we need to do is hold on to what we've got," said Mayor M. Jane Seeman.
The project will turn on its head the traditional notion of how a community develops: Colonial-era towns rose around their greens, and many Northern Virginia communities have built a town center first and counted on development to follow. Vienna's green will be reclaimed from the growth that established the 116-year-old town.
As planning simmered over the years, two lots the town considered suitable were lost to private buyers. Then, six years ago, the Maple Avenue site went on the market. It was almost smack in the center of town, flanked by the popular W&OD trail, the Presbyterian church, a one-room white clapboard library built in 1897 and the historic Freeman House. The town paid $2 million.
An Alexandria landscape architect was brought in to design the parcel to evoke a simpler era, when the community's stores and restaurants were its focal point.
According to the designs, a 17-foot-high granite fountain and a plaza of brick pavers are planned as a buffer from Maple Avenue and will provide a platform for reviewing stands for the town's Halloween parade.