Where We Live: Alcova, in Virginia's Arlington County

By Amy Reinink
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, September 25, 2010

For Jan Kennemer, it was the American-chestnut trim in her 1932 bungalow that lured her to Alcova Heights 10 years ago.

Arched entryways to the living and dining rooms of Mitzi Williams's 1946 Cape Cod sold her on the South Arlington neighborhood when she moved there in 1978.

And Alice Monet fell for the original wood floors in the two-story brick Colonial she has rented in the neighborhood for the past year.

In addition to the architectural details in the neighborhood's widely varied houses, all three residents say sociable neighbors, a suburban vibe and an eclectic mix of shops, and restaurants within walking distance on Columbia Pike define their neighborhood.

"We're close to Glebe Road and Columbia Pike, so we can walk to a restaurant in a short period of time," said Williams, 65, a retired center director and program manager for the System Planning Corp. "But we can also have a backyard barbecue and have it feel quiet and peaceful, like you're not in the middle of a city."

Alcova Heights, located northwest of Columbia Pike's intersection with South Glebe Road, was developed in the 1920s from a farm owned by Virginia state Sen. Joseph Cloyd Byars, according to Anthony Toth, a writer and historian who lives in the neighborhood. Byars named the farmhouse on the property Alcova, an abbreviation for Alexandria County, Va., the original name for Arlington County, and later sold lots for 5 cents per square foot under the Alcova Improvement Co., according to a short history of the neighborhood that Toth wrote for the Alcova Heights Citizens Association.

The Alcova House still serves as a residence, and it is far from the only remnant of the neighborhood's early days. Most houses were built between 1921 and 1950, and they retain many of their original features.

"It's not a cookie-cutter neighborhood," said Kennemer, a real estate agent with Weichert who grew up in nearby Arlington Village. "Each house was individually built, so the only way you'll find two that look similar is if a developer came in and bought two lots. We have bungalows, we have split-levels, we have Colonials, we have Cape Cods -- we have everything you can think of in this neighborhood."

Proximity to major roads also means easy access to commuter routes and buses. Monet, 55, an astronomer, said only a closer Metro station could make the neighborhood more convenient.

"It would be lovely to be within walking distance of Metro, but can't all be within walking distance of Metro," she said.

Backyard barbecues are common in the neighborhood, in addition to a slew of annual events planned by the Alcova Heights Citizens Association, including an annual block party in the summer, a Halloween parade in October and Christmas caroling in Alcova Heights Park in December.

Those gatherings highlight a diverse neighborhood that's "a microcosm of the whole county," Monet said. "We're very diverse racially, and also in age and income. There are some million-dollar houses, but there are also large, lower-income families living in older homes."

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