The whole day was planned for Jo Goldstein, a Hecht Co. executive living in Arlington. She and her out-of-town guests would ride the Metro to the Smithsonian to see the exhibits.
Once on the Metro, Jo, eager to entertain her company, suggested, "Let's get off at the Rosslyn station before we go on to the museums. It's supposed to have one of the longest escalators in the world."
The party got off the train, rode the 194.8-foot escalator to the top, turned around, rode its counterpart back down and had just seen what some consider to be Rossyln's biggest attraction.
Metro is more than just Rosslyn's biggest attraction. It helped make Rosslyn, over the past decade, into a thriving business district -- an urban enclave in the suburbs. On a typical business day, 20,000 persons ride the Metro into Rosslyn, a 40-acre area across the Potomac from Georgetown composed of 31 office buildings, 4 hotels and 2 apartment buildings. On Saturday, the number of riders drops to 5,300; on Sunday to 3,500.
Once a tangle of pawn shops and pool halls, Rosslyn has undergone a rapid and complete makeover by developers, inspired by the proximity of Metro. According to Arlington County economic planner Hank Glickman, "Rosslyn is basically saturated as far as construction is concerned." As it stands now, the "Gateway to Arlington" is often described as "a high-rise mecca," concrete canyon" and "cement city." It is an office city, detractors say, lacking human warmth -- which leads critics to point to Rosslyn as an example of what they don't want for future development.
The decision to approve mostly office space rather than a more even distribution of residential, retail, and office areas makes Rosslyn "an unbalanced community that closes its doors at five o'clock," said former county planner Kathryn Freshly.
On the other hand, the advantages of 5.2 million square feet of lower rent office space within five minutes of downtown Washington have proved an attractive magnet.
There are four hotels in Rosslyn with a total capacity of 1,347. A fifth hotel is being developed by Westfield Realty.
Although Sheldon Fox, general manager of the Arlington Hyatt House on Wilson Boulevard, agrees with critics that Rosslyn leaves something to be desired in aesthetic qualities, he says it can't be beat for proximity and easy access to Washington. "People come here to stay because they get a more comfortable feeling being in Virginia than being in the District," Fox said.
"With the advent of the Metro, there is nothing keeping a visitor from Washington," he said.
The Hyatt recently hosted a Hi-Fi show, for the first time held outside the District, and the lines into the street seemed to verify Rosslyn's accessibility.
Rosslyn may be easy to get to, but once there, the large concrete buildings can be intimidating. The area also can have an eerie quality: Pedestrian bridges high above the streets provide walkways for office workers to avoid daily traffic; at night the streets are hushed.
A 1967 booklet prepared by the Arlington County Office of Planning said the "ultimate purpose of a plan for Rosslyn is to provide an attractive environment." It also said that "trees and shrubs would retain a contact with nature."
Now, almost 15 years later, Rosslyn still cries for "something natural, something organic," sculptress Nancy Holt said.
Citizen activist Louise Chestnut puts in another way: "How can we have done so lousy with such a beautiful spot?"
According to Tom Parker, Arlington County deputy planning director, not enough attention was paid to Rosslyn at the street level during the development and planning stage. "The visual perception is harsh.The streets have no trees, benches and in some places, no sidewalks," Parker said.
Parker currently heads the Rosslyn Task Force, which is committed to developing a program to beautify streets in the Rosslyn area.
The task force said its recommendations to the members of the Economic Development Commission considered "not only the aesthetic aspects of Rosslyn, but its functional realities, as well."
The commission voted unanimously to accept the plans as presented. Phase One of the $500,000 project, to begin in July 1982, include improvements to Wilson Boulevard, Ft. Myer Drive and North Lynn Street.
The Rosslyn "streetscape" plan specified that some on-street parking may be lost, existing traffic capacity must be maintained, all sidewalks must be at least 10 feet wide and the construction of the plan will be phased in connection with the completion of the Loop Road around Rosslyn and Interstate 66.
Whether the attempt to beautify Rosslyn will help the businesses located there is an open question at this point. Some businesses are thriving there already, while others' lack of green may have nothing to do with lack of greenery.
Adjacent to the Metro station is the Rosslyn Center, housing such businesses as Kristina's Bakery, the Cookie Connection, Virginia National Bank, Drug Fair, a tobacco shop, a photography store and a news stand. Down the street is the Rosslyn Shopping Arcade, which houses a card store, a fabric store and a women's dress shop as well as several other specialty shops.
Deanna White, manager of Dana Robins, the women's clothing shop in the arcade, says even people staying in the area hotels do not do their shopping in Rosslyn. "Unlike scenic Georgetown, Rosslyn has nothing to draw the shoppers on to the street. There is nothing here that makes people want to wander around and shop," she said.
The businesses that do well in Rosslyn are those that offer food and drink. A popular brunch spot with many Washingtonians is Hugo's on the second floor of the Hyatt Arlington. Another popular place for brunch is China Garden, which provides a Chinese alternative to eggs Benedict.
Tom Sarris and his brother Frank have been running restaurants in Rosslyn since 1954, long before the surge in development. Tom Sarris's Covered Wagon opened in 1954, followed by Tom Sarris's Steak House in the Arlington Towers Concourse in 1957. The brothers' third restaurant, Tom Sarris' Orleans House, is their only one that has withstood the development.
Frank Sarris says he supports the beautification plans, but he also appreciates that the development helped his business considerably. "In addition to our usual diners from Maryland and Virginia, we now get a lot of office parties from Rosslyn," he said. Sarris claims a 15 to 20 percent increase in lunch and dinner business since the development boom began.
Situated on the corner of North Ft. Myers Drive and Lee Highway is the Pawn Shop Restaurant, recalling Rosslyn's past when it was an area dominated by pawn shops, small loan offices, tankyards and industrial buildings.
Amy Wrye, manager of the thriving brass-and-wood-decor pub, says it attracts a younger crowd. "From Monday through Friday we get the working people for lunch and happy hour, but late Friday and Saturday nights, we're packed with more than just the worke," Wrye said. a
Attempts to expand development beyond the core of Rosslyn threaten to encroach on residential neighborhoods.
In 1975, a committee consisting of county board members and citizen groups spent 18 months putting together a general land use plan for the development of Rosslyn. According to Hank Glickman, the plan is just a policy guide and not a law or a zoning map."
But accepted as the master plan and used as a backdrop for current decisions, it established the basic policy objectives calling for a "tapering" of high- and medium-density developments to center around the Metro stops and descend to low-density developments on the outskirts. However, "the county board will waive these requirements if they get an assurance of benefits from the developers," Glickman said. Problems arise because, according to Arlington County board member Stephen Detwiller. "The guidelines can be changed and varied." b
The most recent development controversy is a plan proposed by Knights Bridge Development Co., a group of Kuwaitian investors, to build a 14-story condominium at 1537 Key Blvd. The investors originally had wanted an 18-story complex, but pressure from the Colonial Terrace Civic Association resulted in the rejection of the plan by the county board. Jordan Tannenbaum, president of the association, led the fight against the proposal because he said his organization felt it would infringe upon "an oasis of residential sanity amidst the concrete canyons."
Either plan goes beyond the guidelines set by the land-use plan. The current plan zones that area for 10-story buildings, but in return for getting a higher building, Knights Bridge volunteered to build and donate to the Arlington House Corp. a 48-unit, low-to-moderate-income, three-story garden apartment building. The county board authorized the Knights Bridge plan, allowing the company to begin advertising for the condominiums.
Tannenbaum says that once one developer is given the go-ahead to alter the zoning plan, "others will claim equal protection under the law and follow suit."