Alexandria's Del Ray community, for decades the somewhat shabby relative of the city's more prosperous and thriving neighborhoods, is changing.
Residents, realtors, businessmen, and city officials point to signs of revival:
Young couples, both white and black, steadily are moving into Del Ray in large numbers, attracted by small, two-bedroom homes that sell for $35,000;
Del Ray was chosen as the first Alexandria neighborhood for a home-improving program;
Small single-family homes are selling by the dozen on many streets - and in some cases resold almost immediately for a profit.
Many of those same people are counting on two public works projects, scheduled for completion in the not too distant future, to give Del Ray an important boost of respectability: a Metro subway station on its southern end and the Four Miles Run flood control project just north of Del Ray.
"This is the only port of the city where there hasn't been any vast redevelopment," says William Scott Jr. owner of the Scott Shop, a women's apparel store that has been in Del Ray for 37 years."They (the subway and the flood-control project) will make Mount Vernon Avenue a viable street again. It can't do anything but go up."
The story of Del Ray is similar in many respects to the redevelopment this is occurring in many D.C. neighborhoods and in other urban communities.
Young couples, usually white, are attracted to a neighborhood - either it's charming, or the housing is cheap because the homes need renovating, or it's close to where the couple works. Investors see that the homes are popular and begin buying as many houses and cheap rental units as they can, forcing many residents to move. City officials, encouraged by neighborhood improvements, begin programs to encourage more change.
Alexandria, too is plagued by many of the same urban problems facing other, larger cities. The city's annual report last year expressed concern about the city's stock of deteriorating housing.
Del Ray, once part of a horse-racing track, is roughly bounded by Braddock Road on the south, Glebe Road on the north, Russell Road on the west, and Jefferson Davis Highway (Rte. 1) on the east, although some small sections of it have their own neighborhood names. It is an old community, but it lacks the "oldness chic" and the historical significance of Old Town Alexandria or Georgetown.
Many of Del Ray's homes were built 30 to 40 years ago to house the families of railroad workers who were employed at nearby Potomac rail yard.
As the owners faced mortgage payments, increased food costs, higher property taxes, and tiny Social Security checks, some of them decided that fixing their house was a luxury that could be postponed.
"When you get $80 a month in Social Security, you can't fix a leaky roof," said one long-time resident of her former neighbors who were forced to move.
Now, as the elderly either die or sell their homes to move into less expensive apartments, young couples are buying the homes and refurbishing them.
David Rollins, 27, a chauffeur, bought his small two-bedroom home a year ago for $29,000.With one child and another on the way, Rollins said he and his wife are looking forward to climbing property values so they can sell and buy a bigger house.
David Martin, 29, a bought a home on East Howell Avenue seven months ago for $39,000. He spent the last six months fixing it up, and for the past few weeks, there has been a "For Sale" sign out front. Martin is asking $47,000.
"I'm using it for an initial investment, for tax shelter and investment purposes," Martin said. He said he bought the home from a real estate broker who had inherited it.
Martin said when he bought the home "it was in pretty bad shape. It was ugly, with a dark and dingy basement and ugly bushes and shrubs."
Dozens of properties on many Del Ray streets are changing hands. Between September, 1975, and November, 1976, about one-fifth of the 100 homes on East Windsor Avenue were sold, varying in price from less than $20,000 to $45,000, according to real estate records. On East Del Ray Avenue during that same period, about 10 of the 60 properties were sold. More than a dozen others on East Del Ray AVenue were sold between 1973 and 1975, records show, and in the mid-1960s another 30 properties changed hands. "For sale" signs are posted in many yards. Most homes and duplexes seem to be selling anywhere form $30,000 up according to real estate records.
Many of the people moving into Del Ray are black. About 22 per cent of the residents east of Mount Vernon Avenue and south of Hume Avenue are classified as nonwhite, and almost all of them are black, according to census tract figures from the city-planning office. East of Mount Vernon Avenue, the figure for nonwhite residents is about 5 per cent. The population in the two census tracts is about 8,000, almost equally divided.
Mount Vernon School, the elementary school on Commonwealth Avenue that serves most Del Ray students, is the largest in the city, with 1,000 pupils. It also is the only elementary school which does not need busing to achieve racial balance - the school student body begin 46 per cent white, 46 per cent black, and 8 per cent of other ethnic origins, according to a school spokesman.
Tina Breeding, of 113A Hume Ave., is president of the Mount Jefferson Civic Assoication, a group of about 900 homes in northern Del Ray whose owners decided the Del Ray Civic Association was too large and broke away to form their own. Mrs. Breeding said the population in the area served by her civic association is at least 85 per cent black.
Mount Jefferson, bounded by Ashby Street on the north, Raymond Avenue on the south, Mount Vernon Avenue on the west and Jefferson Davis Highway on the east has a severe problem with absentee landlords who refuse to maintain their property, Mrs. Breeding said. She, too, is looking forward to the completion of the flood profect, counting on it allow the Arlandria businesses driven out by the frequent floods over the years to return.
"It will be a boon to our community," Mrs. Breeding said. "We thought we were considered a ghetto area, but we've gotten help from the city . . . We learned it's the squeaking wheel that gets the oil."
Businessmen on the blighted Mount Vernon Avenue commerical strip view the coming of Metro as the answer to many of their problems. Barring obstacles in its path and the further opposition of some Alexandria City Council members, the subway station will be at Braddock Road and North West Street. It is scheduled for completion by the fall of 1980.
The Four Mile Run flood control project, to be finished by May, 1980, is expected to prod firms into investing in the flood-plagued Arlandria area. The recurrent flooding often has driven Arlandria residents from their homes was the reason the Alexandria school board temporarily closed the Cora Kelly Elementary School, and has kept the prices of homes in Lynhave, Arlandria, and northern Del Ray at rock bottom. One Alexandria realtor called Lynhaven "an investor's heaven."
Despite its sense of community, Del Ray, with its own commerical area on Mount Vernon and its tiny, single family detached homes, almost seems to be separate from Alexandria. Indeed, some residents interviewed used phrases such as "over in Alexandira" as if the two were not part of the same city.
Fifty years ago, that would have been true. Del Ray then was the village of Potomac; it was annexed by Alexandria in 1930.
Camille M. DeLane, now in her 70s, lives on East Windsor Avenue next to the house where she was born and raised.
DeLane remembers being a wide-eyed child in Potomac, watching the wondrous feats at "Dr. Bennett's Medical Show." There were no drug stores, feew churches, and members of the Lamplighters Club lit the street lights each evening.
DeLane recalls her mother telling her that part of Del Ray once was a horseracing track. During World War I, an Army camp in Del Ray was the last American home for many youths sent to battle in Europe, she said.
Over the years, "I've seen Del Ray go down, and now I see it going up again," DeLane said.
As blacks moved into Del Ray in increasing numbers, residents report that there was some white flight. But most persons interviewed said that the unusual neighborhood racial mix has not caused many problems. Some young white couples said one of the attractions of Del Ray was that one can live in a home with an elderly person living next door on one side and a black family on the other.
Charles Hooff, one of the owners of an Alexandria real estate firm, said he encourages young couples to buy in Del Ray for their first home.
He said he sometimes has trouble selling the homes because some people "find their appetite exceeds their pocketbook, but they don't have any imagination." These prospective buyers look at a deteriorated house and decide they don't want to take the time and trouble to fix it up, he said.
Still Hooff believes some of the imgredients which helped Old Town to become immensely popular are present in Del Ray. "I'd buy every one of the homes in Del Ray if I could," he said. CAPTION:
Picture, Mount Vernon Avenue, a street of shops and other small businesses, is the principal commerical artery in the Del Ray community. By Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post