Oct. 28, 1979. 9 p.m. Corner of Duke and S. Fairfax, Old Town Alexandria:
Resident startled by apparently drunken teen-aged couple weaving down sidewalk. Residents even more startled when couple tumbles into next-door neighbors garden and begins making love.
Nov. 10, 1979. Midnight. 100 block of S. Lee:
Woman awakened by three men on sidewalk, screaming obscenities at each other. Men proceed to urinate on woman's front steps. "This happens to me very regularly," woman reports.
March 3, 1980. 1 a.m. 100 block of Prince Street:
Resident's parked Mercedes-Benz sideswiped by motorist leaving parking space. Damage exceeds $1,000. Third time Mercedes has been severely damaged, in the same block, in the same way and at approximately the same time.
These reports, all from Old Town residents, have been collected in a loose-leaf notebook by Earl and Lonore Van Swearingen, of 211 Prince St., who have lived in Old Town Alexandria since the 1940s.
The Van Swearingens began keeping the notes last fall, and already they have logged more than 300 such reports, all submitted by homeowners in the section of Old Town near the bars of lower King Street.
Many of the incidents involve young people who have just left one of the 52 establishments licensed to serve alcoholic beverages, according to police. The bars and restaurants are between the Potomac River end of King Street and the other side of Rte. 1, and most of them are in Old Town.
The problem has become so bothersome to Old Town residents that early this year, the police department increased its patrols along lower King Street, from two officers after 10 p.m. to six, or about 17 percent of the 35 officers on duty at that hour.
There is general agreement that the extra police have helped, but they have not effected a cure. On weekends especially -- and on summer weekends even more especially -- the sidewalks of lower King Street are aswarm well after midnight with young people. Many of them are loud; some of them are drunk.
"It's a very, very serious problem and a very, very sensitive issue," says a top aide to City Manager Douglas Harman.
"If this menace doesn't stop, our property values will go down, and Old Town won't be the gem all of us want it to be," says Seymour Young, president of the Old Town Civic Association.
"The young people have a right to have fun, and the restaurants have a right to make a living -- but not if they invade our rights," says Van Swearingen, 74, who is a retired Navy captain.
"On weekends," adds his wife, "we pray for rain. It's the only thing that limits the crowds."
By all accounts, problems along lower King have been increasing steadily for the last eight years -- ever since so many bars and restaurants sprouted that it began to rival Georgetown as a hangout for young people.
"It's become more or less the 'in' thing to go to Old Town," said Police Chief Charles Strobel. "Eight years ago, the only thing there was plumbing warehouses. Virtually overnight, there was a very high mixed usage of the area. And with that came the complaints."
They began as parking complaints, Old Town did not have preferential parking for residents until 18 months ago. Before then, visitors competed with the locals for the relatively few spaces near lower King Street.
Gradually, however, according to Strobel, alcohol-related crimes began to increase. The three highest arrest categories were driving while intoxicated, drinking in public and disorderly conduct. Police made 44 arrests for these three offenses along lower King Street in October 1979 -- a record that still stands.
"In proportion to the number of people who visit Old Town, it's not a significant police problem. You really don't see the serious incidences that you see elsewhere in the city," said Strobel.
"But it is very significant in relation to the changes that have occurred in the area. You didn't used to find beer bottles in your front yard the morning after the night before. I can easily uderstand why people are so upset."
Beer bottles are, some residents say, the least of the problems.
Business owners along King Street say they regularly have to wash down their front steps with disinfectant to get rid of the odor of urine.
One resident of S. Fairfax Street said he gave up trying to raise a boxwood shrub after it was crushed three times by drunks who passed out on it.
Meanwhile, officials of an Old Town bank concede that they have had to assign an employe to washing away the vomit in its parking lot every Monday morning.
Rather than complain and accuse neighborhood residets of exaggerating the problems, most of the Old Town business community has worked closely with the city in efforts to improve the situation.
Four lower King Street restaurateurs serve on the Mayor's Task Force on Bars and Restaurants, which was established early this year.
"They recognize the threat to their livelihood," said the city manager's aide. "They have been excellent members."
Old Town residents are bitterly critical, however, about the attitude of other business owners on lower King.
"Some of them couldn't care less what happens to the neighborhood as long as they make a quick buck out of it", Van Swearingen charged.
"We aren't against people drinking. We're talking about people walking around the streets drunk and doing obnoxious things. And the responsibility for that is the management's," said Kathy McGrath, of 118 Prince St., an attorney who serves on the mayor's task force.
"I used to come down here last year and it was open season. This was Fun City. Anything you wanted to do, you did," said Carlos Monahan, 19, of Annandale, a student at Northern Virginia Community College.
"Now, just look over there," he said, pointing to two policemen who stood in the 200 block of King Street one recent Friday night. "Nobody's going to break bad with them standing there like that."
Officers on foot patrol in the area say their visibility has definitely helped.
"I think we've been much more effective just by standing here," said Officer C. P. Ratcliffe.
Another great help, says Officer Bob Brown, has been revisions of the city code that permit police to make arrests for crimes they do not witness personally. Now, if one person witnesses an incident and reports it, police can make an arrest.
"Last year, we had a guy urinate off the balcony here and because we didn't see it, we couldn't do a thing," Brown said. "Today, we could arrest that guy."
Another recent legal change requires anyone who wants to open a bar or restaurant in Alexandria to apply for a special-use permit if the establishment will be within 300 yards of a private home. Existing establishments are exempt.
Just last week, the City Council denied a permit for restaurateur Kristos Kiriakow, who had sought to operate a restaurant at 211 N. Union St., near the Alexandria waterfront.
One fear homeowners have about the problems -- that the situation will hurt property values -- apparently is not in evidence. Several Old Town real estate agents say they see no such effect on prices. Many Old Town houses sell for $200,000 or more, "and I don't see much about to change that," one agent said.
But about a dozen homes have gone on the market in the last year, partly because of the neighborhood's bar-related noise and parking problems, several agents said.
Kathy McGrath says, however, that she and most of her neighbors plan to stay and fight.
"I don't particularly want to sell out and move to McLean, thank you," she said. "I want to live there. It's my neighborhood."
"We're committed to improving the situation," said Police Chief Strobel. "We think the word is out: If you're going to frequent the establishments on lower King Street in Alexandria, you will toe the mark."