In an article on the revitalization of Columbia Pike in Arlington in Sunday's Metro section, the following quotation should have been attributed to ad hoc committee member Ralph Perrino: "As long as citizens stay involved, there is no reason why the traditional flavor of it has to go completely by the wayside."
Elliott Burka can close his eyes and picture Arlington's Columbia Pike on a typical December evening in the late 1940s.
"There were strings of Christmas lights, snow falling and people walking . . . it was right out of a Norman Rockwell drawing," recalls Burka, a second-generation managing partner of the Fillmore Gardens apartments and shopping center at Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive.
Forty years later, black ropes of utility wire crisscross the Pike, four lanes of cars clog the street at rush hour and a confetti of signs fills the roadside for blocks.
"At Christmas time now, all you've got is a traffic jam," Burka said.
While Columbia Pike's picturesque past may have buckled forever beneath the wheels of the postwar auto boom, Burka and others are convinced that "the Pike" is ready for a reincarnation.
An ad hoc committee of business persons, landowners and residents, with the help of county planners and the support of the County Board, is struggling to shape the future of the road Burka once called "a desert in the middle of an oasis."
"I really think Columbia Pike's time has come. I feel very positive about it," said Ralph Perrino, a member of the committee and president of the Columbia Heights Civic Association.
For years, Arlington residents have bemoaned the Pike, a 3 1/2-mile stretch running from Washington Boulevard in the east through South Arlington. It continues for 3 1/2 miles in Fairfax County to Little River Turnpike (Rte. 236).
Much of Columbia Pike's zoning and commercial development dates to the 1930s and '40s, when Arlington was as far as the Washington suburbs went.
As the suburbs sprawled westward, the Pike's scale swelled with the increased traffic; now, the huge marquees of car dealerships and the vivid neon of fast food restaurants compete for motorists' attention, dwarfing pedestrians and smaller shops.
A 1958 county report on Columbia Pike noted delicately that "the district as a whole may be described as aesthetically unattractive."
Today's planners have their own euphemisms; the Pike, said committee chairman Michael Hall, is not "pedestrian-friendly." The toll-road-turned-commercial-artery carries 25,000 cars a day, and county officials predict the traffic will swell by between 1 and 2 percent each year.
"It has the potential for being a nice urban neighborhood, but now you almost take your life in your hands when you cross the street," Perrino said.
"It's become more of just a thoroughfare, a corridor people use to get from one place to another without really stopping," Burka said.
In recent years, while planners and developers concentrated on the booming Metro corridors, "nothing was happening on Columbia Pike," Perrino said.
A walk down Columbia Pike today reveals some rustles of rebirth. Wilbur McBay, owner of the 17-year-old Ski Chalet, expanded his store and spruced up the facade last year, and the county pitched in with brick-paved sidewalks, new curbs and a fringe of trees in black iron grates.
Joining the push to spruce up the Pike are a few business owners and longtime citizen activists who have tried for years to revitalize the area.
But the effort also is driven by a new cast of enthusiasts: young professionals who moved to the Pike for its urban convenience, and entrepreneurs, such as the two who bought the Arlington Theatre the day it went out of business last February and stripped it to its Art-Deco shell. It was reopened as the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse last week.
Tony Fischer, 38, was scouting Northern Virginia for a likely cinema site when he found Columbia Pike and its decaying neighborhood theater. "It was really like a diamond in the rough . . . . The area's definitely on an upgrade," he said.
More than $1 million in bond issues and grants from a private family foundation has been slated for roadside improvements on the Pike between South Courthouse Road and South Walter Reed Drive.
Across the street from the Ski Chalet, workers pace with yardsticks and ladders, starting a $150,000 cleanup of Burka's Fillmore Gardens shops.
And a few blocks further west, Anastascia Smith and Gloria Sheppard are coming out of Brenner's Bakery with a crisp white box. The Pike "is nice walking," said Smith, a manicurist at the Hair Cuttery, 3211 Columbia Pike.
She glanced up past the aging marquees of the Westmont Shopping Center, all the way up to the border of orange and green Art Deco tiles that rims the building.
"The buildings are real old -- it's historical," Smith said. "And it's a convenient area for people who don't have transportation."
A small group of business persons tried to revive the Pike about five years ago, but they drew little support and their effort "died a natural death," Burka said.
Recent condominium conversions that brought more young people to the Pike gave new fuel to redevelopment. "You're talking about either single-person households or professional couples, both working, who are not going to want to get into a car and drive to some remote place to go grocery shopping," said Ken Ingram, president of the Arlington Civic Federation.
According to 1980 census data for the area that the committee is studying -- from South Oak to South Randolph streets, extending three blocks on either side of the Pike -- more than half the population of 12,000 is single, separated or divorced.
The committee has brought together longtime landowners such as Burka, who hopes Columbia Pike can be renewed, and residents such as Rich Engel, who loves the Pike because it's old.
"Where else can you be seven minutes from Georgetown, 10 minutes from Maine Avenue and have 70-foot-tall oak trees?" Engel said. "I love old neighborhoods because of their diversity. Sometimes you have to live with a little bit of architectural eclecticism to get that diversity."
It is not always an easy alliance.
When Burka closes his eyes now and looks, say, six or seven years into the future, he sees an office building on the site of the Fillmore Gardens shops.
The same vision makes Engel shake his head. "I am concerned about proposals that would allow midrise office buildings," he said. "We run the danger of destroying the Pike in order to save it."
There are issues of building density, of land use, of taxes and of heights, but in the end the committee is grappling with the question of what makes a neighborhood.
"A community means people being together," said Ken Fredgren, a committee member and managing director of the Arlington Center for Dance. "Others think of a community as structures. Those two concepts are worlds apart."
"As long as citizens stay involved, there is no reason why the traditional flavor of it has to go completely by the wayside."