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Arlington’s century-old Lyon Park holds on to its historical feel

Cyclists ride through the Lyon Park neighborhood of Arlington, Va. The neighborhood was founded by developer Frank Lyon in 1919. Lyon subdivided a 300-acre tract of land into 1,200 building lots and worked with landscape architect William Sunderman to lay out streets in a grid pattern, with a few diagonal roads at Lyon Park’s center. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

The Lyon Park Community Center is the heart of Lyon Park, a charming Arlington neighborhood known for its eclectic architecture and community feel. The tree-lined streets surrounding the center and its park are dotted with Craftsman bungalows that sit side-by-side with Tudor Revival and Sears catalogue homes, taking you back to the America of the 1920s, when the neighborhood was getting its start.

In a community proud of its architectural history, even recently renovated homes keep the flourishes of older styles, blending as seamlessly into the neighborhood as the neighbors do with one ­another.

“Your neighbors are kind of close to you, but in a lot of ways that’s desirable because it brings the community together,” said Jayson Wingfield, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Realty who specializes in Lyon Park.

“The cohesiveness and the closeness of the community makes it a very pleasant place to live,” said Peter Zirnite, president of the Lyon Park Citizens Association, who lives in a house built in 1923.

With an active email group and no shortage of volunteers, Zirnite said, the neighborhood enjoys a range of activities from holiday get-togethers and pancake breakfasts to a Halloween parade and a spring festival. Most are held at the community center, given its central location and surrounding three-acre park. (Both the center and the park are privately owned and maintained by the community.) The pandemic, however, has put most activities on hold.

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While many are attracted by the neighborhood’s close-knit feel, even more are drawn by its convenient location. Lyon Park is within walking distance of Clarendon’s shops and restaurants, as well as its Orange Line Metro stop, and resident Katie Wethman said it’s easy to get to downtown D.C. or anywhere in the Washington area.

“It’s really the best of both worlds,” she said. “We have a very engaged, active community, but you’re also just so close to everything.”

Zirnite agrees, saying Lyon Park is ideal for commuting to D.C. He said his wife has an easier commute to her job on Maine Avenue SW than when they lived on Capitol Hill.

Wethman points out that the neighborhood also strikes a nice balance between families with young children and older couples who are empty-nesters.

The neighborhood’s popularity is evidenced by its small supply of homes for sale. Only two houses are currently for sale out of 1,800 residences, Wingfield says: a $999,000 end-unit townhouse and a $1.8 million five-bedroom, five-bathroom home. He said housing prices are on par with those in Bethesda — the average sales price during 2020 was $1.3 million, and most homes were bought within 12 days of landing on the market.

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Wethman, an agent with the Wethman Group of Keller Williams Realty, was lured by the area’s historical homes, buying and renovating a 1925 bungalow she says is more like a cottage than a house. “I have a soft spot in my heart for older homes. I just love the charm of them,” she said.

Wethman is not alone in celebrating the community’s history. In 2019, Lyon Park marked 100 years since founding developer Frank Lyon subdivided a 300-acre tract of land into 1,200 building lots. Throughout the 1920s, Lyon worked with landscape architect William Sunderman to lay out streets in a grid pattern, with a few diagonal roads at Lyon Park’s center. The area emerged as one of the many suburbs for people wanting fresh air and nature within easy commuting distance of D.C.

As part of the centennial, the community’s History Committee launched an exhibit tracing Lyon Park’s roots. The exhibit honored its 1920s heritage while presenting an honest look at the nation’s troubled approach to race at the time, according to Thora Colot, who led the committee.

Colot, recently retired from the National Archives, thought it was important to explore the racial covenants that were part of Lyon Park land deeds when the neighborhood was founded in 1919. The covenants explicitly stated that owners could not sell to people who were not “Caucasian,” a practice that held until a 1948 Supreme Court case ruled that racial covenants could not be legally enforced.

Another bold look at the community’s history took place this past summer. Spurred to action by the nation’s racial reckoning, the Lyon Park Citizens Association voted to change the signs at Henry Clay Park, named for the 19th-
century statesman from Kentucky, who was an enslaver.

When renovations are complete later this year, the park will be renamed for Zitkala-Sa, a Native American writer and activist who lived in Lyon Park from 1925 to 1938 and fought the mistreatment of Native Americans.

Living there: Lyon Park’s boundaries are Route 50/Arlington Boulevard on the south and east, Route 237/10th Street on the north and North Irving Street on the west.

Schools: Long Branch Elementary, Thomas Jefferson Middle and Washington-Liberty High.

Transit: The Clarendon Metro station on the Orange and Silver lines is about a 12-minute walk from the Lyon Park Community Center. Arlington Transit routes and a Metrobus line also go through the neighborhood. Route 50/Arlington Boulevard and Washington Boulevard are the closest major thoroughfares.

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