Jesse and Emily O’Connell had been living in a two-bedroom condominium near the Braddock Road Metro stop in Alexandria, Va., for five years, including time with their daughter, Kennedy, 4, and son, Chase, 1½, when the couple realized it was time to move to a larger place — a house with a back yard.
They sold their condominium in mid-April, prepared to move into a short-term rental until they found a home in the adjacent neighborhood of Del Ray.
Then, on a Sunday in late April they decided to check out houses in Del Ray. “We basically looked at one house,” said Jesse, 35, who works for the Lumina Foundation in the District. It was a yellow house with a red door, described in the listing as a Cape Cod built in the 1930s.
They decided it was for them.
“We spend a lot of time in Del Ray,” he said. “We have a lot of friends in the neighborhood and there are a lot of kid-friendly things to do over here.”
In addition, the Mount Vernon Community School, an Alexandria public elementary school with dual English-Spanish learning, appealed to the O’Connells. “We’re buying the place as much as we’re buying the home,” Jesse said. “One of the things that makes it special is that it has that Main Street Americana feel.”
They both work in Washington. “We Metro together in and Metro together back and get the kids and come home,” he said. The children attend the Hopkins House school.
Varied housing styles: Bounded roughly by West Glebe and East Glebe roads to the north, Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1) to the east, the CSX rail tracks intersecting Jefferson Davis Highway to Braddock Road on the south and Russell Road on the west, Del Ray has been a commuter suburb of Washington since it was developed in the 1890s. It is approximately two miles from Old Town, three from Reagan National Airport and five miles from the 14th Street Bridge.
Though it was once the site of the St. Asaph Racetrack, barely a trace of the track is noticeable in the area where the original half-mile course, stables and grandstand once stood. All that’s left is a curve in the road, a reminder of the long-gone racecourse. The area that is now Del Ray was the Town of Potomac from 1908 until approximately 1930, when it was annexed by the city of Alexandria.
According to the National Register of Historic Places, the Town of Potomac Historic District is situated within the City of Alexandria. “St. Elmo and Del Ray, two subdivisions platted in 1894 by Wood and Harmon, developers from Ohio, joined together in 1908 as the incorporated Town of Potomac in order to better provide municipal services to the residents,” according to the Register. Town of Potomac residents commuted on the railroad and electric rail to Washington, where a fair number worked for the federal government, as well as to Alexandria. Others walked to work at the Potomac Yards, a major railroad switching facility across what is now Route 1.
Residential housing styles include American Foursquare, bungalows, Colonial Revival, Folk Victorian, modified Queen Anne, Tudor Revival and two Mediterranean Revival buildings, mostly dating from the 1890s through 1941, according to the Register.
Master plan: Rod Kuckro, who moved to Del Ray with his wife, Melissa, in 1980, has lived through changes in the area, some of which he says were by design. “We wanted to buy a house, and Del Ray was affordable,” he said. They found a house dating to 1915, raised two children there and continue to enjoy their home and the neighborhood.
Those involved in the Del Ray Citizens Association, like Kuckro, who was its president in the early 1990s and is its president again now, wanted to maintain the small-town feel of Del Ray and improve upon it. Through the City of Alexandria Master Plan of 1992 and the Small Area Plan that includes Del Ray, the maximum height of buildings in the Del Ray neighborhood was changed from 140 feet to 40 feet, according to Kuckro.
“That’s why we changed the zoning 25 years ago,” he said. Zoning was a tool to limit development in the area. “This was the vision” — to contain development, particularly along Mount Vernon Avenue, which runs roughly through the center of the original grid of streets in Del Ray. At the same time, Del Ray was added to the National Register of Historic Places. “Del Ray is an engineered change,” Kuckro said. “We engineered change.” The aim was to encourage small-scale retail businesses along Mount Vernon Avenue.
At one time, hat stores, exterminators and other businesses dominated Mount Vernon Avenue. Now it is dotted with a variety of ethnic restaurants and boutiques. “The mix of stores has changed,” said Kuckro, a journalist who writes and edits for E&E News. In addition, there are three individually owned coffee establishments on Mount Vernon Avenue. Not a chain in sight.
What began as a Del Ray block party has become Art on the Avenue, an annual regional multicultural arts and music festival the first Saturday in October that draws an estimated 40,000 people to Del Ray. “It’s 10 blocks now,” Kuckro said of Art on the Avenue.
Living there: In the past 12 months, 162 residential properties have sold in Del Ray, ranging from a one-bedroom, one-bathroom garden-style condominium for $160,000 to a new six-bedroom, five-bath, farm-style, single-family home for $1.672 million, according to Jennifer Walker, an agent with McEnearney Associates in Alexandria. Twenty-three residential properties are on the market, ranging from a two-bedroom, one-bath garden-style condominium for $330,000 to a four-bedroom, five-bath renovated Colonial for $1.410 million.
Schools: Mount Vernon Community Elementary; Jefferson-Houston Elementary; Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology; George Mason Elementary; George Washington Middle; T.C. Williams High’s Minnie Howard Campus for ninth grade; T.C. Williams High.
Transit: Del Ray is closest to the Yellow and Blue Metro lines, and it is within walking distance of the Braddock Road stop for some or by riding Metroway, a bus that runs along Route 1 between the Pentagon City and Braddock Road Metro stations on dedicated bus-only lanes seven days a week. City of Alexandria Dash buses, including the AT10, and Metrobuses 10A, 10B and 10E run along Mount Vernon Avenue.
Crime: According to the LexisNexis Community Crime Map, in the past year, there were three burglaries, five aggravated assaults and 60 thefts reported by the Alexandria Police.