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Beverly Hills:
A Community True
To Its ’30s Roots

By Sue Anne Pressley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 20, 1992

This is not Beverly Hills 90210. It's Beverley Hills 22305.

Residents of this professional-class glade, with its cool shadowed trees and abundant azaleas, are used to that sort of crack. They know they aren't like the Beverly Hills of the Fox television show, with its sulky teens and self-conscious pose.

Their Beverley Hills, located in Alexandria, is the home of Adm. William Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the place where former president Richard M. Nixon lived when he was just a congressman; and the site of the makeshift Civil War hospital where poet Walt Whitman reportedly worked as a nurse.

There's one other thing, they say. The California Beverly Hills, is, well, a little tacky.

"I've been there," said the Rev. Bill Davis, 36, pastor of the Beverley Hills Community Church. "It's not that pretty."

But Beverley Hills is.

Davis's church—a half-century-old creamy-brick structure with a bell tower and covered walkways—sits on Old Dominion Boulevard. At the height of springtime, Old Dominion is often called Azalea Boulevard, its lawns blazing with the bright red, white and fuchsia flowers, its houses solid two-story structures from the 1930s and 1940s with fireplaces, hardwood floors, casement windows, built-in bookcases and other special features. They are the sort of houses that sold for $6,000 in 1934 and sell for $250,000 or more today.

Beverley Hills, in the larger North Ridge community near the Arlington County line, is roughly bounded by Quaker Lane on the west, Russell Road on the east and Monticello Boulevard on the south.

It's the kind of place residents describe as a "peaceful island in an urban sea," but they also confess that they love the location—I-395 is almost visible from the Beverley Hills streets and Crystal City and Pentagon City are just a short drive away.

According to a local publication titled "North Ridge Lore," written several years ago by the North Ridge Citizens Association, Beverley Hills was part of a 6,000-acre land grant awarded to an English sea captain in 1669 by the governor of Virginia.

During the Civil War, about 10,000 Union soldiers occupied the area to protect Washington, and several homes in what would later become Beverley Hills, including the house at 506 N. Overlook Dr., were converted into hospitals.

By the late 1920s, Beverley Hills and its homes began to look much as they do today. Originally lush with trees and flowers—maples, magnolias, laurel, lady-slippers—the area stayed that way because early residents, including some who worked for the National Arboretum, insisted that the houses be built to accommodate the trees.

Credit also is given to Don Loftus, president of Permanesque Homes, the area's major developer, who understood the importance of preserving the natural growth.

The early residents of Beverley Hills worked for the federal government or the military, a fact that is largely true today, but there was also a rural element.

Until the late 1930s, some residents kept chickens in their back yards and Beverley Hills awoke to the sound of roosters crowing.

Then, as now, Beverley Hills was a place for families with children. From 1941 to 1960, the community held an annual Wheel Day, when neighborhood children were encouraged to decorate their wagons and bicycles and parade up and down Old Dominion Boulevard. A few years ago, Wheel Day was resurrected and on Memorial Day weekend, the children paraded on their skateboards and bicycles.

Meredith Forbes, for example, was dressed as Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" on roller skates and Caroline Lehman skated down Old Dominion Boulevard in a tutu.

The commitment to the neighborhood children also is obvious at the Beverley Hills Cooperative Preschool, which operates from the community church and was organized in 1938 as the first school of its kind in Virginia.

"The parents are like the assistant teachers," Davis said, who helps with the class work and the playground games. About 75 children are enrolled there.

Break-ins and thefts are not unknown in Beverley Hills and many homes sport the seals and signs that indicate expensive security systems, but it is not a high-crime area.

Davis, who moved with his wife, Susan, from rural Waynesboro, Va., to Beverley Hills a couple of years ago, said that some streets bordering on the neighborhood have had problems with drug abuse and prostitution.

He is struck more often, he said, by how pleasant the neighborhood is, how secure the residents seem to feel as they take their walks in the evening.

One day earlier this year, however, Davis happened to look out his window, he said, and noticed a young boy he didn't recognize pausing to look at a postal package that was left outside a neighbor's house.

When the boy picked up the package and started running, Davis bolted out the door and shouted, "Hey, come back here!" To his surprise, the boy did, begging him not to call the police, and Davis let him go after warning him, "I want you and all your friends to know that all our eyes are open around here."

As crimes go, in an area that borders on the nation's murder capital, it was an incident that seemed to belong to another time.

Perhaps that's what Doris Webster, a retired school crossing guard and longtime resident, likes best of all about life in Beverley Hills. "It's very quiet and very pretty," she said, as she sunned on a bench outside her home," and it hasn't changed too very much yet."

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