Biking Down Memory Lane, Part II

My big freelance project is on hold for a little while, and it was a warm sunny day. So, of course, I opted to spend the afternoon in a windowless room at the library.

Biked over to the Arlington Central Branch, which houses the Virginia Room, a repository of local history and information. I wanted to see what they had on Colonial Village, where, through various apartments and condos, I've lived for the past 9 years, and Monica since she arrived. Ostensibly, I was doing a little research for a story I have in mind — looking for some stories and voices from the old days.

Colonial Village was built as 1055 garden-style apartments in the late 1930s, the first of their kind in the country, and immediately attracted people seeking jobs and affordable housing. During WWII and after, those who came for the war effort just stayed. We know. Some of them were our neighbors when we lived in the apartments.

There used to be a craft shop with a steward who would help folks make their own furniture. There used to be ballroom where regular events were held, where more than a few couples were married. There used to be limitations on how many children could be in apartments, which was enforced by watching for telltale condensation from drying diapers (now, no more than a dozen are in the whole complex).

But times change. And a developer attempted to raze the complex in the late 1970s. Our former neighbors were among those who headed up the effort to preserve Colonial Village, a battle that waged for about four years. In the end, most of the buildings were preserved; some were destroyed, some remained apartments, some converted to condos or co-ops. But the spirit that makes this place extraordinary endured.

These are apartments where you can, in the midst of crowded urban development, look out your window and see green. Where squirrels run up to you, demanding food. Where mourning doves may nest on your windowsill. Where you can pass a sunny evening on the bench, hearing stories from people who have been residents for more than half a century. Where you get to know your neighbors, and if you're lucky, they become lifelong friends.

Years ago, a group of friends were sitting and grilling in the courtyard, after sunset. Two men stopped by to visit the tree we were sitting under. It seems that, years before, they had planted it as a memorial to a friend who had just died. It may be time to go, but it doesn't mean that I'm not leaving a little bit behind, too.


Mel said...

Sigh....I miss Colonial Beach...and the grilling...and Old Bill...and you and Mon and Paul & T, and Bob (both pre- and mid Clair) and Chris & Chris and Ron & Joey and Ray, and yes, even MoT (though not in the same way..not even close...) ...we had a pretty lawn that we didn't have to mow..and Mon's peonies and hollyhocks...and the lost summer of the front lawn...and loading up the caravans for the trip to WV for Thanksgiving...and Heidelburg...and the Italian Store...and all the many, many Clubmels - eating, drinking and dancing the night away with my best friends in the world...whom I will love for the rest of my life.

monica said...

I sure am going to miss this place. Those years on 18th street were a high point.