Frank Lyon and Arlington (Part I of III)

By Tracy Hopkins

Our Lyon Park website indicates that Lyon Park is named after Frank Lyon, who developed Lyon Park in 1919. It talks about Lyon Park’s development, but not much about Frank Lyon. Lyon descended from a family that was established in Virginia in 1730. His grandfather was a general contractor in Petersburg, Virginia. His father was a lawyer in Petersburg and, later, in Richmond. During the Civil War, his father served in the office of the Advocate General of the Confederacy. He was married to Mary Margaret Springs of Charlotte, North Carolina, and they had four children, including Frank.

Born on December 30, 1867, in Petersburg, Virginia, Lyon attended public schools in Richmond, graduating in 1884. After 18 months at Richmond College, Lyon began working in administration for railroad companies. In 1887, Lyon became the private secretary to Walter Bragg of the newly formed Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). He remained with the ICC until 1899, during which time Lyon also studied law at Georgetown University. He received a Master of Laws in 1890 and began to practice law in Alexandria County (renamed Arlington in 1920). 

Lyon married Georgie Hays Wright in 1890, and they built a small house, which no longer exists, on Lubber Run. They later lived on Kirkwood Road at the current site of the YMCA. The house they built in 1907 was Lyonhurst, now Missionhurst, at 4651 25th St. N. This residence was said to be the first home in the county to have electricity. 

Frank and Georgie Lyon had three children who survived to adulthood, two daughters and a son. The son, Lt. John Lyon, died near the end of World War I in the Argonne offensive in France. The John Lyon Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3150 located at 2116 19th St. N., is named for him.

Lyon became the owner and editor of the Monitor newspaper in the early 1900s and was associated with the paper until its sale in 1928. He and the paper played a significant role in the dissolution of liquor and gambling interests in Rosslyn. He joined the legal crusade against liquor by representing temperance movement leaders. 

Lyon became a law partner of Robert Walton Moore and participated in the development of Moore’s addition to Clarendon. His development firm, Lyon and Fitch, developed Lyon Park in 1919. Later, the depression caused the dissolution of Lyon and Fitch, after which Lyon continued to practice law. He died on November 29, 1955 and is buried in Petersburg, Virginia.
NOTE: This article is derived from Rose, Ruth P., “The Role of Frank Lyon and His Associates in the Early Development of Arlington County,” The Arlington Historical Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 4, 1976. 

Memories of Arlington: Growing up in Halls Hill (now High View Park)

Based on an interview with LaVonia Sweeney

I was born in Washington, DC in 1942 and lived there until my parents moved to Halls Hill about 3 years later. Our house had been given to my parents by my grandfather as a wedding present with the condition that they pay off the $2000 balance. Our home in DC had indoor plumbing but the Halls Hill home only had an outhouse, which my mother found unacceptable. A bathroom with indoor plumbing was added and we moved in. Halls Hill was very rural, with woods all around and houses spread out. 

Halls Hill was an island of Black residences surrounded by houses owned by Whites. Segregation meant that Whites and Blacks did not mix or socialize. One example I recall is that my mother could not give birth to my baby brother (born in 1946) at Virginia Hospital just a few blocks away; my father had to take her to DC. Certain streets were walled off by White residents but, even where it was possible to walk into a White neighborhood, we did not do so because our parents told us not to. The reason was Whites did not want us there. 

I did not visit a public library in Arlington until much later since they were inside White neighborhoods. There were no nearby movie theaters or swimming pools we could use. There was a grocery store and a “5 and Dime” on Lee Highway we could shop at. We could buy ice cream at Giffords in Falls Church but not sit down in the restaurant to eat it. In case of fire, there was a Black firehouse for Black neighborhoods. If assistance was needed, the White fire departments would not send help to a Black neighborhood. But if assistance was needed in the White neighborhood, the Black firemen would help. 

We loved having parties with friends and family; it was our main entertainment. For school, I went to kindergarten at a lady’s house up the street and then attended grade school at Langston Elementary. In 7th grade I went to Hoffman-Boston, the only Black high school in Arlington. On Sundays, we attended the Black Catholic church in South Arlington called Our Lady Queen of Peace, which still exists. 

During 7th grade my family moved back to DC. I eventually went to a school in Powhatan, VA, near Richmond (formally named St. Francis de Sales High School for Colored and Indian Girls). My mother worked as a dental assistant and cut hair on the side. She said her tips sent me to boarding school. My father worked for the Army postal service in the Pentagon. He was not promoted for a long time but when he finally was, a White man quit his job there rather than work for a Black man.

In DC we could go to movies and swimming pools, but some places were still segregated, such as National Theater, where Black ticketholders could only sit in the balcony section. Now those are considered choice seats!   I never encountered the Ku Klux Klan in DC or Virginia but did when I worked in a Southern Maryland school. One day a Klansmen came to the school to distribute pamphlets—not for any specific event but to let everyone know the Klan was there.  

A highlight of my years in DC was attending Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I attended with my friends, so we were socializing during the event. We could hear him in the distance speaking for a long time, so we tried our best to pay attention!  Eventually I married a corpsman who became a warrant officer in the Navy, had two children, and moved around the east coast. I returned to my childhood home in Arlington in 2014, and I remember marveling at how I could go anywhere and do anything in the neighborhood. I walked up all the streets I couldn’t have walked before, and I have lived here since. Today, my daughter lives in southern Maryland and my son in Hawaii.

North Arlington Segregation Walls

By John Ausink

If you’ve ever gone to the Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe you’ve been in North Arlington’s High View Park area —formerly known as Hall’s Hill, an historically Black neighborhood outlined in red on the map. If you travel south on nearby N Culpepper St. and look down 17th Rd N. when you get to the bottom of the hill, you’ll notice an imposing cinderblock wall, shown behind me in the photo. What’s going on?

The four thick blue lines on the map show the locations of various walls, erected in the 1930s, that at one time enclosed portions of Hall’s Hill to physically separate it from White neighborhoods. If I had tried to ride down N. Culpeper St. before the mid-1960s I would have been blocked at 17th Rd N. by the wall:  the only way to drive through Hall’s Hill from Lee Highway (now Langston Blvd) was via N. Edison to the west. 

Some claim that Hall’s Hill was once entirely enclosed by walls of various materials, but the only segments I can document from county records and “eyewitness” accounts are the four in blue on the map. When Langston Elementary School was closed in the mid-1960s and Hall’s Hill students were assigned to a new school south of 17th Rd N., a group of Black and White citizens asked the county to open a section of the wall so students wouldn’t have to walk all the way to N. Edison and back again (14 blocks, some say) to get to school. One source says the county bought and demolished two houses and their adjacent section of segregation wall to create an opening. 

If you have not visited the segregation wall, it is important to do so—and take your kids, since they don’t learn about this local injustice in school. You can easily ride your bike from Lyon Park. It’s worth noting that, while the county changed its zoning to permit the segregation walls, the walls themselves were built and paid for by White homeowners.

Who Was Dr. Charles Drew?

By Kalkidan Ausink

You may be familiar with Charles R. Drew Elementary or Community Center, but not the local hero for whom the school is named, a Black physician whose blood transfusion discoveries transformed emergency medicine and surgery. When Dr. Drew started studying blood, it only had a shelf life of a few days, which meant the donor had to almost be co-located with the recipient—an unmanageable situation in times of war, for example. Drew made two remarkable discoveries: 1) he figured out that cells are what determine blood type and that plasma, when separated from cells, could be given to anyone regardless of blood type and 2) he invented a method by which plasma could be dried and reconstituted when needed. 

Dr. Drew was born in 1904 as the eldest son of a carpet layer. He grew up in Washington D.C. and attended Dunbar High School, the first public high school for Black students in the United States. In 1920, Drew’s oldest sister died from tuberculosis and influenza during a city-wide epidemic. Drew’s family blamed the city’s air for her death and moved to Arlington’s Penrose neighborhood that year. 

Drew attended Amherst College on an athletic scholarship, lettering in four sports. He suffered a college football injury and credits the ensuing hospitalization, along with the death of his sister, as inspiring his interest in medicine. After Amherst, Drew earned medical and surgery degrees from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He returned to our area in 1935 as a pathology instructor at Howard University and later earned a Doctor of Medical Science degree from Columbia University, the first African American to do so. 

Drew saved thousands of lives as the medical director for “Blood for Britain,” creating what would eventually be today’s mobile blood bank for British soldiers in World War II. As Drew ramped up plasma stockpiles for America’s entry into the war, the military stipulated that the American Red Cross exclude African Americans from donating, later deciding that they could donate blood, but only for Black troops. Drew, the leading expert in blood banking, was ineligible to participate in the program he helped establish. He resigned in protest. In 1950, at age 45, Drew’s life was tragically cut short by an automobile accident in North Carolina. Drew’s home at 2505 1st Street South is a historical landmark.

Memories of 1950s Arlington

By Rita O’Brien

I moved to Arlington in 1952 with my sister and parents from Bedminster, New Jersey. While it was a good opportunity for my father’s career, it must have been a bit of a shock for my mother leaving behind a big house with 88 acres that had been General Knox’ headquarters during the Revolution for a two-bedroom apartment in Lee Gardens (now Woodbury Park). My sister and I, however, despite trading fields, a barn and a hayloft for playgrounds, friends, and even storm sewers, found it great fun and loved it from Day 1. Our brother was born in 1953, and my sister and I, at the ages of 9 and 10 were allowed to take him in his stroller to Lee Shopping Center on Pershing Drive at Route 50 to pick up groceries for my mother at Lee Market. My father would stop at Lee Bakery for doughnuts after church on Sundays – and birthday cakes and other celebrations always consisted of baked goods from Lee Bakery. Years later, they catered my wedding. 

We moved to Lyon Park in 1954, which as I remember looked pretty much the same as it does now, with the exception that houses were not being torn down to be replaced. Neighborhoods were tree-lined with sidewalks to ride bikes and skate. There were some businesses in Lyon Park at Pershing Drive and Washington Boulevard – a restaurant that we always called “Eat” due to the sign outside (it’s now Texas Jack’s – and a favorite of ours). I remember my grandfather and uncle coming to visit and telling my mother they’d take my sister and me for an outing. They gave us money for ice cream, but it turned out we spent the whole time waiting for them in the car while they went into “Eat” for beer!

We loved Lyon Park, with its proximity to the shops: in Clarendon – JC Penney’s, Murphy’s, Sears, shoe stores, etc.; Virginia Square shopping center with Kann’s Department Store, where I worked while I was in college, as well as the bus line down Wilson Boulevard where we would catch the bus to go into Washington to shop. Rosslyn, as many people will remember, was mostly pawn shops. My only recollection of Rosslyn as a child is the streetcar, which we would take to meet my father downtown at his office for dinner. Parkington (now Ballston), I remember for more shopping – I worked at McCrory’s while in high school, and of course, Hecht’s, with its huge wall of glass with messages – and probably ads.

I went to St. Charles from second through eighth grade, then to Bishop O’Connell for high school. Schools (at least mine) were racially segregated during the 1950s. I remember our first black classmate in 5th grade. Sister Marion explained ahead of time that this young lady was joining us, and we were expected to treat her with respect. I remember friendship with her was something to which we all aspired. Back in the 1950s during the Cold War, we would have air raid drills fairly often, where we would have to crouch down under our desks with our hands behind our necks. Looking back, I wonder why educators put us through that trauma (and it was, and to some extent remains) as I sincerely doubt that exercise would prevent harm in the case of a nuclear attack.

We rented in Lyon Park, moving to our 4-bedroom house in Ashton Heights in 1960, and I believe my parents paid about $17,000; they sold it around 1970 for about $26,000. My husband and I purchased our first house nearer to Falls Church in 1967 – a 3-bedroom, 1-1/2 bath – for $28,000, and my father was shocked that we paid so much!

We lacked a lot of what kids these days have. Most moms – not all – stayed home; as a rule, families had one car and one television. We did not have structured activities but were free to roam and to play what and with whom we wanted. It was an amazing place to grow up – and for that matter, it’s an amazing place to grow old!

Professionals Talk About our Local Housing Market

By Natalie Roy (Bicycling Realty Group | KW Metro Center) and John Eric (Compass Real Estate) 

Lyon Park is one of DC’s most desirable areas, as it provides the best of urban/suburban living with its easy access to stores, shops, and restaurants. Not to mention that the commute to many jobs is very easy. Numerous corporations have chosen Arlington to host their corporate headquarters, which will only continue to drive up the desirability of our neighborhood.

Pricing in Lyon Park generally sits on the higher side, and our current market inventory is still bearing that out. Limited inventory always means high prices. The COVID era created a hyperactive sellers-market, with much more demand than inventory. Remote-working professionals wanting to improve their living situation, historically low interest rates and low inventory set the market on fire. For competitively priced homes, multiple offers, waived contingencies, and escalations over list price were the norm. Offers made sight unseen and contracts done in one day were not unusual. Home prices skyrocketed, increasing 20%-30% in just over two years. 

However, we are seeing an easing in the market due to inflation concerns as well as the rise in interest rates. While there is still competition, home inspections and financing contingencies have returned, and if a home is not competitively priced or presented well, it will sit longer on the market. Buyers are becoming pickier because of the cost of the home (price + interest).

Housing inventory continues to be a challenge. In June, active listings in Arlington were down again by 20% from the same time last year. With a decrease in supply, one would expect to see an increase in average prices, and in fact the average sales price in June was up a slight 2% in the past year. Unit sales were down by 21%, pushing Months of Supply up to a moderate 1.5 (this means it would take about 1.5 months for all available inventory in our market to sell). The average days a house sits on the market experienced no change, continuing to hover around three weeks. 

At the end of the day, unless you are an investor, you should worry less about resale value and more about what kind of home you will enjoy living in. If the past is any indicator, this region is very resilient. It has been able to weather many economic downturns and should be able to do so in the future.

Lyon Park Historic District: Did You Know…

By Elizabeth Sheehy

Lyon Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, #03000437? In 2003, a group of dedicated neighbors put together a successful nomination to create the Lyon Park Historic District through the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Our community met National Register criterion A (an event, series of events or activities, or patterns of an area’s development) and Criterion C (A building form, architectural style, engineering technique, or artistic value, based on a stage of physical development, or the use of a material or method of construction that shaped the historic identity of an area). Criterion B, for those who are curious, requires association with an important person, so please let us know if any previous presidents have slept in your home!

Lyon Park is an example of the enormous growth that occurred in and around Washington DC, following the first World War. Architectural styles in the neighborhood reflect community planning and development, with a proliferation of Craftsman Bungalows, American Four Squares, Colonial Revivals, and especially pre-fabricated kit homes (Sears Bungalows) which were perfect for Lyon Park’s modest lots. Even the garden apartments were important contributors, meeting the needs of young professionals flooding to the nation’s capital.

At the time of the review of Lyon Park’s nomination, there were 1,165 structures that positively contributed to our Historic District approval and 329 non-contributing structures. The Lyon Park Community House, built by and for the community in the mid 1920s, was a critical contributing structure. During the 2015 renovation, great care was taken to meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. That is why, for example, the framing of the added kitchen and restrooms spaces are smaller than the original building, making it visually clear which part of the building is dominant (original). That is also why the roof material of the sunroom is different from the original part of the building, to better show that it is a later addition to the main hall.

If you’d like to learn more, you can read the Lyon Park nomination form. You can also read the official report at the following link: DHR – Virginia Department of Historic Resources » 000-7820 Lyon Park Historic District. As you walk through the neighborhood, see if you can spot some of the contributing structures in Lyon Park, representing American architectural styles 1891-1953!

A Lifelong Lioness

Mary Lou Dodge is a fun‐loving 91‐year‐old who lives in the same Lyon Park home that her family built in 1933 when she was three years old. We first met last year when I stopped to admire the stately oaks in her yard. Thus began a friendship between us that provided a window into Lyon Park’s history.

Mary Lou’s parents purchased their lot from an African American woman who owned several acres in Lyon Park. At that time, N. Fenwick Street had only four homes (there are now 17). The street extended only as far south as the current location of Long Branch Elementary School. Once the pavement ended, a path led south to a dirt road bordered by tall grasses, now known as Highway 50. Mary Lou remembers seeing horses from Fort Myer ride down this road, which ended at Seven Corners, the site of a Christmas tree farm.

On Sunday mornings, her family would occasionally drive west on the dirt road, then absent of houses or cars, to have break‐ fast by one of the many creeks that now flow under the high‐ way. They would make a fire, over which her mother would fry eggs and bacon on a skillet. During one of these outings, they met soldiers on horseback from Fort Myer. One of them gave her brother a horse ride, which he remembered for the rest of his life. For her part, some of Mary Lou’s fondest childhood memories are of her father reading to her and her siblings before bed. He loved Charles Dickens and would read them A Christmas Carol and Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson.

Mary Lou’s father worked as a private secretary for a retired col‐ onel. During the week, he would walk to N. Pershing Drive to catch a bus to his office downtown at 17th and K Streets NW. With no sidewalks in Lyon Park in those days and few vehicles, he would walk right down the middle of N. Fillmore Street.

In Lyon Park, the countryside didn’t feel far away. A pasture with a barn and cows nestled in the block enclosed by Highway 50, N. Highland Street, and N. Irving Street, across from the current Thomas Jefferson Community Center. Several of Mary Lou’s neighbors kept chickens. A family lived in a rundown house where the elementary school now stands and Mary Lou’s parents would not allow her to wander to the area that is now the corner of N. Fillmore Street and Arlington Boulevard, as vagrants and drunks tended to gather there. A small, shallow und) flowed through Lyon Park along the route of the pedestrian pathway in Fillmore Park.

The neighborhood was much quieter than it is now, though she remembers hearing the rumble of her family’s 1933 Chevrolet before seeing the car come into view over the hill on N. Fillmore Street. She and her uncle’s family, who also lived in the neigh‐ borhood, both had “victory gardens,” or vegetable gardens used to supplement food rations during World War II. Coffee was always in short supply during the war and when people heard that the grocery store (or “sanitary store”) had coffee in stock, they would rush there to buy it.

During gasoline rationing, the Dodge family would maximize their gas mileage for summer vacations by sailing on the Norfolk Steamer ship from DC with their car on board to Seashore State Park (now First Landing State Park) in Norfolk. Mary Lou vividly recollects a vast lineup of warships positioned nose‐to‐tail along the mouth of the bay to protect against German submarines. At the time, Virginia Beach was off‐limits to bathers due to debris from sunken ships that had washed up on shore.

When Mary Lou was in the seventh grade, she would spend time after school with a friend who lived in the apartments that are now Cambridge Courts Condominiums. Before the girl’s parents would return from work, they would make prank calls to stores that sold cans of Sir Walter Raleigh brand tobacco. She remembers warning the cashiers: “Do you sell Sir Walter Raleigh in a can? Well, you better let him out!”

The neighborhood’s main street was N. Pershing Drive and the busiest intersection (Pershing and Washington Boulevard) housed a drugstore, a grocery store, and a gas station, among other businesses. Her mother shopped there and also frequented a farmer’s market at 10th and E Streets SW, streets that no longer exist. That area is now L’Enfant Plaza, bordered by a tangle of highways. There was also a swimming pool near Hains Point; it closed one summer due to a polio epidemic.

Together with her two brothers, Mary Lou delivered the Evening Star newspaper to earn extra money. The paper was much thinner than today’s newspapers, almost the size of a pamphlet. She showed me exactly how she used to fold one page into another to make it easy to throw.

Mary Lou’s grandmother would come from Tennessee to live with them for part of the year. She would listen to radio soap operas, gushing with love stories and drama, which Mary Lou’s mother prohibited her from hearing. Nevertheless, she found a way to enjoy the sappy, tearful dialogues of the radio program “Stella Dallas.” She would sit on the front step outside the door, which afforded her a place to listen out of her mother’s sight.

All of Mary Lou’s girlfriends married directly after graduating from high school and did not attend college. Mary Lou, how‐ ever, earned a degree in chemistry at the University of Mary Washington. The income from her paper route covered half of the tuition of her first year in college. Once she started her career as a chemist in Richmond, she would regularly take the
train home, a journey that cost $5.00.

Ghosts of Lyon Park

By Aaron Schuetz

When our community began talking about renaming Clay Park, I was thrilled to learn that my house was just across the street from where the fantastic Zitkála-Šá had lived. I wondered, “Who else of note has lived in our community in the past hundred years. Specifically, what’s the deal with my house?” When Zitkála-Šá sat on her porch looking across the street, she saw only an empty lot. My house was built in 1940, two years after she died. The year 1940 was auspicious because the growing war effort restricted resources, and my house was notably built of used bricks and (until two years ago) a used slate roof. While sturdy, it was a basic house with metal framed windows and minimal interior detail. The early property records are incomplete, but the house had a half dozen owners before me, with the second owner the only one with a Wikipedia page (no, I don’t yet have one). Rear Admiral Henry Chester Bruton purchased the home in 1958 and lived there with his wife Frannie for about two years.

As best as I can understand, the Brutons did the first major renovation on the house, closing in the front porch with a large glass block wall and opening that space to the main house. The glass block met my sledgehammer in 2008.

Bruton grew up in Little Rock Arkansas, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1926, received a Masters in Electrical Engineering at UC Berkeley, and a law degree from George Washington University. In 1942 he commanded the Gato-class submarine USS Greenling (SS-213) through four wartime patrols, sinking 75,000 tons of enemy shipping and an attacking destroyer. He earned the Navy Cross three times for his heroism and distinguished service. In 1952, during the Korean War, he commanded the Battleship Wisconsin (BB- 64), which is now berthed at the Nauticus museum in Norfolk.

From 1958 to 1960, while Bruton lived on Barton, he was com- munications-electronics director of the Joint Staff of the Commander-in-Chief of the European Command. Upon retirement, he took a job at Collins Radio Company in Dallas Texas. This is where his story gets a little bit interesting.

One spring day, the Brutons invited their friends George and Jeanne de Mohrenschildt to their home. The couple asked if they could bring another couple with them. The second couple was Lee and Marina Oswald. What??? Yes, the former owner of my house shows up in an article about JFK’s assassination. It apparently wasn’t memorable to the Brutons. The Brutons were reportedly surprised to learn that the “odd ex-Marine” was the same man who assassinated Kennedy. Frannie was appalled that they entertained “that horrible individual,” while Henry’s re- sponse was more joking: “Well, we met Nixon and we also met Lee Harvey Oswald…” (This information comes from the writings of George de Mohrenschildt’s memoirs, IamaPatsy!).

It appears that the Brutons returned to the DC area in 1964, and Admiral Bruton died in a nursing home in Chevy Chase in 1992. He is buried here in Arlington Cemetery.

While we won’t be naming any local parks after Admiral Bruton, it is interesting to see how our neighborhood has been home to so many interesting and important people in the last century.

Who lived in your home? Maybe it’s been in your family for generations, maybe the house itself has an interesting story. Please consider writing an article for our newsletter, or work with me or someone else to pull information together to preserve and share our community’s many unique aspects. Where could you start looking? Find your property in the tax records and click on the archives link on the left side to find scans of the old property cards. https://propertysearch.arlingtonva.us/Home/Search Want to share a story about your house? Contact Aaron at ajschuetz@yahoo.com

A Community Conversation

On November 13th our community came together for an evening of history and storytelling that explored the racial covenants that were part of many Lyon Park land deeds when the neighborhood was founded one hundred years ago. Although the language varied, many of the deeds in Lyon Park (as well as other neighborhoods in Arlington) contained covenants prohibiting sale to people who were “not Caucasian”. We heard from Dr. Lindsey Bestsbreurtje, a curatorial assistant at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and author of the dissertation, “Built by the people themselves- African American community development in Arlington, Virginia, from the Civil War through Civil Rights.” She provided context of the political climate in Arlington, who Frank Lyon was, and described African American communities in Arlington at the time of Lyon Park’s founding. Veronica Dabney shared the story of how racial covenants affected her community. She was raised in Green Valley at a time when her family and neighbors would have been barred from buying a home in many neighborhoods in Arlington. In 1969, the year after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed racial covenants, Veronica purchased a home just beyond the fence that separated Green Valley from the rest of Arlington. Finally, we heard from Dr. Bev-Freda Jackson, an Adjunct Professorial Lecturer at American University’s School of Public Affairs; Department of Justice, Law and Criminology. She provided information about how historic patterns of discrimination are highly correlated with contemporary aspects of discriminatory practices, affecting the way that we live today.