Category Archives: Arlington

Arlington Radio Towers

One of the coolest things about my building – other than the fact that I live here, haw haw – is that it sits on a spot once occupied by the world famous Arlington Radio Towers. There were three of them, and they were not unlike the Eiffel Tower in appearance. The tallest tower stood 600 feet tall.

A historical marker in front of our rose garden explains their significance:

Click the photo to enlarge it and read the text. Thanks to Eric Mercado.

A picture showing how they appeared from neighboring Arlington National Cemetery is here at DC Public Library Commons’ Flickr. I have also seen pictures showing a fourth tower under construction, such as this picture at the Library of Congress. Other pictures appear to show additional towers. Yet the marker only mentions three.

You can watch a brief Pike 200 Minute video about the Towers here, on arlingtoncounty’s Youtube channel.

Today, after you read the marker, you can keep going down South Courthouse, make a left on 2nd, make a right on Glebe, park at Ballston Common Mall, head to Rock Bottom Brewery, and order yourself an Arlington Radio Towers Red ale!

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Arlington Walkabout #2: Crystal City

Update, 5/27/2016: This Arlington Walkabout seems to have been updated since we last visited. Yay! Maybe now it will make more sense. We will plan to give it a try again this summer.

A Crystal City skywalk

Like many areas of Arlington, Crystal City is scheduled to undergo a comprehensive rehaul. This may be necessary as the urban neighborhood faces some serious challenges now that a large portion of its working population is being moved elsewhere, thanks to the latest BRAC (Base Re-alignment and Closure).  Continue reading

From Bridge to Nowhere to Park of Nowhere: Freedom Park

For those of you not terribly familiar with Arlington County, it’s made up of many different urban neighborhoods, each with its own character. Arlington has a storied history of growth; it’s one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. today and often strange things happen with its money. As a result, a few of our neighborhoods feel almost like architectural experiments to me. And if you listen to a lot of people, Rosslyn is one such experiment that has failed. Arguably more urban than its neighbor across the river, the District, I hear Rosslyn derided as a sterile collection of skyscrapers fairly often. But Rosslyn is part of why I love Arlington so much, and the pieces of its occasionally odd history charm me.

Rosslyn’s planning process was once envisioned as keeping vehicle traffic and foot traffic on entirely different levels. An elaborate skywalk system was built, to include easy access to above-street-level dining and retail. Unfortunately, the plan was ultimately seen as a colossal failure as much of the planned commercial space went unfulfilled. Many of the skywalks have since been removed as Rosslyn focuses more on improving ground-level sidewalks and crosswalks instead. I think there’s only one skywalk left, in fact, although the Skywalk Cafe is still in business. More recently, new future plans for Rosslyn seemed to focus on making it the “Manhattan on the Potomac” … good luck. In the meantime, while most of the skywalks are gone, the sign of another failed Rosslyn plan remains in a quite visible location: Freedom Park.

According to this article at Greater Greater Washington and this follow-up post at ARLnow, Freedom Park was built as an overpass ramp called the Loop Road Bridge. It was meant to connect travelers to the District apart from ground-level traffic, and was the first of what would have been several such ramps had the decades-old plans gone through. The user comments at GGW show a few residents recall that this overpass was never used for its original intended purpose due to inadequate construction by the contractor or contractors. Unable to support the weight of so many cars, it stood as an eyesore for about six years. (See pictures of what the ugly bridge originally looked like right here!) Eventually, the County Board had to agree it was better to let someone else use it for a more attractive purpose, and so the bridge was converted to Freedom Park in the mid-90s, with the Newseum (then located in what is now the Artisphere, another hotly contested use of County funds) using it as a great outdoor space for many of its exhibits.

In a Washington Post article published on July 4, 1996 (the park’s opening day), Lan Nguyen wrote that the overpass was meant “to divert traffic around Arlington” and was abandoned due to “structural and other concerns.” ARLnow.com mentions that a legal battle occurred in 1990 following discovery of major engineering flaws and the firing of the contractor. Nguyen wrote that the Arlington County Board then decided to dedicate “portions of it” as Freedom Park “for 25 years” (emphasis my own) in 1994. Another Post article by Benjamin Forgey from April 19, 1997, covering the opening of the Newseum nearby the previous day, mentions more about that mysterious time frame: the Newseum and associated realty received permission to develop Freedom Park on the condition that it be returned to the Board after 25 years if the county decided to attempt the whole highway loop once again. (Hi Chairman and friends, please don’t.) I’m not sure if that condition is still present now that the Newseum has moved into DC and the park has been taken over by Monday Properties, but I would assume so.

I sadly never saw the park while it was part of the Newseum. At the time, the lower plaza contained pieces of the Berlin Wall while the upper displayed numerous democracy- and freedom-themed exhibits, including a journalists’ memorial. In 2008, the Newseum moved to its current location in downtown DC and took most everything notable from the park with it. The vacated museum space is now home to the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre, the Artisphere (called the Fartisphere by some who didn’t approve of the county spending the money on it), and the restaurant HERE. The upper and lower levels of the park, meanwhile, don’t have a lot going on but still provide a great place to eat a mid-day lunch or look out over the Rosslyn skyline.

If you pull Freedom Park up on Google Maps, you can see how the park’s design fits that of an overpass and goes across Wilson Boulevard and around the towering ABC-7 building (one of the two former Gannett Towers).

A view of the recognizable Artisphere dome (on an overcast early spring day) from Freedom Park

Rosslyn has been described as “sterile” “boring” and “bland” but it does have its charms. We’ll revisit Rosslyn’s many interesting corners in another post. And next up we’ll take a look at Crystal City for another example of an Arlington urban neighborhood whose unique pedestrian accommodations are also being re-examined.

The Summer So Far

First of all, it’s SUMMER BEER SEASON! What are your favorites? I’ve been asking everybody! I can’t wait to get over to Westover Beer Garden and enjoy a few along with some live music and barbecue!
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It’s also summer blockbuster season. Last October, I took Roelof’s brother Johan and fiancee Xaviera by the Air Force Memorial where a scene for the third Transformers movie was being shot. That movie will be out in early July.

Other movies I’ve seen in the theaters recently, and my ratings for each (based on how much I liked the movie, not how well it was made, acting chops, etc.):

Fast Five. 4 out of 5. I was surprised by how much I liked this. It was more like a heist flick a la Ocean’s Eleven than the silly racing movie I was expecting.
Bridesmaids. 4 out of 5. Hilarious and surprisingly heartwarming, this raunchy flick showcased the skills of some of today’s best comediennes.
The Hangover Part II. 4 out of 5. The sequel molded in the exact same pattern as the first, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Super 8. 5 out of 5. I LOVED this movie. Set in 1979, it felt like a cross between ET and The Goonies, or The Manhattan Project and Monster Squad. Well-done.
Thor. 4 out of 5. The latest Marvel comic book-turned-big screen adventure.
Kung Fu Panda 2. 3 out of 5. I haven’t seen the first one. This one felt surprisingly dark for a movie aimed at children. I hear the first one is better. Still enjoyable.

There are plenty of movies still to come including the final installment of Harry Potter! I’ve been considering going back and re-reading the first four books, which are my favorites in the series.
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Personal training and the new way of eating are mostly going well. I say “mostly” because I think I could be doing a lot more in that department. I haven’t been making the best effort toward my cardio, lazily drifting in the gym maybe twice a week. Also, sometimes I don’t follow the rules I set for myself during the week and eat too many “bad for you” foods. Going out to a restaurant is pretty much a bust every time; even the low-calorie items are either way TOO small portions and those are that are decent size are guaranteed to be packed full of sodium. I find that eating at home during the week and brown-bagging it for lunch works the best for me. This week I didn’t do too well however. Eric took me to a movie and dinner on his night off earlier this week which was excellent; I ordered the reasonable grilled salmon, shrimp, and steamed broccoli but neglected to ask what the dish was grilled WITH. Sure enough, it arrived liberally covered in oil. Come on, is that REALLY necessary? It doesn’t taste good enough without the liquid fat oozing out of it?! We were running too close to movie time for me to send it back, so I ate the broccoli first, then all the shrimp, then about half of the salmon. Then the other night, we had a party for a professional club I help run complete with pizza, cake, and champagne. I was careful to only eat so much of each item, but still way more calories and fat then I normally take in. Of course, if I would work on my cardio a wee bit more, it wouldn’t be a big deal that I ate two little slices of pepperoni pizza! (They really were little – still way high in the fat grams department, but I’m not going to give myself a giant guilt trip over it!)

With the PT, it’s fun to see what I will have to tackle each session. No two sessions are the same and lately we’ve been doing increased “circuits” which involve me rotating through different sets of exercises. I learn new exercises and weight routines every single time. I like my trainer. She’s spunky and sweet and makes me work hard, but at the same time, she can tell when I’m genuinely getting too exhausted (as opposed to just resistant) and she’s careful to make sure I keep proper form so I don’t get hurt.
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Sumo is still diabetic, as well as nutty and mischievous. I have to keep adjusting his insulin doses and monitoring bathroom habits so I can administer his glucose tests. He’s at a healthier weight and he’s no longer vomiting every day, a great sign. He’s recently taken to curling up on top of my laptop case. Maybe he would like to earn his keep around here.
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Eric and I hoping to go on another drive-in tour soon! We’ll either hit up Hull’s Drive-In in Lexington or head to Baltimore and visit the Bengies.
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My 30th birthday is coming up fast! I have put a deposit on my second tandem skydive for the occasion, this time with a different site who seem WAY more organized. 🙂
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I’m becoming more domestic! I’ve been embarking on various cooking, cleaning, baking, decorating and organizing projects and enjoying myself. And I’ve even tending to a tomato plant I got from my coworker. Here, let me help you pick your jaws back up off the floor.
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And finally, the brand new GIANT is having its grand opening tomorrow morning at 6 AM! I can’t recall ever being this excited about a grocery store opening (or a grocery store, period) in my life. I mean, I’m even considering getting up early and heading over there so I can walk in when the doors open and enjoy my free coupons, samples, and wine and tapas tastings along with other opening day festivities. But I’m hardly alone in my enthusiasm. For WEEKS people have been walking and driving around the new Penrose Square development. A lone bored security guard reads a magazine inside the locked-up store while Giant trucks load the new groceries, as neighbors stand around gossiping and circling like vultures, peering in the windows and leaving breath marks all over the glass. Some days it looks like zombies crowding around. You have to understand that losing the previous Giant (in the same spot) was miserable for ALL OF US. For TWO YEARS we’ve had to either battle nasty traffic and fearless life-gambling jaywalkers all the way up the Pike to get to the Falls Church Giant for the best selection and prices, or take the slow ride through Arlington Ridge neighborhood for the far less well-stocked Glebe Road Giant. Or hey, we can always pay the mega-high prices at our Pentagon Row or North Glebe Harris Teeters, or head all the way over to Rosslyn for the Safeway. Hah, well now I’ll just walk over to my Giant and back, thank you! I’M SO EXCITED.

Arlington Walkabouts: Pike Hike

Did you know that Arlington County has a “Walkabouts” program? You can view a brochure right here on the Walk Arlington site that gives you directions for a self-guided tour of multiple Arlington communities. Each tour has various stops with random fun facts about the neighborhood.   Continue reading

Sauca: New Restaurant on Columbia Pike Is Worth a Trip!

One of my favorite things about living on the Pike is the many great local businesses we have within walking distance. We have great American joints like Bob & Edith’s and The Broiler, and a slew of international options. Why, within a couple of blocks from my building I can find at least four Thai, three Chinese, and two Ethiopian eateries, plus Irish, Japanese, Mexican, Salvadorian, Turkish, and Afghan. Now to add to all that, we have the showcase of international foods called Sauca.

Sauca is a little farther down the street at 4707 Columbia Pike. This location doesn’t have the best history of holding down businesses. When I moved here nearly 4 years ago, it was the home of Bob & Edith’s II, which soon closed. Later it was a pollo chicken shop with a check cashing place attached, also short-lived. Most often I saw it vacant. But Sauca, already well-known thanks to its food truck business in the District, is already attracting much buzz. Eric took me over there a few nights ago to check it out.

After moments of indecision over whether we’d sit indoors or out, I ultimately chose indoors. (It was just too hot, even with the ceiling fan on the patio.) The selections at Sauca include a wide variety of “saucas” or wraps with ingredients inspired from around the world. Get a combo with a drink and a side of your choice if you like. Eric ordered the Mumbai Butter Chicken sauca with yucca fries and I had the Medi Veggie with curried potato salad. (Not exactly adhering to my diet — oops) Lemon aoli was served with the fries and then the nice owner/manager (I presume) came around and offered us a couple of hot sauces. He gave us a spicy green sauce and a sweet hot sauce which was especially delicious! The yucca fries, which are big, light, and soft with slightly crispy outsides, were gone in no time.

So how was the rest of our food? Eric’s Mumbai Chicken was soft with basmati rice, cashews, and sweetly seasoned chicken. It was a tad light on flavor for my taste, but I would eat it again. My Medi Veggie was so good that I almost ate all of it before I realized I was about to die of being overstuffed. It had hummus, saffron rice, Kalamata olives, tomatoes, and a dill yogurt sauce. Another vegetarian wrap option is also available. I thought my potato salad could have done with far more curry; it was good but was too close to plain old potato salad for me.

I would highly recommend Sauca whether you track down the food truck or journey out to their sit-down eatery. The food is great and you have your choice of a variety of wraps representing several different world regions. I can’t wait to go back and try another sauca!

But how do you say it? I think it’s pronounced “sow-cha” – I’ll ask next time I’m in there.

Visit Sauca’s website to learn more about their unique brand approach: Eat Sauca

Local Restaurant Round-up

Reviews of just some of the new restaurants I’ve tried recently:

Eric and I recently made two visits to the new District Taco out on US 29 in Arlington. Originally operated out of a little food cart, the business became extremely popular as it alternated days in Rosslyn and Crystal City. Sadly, my work very rarely takes me to either one of those neighborhoods during the day, but I read all about it online and in the Washington City Paper, and was eager to try. So when I heard that District Taco had opened a brick-and-mortar place out on Lee Highway, I was game. Owned by Osiris Hoil and Marc Wallace, this fun atmosphere takes your order quickly and servers call out the Spanish version of your name. (Martha = Marta, Eric = Enrique, etc.) Tacos and burritos come with your choice of meat and then three additional toppings, some of which cost extra. There is also a salsa bar included that you can use at your leisure. On our first visit Eric got three tacos packed with vegetables and I had the barbacoa burrito. We also ordered tortilla chips and salsa. That burrito was HUGE. I could barely eat half of it! But it was definitely delicious. Eric fondly said “These are just like Mom makes.” The downside was that both of our orders had been mixed up. Eric was not given the right type of meat, and my order was missing the chorizo I had requested as an “extra.” (The burrito was so gigantic I thought it might just be in the middle of it, but it wasn’t.) The tortilla chips came in a big paper bag and were warm and crunchy, and the accompanying salsa was in a generous-size tub and was not the chunky kind. I would say the chips and salsa are well worth the nearly $5 price tag. The soda fountain offers delicious Boylan’s soda varieties, made with real cane sugar, such as birch beer and black cherry soda.

We were very satisfied other than the main food mix-up, which, to be fair, neither of us brought to the attention of the restaurant staff, so they did not have an opportunity to make it right. Our second visit was much better. Our orders were filled correctly and we both noticed someone like a manager or owner (perhaps Hoil himself?) supervising the food assembly line very closely and calling out instructions or corrections to the workers. Hoil is also known for responding directly to customers’ reviews online, particularly those critical of the new business and the way it is run. (Remember that they are still transitioning from running a food cart to running a restaurant and there may still be some kinks to iron out.) I support local business all the way and I am impressed by the owners’ dedication to their version of the American dream. Way to go District Taco, I am a new loyal customer! You can read more about Hoil, Wallace, and team and the new District Taco restaurant in this Washington City Paper article. Although the article compares District Taco to Chipotle, I personally think there is a world of difference and find District Taco the more flavorful of the two. Take a look at the official District Taco website.

Pesce is an interesting pick for casual fine dining in D.C. On a recent trip to Dupont Circle, some friends and I wound up drifting across the street to Pesce after crowd favorite Pizzeria Paradiso was jam-packed and we were too hungry. Silly us, we glanced at the menu board out front and decided the prices were decent at 12 bucks and up for the entrees. Oooops … those were the appetizer prices! The waiter puts the board on a chair by your table and that’s how you see your selections … very interesting. I ordered two little crab cakes which met with my standards – juicy lump crab with minimal breading – and two desserts. A scoop of luscious hazelnut-biscotti ice cream went well with the very rich guayaquil chocolate tart. Pesce is located at 2002 P Street NW.

Archa Thai (2311 Wilson Boulevard) is a delicious delivery standby but I have never visited their restaurant. I need to do that one of these days! My favorites are all there and they’re perfect: Thai iced tea, green curry, drunken noodle, and chicken satay! They also offer nice fresh salads.

Fire Works is a new one, or at least it was a few months ago! Brick-oven pizza, tomato soup with gouda mousse, and a beer list a mile long make this a winner in my eyes. The atmosphere is casual and trendy and the bar fills quickly with young professional happy hour go’ers, so don’t expect it to be a nice quiet dinnertime joint. Find it at 2350 Clarendon Boulevard.

For a great sub from a smaller chain with a cause, swing by a Firehouse Subs, founded and owned by firefighters. On a recent trip to Fredericksburg to drop off a loan check and have some fun, Eric and I stopped by one in the Southpoint complex in Massaponax. The main reason I wanted to try it is because I simply hadn’t before. The sub menu was very attractive. You don’t see your meal made in front of you a la Subway, but you do have many options, although I would prefer more fresh veggies on the menu. Choose a combo, and get a bag of chips and a fountain drink. You can pick white or wheat bread and add “fully loaded” if you like which comes with mayo, mustard, pickle, lettuce, onion, and tomatoes. The servers were extremely friendly and the walls were decorated with fire hats and coats. Our fountain drink cups had different firefighter bios on them. But the highlight of the day was what we saw when we walked in: a very long row of hot sauce bottles! Eric and I were so excited. I had a raspberry jalapeno that was not spicy at all, just sweet (eh) and Eric grabbed a Rhino peri-peri that was mild but still tasted like flames compared to what I wound up with! We also added some good old Tabasco. The closest location to Arlington is at 5900 Kingstowne Towne Center in Alexandria; other locations include Fairfax Towne Center and Sudley Road in Manassas. You can read the full Firehouse Subs story here and learn about the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation here.

St. Patrick’s Day News … the Shamrock Shake is back in town! This minty, 420-calorie (for a small) treat comes around just once a year, and it’s one of the few McDonald’s “milk” shakes that I actually enjoy! This year the Shamrock Shake even comes in a souvenir cup! (Thanks to ARLNow for the tip!) Now if they could just bring that Uncle O’Grimacey mascot back …

In sad news, My Bakery‘s Falls Church location appears to have closed for good. I have also heard their Alexandria store is gone, too. I am not sure of the status of the Crystal City location. If that is also shut down, I will need to find a new place to get my saltena fix, pronto! I can’t have a life without saltenas …