“A year later I was the President of the AHCA. We presented our plan at a County meeting and we included the photo with a proposal for the sidewalk and wall for this block. (We did this as a PowerPoint back when few people still knew what that was!) And we got the funds to build the sidewalk.”
We looked around and eventually put a bid on a house in Alcova Heights but didn’t get it. The day after, Dang drove around to look at the house one last time. On the next street, he saw people going into a house, one of whom he knew was a realtor. He stopped and asked the realtor, and learned the house was about to be put up for sale. It was owned by the original owners, who had been there since 1941—it still had the original stove (which we kept for a long time). Later that day, we came back to look at the inside of the house. Then we went into the backyard and it stretched on forever. We asked the realtor, ‘Is this all part of the house?’ The yard was 250 feet deep, which as it turns out is not that unusual for Alcova where some yards are twice as deep!
The Middletons, who we bought it from, were vegetable gardeners and they had fruit trees. And our neighbors knew so much [about gardening]. When things started growing around our garage after we moved in---it looked like a bush---we asked the neighbor Doug, ‘what is this?’ He said it was fig! When we moved in, I knew a little about gardening, and Dang, almost nothing. Over the next 25 years, Dang became an expert gardener, and now the yard has gardens everywhere, and we have even been on several garden tours.”
So the battle continues—trying to keep both people’s visions happy. In the Arlington “Urban Village” idea the County promotes, I think the needle is more toward Manhattan. Our neighborhood has changed from blue to white collars. I remember when we were buying, our realtor tried to reassure us by saying, “The area between Route 50 and Columbia Pike is really Central Arlington and not South Arlington.” But it is South Arlington. And what we have liked here is the diversity that we found on the Pike and in the neighborhoods, which is different than you find in most of North Arlington.”
When I came to DC in 1980 it was a different. I originally came to go to law school, but dropped out of and began to work with refugees. In 1987 I started with the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and retired as senior resettlement officer in Nov 2017. I have known The Pike since the early 80’s when I did resettlement work and you could find affordable housing for refugees here, in places like Culmore, PG County, and even in neighborhoods in DC that were then cheap, like Adams Morgan. Most refugees liked living near bus lines, ethnic stores, and restaurants. There were many Vietnamese, Lao, and Cambodian refugees in Arlington but many later moved farther out as they wanted to be in houses, more suburban. Others, like the Ethiopians, seemed to like the urban feel of The Pike. Many came here from cities in Ethiopia and Eritrea. We still see Ethiopians and other Africans now but it’s not as many as in the 80’s. The immigrants here now are more Latino. But there are also others like Mongolians — most people don’t know, but Arlington has the largest concentration of Mongolians in the US. Some refugees are still here in Alcova, I know a Cambodian family who have been here since the 80’s.
Then there is a diversity of the kinds of jobs people have. There are many military people here, which is not at all like where I grew up in Ohio. We have people working in the private sector, government, for museums, in the Foreign Service, musicians, and stay at home parents - all living side-by-side. We’ve had an award-winning AP journalist, a cartoonist, and a cellist who plays at the Kennedy Center Opera. There is diversity in ages as well, although the neighborhood is definitely getting younger.
“One of the things I loved most while Il lived here was learning photography, the old-fashioned film kind, at the Career Center. I was part of the Adult Learning group who met there for 15 years. It was not just the photography, but I made a lot of friends there – and it was a great break from the usual work. Unfortunately, this year the photo class had to be disbanded as the Career Center had to use the space for other things. Also, we lost the oldest and most beloved classmate this year. I still feel those losses.”
Interview by Sushmita Mazumdar of Studio Pause. Photography by Lloyd Wolf.