December 2, 1998
Fairlington Historic District
March 29, 1999
Fairlington - 1943
Memories of Archie T. Miller
My Dad's family business had collapsed during the Depression and he was on the WPA in Jersey City, NJ in the late 30's. When the war started, he was offered a job in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer (Army) in the Pentagon and we moved to 4100 33rd Street in August 1943. I was 13 years old then and lived there until 1956 with the exception of the 4-years I was in the Navy. My mother Emma Miller, who taught first grade at Fairlington School for many years, lived there until the condo conversion.
In fall 1943, units were still being constructed in South Fairlington down the hill north of 32nd Street. Most of North Fairlington was under construction. Only the footings were in for the Fairlington Elementary School. Shirlington only existed on paper. Shirley Highway (now I-395) was a gash in the earth ending at Route 7. You could drive from South Fairlington to North through the Shirley Highway construction on a dirt road that came up behind the rental office and up to Abingdon. Of course we were only going to have to do that until they built the bridge from 34th Street to Abingdon -- right!
As far as we knew, the woods on the south side of Route 7 (then Fairfax County) extended to Richmond -- we were on the edge of civilization with woods all around us. Just a little more perspective -- in 1943, and for some time thereafter, traffic control at Seven Corners and Tyson's Corners was provided by STOP signs!
Dr. Mitchell was the only MD in Fairlington -- and for quite distance around. He had a home on 36th Street near Utah and an office in a one-bedroom unit at the end of 34th Street. He made house calls and his office waiting room was always standing room only. He truly was a General Practitioner handling almost everything including prenatal care -- he had an arrangement with obstetricians at Arlington Hospital to deliver the babies.
School started late for Fairlington kids in fall 1943. Arlington County Schools (which were bad) were not ready for this influx of new students and did not have a transportation plan. Finally, a couple of weeks late they scraped up a few 1930's vintage A B & W buses that took us up Glebe Road every day to Washington and Lee High School (not very good) in Ballston. At that time the school board consisted of political appointees who had no idea (nor cared) what they were doing. (Fortunately by the time my sister Nancy got to Washington & Lee there was an elected board and things were much better.) Celebrity Note: Gena Rowlands, the now Hollywood star, lived in North Fairlington and rode our school bus -- she was the star of the Junior and Senior plays at W&L. (See Editor's Note and Photo Below)
There were no places to shop near Fairlington. The shopping center near the Centre Theater was still woods. Shirlington was a sea of mud. There was a little general store at Route 7 and Quaker Lane that did a booming though limited business. Real food shopping meant going to the A&P in downtown Alexandria. There was an ancient Penney's on King Street in Alexandria compete with oiled wooden floors and a cable and rail system to carry money and change to/from the cashier on the balcony. The nearest real department stores were Woodies, Hecht's, Palais Royal and Garfinkel's on F Street in Washington.
Coming from the north as a teenager to the segregated south was quite a shock -- white in front - blacks in back on the bus. Segregated schools and rest facilities. To me one of the greatest signs of inequality was the housing provided by Defense Homes Corporation. For the white government employees they built Fairlington's brick homes with plaster walls, hardwood floors and slate roofs. Every day going to school I passed the housing they provided for the black government workers -- an enormous trailer park with tiny trailers in Green Valley off Glebe Road along Four Mile Run.
Archie T. Miller
12 Falstaff Drive
Manchester, NJ 08759-6071
Born in Madison, Wisconsin (19 June 1930), Gena Rowlands later moved to Virginia where she won a scholarship to the Jarvis Repertory Theatre in Washington, D. C. While still in her teens, she enrolled in New York's American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Discovered by Joshua Logan, she was cast as the female lead opposite Edward G. Robinson in a Broadway production of "The Middle of the Night." Eighteen months later, she was in Hollywood where she made her feature film debut opposite Jose Ferrer in "The High Cost of Loving." Her most definitive roles were in husband John Cassavetes' films, including her Oscar nominated performances in "Gloria" and "A Woman Under The Influence".