Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Dirt On...Clarendon

Even if you haven’t heard it, the Arlington Rap bears no need for repeating. Its kitschy, incessant observational diatribe aside, the piece bathes in obviously stereotypical traits of those neighborhoods in North Arlington with lyrics that could describe any other well-to-do residential area in America today. It should then make sense that the author of the “song” is a product of the environment he chastises, and, hey, maybe that’s the crux of the material. I can empathize. As a resident of Clarendon, I find myself nitpicking the commercial and residential aspects of the neighborhood; for every Cheesecake Factory customer, there’s another with a trusty Whitlow’s mug for Thursday nights. For every Apple Store employee, there’s an indie kid covering Death Cab for Cutie at Iota. For every multimillion condo building, there’s a hollowed out 1930s house converted into several one-bedrooms. You get it. Classifying Clarendon as just another white-bread pocket of Arlington is a slippery slope, and it’s easy as a resident of the area to be slightly offended by any labeling that would be a detriment to the various elements that comprise the charming, pseudo-urban streets which knit together one of the best offerings of the DC Metro Area.

The balance between cultures within Clarendon isn’t the result of any absolute dichotomy. With George Mason’s law school just a half mile from Clarendon Station, and K Street just four Metro stops away, the nightlife atmosphere blends professional and academic to great success. Commuters litter the residential pockets that line the commercial ‘downtown’ of Clarendon, with condo buildings and apartment complexes providing a sort of transitional skin into a more settled environment. Small businesses cohabitate easily with a subliminal corporate presence, which appears to be tamed by the fact that Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, the Apple Store, etc. are all located at close quarters in Clarendon Plaza. This makes the Plaza a sort of financial nucleus, drawing residents from DC and further south in Arlington to the area. (And of course Whole Foods, the organic grocery Mecca is a Prius magnet, and 9 out of 10 that make the drive have District plates.) It’s also a clever sleight of hand that sort of tricks people into noticing the rest of the neighborhood, whether they came for it or not.

And there’s the charm. Clarendon’s small businesses aren’t so much allowed to exist as they are encouraged to thrive. The farmers market right off the metro on Wednesday afternoons is always well attended, and independent restaurants are clustered and crowded with customers. Nightlife booms toward the West, with the Clarendon Ballroom, Mr. Days, and Clarendon Grill all hosting happy hours conscious of their customers. Some bars try to go higher end, and succeed in pleasing the folks that bother to show up and deal with the pretty shoulda-woulda crowd that couldn’t bother with a short cab or metro ride into DC. (I’m looking at you, Eleventh.) Dinner outside in the spring and summer is unavoidable, it seems, as sidewalks are full of people enjoying Faccia Luna, 3, Harry’s Taproom, or Rien Tong.

Commerce aside, living in Clarendon is as easy as it is enticing. On the high end, established streets like Franklin Road and Key Boulevard present some of Arlington’s finer fare, with single family homes ranging anywhere from $700,000 to just over $1 million. Given that everything in the area seems to be on top of everything else, location is less a determining factor in price than, say, age or square footage. Garfield Street stretches back into an expansive neighborhood shaded by oak and pine, with sleight hills traced in well-kept sidewalks. Emerge from Garfield onto Wilson and find yourself in the shadow of commercial construction (to be completed in 2010) and shouldered by bars and restaurants. Further down, on the other side of Clarendon Boulevard, apartments are stacked over popular nightlife to the tune of $1900 a month to $4000, depending on, again, size and age. The neighborhoods down 10th Street across Lombard, toward Courthouse and Rosslyn, are a mixed bag of old Virginia ranchers, brick colonials, townhomes and apartment buildings with slightly more reasonable prices, whether you’re buying or renting.

Ten minutes from DC by Metro, maybe even ten with a car (we know how that goes), Clarendon enjoys island-like qualities, even though it’s one of the most connected neighborhoods to the District. In the end, it’s the odd mix of the urbane yet surrounding modest suburbia that draws its residents in and urges them to stay. Or at least it was for me.
Editor's note:
And for those of you who somehow never saw it, the Arlington Rap...

James Mitchell is a resident of Clarendon and a brave soul for contributing to our series of neighborhood features.

Arlington and Clarendon Real Estate News


Anonymous said...

Great story and thanks for the rap link. Hadn't heard this one.

Todd on Nov 19, 2009, 9:58:00 AM said...

We live in Courthouse - and I can only hope to buy something in Clarendon - but sadly with prices we would have to move out of Arlington (to at least buy something other than a condo) to just get started and hope that we can eventually make our way back to Clarendon.

fd on Nov 19, 2009, 10:39:00 AM said...

Your price range is way, way low...try 900K to 1.5 for anything livable in a good location...

Cliff said...

I have to admit, I traded Clarendon for Park View in DC and I miss Clarendon very much. I love Park View and maybe in a few years we will have some hangouts worthy of Whitlows and Iota. Its kinda sad but there is no place in DC even for a music open mic. Clarendon has much more of what I crave with city living then DC offers, but I would never be able to afford 3,300 square feet of living space in Arlington

Paul on Nov 19, 2009, 2:35:00 PM said...

Thanks, I really enjoyed the article. I live in Lyon Park and feel like I'm here to stay. Great neighborhood.

Jennifer on Nov 19, 2009, 2:49:00 PM said...

Enjoyed reading this. I live near the East-Falls Church Metro, in Arlington (between Sycamore and Westover). There's good livin' over that way too. ;-) And since I moved here after college 20 years ago, I've lived all over Arlington...from S. Edgewood (near then Ski Chalet) an old green shotgun house behind Red Top Cab (long torn down) in Clarendon to a 1930s apartment building on Irving St., also blocks from Clarendon.

Things have changed over the years...but Arlington is STILL a great place to live -- and a place that can work for all the stages of one's adult life!

Full disclosure: I also work for the Arlington County Government in the Communications Dept.

Timothy R. Hughes on Nov 19, 2009, 3:43:00 PM said...

Our office is by Courthouse and I for one really enjoy being right in the middle of a very vibrant area.

b on Nov 19, 2009, 3:59:00 PM said...


Simon Landau on Nov 19, 2009, 7:22:00 PM said...

The Arlington rap really never gets old. Great article overall. Clarendon definitely is a terrific place to live, especially for people who want to be near DC but prefer a small town atmosphere to the hustle, bustle of the city.

Lily Belle on Nov 19, 2009, 8:24:00 PM said...

Agreed. Clarendon, and pretty much everywhere else in or around the Arlington Orange Line corridor, is awesome. Of course, since a lot of people with a lot more money than I have also think the area is great, once I need to buy some kind of three-bedroom dwelling unit that can hold small children, it'll be off to south arlington or, god forbid, my native fairfax county.

Why don't other localities look at the sky high property values in Arlington, make the connection between walkable density and said property values, and try to get the same thing going for themselves? I know it's a complicated issue with lots of contributing factors... it still seems incredibly dumb and short-sighted to me.

Anonymous said...

Why do people call Clarendon North Arlington? Clarendon is Clarendon and North Arlington is a separate neighborhood by itself. Clarendon is a great neighborhood but I don't know why White people from the south who come here for a job choose to live in Clarendon. I used to hang out in Clarendon but now a luck of diversity and too many xenophobic from the south pushing me away to DC. Yeah, I have been to the Eleventh street who try to be a high end lounge but fails miserably all the time. Eleventh street lounge has poor customer service and shit hole bartenders.

Clarendon Nights on Nov 19, 2009, 11:02:00 PM said...

Thanks James for this spot on and well worded article! As a fellow Clarendon resident I agree with you that it is far to easy to just write off the region as being too yuppified, and many people overlook the many positives you mentioned.

Jay on Nov 20, 2009, 6:24:00 AM said...

Echoing the comments, excellent commentary and Clarendon is a jewel.

The rap piece plays to those who have the DC island mentality. You can see it a lot in the comments at blogs.

DC is awesome too so I understand that. I thought the video was very creative.

Damn, I need to say something I don't like.

Uh, I wish I had more money when I walk into the Apple store ;-)

Sheila on Nov 20, 2009, 8:28:00 AM said...

We here at DCmud are very pleased people seem to be enjoying our new "The Dirt On..." posts.

Since we are looking for an insider's view of neighborhoods in and around DC, please feel free to contact us if you would like to write about your neighborhood.

Just beware, the comments aren't always nice and your sexual gender may be brought into question:

Picky said...

Clarendon Plaza? You mean the Market Common???

iEatDC on Nov 20, 2009, 10:15:00 AM said...

Clarendon is the best of many worlds--close to downtown DC, with it's own nightlife, and easy suburban-like access (by car, especially) to good stuff in Virginia (from Greatland Target to Loudoun's wineries). The prices are pretty insane, but if I could go back in time 30 years and buy a cute house off Key, I would.

YBR on Nov 20, 2009, 2:08:00 PM said...


I'm no fan of open mic but my initial thought reading your post is Clarendon is tremendous but everything you can find around Arlington you can find in DC, let alone an open mic. You live in Park View? TomTom has an open mic every Wednesday it's AM but still. A quick search of Open mics in dc metro finds more in the burbs but still places within DC. here is the link,

Anonymous said...

Clarendon has re-developed into a very walkable area. I recall when the Sears Store closed there in '92. Home Depot and a McDs with Drive-thru almost got approved to be built where Clarendon Commons is now located. Thank G-d those plans got canned.
NOW it almost seems it's becoming too much with all the highrises popping up there. Too much of a good thing?

Anonymous said...

For those of you who are newcomers, Clarendon has a history that dates back to 1900, when a developer platted some land where new trolley line crossed the Georgetown-Falls Church Road (now Wilson Blvd.). The trolley initially connected Rosslyn and Falls Church, but later was extended to downtown DC and Fairfax City, with a major trolley junction and station in Clarendon.

As a result, Clarendon became Arlington's downtown. Metrorail's Orange line follows the route of the trolley line, as does Fairfax Drive and part of Clarendon Blvd.

Clarendon's greatest growth was in the 1930's and 1940's. This was the art deco era. Clarendon still retains a number of historic buildings with art deco features. However, Clarendon's grossly ignorant and greedy business owners have covered over many these features with awnings, signs, etc. Developers have already destroyed some of these buildings, even during the past several years.

This stupidity and greed is a tragedy, because Clarendon still contains the largest collection of art deco (streamline moderne)buildings and store frontages in the Washington Metropolitan Area. You can see the buildings and frontages along Wilson Blvd and N. Highland Street, but you have to look closely and imagine what is beneath each of the awnings and signs.

The loss and covering of these historic features is costing Clarendon its opportunity to become a major historic tourist destination. Greed, ignorance and shortsightedness by Clarendon's business community, developers and residents continues to contribute to this loss. Few people recognize this. Even fewer are willing to do anything to stop this.

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