Post Content

A look back at the ‘urban renewal’ project that reshaped Old Town

The view from the Alexandria City Hall’s clock tower. (Staff photo by James Cullum)

Fights over historic preservation are nothing new in Alexandria, and a recent edition of the city’s This Week in Historic Alexandria offered a look back at one of the controversial projects from the 1960s that shaped Old Town as it’s known today.

This year marks 60 years since Alexandria’s City Council approved the “Gadsby Commercial Urban Renewal Plan” in 1963 — a project that saw the large-scale demolition of much of King Street’s older buildings once construction began in 1965.

“On March 10, 1965, construction began on the controversial Gadsby’s Urban Renewal Project in the heart of downtown Alexandria,” the Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA) wrote. “It had been approved by City Council in a close 4-3 vote.”

The Office of Historic Alexandria wrote that the trend at the time was demolition in downtown areas with less regard for the preservation of historic buildings.

“In the early 1960s, ‘urban renewal’ in the United States focused largely on the demolition and reconstruction of deteriorated downtown areas, rather than the restoration of historic buildings to revitalize city centers, a concept that emerged a decade later,” the Office of Historic Alexandria wrote. “In Alexandria, renewal was originally proposed for a twelve-block area further west along King Street but ultimately moved east, centered on the area around Gadsby’s Tavern, City Hall, and Market Square.”

The OHA wrote that the project would come to include the destruction of several blocks in the heart of Old Town. WETA wrote that several historic structures like the Belvoir hotel — which had elements dating back to 1792 — were demolished and the age of the building wasn’t understood until after it was torn down. Also lost was Arell’s Tavern, a local meeting place for George Washington and others, WETA wrote.

“Ultimately, the project involved the excavation of entire blocks at and near Market Square and the demolition of 18th- and 19th-century buildings considered at the time as contributing to blighted conditions in what would come to be known as ‘Old Town,'” The OHA wrote.

City Historian Dan Lee told ALXnow the project was particularly controversial given that the areas hit with demolition had already been placed in a historic district in 1946.

“The main aspect of the controversy is that Alexandria had created an Old and Historic District in 1946,” Lee said, “and then knocked down whole city blocks in that district in 1968.”

The project was carried out over multiple phases with the second phase completed in 1981, but by then public opinion had turned against the urban renewal project and a planned third phase never moved forward.

Recent Stories

It’s a big (green) weekend in Alexandria!  The Ballyshaners 41st Alexandria Saint Patrick’s Day Parade will step off from the corner of King Street and St. Asaph Street at 12:15…

Washington D.C. resident Dykwon Perry Davis has been indicted by a multi-jurisdictional jury on two felony charges: abduction with intent to defile and attempted rape. Davis is charged with the…

There’s a new hair salon in Del Ray and it’s named after a Taylor Swift song. Enchant Hair Co. opened at 2202 Mount Vernon Avenue in January, and it’s named…

The Vision Zero goal of zero roadway deaths and severe injuries is daunting, but the City announced that it closed 2023 with zero traffic fatalities. In a release, the Department…

Dreaming of small-town charm with big-city convenience? Look no further than 7156 Main St in Clifton, Virginia! Nestled just 30 miles from the heart of Washington D.C., this picturesque property offers the best of both worlds.

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city to find tranquility in this quaint, historic town. With its tree-lined streets and friendly community atmosphere, Clifton is the perfect place to call home. Yet, with its close proximity to the nation’s capital, you’ll never be far from the excitement and opportunities of urban living.

Imagine weekends exploring local shops, dining at charming cafes, and enjoying outdoor adventures in nearby parks. Then, commute to D.C. for work or play, soaking in all the culture, entertainment, and career opportunities the city has to offer.

Read More

Submit your own Community Post here.

Are you looking to work on health and fitness from the comfort of your own home?

Skip the big box gym and try out our in-home personal training service. We bring the gym to you so that you can save time and avoid the hassle of going the the crowded gym.

We bring all the equipment you need for a solid workout and if you have a community gym we can use that too.

We offer programs that will help with weight loss, strength, flexibility, more energy and overall feeling better.

Read More

Submit your own Community Post here.


Subscribe to our mailing list