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Alexandria discloses list of ‘racially restrictive’ covenants on city-owned properties

Alexandria City Hall (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Alexandria has identified dozens of racially restrictive zoning covenants, many of which have been on the books for more than 100 years.

Next Tuesday, City Council will review a report on racially restrictive covenants that, during much of the 20th century, prohibited non-white residents from moving into subdivisions and neighborhoods throughout the city. City staff are also asking Council to review a process for a property owner to get the illegal covenant by filing for a certificate of release from the Alexandria Circuit Court.

The research was part of the city’s Zoning for Housing/Housing for All initiative, which ultimately resulted in a citywide zoning overhaul approved by City Council last month.

City staff said in a memo that they were aware of only three subdivisions that racially segregated residents:

  • the W.I. Angels West End subdivision, which includes Angel Park
  • the Abington subdivision, which includes city land on Randolph Avenue
  • and the Eagle Crest Subdivision, which includes a portion of Fort Ward Park

“Soon after we became aware of these properties, we went through the Circuit Court’s process for removing the covenants from the City owned portions of these subdivisions,” city staff said. “This process was completed for these three properties in November and the certificates of release have all been recorded.”

Krystn Moon of the University of Mary Washington, who the city hired to gather information on the history of the covenants, found dozens more properties, in Alexandria as well as Arlington and Fairfax counties. This includes 33 properties owned by the city — for fire stations, parks or the public right-of-way — and city entities, such as the Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority or Alexandria City Public Schools.

At least 20 city properties in the Del Ray, Rosemont and St. Elmo’s subdivisions will require additional research.

According to Moon’s report, the covenants were commonly used in the 20th century by local governments, developers, and property owners to maximize real estate values with racially restrictive language. They are now illegal in Virginia and unenforceable after the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968.

“(C)lass politics informed the inclusion of certain types of restrictions and ordinances, which overlapped with racial attitudes among many white residents,” Moon wrote.

“Instead of ensuring housing accessibility for all residents, they became one of the many tools in the racial segregationist toolbox to control where African Americans and other minorities might live,” she continued. “As such, they privileged the production of wealth for white, middle- and upper-class homeowners by prioritizing single-family dwellings and their property values over all other types of development.”

City Council Member Alyia Gaskins directed the City Attorney’s Office to research and detail a process for removing these covenants from city properties.

“Removing these covenants is one way to further demonstrate our commitment to building a more equitable city,” Gaskins said. “Furthermore, the City has an opportunity to be a model for homeowners who might not know that there is a restriction on their property and/or how to remove it.”

Covenants commonly made the property exclusive to the “Caucasian Race” to exclude not just African Americans but also Jews, Native Americans, Seventh Day Adventists and persons of Armenian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Persian and Syrian ancestries, she said.

A Rosemont deed, for instance, says that “no part of the said premises nor any interest therein, shall be sold, leased, rented, or in any way conveyed to anyone not of the Caucasian race,” while a George Washington Park deed singled out the property could not be sold or conveyed to anyone of “African descent.”

According to the report:

In 1912, Rosemont became the first subdivision in Alexandria to include racial restrictions on specific lots. A year later, an unnamed development on Oronoco, Fayette, Princess, and Payne Streets in the Uptown neighborhood included similar language in its deeds. George Washington Park, which Alexandria annexed from Fairfax County in 1915, had restrictions as early as 1909.

By the 1920s, new subdivisions that were either part of or adjacent to George Washington Park and Rosemont inserted restrictive language into their deeds. Mount Vernon Park, Temple Park, Glendale, Brenton, and the Adams Estate (a development west of Rosemont along King Street) either limited renting and owning to the “Caucasian Race” or excluded African Americans.

In Alexandria, African Americans faced systematic discrimination throughout this period and were increasingly subjected to restrictive covenants that impacted where they could live, work, and own property. Other restrictive covenants, such as the one for Rosemont, stated that only Caucasians were permitted to own or inhabit a particular property. Interestingly, the deed from Uptown even barred corporate ownership. The inclusion of this language was most likely a reference to Peoples Pleasure Park Co. v. Rohleder (1908), in which the Virginia State Supreme Court Case ruled a corporation “is not a person” and “had no ‘color’ or race.” This decision allowed African American-owned corporations to buy properties with race-based restrictions unless they were specifically barred. Finally, the restrictions in Rosemont included a sunset clause, allowing them to end on January 1, 1928. The restrictions at George Washington Park and the unnamed development in Uptown excluded African Americans in perpetuity.

Moon found that real estate lawyer and Congressman Howard W. Smith (in office from 1930 to 1966) was an ardent segregationist, and inserted restrictive covenants into deeds targeting “all non-white owners and/or occupants,” and that on said property “any building that may be erected thereon shall never be sold, rented, or let to any person not of the Caucasian Race.”

The following is the list of city-owned properties that have a racially restrictive covenant:

Westover Subdivision (Alexandria Deed 152-272)

  • 900 Second Street (Fire Station)
  • 1028 Powhatan St (Fire Station’s Parking)
  • 1024 Powhatan St (Fire Station’s Parking)
  • 1010 Douglas St (Powhatan Park)
  • 1009 Douglas St (Powhatan Park)

Monticello Park (Arlington County Deed 261-50)

  • 2908 A Richmond LA (Monticello Park)
  • 2801 Cameron Mills Rd (Fire Station)
  • 2601 Cameron Mills Rd (George Mason Elementary School)

Threadgill (Alexandria Deed 121-299)

  • 1607 Suter St (Metro Linear Park)
  • 1614 Suter St (Metro Linear Park)
  • 1625 Princess St [possibly 1629 Princess too, which is the right of way along the railroad tracks] (Metro Linear Park)

Baggett Tract (Alexandria Deed 167-350)

  • 340 Buchanan St (Metro Linear Park)
  • 300 Buchanan St (Metro Linear Park)

Fagelson’s Addition to Dempsey (Arlington County Deed 201-269)

  • 810 Chetworth Pl (Chetworth Park)

Rosemont (Properties Restricted on Specific Deeds)

  • 4 Sunset Dr (Alexandria Deed 65-449) (Sunset Mini Park)
  • 201 Rucker Place (Alexandria Deed 106-105) (Beach Park)
  • 701 Johnston Pl (Alexandria Deed 106-105) (Maury School Land)

Wapleton (Fairfax County Deed G-15-45)

  • 530 Cameron Station Bv (Armistead L. Boothe Park)
  • 270 S Reynolds St (Park-Open Space)
  • Beverley Plaza (Properties Restricted on Specific Deeds)
  • 3909 Bruce St (Four Mile Run Park) (Alexandria Deed 156-290 and 157-333)

Cameron Park (Properties Restricted on Specific Deeds)

  • 20 Roth St (Park-Witter Fields N of Business Center Dr) (Fairfax Deed 192-193)
  • 3224 Colvin St (Parking Lot) (Fairfax Deed U-9-128)

Waverly Taylor (Alexandria Deed 193-182)

  • 3000 Fulton St (Island between Roads)

Oakcrest (Alexandria Deed 162-278)

  • 1521 Dogwood Dr (Sheltered Homes of Alexandria)

Beverley Park (Properties Restricted on Specific Deeds)

  • 610 Notabene Dr (Hawaiian Garden Apartments) (Alexandria Deed 181-436)
  • 3910 Old Dominion Bv (Glebe Park Apartments) (Alexandria Deed 181-436)
  • 3902 Old Dominion Bv (Glebe Park Apartments) (Alexandria Deed 181-436)
  • 3961 Old Dominion Bv (Old Dominion Housing Limited Partnership) (Alexandria Deed 176-455)

Veach Tract (Properties Restricted on Specific Deeds)

  • 27 S Bragg St (15 Townhomes) (Fairfax Deed 449-127 and Fairfax Deed 421-42)

Fort Ward Heights (Fairfax County Deed Q-13-400)

  • 4560 Strutfield Ln (Palazzo at Park Center)

Brenton (Properties Restricted on Specific Deeds)

  • 5 W Braddock Rd (Park) (Arlington County Deed 233-229)
  • 1005 Mt Vernon Av (George Washington Junior High School) (Arlington County Deed 255-588 and Alexandria Deed 90-90)

Dunton Property (Fairfax County Deed W-14-171)

  • 5325 Polk Av (Polk Park)

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