Alexandria, VA

Twenty years before slavery was abolished, there were black Freemasons in Alexandria. This month, Alexandria’s Universal Lodge No. 1, which is the first “Prince Hall” in Virginia, celebrated its 175th anniversary.

“We are standing on the shoulders of previous generations looking forward,” MacArthur Myers, the 174th past master at the lodge told ALXnow. “We have to recognize all who went before us and the responsibility of the stewardship in our presence as we look at the future.”

Prince Hall Masonry, which is historically all black, dates back to 1775 when 14 free black men were initiated by a lodge attached to the British army.

Universal Lodge No. 1 was founded on Feb. 5, 1845, by seamen William Dudley, Benjamin Crier and Sandy Bryant, all of whom became masons in Liverpool, England, in the 1830s. After returning to the states, the men joined the African American Social Lodge No. 1 in Washington, D.C. in 1838.

“Even though it says 1845, many lodges couldn’t come into being until after the Civil War,” Myers noted. “You had millions of previously enslaved people who were granted their freedom, and they had to construct a nation for themselves. They had to build hospitals and schools and they knew that they had to build institutions for the betterment of the masses.”

Alexandria was part of the District in 1845, and Dudley, Crier and Bryant founded the lodge in a secret meeting. The home for the lodge was 424 S. Royal Street in the city’s Hayti neighborhood, and it remained there until moving to its present location at 112 E. Oxford Ave. in Del Ray in 1986. The lodge is well-known in the community for its charitable work, including annual coat drives for Alexandria youths in the winter.

Myers, a retired social worker who was named an Alexandria Living Legend last month, is also the historian for the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Richmond. He’s been a member since 2012, and was raised in the company of Freemasons.

“They were different than ordinary men, because you knew about their character, you knew what they were doing in a community and that’s always been faith, hope and charity,” he said. “In Alexandria, you were a member of the Masonic lodge, the Elks, the Departmental Progressive Club and you went to church. Those were the social hubs because of segregation.”

The lodge is historically and culturally an African American club, and members frequently visit other lodges around the world. Myers, who also conducts tours of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, couldn’t speak of what goes on behind closed doors or how many members there are in the lodge, but said that the applicants have to undergo an extensive background check. Notable members include former Mayor Bill Euille and former Police Chief Earl Cook.

“There’s a fine line between vanity and humility,” Myers said. “A Mason is a Mason is a Mason, and therefore it takes the individual to decide how to you want to treat another Mason. We, in our rituals and in our teaching and learning, are taught about personal growth. For us it’s about brotherly love.”

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Spring Cleaning Day has become an annual tradition in the Beverley Hills neighborhood, but a change that makes every trash day its own Spring Cleaning Day has left some residents fuming.

“The Spring Clean Up has always occurred one magical Saturday a year, where people can put bulk trash and oversized items at the curb for trash pick up,” local blog Tales from the Beverley Hills Listserv recounted in a post. “BevHills residents gleefully turn into Sanford and Son-esque trash pickers, slowly trawling the neighborhood in their cars to scavenge bulk items like used furniture, gallons of old paint, half-destroyed kid toys, and broken Lime scooters (lol). It’s like Santa, but in reverse.”

After one local resident on the listserv asked about the date of this year’s trash pickup, Mayor Justin Wilson answered that it had been replaced with a weekly bulky item collection.

“This decision was made as part of last year’s budget process,” Wilson explained. “While this did save the ratepayers about $65K, it is intended as a service enhancement. We pick up all of the same things, now year-round instead of once a year.”

Some two dozen emails followed, as residents lamented the loss of the festive community event. Said one:

How incredibly sad this is to hear. Have you never watched the fever of activity that surrounds each area’s spring cleanup? Because of the concentration of items placed at curbside on a specific date, people from miles around scour each neighborhood for the myriad of things that in fact help them make ends meet. Scrap metal, repairable lawn mowers, reusable furniture, salvageable TVs, wheelbarrows, etc. all get picked up and taken away for sale  and reuse. In my experience, someone ends up taking away at least half of what I have put out for spring cleanup. Not only do we save valuable landfill space, we feed a robust local recycling/personal income enhancing activity with our traditional program. Under this new regime it all goes to the dump. Regardless of how well-intentioned this change in procedure may have been, please give it a second look.

“This is a shame,” another resident wrote. “Spring Clean Up is an amazing event! Who made this decision? Certainly not the citizens of Alexandria!”

Some locals looked more favorably on the change, saying the more regular pickup helped cut down on the length of time bulk items piled up in the garbage. There is also now discussion of residents setting one particular day as a new neighborhood clean up day.

File photo by Jay Westcott

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A car crashed into the Pet Valu store in Arlandria just after noon on Wednesday, Feb. 12.

No one was injured in the incident at 3819 Mount Vernon Avenue, the driver was not charged and there were no customers in the store at the time.

“It was like a movie,” a store staffer told ALXnow. “I was very close to where she crashed. She slammed in really hard and she ran into the register. I just stood there watching in shock. It was like it happened in slow motion.”

The store recently replaced its front door and is in the process of replacing a couple of windows, staff told ALXnow.

The driver, who was going to the store to pick up dog food, was parking her new orange Subaru Forester, and stepped on the gas instead of the brake, we’re told.

“As soon as it happened, I got the lady out of the car and gave her some water,” the Pet Valu employee said. “She was in shock. She was like, ‘Am I inside the store?'”

The Pet Valu is next door to a Topper’s Pizza and MOM’s Organic Market, and is across the street from The Waffle Shop.

The driver ended up not buying dog food that day.

Map via Google Maps

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Del Ray restaurant Bon Vivant Cafe + Farm Market (2016 Mount Vernon Avenue) announced yesterday that it would close by the end of the day.

The restaurant, which opened six years ago, said on social media and on a sign in the door that the restaurant had faced mounting difficulties over the years:

After a lot of thought, we have decided to close Bon Vivant. Tuesday 25th February was out last day.

We have enjoyed being a part of Del Ray and its community, and we have loved and appreciated all the support we have received. However, due to the increasing difficulties of running a restaurant these days we found it necessary to close.

The sudden loss caught some local residents and longtime customers by surprise.

“This is huge,” said Jeff Shad, a local resident who had been a regular at the restaurant for five years. “I had no idea they were in trouble. Coming here been part of my regular routine. There’s no other place like it. They try to source local food at a good price. I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”

Jay Westcott contributed to this story

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The largest single-day fundraiser in the region is around the corner, and this year ACT for Alexandria wants to attract 10,000 donors.

Last year’s Spring2ACTion fundraiser raised $2.1 million for 166 local charities and nonprofits, beating the $1.8 million raised in 2018. There were more than 9,600 donors last year, and this year’s fundraising goal is $2 million — just shy of last year’s record-breaking total.

This year’s day of giving falls on April 29, and goal is not so much to focus on the monetary amount but on attracting more donors. ACT For Alexandria, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Alexandria’s children, has raised upward of $10 million from 65,000 donors for more than 160 local nonprofits in total.

ACT President Heather Peeler said that the organization has come a long way.

“Ten years ago this was just a big crazy idea,” Peeler told ALXnow. “We had a goal of raising $30,000 and we thought that would have been incredible. And here we are 10 years later, raising millions of dollars in partnership with the nonprofits in Alexandria.”

All donations are tax deductible and irrevocable.

Last year’s fundraiser saved the Local Motion Project dance studio (2377 S. Dove Street) with $50,000 in donations. The top earner last year was the nonprofit Running Brooke, which raised more than $125,000. The Alexandria Soccer Association had the most donors, raising more than $50,000 from 750 people.

ACT for Alexandria spokeswoman Brandi Yee said the organization is focusing this year on “free agent fundraisers.”

“So, not only is a nonprofit raising money, but an individual can raise their hand and say, ‘I will raise $500 for the animal shelter, and I’m going to reach out to all my friends and my family and they’re going to give me the money that I raise,'” Yee said.

Photo via ACT For Alexandria/Facebook

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Jaqueline Tucker’s head is still spinning. After a little more than two weeks on the job, she knows that she has her work cut out for her as Alexandria’s first-ever racial and social equity officer.

Tucker’s calendar is filling up. She’s currently meeting with department heads and just finished training with the department of community and human services. Her initial goal is to ensure that all Alexandria government employees receive racial equity training by the first quarter of next year.

“We’ve had a norm for generations that is white and male, cisgendered, and that is in the psyche of all people of color who have been historically marginalized. This has happened for generations. Our policies and our practices have been designed and set up to perpetuate those systems,” Tucker told ALXnow. “I think it’s in the consciousness of any person of color or any marginalized person.”

Alexandria has made inroads into eliminating racial and social bias over the last several years with its interdepartmental racial equity working group. Until recently, the effort was led by Deputy City Manager Debra Collins, who says that Tucker has ambitious goals.

“We’re all here to help. She’s got an army ready to work with her, and the good news is that the city has been on this journey for the last couple of years,” Collins said. “I mean, think about it. Somewhere years ago somebody said that it was okay to put a maintenance yard over African American graves in Fort Ward, right? That was a government decision at some point in the ’50s or ’60s. Or the gas station that was sitting on top of Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery. That was something that a planning director authorized back in the day.”

Tucker, a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Butler University and a law degree from Howard University. Her father’s family moved to Michigan from Mississippi because of threats that they were going to get lynched, and she recalls her first taste of racial inequity was when she was 11 years old. She was on a basketball team with local a amateur athletic union league and most of the players on her team were white.

“It was myself and one other black girl,” she said. “This started at about age 11, and my personal belief is that I was one of the better players at the time… but there came like an issue of like, whether I should be a starter and my father said to me, ‘It’s just politics.’ And then for an 11-year-old, you have no idea what that really means, but ever since then I knew I wanted to be involved in politics.”

For the last two years, Tucker was the east region project manager with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, and, in fact, met many of Alexandria’s leaders when she conducted a half-day racial equity training retreat with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

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Longtime local furniture restoration and repair shop Spicer’s Upholstery, Inc has gone out of business after 63 years.

The business, which operated a physical location at 3649 Wheeler Avenue near the police headquarters but also made house calls, said on its website and in a voice message that it went out of business on Feb. 15.

“Spicers will be going out of business today,” a representative of the company said in a voice message on the company’s phone line. “We would like to thank everyone in the Alexandria metro area for allowing Spicers’ to provide furniture upholstery and repairs for over 60 years.”

The family-owned business had been open since 1957.

The closing was mourned on Twitter.

Photo via Google Maps

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If your idea of paradise is a glass full of wine and a roomful of cats, then you’re in luck.

On Saturday, City Council unanimously approved a special use permit for Mount Purrnon Cat Cafe & Wine Bar, and the two-level building at 109 S. Alfred Street promises to be full of purr-sonality when it opens this spring.

The circa-1885, 2,050-square-foot property has been a commercial site since the 1970s, and dating back to 2002 was home to Fitness on the Run and Sand and Steel Fitness (now at 5418 Eisenhower Ave.). It’s next door to the Friendship Firehouse, across the street from Morrison House Hotel and around the corner from a number of local restaurants and coffee shops.

The cat cafe would allow up to 15 felines — all from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington — to hang out cage-free in lounge areas on the first and second floors, until adopted. The interior will have a tavern feel, even catering to Old Town’s colonial atmosphere with portraits of cats as presidents on the walls.

Cat cafes gained popularity in Taiwan in the 1990s. D.C.’s first cat cafe was Crumbs & Whiskers in Georgetown, which opened in 2015.

Mount Purrnon, which got seed funding by raising $25,500 in a Kickstarter campaign, will serve beer and wine for up to 20 patrons an hour. But what if a patron has one too many? Not to worry, because same-day adoptions are not allowed. There is an interview process, which includes a background check.

Pre-packaged foods like cheese and crackers, hummus and veggies, pastries and chips will also be served, and no food will be prepared on-site. There will also be no live entertainment — other than the cats, that is.

Special use permit approved!!!!! Thanks GW, happy birthday!

Posted by Mount Purrnon Cat Cafe and Wine Bar on Saturday, February 22, 2020

Photo via Mount Purrnon Cat Cafe & Wine Bar/Facebook

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Cameron Cafe never really closed, but the little cafe that mostly serves the Cameron Run community is celebrating a ribbon-cutting for its new wine and beer bar.

The Facebook event for the celebration noted that the cafe owner and staff will be at the cafe (4911 Brenman Park Drive) from 5-8 p.m. this afternoon (Monday) to show off the new beer and wine menu. Complimentary hors d’oeuvres will also be served.

Staff at the restaurant said the new wine and beer menu is part of an expansion of the venue that’s been taking place over the last several months. While the cafe didn’t close, staff said they are still planning to host a “grand reopening” next month.

Photo via Cameron Cafe/Facebook

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If you’re tired of going out for yoga and meditation with bunnies and want a partner for your own at home, the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA) has the perfect companion.

Meet Tiger, a two-year-old white rabbit available for adoption at the Vola Lawson Animal Shelter (4101 Eisenhower Avenue).

“Tiger first hopped into local attention when she was spotted near the Shell Station in Alexandria,” Gina Hardter, spokeswoman for the AWLA, said in an email. “A kind resident scooped her up and brought her to the AWLA.”

Hardter said she is “hoppy” to try new things like games and clicker training.

“[She’s] one smart cookie and can sniff out a treat from a mile (or at least several feet) away,” Harter said.

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Move over ice cream for breakfast, there’s a new morning cuisine coming to Alexandria.

Chop Shop Taco at 1008 Madison Street in the Braddock neighborhood is launching all-day tacos starting today (Friday).

“We’re running a ‘buy one, try one’ promo for the first 25 people in line at 8 a.m.,” owner Doug Rashid said in an email. “These are not just egg & cheese tacos. Chop Shop Taco has launched a breakfast menu full of tacos, burritos, a delicious avocado tostada and more.”

Rashid said Chop Shop will offer brisket, chorizo, ground beef, pork, chili, tater tots or Beyond Meat in the tacos. Each is filled with cheese, salsa and scallions.

The avocado tostada, meanwhile, will feature scallions, chipotle, salsa, ancho, chile, pumpkin seeds, radish and fresh herbs with an option to add a fried egg.

The new breakfast is available Monday through Friday, from 8-11 a.m.

Image courtesy Chop Shop Taco

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After months of construction, Old Town’s newest sushi restaurant officially opened its doors on Wednesday.

The Handover and King’s Ransom — two different concepts from the owners of The People’s Drug (103 N. Alfred Street)– opened to the public at 728 King Street. The previous occupant of the space, Eamonn’s Dublin Chipper and the PX cocktail bar, closed last summer.

With just 14 seats, The Handover on the ground floor has a minimalist aesthetic, and offers temaki sushi rolls that are presented by skilled hands to diners one at a time, as soon as they’re ready. The restaurant’s menu is lean, too, with a dozen hand rolls, including spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, salmon and hamachi. Customers can wash it all down with an assortment of sake, beer and wine, in addition to super-sweet Japanese Ramune sodas.

Upstairs, King’s Ransom continues the speakeasy-style tradition of PX, with a darker interior and cocktail bar focusing on Japanese whisky. Some of the whisky drinks are chilled and served via a Toki highball machine, which the owners say is the only one of its kind in Virginia — giving the drinks “the perfect temperature while also producing a water with three times the carbonation of champagne, providing a unique effervescence to all highball cocktails.”

Specialty drinks include the foggy wasabi martini, which combines Haku vodka infused with wasabi, ginger green tea dry
vermouth blend and a pinch of sea salt.

The Handover is open every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and King’s Ransom is open from 5 p.m. to midnight from Sunday to Thursday and from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

The full press release about the opening is below, after the jump.

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