Alexandria, VA

Alexandria’s historic Torpedo Factory Art Center will honor two big anniversaries this weekend as the building turns 100 and the Art Center turns 45.

A celebratory Anniversary Ball will take place this Saturday, November 16 from 7-11 p.m. at the Torpedo Factory (105 N. Union Street). Guests are invited to “dress to impress and celebrate like it’s 1919 or 1974,” per the event website, and tickets are still available for $75.

The night will feature the opening of 45: An Anniversary Exhibitcurated by Marian Van Landingham, artist and founder of the Torpedo Factory. In addition, Alexandria media company Istrico Productions will premiere a documentary about the building’s history.

According to the event website, additional festivities include:

  • A talk from WAMU arts and culture reporter Mikaela Lefrak
  • Live from Virginia band Good Shot Judy
  • Glass harp performance from Jamey Turner
  • Painted humans from artist Rebecca Rose
  • Live roving performers
  • Refreshments and a bar

Per its namesake, the Torpedo Factory Art Center began its life as a weapons factory at the end of World War I. At its peak, the complex was made up of 16 buildings and employed 5,000 workers. In 1950, it was converted to a Federal Records Center, and in 1974, became the Art Center. The three-story building is currently home to more than 165 artists who work, exhibit, and sell their art.

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The Lyceum (201 S. Washington Street) will host a screening next Saturday, Nov. 16 of Peter Jackson’s acclaimed World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old.

The film stabilizes and colorizes footage from World War I and plays audio from interviews with servicemen who fought in the war.

The event is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $10. Popcorn at the screening is free, with soft drinks, beer and wine for sale.

The event will also feature an introduction from Jimmie McClellan, who teaches history at Northern Virginia Community College.

Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

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If your property is damaged by a city vehicle, there’s a good chance you could be out of luck when it comes to seeking payment.

With its blue background and city seal, the marker set up in the yard at Shuter’s Hill within eyeshot of the backside of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial could be mistaken for an official sign, but the sign tells the story of one resident’s struggle with the City of Alexandria over an archaic legal precedent.

According to the sign, a city truck struck the fence on May 22 and was captured on video, but the city has claimed sovereign immunity — a term derived from British common law doctrine that means the government cannot be sued without its permission.

This isn’t the first time damages from an garbage truck has led to frustrations over sovereign immunity. Across Virginia, there have been several instances of localities citing sovereign immunity when faced with costly liability charges, according to Washingtonian.

Craig Fifer, a spokesman for the City of Alexandria, said logistically that paying claims would necessitate an increase in taxes and fees, reductions in services, or other savings:

The City’s services are designed and operated to provide the maximum benefit to the community.  Under federal and state laws and court rulings, the City is generally not liable for damages caused in the course of providing core government services. While the City conducts extensive planning and training to avoid damaging property, some damage does occur given the vast scope of City operations. Exemption from these claims saves a significant amount of money every year for taxpayers as a whole.  If the City were to pay claims for which it is not legally liable, it would necessitate some combination of increases in taxes and fees, reductions in services, or savings in other areas.

The City is expected to defend itself against claims for which it is not legally liable. If the claim involves a core government function (including trash collection), sovereign immunity would apply. If the claim involved another situation (such as the operation of a City vehicle while not performing a core government function), sovereign immunity would not apply and the claim would be paid if appropriate.

Jonathan Siegel, a law professor at George Washington University, said the arguments over sovereign immunity aren’t new.

“This has been around forever,” Siegel said. “It’s a fundamental feature of government and it causes all kinds of problems for centuries. Ever since the founding of the nation, it’s been legally true that governments have sovereign immunity.”

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Leaders Weigh in on Nats World Series Win — From City Councilman Mo Seifeldein: “This a moment to celebrate the @Nationals, hope, and resiliency! The beauty of sports and sportsmanship.” [Twitter, Twitter]

More Details About Italian Restaurant in Old Town — “Hank’s Oyster Bar owner Jamie Leeds is ready to introduce a new concept to her otherwise seafood-focused restaurant group: Hank & Mitzi’s Italian Kitchen. The revamped Italian restaurant replaces Hank’s Pasta Bar in Old Town Alexandria, which closed last month to add a second-story event space and rooftop bar.” [Washingtonian, Eater]

VT Innovation Campus Now Accepting Applications — “Virginia Tech is accepting applications for the first degree program to be run out of its new Innovation Campus at Potomac Yard in Alexandria. The program is a new master’s of engineering degree in computer science.” [Washington Business Journal]

‘Lantern Night’ Coming to Alexandria — “Inspired by the European tradition of Martinmas, the event is open to all and invites attendees to come with handmade lanterns, enjoy songs of hope and light by the Kinderchoir, and then convene outside for a community sing-a-long and circle while dancing under the stars. Cookies will be provided! The event will take place at 5 p.m. on Nov. 7, at Convergence (1801 N. Quaker Lane).” [Zebra]

Remembering an Alexandria All-Star — “Today in 1916, Leon Day, star Negro League baseball player born in [Alexandria]; voted into Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995.” [Twitter]

Library Marks National Cat Day — “Who knew #NationalCatDay was this close to Halloween? In celebration of both, the Local History branch offers this photo of former Alexandria resident Ernest Bratton, a famous Voodoo doctor also known as Dr. Buzzard, and his cat, from the Alexandria Gazette Collection.” [Twitter]

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(Updated at 3:20 p.m.) While Alexandria heads out on ghosts tours for Halloween, local archaeologists are busy scouting for secret burials under two historic cemeteries.

Archeologists with the city’s Office of Historic Alexandria are working to pinpoint where coffins and headstones may have been swallowed by the changing landscaping in the Penny Hill and Douglass cemeteries as they plan drainage maintenance for the sites.

“In a couple places you see the very tippy tops of headstones just barely peeking above the dirt and you realize that there’s an entire headstone sunken in 2-3 feet. So you look around and go ‘Oh my god this entire cemetery is slowly sinking into the ground,'” Benjamin Skolnik, an archeologist with the city, told ALXnow of the issues facing the two cemeteries.

“A lot of the markers were probably made of wood and have since decayed and evaporated into the mists of time,” he said, adding that others buried in the Penny Hill potter’s field often couldn’t afford a marker.

Fixing the drainage issues at both sites causing could mean digging ditches — and right now that would be impossible without disrupting lost burial sites.

Penny Hill was founded in 1796 but start records only date back to 1912. Those records indicate 906 people were buried in the last century, but today cemetery is an empty, grassy field.

And at Douglass, where records indicate the first person was buried in 1895, there are about 650 standing headstones, but over 1900 names recorded in burial records.

“There’s three times the number of people written in the cemeteries as there are standing headstones, so the question is where is everybody?” said Skolnik.

This summer, the state awarded Alexandria a $10,500 grant to study what graves could be underneath the grass at both cemeteries. Now the survey work is underway as teams of archeologists rove the grounds with ground-penetrating radar (the same kind used to find dinosaurs) and electrical conductivity meters to identify burials by the metal hinges on caskets, the shafts dug to bury caskets, as well as skeletal remains or headstones.

Initial data from Douglass confirms some areas with no standing stones do have graves underneath, and in some cases, more than one grave.

“We know that they were selling what they referred to as “half-graves” which is basically that you stack them,” explained Skolnik. “The first one goes down 8 feet. The next one goes down 4 feet.”

The surveys haven’t gone without a hitch, however. Yesterday (Tuesday’s) rain storm cancelled one day of work, and nearby utilities can interfere with the equipment.

“We ran into a small problem on Saturday when we started our survey at Penny Hill,” said Skolnik. “The southeast corner of Penny Hill is right next to a power substation [which] was playing havoc with the sensitive instruments.”

The surveys are in addition to the Alexandria archaeologists’ other responsibilities, including examining possible remains and objects buried under development sites — work that led to the excavation and reconstruction of several long-buried ships.

“It’s probably not a surprise that there are lot of archeology resources in Alexandria,” said Skolnik. “There’s a lot going on under the ground.”

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Declares Climate Emergency — “On October 22, the Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted a resolution declaring a climate emergency, recognizing that climate change poses a grave threat to everyone in Alexandria and around the world.” [City of Alexandria]

City Council Passes Refugee Resolution — “The Alexandria City Council unanimously approved a resolution to notify the federal government of its continued support for resettling refugees in Alexandria. The action was taken in response to Executive Order 13888, issued on September 26, which provides that the federal government ‘should resettle refugees only in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees.'” [City of Alexandria]

Next Weekend: Event for Little Historians — “Bring your little learners to the Alexandria Black History Museum for cultural stories and creative craft activities that introduce world history and folklore… All ages are welcome, but most suitable for children 3-5 years old.” [City of Alexandria]

Nearby: Belle View Fire Costs Millions — “Monday morning’s six-alarm fire at the Belle View Shopping Center began in the kitchen of one of the businesses in the center, the Fairfax Fire and Rescue Department said in a Tuesday press release… The fire caused more than $5.8 million in damages.” [Covering the Corridor, Fairfax County Fire]

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Scott Fallon prides himself on being a skeptic — just one that happens to believe in Bigfoot.

Fallon is one of the founders of the Alexandria Cryptozoology and Paranormal Society (ACAPS), a local group dedicated to the exploration of all things inexplicable. He talked with ALXnow shortly after finishing his chupacabra hunt in the jungles of Mexico. He didn’t find any, but Fallon says that doesn’t mean they’re not out there.

Fallon does not come off as the crackpot conspiracy theorist you’d expect when interviewing a Bigfoot specialist. He’s a skeptic — more Scully than Mulder, at least in some respects. He wants to believe, but says he waits to see evidence and makes a decision for himself.

Part of that involves being aware of his own biases, the way someone is more likely to hear “ghost” noises in a house they hear is haunted. At 5 a.m., for instance, Fallon said every noise in the forest sounds like Bigfoot.

“Although we are believers in the paranormal and UFOs, we are the world’s biggest skeptics,” Fallon said. “I don’t believe people at first, I have to see it for myself.”

The group was founded in 2014 and started, as many friendships do, at a bar. Fallon said the crew were regulars at Bilbo Baggins, the long-time Old Town pub at 208 Queen Street.

“I was talking to my wife and I mentioned something about Bigfoot,” Fallon said. “The guy next to me asked a question, then the guy next to him asked him the question.”

The members of ACAPS have different specialties. Fallon founded ACAPS with Chad Umbach — a Ufologist — and was joined by Marc Black, who goes by the moniker Dr. Black and is even more of a skeptic than Fallon.

Fallon’s focus is the paranormal and cryptozoology: examining the veracity of creatures depicted in folklore.

“Bigfoot is the top for me, but the other ones warrant further investigation,” Fallon said. “I am certain that there are bigfoots or sasquatches. When I say abundance, I mean 1,000 [bigfoots]. The Pacific Northwest, it’s so vast and has so much territory, so there are definitely food sources. When you talk to primatologists, they’re talking roughly 3,000. But when you’re talking about over millions of square miles… it’s an elusive creature.”

Fallon has not witnessed a bigfoot firsthand and says that he estimates 75 to 85 percent of reported sightings are fake.

Fallon also said he’s had a few paranormal encounters, like one at a bed and breakfast outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia.

“While I was there at 10 p.m. at night, I was working on my laptop and there were distinct footsteps in the room above me,” Fallon said. “It was footsteps. I was the only one in the house. I looked up the stairs to see if I saw anybody. I did what any other mature responsible adult would do: I ran in my room and pulled the covers over my head. I talked to the bread and breakfast owner and he said ‘did you hear footsteps? We get that all the time.’ That one really scared me.”

“One of the places I definitely believe is haunted is the Carlyle House,” Fallon continued. “It’s had a number of sightings. I’ve talked to people who’ve worked there who swear up and down there are sightings. I believe there’s a significant amount of paranormal activity. I believe there are a lot of paranormal haunted places in Old Town.”

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Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s boyhood home in Alexandria, one of the most expensive residential properties for sale in the city, is still on the market a year and a half after first being listed.

The 6-bedroom, 4 1/2 bath-house and debuted for $8.5 million in 2018 before realtors reduced the asking price by $2.3 million in March, and then reduced it again by $650,000 last month. Real estate agent Robert Hryniewicki with HRL Partners at Washington Fine Properties told ALXnow that the long wait and price fluctuation is to be expected with the “ultra-luxury” spectrum of properties, and says the trick is finding the right buyer for the 8,100-square foot Old Town property.

The three story, brick house at 607 Oronoco Street was built in 1795 and served as Lee’s home from 1812 to 1825, WTOP reported. Now it’s on the market for the first time in 50 years, after its current owners finished extensive restorations and decided to downsize.

“The is not a house for everybody,” Hryniewicki told ALXnow when asked why the house has remained on the market. “This is a historic home that has been completely reconstructed. It’s like the current owners basically re-do the entire infrastructure of the property while keeping it true to how it was originally built.”

The new price — $5.6 million — puts the Oronoco Street house under the most expensive home ever to sell in Alexandria which was, according to Hryniewicki, a 4,498-square-foot, brick home at 617 S. Lee Street. That house was built in 1790 and features 0.8 acres of land; it sold for $6.25 million in 2012.

The real estate agent said he saw a similar extended stay on the market and price changes before with another luxury home in D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood, after initially asking for $10.5 million. “The Lindens,” which was originally built in Massachusetts in 1754 and was moved to D.C., sat on the market for almost a year and the owners knocked down the price before finally finding a mystery buyer.

“We had the same pushback on the sale there just because it’s not for everybody,” Hryniewicki said. “But the one person that we did find absolutely loved it and they paid $7.1 million for it back in 2016.”

And like The Lindens in D.C., Hryniewicki said the Old Town house has the advantage of being a kind of turn-key historical property thanks to recent restorations.

“It’s one of those things where it’s museum-grade quality,” he said, adding that this helps expand the buyer pool. “What’s really nice about 601 Oronoco is that there are no surprises.”

When asked if the Confederate ties to the house have made buyers skittish, Hryniewicki said no potential buyers have cited the connection to Lee as a deterrent so far.

“There are other significant people or events that have gone through this property,” he added, noting that George Washington had once stayed in one of the rooms on the second floor.

One thing he does think buyers are overlooking is the garden around the home, which sits slightly above the street due to the grade of the property.

“When you’re in that garden you could be wherever you want to be because nobody is looking into your garden,” Hryniewicki said. “It’s so, so private and I know that’s one of our driving points in our market — especially in the ultra luxury price range.”

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A ship on Alexandria’s waterfront will host an intimate retelling of a historic ghost story this weekend.

The tall ship Providence is not officially open yet, but the ship will be going through its first test as a permanent fixture of the waterfront with a “ghost ship” story.

Staff for the ship said two character interpreters will be reenacting a spooky story from 1777, when the original tall ship Providence encountered a ship behaving erratically — because it was reportedly helmed by a ghost.

There will be four performances on Saturday and Sunday — weather permitting — at 4, 4:30, 5, and 5:30 p.m. Tickets will be available later this week online but with a limit of 15 attendees per performance, given that the ship hasn’t been cleared for public visits.

Staff told ALXnow that the ghost story is true at its core, but flavored with a little embellishment over time.

There’s still no word yet on when the Providence will be open to the public. The ship was approved as a permanent waterfront attraction earlier this year, but is still awaiting final inspection by the Coast Guard and a few other technical hurdles. Clair Sassin, executive director for the Tall Ship Providence Foundation told the Waterfront Commission last week that the ship inspection is scheduled to take place sometime within the next three weeks.

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Morning Notes

Online Maintenance for Library — “Due to service maintenance, on Wednesday, October 23 between the hours of 12am and 6am, Library customers will not unable to access databases or library accounts.” [Twitter]

New Generation for Le Refuge — Since 1983, the family-owned Le Refuge restaurant has served French cuisine at 127 N. Washington Street. Now a new generation of the family is taking over the beloved local institution. [Gazette Packet]

Catholic School Celebrates Anniversary — “Back in 1869, the Basilica School of St. Mary opened its doors to 40 students – 20 boys and 20 girls. These days, 150 years later, the Catholic school is at capacity with 711 students and waiting lists for most grades except kindergarten. On the weekend of Oct. 18, the school celebrated its past with an anniversary weekend that included a family day and alumni dinners.” [Zebra, Alexandria Times]

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Descendants of the men who led the 1939 Alexandria library sit-in plan to meet tonight for a panel discussion examining how the event impacted their families.

At the Beatley Central Library (5005 Duke Street) at 6:30 p.m., relatives of protestors William “Buddy” Evans and Morris Murray are scheduled to discuss the event and some of the lingering impacts, followed by a question and answer session.

In 1939, five young black men entered the library separately and asked to register for a library card. When each was refused, they picked up a book, took a seat, and began to read. Library staff called the police, who arrested the men for disorderly conduct.

Samuel Tucker, a local lawyer who had helped plan the protest, contacted a photographer who documented the event. Tucker had the men released but used the case as part of a legal push for integration.

Charges were officially dropped this past Friday, after it came to light that the case was never adjudicated so the men had never been declared innocent or guilty. Copies of the judge’s order are planned to be presented by Mayor Justin Wilson to descendants tonight.

The case ultimately resulted in the construction of the Robert H. Robinson Library — today the Alexandria Black History Museum — though Tucker continued to fight for equal access to the library.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) Old Town’s cobwebs are strung and Del Ray’s carved pumpkins are out, which means it’s Halloween time for Alexandria.

The city is playing host to an ample amount of spooky events this year, including family-friendly parades to a tour of mystery and murder.

The spooky Alexandria events include:

  • Rituals of the Occult on Saturday, October 19 from 7:30-8:30 p.m. offers exploration into “Ancient Druids and Wiccans to Modern Wedding Ceremonies” in the the Ivy Hill Cemetery Burial Vault (2823 King Street) from 7:30-8:30 p.m. exploring ” Ticket sell for $20 and can be ordered online via PayPal.
  • The Haunting of Hill House starting Wednesday, October 23 is a play to be performed at The Little Theater of Alexandria (600 Wolfe Street) based on the 1959 gothic novel by Shirley Jackson about three strangers invited into a haunted house (which also recently became a Netflix series). As of Friday the theater is selling tickets to multiple performances, including Wednesday, October 23, Thursday, October 24, and Friday, October 25. Tickets start at $21. 
  • HOWL-oween Canine Cruise, next Friday, October 25 from 6:30-8 p.m. boards at the Alexandria City Marina (105 North Union Street.) On this canine costume cruise, dogs ride for free, and humans can buy tickets online for $15.75 a piece.
  • Old Town Trick or Treat on Saturday, October 26 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. will welcome children to trick and treat at the shops and restaurants throughout Old Town. Those in need of costumes who can’t afford any can pick up free outfits from the city’s costume drive between 2-4 p.m that Saturday at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center (2701 Commonwealth Avenue.)
  • Halloween Pumpkin Hunt on Saturday, October 26 happens at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. and invites families to gather at the Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden (614 Oronoco Street) to go on a scavenger hunt for treat-filled Halloween crafts, as well as make their own, visit a sticker station, listen to spooky stories, and participate in a costume parade. Tickets can be bought online and range from $5 for adults; $15 for children ages 1-18; and free for infants.
  • Halloween Rock Show at Port City on Saturday, October 26 from 6-10 p.m. at the Port City Brewing Company (3950 Wheeler Avenue) will host three local rock bands (Triadem, Surfin’ Satan and the Beach Demons, Rabid Flash MoB) for a free concert. Attendees are encouraged to wear a costume, and enter to win the best Halloween outfit.
  • Del Ray Halloween Parade on Sunday, October 27 from 2-4 p.m. will also throw a free parade, beginning on Mt. Vernon Avenue and continuing down to the fields at Mt. Vernon Recreation Center. Awards will be given the best costumes with best pet costume, best decorated home, and best decorated stroller, among other categories.
  • Halloween in Old Town on Sunday, October 27 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. will lead participants on a décor detour around Old Town before embarking on a “Ghost and Graveyard Tour” led in lantern light by an 18th century clad guide who will tell the city’s best ghost stories. The event is free but attendees are asked to RSVP on social media.
  • Special Halloween Ghost Tours on October 29, 30, and 31 go from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Alexandria Visitor’s Center (221 King Street.) Tickets can be ordered online and cost $15 for adults and $8 for children. Adults over the age of 65 or who have student or Military ID can buy discount tickets for $15.
  • Trick-or-Treating at Carlyle House on October 31 from 4-6 p.m. at the Carlyle House (121 N. Fairfax Street) offers one last chance to enjoy the holiday and welcomes children to trick or treat in the historic house.
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