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Updated at 6 p.m. Old Town residents and business owners are up in arms for not being officially notified of a route change for the George Washington Birthday Parade on Feb. 20 (President’s Day).

The parade will shut down large sections of Old Town North and Old Town near the King Street-Old Town Metro station, restricting parking and vehicular access for residents and businesses. The parade will start at 1 p.m. at the intersection of Pendleton Street and Fayette Street, and marchers will walk south down Fayette Street, hang a right on King Street and then end at the foot of the George Washington National Masonic Memorial at King Street and Commonwealth Avenue.

The new route was chosen by the volunteer-led the George Washington Birthday Parade Committee to recognize the 100th anniversary of the parade, which is the biggest annual parade celebrating George Washington in the world. The parade is traditionally held east of Washington Street near City Hall in the Old Town Historic District, but this year’s event will commemorate the construction of the Memorial in 1923, which saw then-President Calvin Coolidge, Chief Justice William Howard Taft and Virginia Governor E. L.Trinkle laying the cornerstone.

In November, the Committee submitted a request to the city to change the route. That request was approved on Jan. 24, and two days later parade organizers publicly announced that the parade will happen on Feb. 20, and that a number of side streets will also be closed.

“As with any large-scale event of this magnitude, a months-long process was necessary to assess the best approach,” Ebony Fleming, the city’s director of the Office of Communications and Public Information, told ALXnow. “While we are honored our city is home to such notable celebrations, we recognize how changes, and even temporary road closures, can be an inconvenience to our residents and business owners, especially on a holiday weekend. We will continue promoting the new parade route and ask impacted Alexandrians for their grace and flexibility as we prepare to welcome excited visitors for this historic occasion.”

The parade will be held between 1 and 3 p.m., and parking restrictions and access will be lifted no later than 5 p.m.

“If it’s such a big deal — the 100th anniversary — don’t you want to let people know?” said an Old Town resident who will be affected by the parking. “I haven’t heard anything about this parade at all.”

Parade spokesperson Bud Jackson said that the new route is a one-time experience, and acknowledged the inconvenience for residents and businesses. Jackson said that parade volunteers will soon be going door-to-door to inform those affected about the change.

“Like most parades, the George Washington Birthday Parade has always included portions of residential neighborhoods and inconvenienced some businesses,” Jackson told ALXnow. “We acknowledge that this year’s one-time only parade route change will inconvenience some residents and businesses.”

But many residents and business owners are either unhappy about the late notice or unaware of changes to the route.

“Certainly the organizers knew it was the 100 anniversary of this event for quite some time,” a business owner told ALXnow. “Perhaps even for the last 100 years. Why did the City allow them to change the route well after event permits were submitted and approved? Why were impacted residents and businesses not notified? Would a for profit organization like Pacers be given the same leniency? I don’t think so.”

The parade will also restrict vehicular access to a number of housing complexes, including The Asher (620 N. Fayette Street), The Henry (525 N. Fayette Street), The Prescott (1115 Cameron Street), 1111 Belle Pre Apartments (111 Belle Pre Way), as well as Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority properties.

“I didn’t know about (the new parade route) and none of the residents that I spoke with knew about it either but I haven’t heard any complaints,” said Kevin Harris, president of the ARHA Resident Association.

Another Old Town business owner said they will be losing up to $7,000 in business.

“We already have events and staff scheduled for February,” the business owner said. “Federal holidays are typically huge retail sales days. This will be a $5,000-to-$7,000 hit on our business. This is why notifying impacted businesses is required in the permitting process.”

Parade traffic and parking restrictions

While the parade starts at Pendleton and N. Fayette Streets, all parking on nearby side streets will be cleared by 9 a.m., according to organizers.

  • The bridge at King Street and Commonwealth Avenue will be cleared by 5 a.m.
  • All vehicles parked on the street will be towed between the 100 and 900 blocks of N. Fayette Streets (at the intersection with Braddock Place)
  • All vehicles parked on N. Payne Street will be towed
  • All vehicles parked on N. West Street from the intersection at King Street to Princess Street will be towed
  • All vehicles parked on Queen Street and N. Fayette Street
  • All vehicles parked on Princess Street, starting at the intersection with N. Fayette Street and going down to the intersection with King Street
  • Traffic will be shut down (except for residents) on King Street to Janneys Lane
  • Traffic will be shut down on Callahan Drive (except Amtrak station traffic and buses)
  • Traffic will be shut down on Diagonal Road and portions of Daingerfield Road (except buses and local traffic)
  • Traffic will be shut down on Sunset Street, Russell Road and Cedar Street near the intersection of King Street and Commonwealth Avenue
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Douglass Cemetery has been damaged in recent flooding, photo courtesy Michael Johnson

There are nearly 200 years worth of stories buried at 1421 Wilkes Street.

The site started being used as a burial place for Black Alexandrians in 1827, but was officially established as the Douglass Memorial Cemetery in 1895. The last burial was in 1975.

Now, the Office of Historic Alexandria is hoping for funding to help tell the stories of the dead in the cemetery and their families.

The city is seeking $20,000 in grant funding from Virginia Humanities to support oral history documentation.

“The Office of Historic Alexandria is initiating a project to research and preserve the history of Douglass Cemetery,” said a memo from Gretchen Bulova, director of the Office of Historic Alexandria. “A large component of this project is to facilitate oral history interviews with descendants of family members interred in the cemetery.”

The project will include training Howard University students as interviewers to assist with the oral history collection and create a documentary.

The cemetery has been through the wringer in recent years, plagued by floods that have washed away headstones and faced years of disrepair. In recent years, the city has started taking steps to better preserve the cemetery and prevent flooding problems at the site.

The grant for the oral history program is scheduled for review at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

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A group of Black Alexandrians at Jones Point in 1897 (image via Alexandria Black History Museum)

A new trail is launching in Alexandria next month that highlights Black history across southern Old Town.

The new South Trail Route is an extension of the African American Waterfront Heritage Trails’ North Trail Route that launched in 2021. Together, both trails run from Montgomery Street to the southern tip of Jones Point Park.

The South Trail Route weaves along the waterfront and tells a range of stories from Black history in Alexandria, from a neighborhood named “Hayti” in honor of the island’s revolution to historic churches around town.

There are 19 stops along the South Trail route. There are 11 stops on the North Trail route.

The Office of Historic Alexandria and the African American Heritage Trail Committee are hosting an open house in the Lyceum (201 S. Washington Street) early next month. The event will bring pieces of the stops across the trail to the Lyceum.

The open house is scheduled for 10 a.m.-noon on Saturday, Feb. 4. The event is free, but registration is requested

“Each stop highlights the importance of Black history in Alexandria, what archaeological and historical research and reveal about the past, and the impacts of community history initiatives like this one,” the event’s website said. “Prominent and lesser known stories of African American people, places, and neighborhoods from the time of Alexandria’s founding through the 20th century will be featured.”

Trail information is available online or through the StoryMap app.

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Forrest Street, named for Nathan Bedford Forrest (via Google Maps)

At a City Council meeting last night (Tuesday), Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson unveiled the next stage of plans to ramp up the renaming of streets that honor Confederate leaders, the Washington Post first reported.

While the city has renamed the Alexandria portion of Jefferson Davis Highway and removed the Appomattox statue, streets honoring Confederate leaders like the “Gray Ghost” John Singleton Mosby or Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest still exist around the city.

Discussions to rename more streets began last October, but there’s a much longer history of Civil War names on streets dividing Alexandria. As of 2018, about 60 streets potentially were named for Confederate leaders, but in some cases — such  as Lee Street — the historical record is unclear about a street’s namesake.

The mayor said his new plans stem from the conversation that kicked off last fall.

“Last year, I talked on the dais about a process and a deliberate schedule to identify street names in our city that really were designed as a permanent protest against the civil rights movement and growing political power for African Americans in our city,” Wilson said. “Those places and those honors have no place in our city.”

Wilson said his plan is for two committees to work in tandem to find both streets to rename and suitable names to replace them.

Historic Alexandria Resources Commission would develop a list of people, events and locations that deserve honors, with a focus on women and minorities — people traditionally underrepresented in city honors. The City Council Naming Committee, meanwhile, would identify which streets should be prioritized for renaming.

Wilson said the city should aim to rename three streets each year, which would “keep us busy for quite a while” but would also give city leadership space to determine if that’s too ambitious or not ambitious enough.

The proposal found widespread support on the City Council, where others said they had first-hand experience with how difficult the legacy of Confederate honors can be to escape.

“As someone who bought a home in Alexandria just a few years ago on the West End, it was very startling how many houses we looked at were on streets with names I would have a hard time living on,” said City Council member Kirk McPike. “We thought we dodged that, but as it turns out our current street is named after a Confederate naval vessel.”

The memo is set for review as part of the city’s budget process. City Manager James Parajon is scheduled to present a draft of the budget to the City Council on Feb. 28, followed by a period of meetings and discussions that culminate with a vote on the budget in May.

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Actor Leon Preston Robinson (via Facebook)

Black resistance is the theme of the upcoming Virginia Black History Month Gala in Alexandria.

Actor, singer and producer “Leon” Robinson will be the keynote speaker for the annual event, which will be held at the Hilton Mark Center (5000 Seminary Road) on Friday, February 24, and Saturday, February 25. Robinson performed roles in “The Temptations,” “The Five Heartbeats,” “Cool Runnings,” “Above the Rim,” and as Little Richard in the 2000 film “Little Richard.”

The gala will also honor civil rights pioneer Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin, who successfully sued the Warren County Board of Education to attend Warren County High School in the 1950s.

“African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms, and police killings since our arrival upon these shores,” said the Virginia Black History Month Association, which is hosting the event. “These efforts have been to advocate for a dignified self-determined life in a just democratic society in the United States and beyond the United States political jurisdiction.”

Tickets to attend the two day event cost $45 to attend virtually, $95 for general admission and $160 for adult VIPs.

The schedule for the event is below.

  • Black Health Health Fair — Friday, Feb. 24, at 4 p.m.
  • Relationship Seminar — Friday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m.
  • Black Vendor Showcase — Saturday, Feb. 25, at 5 p.m.
  • The VIP Social with Keynote — Saturday, Feb. 25, at 5 p.m.
  • The Virginia Black History Month Gala — Saturday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m.
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Exterior piping at 319 North Alfred Street (image via City of Alexandria)

(Updated 12/23) Alexandria home owner Harold White paid a local contractor to install an extensive HVAC system to a historic home (319 North Alfred Street), and after a Board of Architectural Review (BAR) decision last night it seems likely he’ll have to pay to have it taken out again.

BAR members said the case serves as an unfortunate reminder to building owners in a historic district: always get city approval before making exterior modifications.

At issue is the exterior piping along the north facing side of the building. White said after stormwater issues destroyed the building’s boiler, White had the HVAC system installed by a local contractor, who added the piping to the exterior of the building.

The issue is: 319 North Alfred Street is in the Parker-Gray District, which means any exterior modification has to get BAR approval first. Now, White is hoping to sell the home, but told the BAR one of the conditions of the sale was that the violation be resolved.

“We had a sewer back flow in July that destroyed everything in basement in 2019, including boiler system,” White told the BAR. “In October, I had a one year old kid, and we needed a more permanent fix [than space heaters]… We were never presented with any other alternative [by the contractor], we were just told this was how it needed to be done.”

It’s a situation that the BAR admitted was a difficult one for the homeowner, even as they stood firmly with the staff recommendation that an application after-the-fact to approve the exterior pipework be denied.

The BAR members unanimously agreed with the staff recommendation, though they expressed sympathy for White’s unfortunate situation.

“I do not have a predisposition against an after the fact approval if it was a good faith mistake,” said BAR member Andrew Scott. “The problem that I have right now is not an after the fact application, the problem is the nature of the work that was done and how it affects the facade of the building… I’m not mad, but I do have pretty serious concerns about this.”

Others said the exterior modification was a violation of city policy.

“I can understand your conundrum,” BAR member Margaret Miller said. “That said, it has always been the board policy to conceal mechanical systems… This is very visible from the public right of way, it’s not like it’s not visible.”

The other members of the BAR agreed and said the modification doesn’t meet city standards.

Realtor Delaine Campbell suggested adding a modification to the exterior to cover the piping, like a green wall. BAR members were skeptical, but granted a deferral to give White a chance to come back to the city with an alternative proposal.

According to Scott:

I know these things are expensive, and it’s a really crappy situation. I feel it and I take no joy in supporting this staff recommendation, but I think for the city and these guidelines, it’s the correct approach. Not for you but for everyone else, it’s an important lesson in coming to the Board before you do the work, because we could have suggested referral or a redesign. I do want you to know: I feel very badly for you, but I just don’t see how we could approve this type of alteration, especially after the fact.

After the meeting, White said the result left him feeling deflated.

“The meeting last night was very deflating at the very least,” White said in an email. “Knowing that our options are to either bear the expense of moving the piping inside the house or come back with options, I think based on the timing requirements for BAR, this will likely lead to our sales contract being terminated.”

White said the next steps are to explore a lawsuit against the contractor or seek permission to install some sort of trellis on the property.

“It’s very unfortunate that the Board would rather see us remove this unobtrusive installation and forcibly create a moisture issue inside the building (at significant cost) if we want any sort of timely resolution,” White said. “When we had the work done, I hired a well known city-based contractor to ensure things were done correctly because I was trying to ensure the safety and comfort of my family… none of that mattered to the BAR. We acted in good faith the whole time and still it didn’t matter.”

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Freedom House Museum, staff photo by Vernon Miles

A grant from the National Park Service (NPS) will help close the funding gap needed to restore Alexandria’s new Freedom House Museum.

Once a major hub for the slave trade, 1315 Duke Street reopened in May as a museum dedicated to telling the stories of those trafficked through the building. While the exhibits are open to the public, there is still significant work needed to be done to preserve the building.

The Save America’s Treasures grant from the NPS, awarded back in September, will help cover those costs.

“The $500,000 grant will be used to support the exterior restoration of the museum building, which was once the Alexandria Slave Pen, and the offices of several slave traders, including the notorious slave-trading firm, Franklin and Armfield,” the Office of Historic Alexandria said in a newsletter. “The overall preservation plan for the building includes re-pointing; repairing or replacing windows, doors, woodwork, and wood siding; improving the gutter and downspout system, and waterproofing the foundation.”

Exhibits in the museum include personal narratives, like a man freed from slavery in Texas who walked back to Alexandria, and archeological evidence such as items recovered from the yard behind the building.

The Office of Historic Alexandria said the grant will help preserve the building against weathering.

“These steps will seal the building envelope, correcting and preventing further degradation,” the newsletter said. “This work is prioritized based on a Historical Structure Report (HSR) conducted by SmithGroup in 2021 for Historic Alexandria.”

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Exterior piping at 319 North Alfred Street (image via City of Alexandria)

If you live in a historic district, always remember to get approval from the city before making a modification to your house.

One local at 319 North Alfred Street, within the boundaries of the Parker-Gray District, could be forced to remove HVAC piping (item 7) outside of the building after it was installed without the approval of the Board of Architectural Review (BAR).

Most smaller issues that go to the BAR tend to be rather mundane and generally approved with little debate, but the ones where the staff report recommends denial set up a conflict between local residents and Alexandria’s influential BAR.

“The applicant has installed HVAC piping on the exterior of the north wall of the structure extending from the rooftop mounted mechanical unit to four separate locations,” the staff report said. “The piping is located within a paintable plastic enclosure and serves split system units at the interior of the structure. The installation was completed without the required BAR approvals.”

The building on North Alfred Street was constructed in 1928 by the B.B. Ezrine Construction Company, whose eponymous founder was ironically one of the founding members of the Zoning and Planning Commission that preceded the BAR.

“The two-and-a-half story Wardman-style townhouse is highly unusual in Alexandria in that it originally had Craftsman style architectural detailing,” the city report said, “rather than the more traditional Colonial Revival style often seen in Alexandria and Washington DC.”

It has an alleyway and parking lot to the north, leaving the site of the building covered with the new HVAC piping visible to the public. City staff first became aware of the piping after receiving a complaint earlier this year. While a rooftop unit was approved for the site, the exterior piping was not included in that application.

The building is for sale, according to the report, and the report said staff is working to resolve the violations before the building is passed along to a new owner — who would inherit a property with an outstanding zoning violation.

“The applicant is requesting after-the-fact approval for the installation of HVAC piping on the surface of the north wall of the existing structure,” the report said. “The piping is located within a paintable plastic enclosure and extends from the rooftop-mounted mechanical condenser to four separate locations on the north wall. At each of these locations, the piping penetrates the exterior wall leading to an indoor unit.”

The report said the piping “detracts from the historic character” of the building.

Staff finds that the HVAC piping that has been installed at the exterior of the north wall at 319 North Alfred Street detracts from the historic character of this unique building The organization of the piping is based on the location of the unit on the roof and the location of the interior units and not on the composition of the overall elevation. While the painting of the piping to match the adjacent wall helps to limit their initial visibility, they remain a clearly modern element that has been introduced without consideration for the design of the elevation

The applicant has filed an application for after-the-fact approval of the piping, but the report recommends the BAR deny this request. The piping-hot controversy is scheduled for review at BAR meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 21.

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Freedom House Museum (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

Within what was once a major hub for the trafficking of enslaved people, the building reopened as the new Freedom House Museum earlier this year. Now, the City of Alexandria is opening up next steps for the property to public discussion.

The Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA) is working on a master plan for the site, weighing options for everything from a name change and exhibit specifications to a discussion of the museum’s overall mission.

A survey about the site is available online and closes on Jan. 13.

“The Office of Historic Alexandria is engaging with the community to create the Master Plan for the Freedom House Museum at 1315 Duke Street.” OHA said in a release. “This site is what remains of a large complex devoted to trafficking thousands of Black men, women, and children from 1828-1861.”

The OHA started working with the Urban League of Northern Virginia in 2018 and the city purchased the building in 2020. It reopened in May with three floors of temporary exhibits and a new focus on telling the stories of Black people brought through the building rather than the stories of the white slavers.

The OHA said it will host a series of public meetings to engage in dialogue about the site’s future.

“The Master Plan will provide a road map for the future use, interpretation, and preservation of the site,” the OHA said. “Through a series of public meetings, we hope to engage in a dialogue about the site’s mission, potential name change, interpretive focus, and role in the community. The intent is to have the stories told at 1315 Duke Street complement those told at the Alexandria Black History Museum and across historic sites in Alexandra.”

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The Inova At Landmark campus conceptual design (via Inova)

(Updated 12/8) A street near the planned Inova hospital anchoring the Landmark redevelopment could celebrate a woman who founded one of the city’s first hospitals.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously at a meeting last night approve of renaming Healthway Place to Julia Johns Place.

While Alexandria hosted 30 military hospitals during the Civil War, by the 1870s there was no central location to treat patients or enforce a quarantine, a nonprofit called Alexandria Celebrates Women wrote in the Alexandria Times. When a sailor arrived at Alexandria with a case of typhoid fever, fear of an outbreak prompted a local woman named Julia Johns to assemble a group of women to create a hospital for the city.

A charter was approved in 1872 and Johns leased a townhouse at the corner of Duke and South Fairfax streets. The hospital opened in 1873. The Alexandria Times story noted that the first surgery, the amputation of a railroad employee’s crushed leg, was performed on Christmas in 1882.

The hospital would grow to include the first nursing school in the area as well as the first outpatient treatment in the state. The Alexandria Infirmary was renamed the Alexandria Hospital in 1902 and later incorporated into INOVA Health System.

Johns died in 1883 and is buried at the Virginia Theological Seminary, not far from the current hospital. The original infirmary site was demolished in 1953; replaced with a small parking lot.

Planning Commission chair Nathan Macek said the name change had some behind-the-scenes prompting by city leadership.

“Part of this is based on some behind-the-scenes discussions I’ve been having over the last few days,” Macek said. “I think this is a much better fitting name, especially given the prominence of the institution — the hospital that will be on the street.”

Macek said the renamed street would also be one of the few in the city named in honor of a woman.

“I think it’s an opportunity to honor someone who had a founding role in the institution as well as a significant figure in Alexandria’s history and a woman,” Macek said. “We don’t have many streets named after women, so I think it’s fitting for a number of reasons.”

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