THREATENED: Arlington Presbyterian Church

THREATENED: Arlington Presbyterian Church

UPDATE 11/20/13: The Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board will meet on this development project tonight, November 20. Please attend this meeting and advocate for protecting this church and forging a creative solution that includes preservation. The meeting agenda can be found here.

Amidst rampant redevelopment on Columbia Pike sits a tranquil sentinel of an earlier era on the Pike. But if the plans of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) move forward, the peaceful and picturesque Arlington Presbyterian Church will be razed and new housing erected in its place. The center of a tight-knit community for over a century, the church is a reminder of the community’s evolution and a steady community presence through constant change.

LANDMARK: Arlington Presbyterian Church
THREAT: Proposed demolition to build a mixed-use development

Arlington Presbyterian Church Organized by 21 members in 1908, the Arlington Presbyterian Church built its first sanctuary on Columbia Pike in 1910. After the frame church burned in 1924, the congregation made plans to rebuild on a new lot a short distance to the east at Lincoln Street and Columbia Pike. The church hired local Arlington architect A.F. Thelander to draw up plans for a new church built of local stone. Thelander was an accomplished Arlington architect who designed many single family homes and garden apartments in the county, including houses in Country Club Hills (1928-29) and Westover (1938).

The cornerstone for the new church was laid in December 1930, using the same gavel that George Washington used to lay the U.S. Capitol cornerstone in 1793. Completed by contractor William M. Dawson, the building was dedicated April 1931. The building has been enlarged twice–in 1950 and 1961–a reflection of how the community and congregation has grown.

Source: The Washington Post, 17 August 1930, p. M2.
Source: The Washington Post, 17 August 1930, p. M2.

The church, in partnership with APAH, has developed plans to demolish the handsome 1931 building and its additions and completely redevelop the one-acre lot with the following, according to a description on the church’s website: “a 6-story, mixed-use building; including affordable multifamily rental housing units, church and crossroads space for mission and community outreach, a child care center, retail space (ideally a coffeehouse) and structured parking.”

With the laudable goal of supporting both the immigrant community mainly living to the west of the church and the young professionals to the east, the church and APAH aim to fill a urgent need for affordable housing and serving the community. In the process though, they will destroy a tangible link and reminder of how communities are built and how they last but change over time. They and all Arlington residents will lose a fine representation of church architecture and a recognizable landmark on the Pike. The plans have caused dissension even within the congregation, with some members supporting retaining the building that has been part of their lives and others supporting the new development.

Can we challenge ourselves to come up with something more creative than what all the condo developers are building to the east? Can we envision that coffee shop in a preserved section of the old church? Or the childcare center operating under the rafters in the former sanctuary? Or affordable and attractive housing carved out of the school building?

The church sits in one corner of the large parcel, leaving room for new construction to the west. Preservation Arlington urges the congregation and APAH not to squander the opportunity and obliterate a landmark or Arlington and Columbia Pike’s history.Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing

16 thoughts on “THREATENED: Arlington Presbyterian Church

  1. I am so impressed with the thought and organization that went into the writing of this article. I think it reflects the feelings and thoughts of many in the Arlington Presbyterian Church Congregation and community.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  2. there can be no justification for more subsidized housing on the Pike. Our objective should be to build the economy of the Pike with livable places and solid commercial enterprises. So called “affordable” housing is designed to attract low income workers. Not what the neighborhood needs or wants.

  3. This sounds like an excellent, cooperative venture that both improves the ministry capacity of a church in need of renewal and a community in need of affordable housing. Blessings to all those working towards these goals.

  4. Very well written and very reasonable compromise challenge!

    Thank you to Preservation Arlington for taking this public, and for raising the possibility of achieving objectives for both sides of the discussion.

    Buildings like the Presbyterian Church are part of a very desirable heterogeneous mix of structures of varying age, style, and purpose that help to make Arlington interesting and attractive, not just all cookie-cutter condos and run-of-the-mill retail.

    Keep up the good work and good fight, Preservation Arlington.

    Tom Dickinson

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with this…as a nenber for over 40 years who had to leave because I could no longer drive to the church,
    I appreciate this article and still (despite today’s decision by a majority of the congregation to go ahead with the demolition and to work to defeat the historic designation of the bulding — I have some hope that presrevation of at least part of the original building can “happen”.

  6. Thank you Preservation Arlington! I grew up in this church. My siblings and I were each married in this church and I was a member for many many years. My mom still attends. She is very sad at the prospect of the church being torn down. We all are. It is a symbol of peace on the Pike. As things continue to change, the lighted steeple is like a sign to remember peace and community amidst all the chaos of life. I hope the efforts of those who want to preserve the church succeed in their goal.

  7. I’ve heard there is a movement to have this church protected by an historic designation. Does anyone know if this is true and if so, how can one help? While I fully recognize the need for workforce housing in our region, I am tired of Arlington being the jurisdiction that seems to pick up the slack when others fail. We need to maintain some link to historic buildings of our past — either by way of their architecture or their purpose. I fear there is no sacred cow in this town. I wonder if Janopaul would tear down her own church?

    1. The County Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board has this on their agenda for tonight, November 20. It is my understanding that there are 11 criteria to qualify for historic designation and you only need to meet TWO (2) of them. Arlington Presbyterian meets at least THREE (3) criteria. That is just the beginning of the process, meeting the criteria. Other stuff has to fall in place as well.
      Here is the agenda for HALRB:
      For more information on HALRB and how to contact them please see their website:

    2. Stephen,
      Thank you for your positive statement. If you can, come to the meeting this evening. If not that, tell as many people as you can about this, and stay in touch. There will be County Board Meetings.
      I’m hoping we will have more ways to work on the preservation of this beautiful church.

      1. Janie,

        Unfortunately this week has been very busy with Civic Association and Condo Board Association meetings. Can anyone update the group on HALRB’s findings? Next steps?


  8. As an Arlington Resident myself and a woman who highly values preserving beauty and community connections, I’m so proud of the good folks at Arlington Pres for doing this important work for the future of the neighborhood and their own ministries. It is essential for us – and for churches in particular – to be talking about how to use our amazing resources well, and not simply preservation for preservation’s sake. I wholly support this redevelopment. Further, I’m impressed with the long steady process members of the church have gone through to come to this majority vote. Well done, good and faithful servants!

  9. As an Arlington resident and a member of a small DC congregation with its own big, difficult-to-maintain building, I appreciate how tough these decisions can be. Old buildings have huge maintenance costs and often cannot be easily retrofitted for energy efficiency. Not doubt such considerations were included as the congregation weighed repurposing vs. demolition.

    I am sure that the APC congregation is hoping that, in 50 years’ time, people will see their new facility as every bit the landmark on the Pike that the current building is — and maybe more so, because even more people will have engaged with it as a community crossroads.

    I appreciate architectural history, too, so I hope that the design can nod in some significant way to the old building — maybe repurposing some of that beautiful local stone.

  10. As an Arlington resident, and more specifically, a resident of Columbia Pike, I wholeheartedly agree with the redevelopment project that Arlington Presbyterian is undertaking to provide affordable housing in this community. While there is no question that the current church building is beautiful and a part of the history of Arlington County, I believe that the new building will be both beautiful and historic as well, and not simply because of its architecture and its age.

    The new building will be beautiful because it will allow people of varied backgrounds to live and thrive in Arlington, a community that prides itself on being an “inclusive world-class urban community … where people unite to form a … sustainable community in which each person is important,” as excerpted from the Arlington Vision Statement. The new building will be historic, because it will be an example of forward-thinking citizens taking charge of creating affordable housing in a county where such housing is disappearing by the day. The new building will be an example of community members writing their own history by employing their resources to improve their neighborhood.

    Arlington Presbyterian’s project to build affordable housing, along with a welcoming community space, at a crossroads between neighborhoods, lifestyles, generations, and more, is a laudable undertaking and a journey well-worth the challenges along the way.

  11. UPDATE:

    The HALRB approved moving forward with the possible historic designation of Arlington Presbyterian Church. NEXT STEPS: The county preservation staff will prepare an evaluation report with a recommendation and submit it to HALRB. It comes back to the HALRB after the staff report is prepared. If approved, it will move forward to the county board for consideration. Public notice of course will be provided.

    Here’s a link to the county review board’s web page where you can find more information:

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