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
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.
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.