An exploration of things to do in Arlington

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Is Lee Gardens Shopping Center Worth Preserving?

From the Arlington Connection comes news that the County Board has approved a redevelopment plan for a site at the corner of Route 50 and Pershing Drive:
The new development will be a mixed-use building that will feature residences, office space and stores. More than 180 apartments will be on the site, with 18 of them being sold at below-market, affordable rates. It will also feature more than 33,000 square feet of retail and office space.

[M]any historical preservation activists opposed the project. The Lee Gardens Shopping Center, they said, is a historic building that shouldn’t be renovated.

“It’s a remarkable and wonderful design,” said Robert Dudka, chair of the County’s Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board. “If we don’t preserve the recent past what will we be doing in the future?”

I used to live right behind the Lee Gardens Shopping Center in Sheffield Court apartments. I only went to Lee Gardens a few times, to get pizza at Armand's, for an emergency grocery item at the market, or for karaoke at the Royal Lee.

Really, there wasn't much reason to. "Remarkable and wonderful" are the last words I would use to describe Lee Gardens. There's no foot traffic in that area and the Lee Garden stores that remain open look like they're barely scraping by.

I'll miss the Royal Lee if it can't find a new home. Especially after the closing of Whitey's and Dr. Dremo's, it's one of Arlington's few remaining neighborhood dives. But is that enough reason to oppose redevelopment that could revitalize that area? Definitely not.

So why would anyone fight to keep Lee Gardens the way it is? The Recent Past Preservation Network details the history and architecture of Lee Gardens, but the case for preservation seems thinner than Armand's pepperoni slices. The architect who designed the building "was involved in about 900 other projects" and I can't imagine this strip mall would rank among his top achievements.

I'm not saying this redevelopment plan is the perfect one. But if historic preservation advocates would argue Lee Gardens deserves protection, is there any site at which they wouldn't fight redevelopment?

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6 Comments:

Blogger Daniel said...

It is a strip mall...... Some things are not meant to be preserved....

9:33 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not a strip mall. It's a park and shop similar to the park and shop preserved, restored and center of Cleveland Park's revival in the 1980s. Lee Gardens is rare in that it hasn't been altered for over 60 years. You can have preservation and development, too. Preservation gets you a unique image and identity that separates you from the rest of the crap built today.

7:12 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It certainly is not a strip mall. No, it is not flashy or elaborate in design but as an architectural structure, it is surprisingly unique and does have a history that few are aware of. As pointed out, it is one of the earliest examples of a shopping area specifically designed to serve the residents of the then new Lee Gardens. Lee Gardens are among the earliest garden apartments constructed in the entire U.S. and were considered to be groundbreaking in terms of being attractive, affordable housing within a community where demand for housing was high after W.W. II.

8:15 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

whatever they do, improving the traffic flow would be a good thing. any time anyone leaves or enters the parking lot it causes a backup.

i dont see this space as being something that needs protection against demolition. perhaps its not the fault of the merchants, but if it was significant i think it would have been maintained better.

12:24 AM

 
Blogger SMART1967 said...

Lee Shopping Center has huge sentinmental value for me. Fifty years ago, my grandfather used to take me to the Royal Lee for a burger. He also took me to Drug Fair - anyone remember Drug Fair's soda bar? Incredible burger memories from both the Royal Lee and Drug Fair. Safeway was right next store. My grandfather shopped at both Lee Supermarket and Safeway. I lived at Washington & Lee Apartments, which is where I was brought home as a newborn. I remember Sheffield Court when it was Lee Gardens. Eager to chat with anyone who remember's old time Arlington along Pershing Drive. Remember the Esso/Exxon station?

9:57 PM

 
Blogger SMART1967 said...

Lee Shopping Center has huge sentinmental value for me. Fifty years ago, my grandfather used to take me to the Royal Lee for a burger. He also took me to Drug Fair - anyone remember Drug Fair's soda bar? Incredible burger memories from both the Royal Lee and Drug Fair. Safeway was right next store. My grandfather shopped at both Lee Supermarket and Safeway. I lived at Washington & Lee Apartments, which is where I was brought home as a newborn. I remember Sheffield Court when it was Lee Gardens. Eager to chat with anyone who remember's old time Arlington along Pershing Drive. Remember the Esso/Exxon station?

9:57 PM

 

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