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.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.
[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?”
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?