Sunday, March 18, 2007

History of Buckingham Village -- Part I, The Beginning

Buckingham Village's origins lie in the United States' greatest national crisis, the Great Depression. Its purpose and the ideals behind it embodied the vision of Depression-era liberal political leaders to restore the economic space of ordinary people in America.

In about 1936, Paramount Communities, Inc. purchased much of the land surrounding between North Carlin Springs Road, North Glebe Road, and Lee Boulevard (now Arlington Boulevard). The FHA, created three years earlier to deal with the housing crisis for working people in the Great Depression, financed much of the Buckingham Community's development. Buckingham Community Civic Association Neighborhood Conservation Plan, October 2006 ("NCP") 26. In December 1936, Paramount began construction of garden apartments on this property by its subsidiary, Buckingham Community, Inc. The Buckingham Community's first units opened in 1937. By 1941, and the United States’ entry into the Second World War, the project was largely completed. NCP 26.

Buckingham was then one of the largest garden apartment complexes in the nation. NCP 26. The complex proved a faithful fulfillment of New Deal principles, and the idea that a quality living environment could be in reach of all families. As Eleanor Roosevelt said after her visit to Buckingham Village in 1937, “It is a delightful development.... well planned .... gives one a feeling that there is a possibility of doing many things on a community basis that would make life easier for the individual family." NCP 27.

Of course, a socialist utopia did not immediately ensue. Buckingham’s charms were sufficient to draw relatively many wealthy tenants, rather than lower income families. The families who moved in quickly found certain shortcomings of conditions and value. For example, in 1938, the Buckingham Village incinerator’s smoke and odors drove tenants to protest this nuisance. In 1941, tenants struck to protest the multiple recent rent increases. NCP 27.

By 1942, with the Buckingham Community having been largely completed, North George Mason Drive extended from Arlington Boulevard past North Pershing Drive to North Henderson Road at the west end of the new development, ending at Arlington County’s Kate Waller Barrett School. In 1953, the last units of the 1200-unit Buckingham garden apartment complex were completed, ending a twelve year war time and post-war hiatus during which no new Buckingham Community buildings had opened. NCP 28.

Through the 50s and 60s, Buckingham continued to develop as a vital community for young families and working people in the DC area. From this time until the present, its fortunes rose and fell with those of the nation's economic and social changes. Buckingham's development through this period will be discussed in this history's next entry.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Buckingham Village

When we pulled into the North George Mason Drive cul de sac on that fall day, I knew I was in the right place. The paths and grassy yard were coated with wet and still golden oak leaves, the air held a lovely chill. After two days in our Chevette traveling from Houston, I knew, at 11, that this was the real beginning for me. I might seem easily impressed, but, for one, I don't think I had seen fall leaves before. And my wonder did not soon cease.

Obviously, Buckingham was not then or now some kind of utopia. There was a bit of filth in the corners, the playgrounds were not kept up, and some people made some money way off on the side. Our next door neighbors at one point had an seriously unusual amount of visitors, before they were evicted. But this was and is a community of families. People who drove taxis, did construction, bussed tables, and their children, living a dream in a unique place. People from East Africa, South Asia, Latin American, everywhere, lived in the community.

The years have erased any doubt that this was in fact a real beginning. I'm certain that without the opportunity to live in a safe, affordable and human environment, and the chance to go to Arlington Country public schools that went with it, I wouldn't have the luxury of this vantage to look back on it. Moving to Buckingham Village gave me the ability to go eventually to the fantastic W-L High School, and then to U.Va with a scholarship. For people like my mom and I, there was no similar opportunity in this area. I am proud to see how Arlington has grown in wealth and status, but I cringe to think this same chance is passing away for working class kids to station more BMW battalions in our borders.

This opportunity is exactly what Presdent Franklin D. Roosevelt's Committee for Economic Recovery had in mind for our predecessors when Buckingham Village was built almost 70 years ago. It was built to provide affordable housing for families, especially those pouring into the Washington area to support the war effort. It was a moment in history when Americans realized that the market, left to its own devices, ground too many people to dust. It was the time that developed the concept of workers' rights, a minimum wage, welfare and unions. Its fitting in the worst way that Buckingham is whittled away to nothing as its era's other achievements are also discarded in pursuit of progress. Its helpful that Bloggers and activists like the Buckingham Herald Tribblog are trying to support the community and keep the county true to values other than property values.

Way back in the early nineties, my mom, Sheila Charles, worked on the Buckingham Village Tenant's Association to help make the community a better place to live. Doris Everhart was the president of the association and she worked tirelessly to get as much of the property as possible the protection of historical property status. This past Christmas I took my visiting mom to see the bare swatch of land at George Mason and Henderson Dr. and that, sadly, some of that work was in vain. But I think that their concern was prescient, and their work ultimately valuable. I've asked my mom to unbox some some of the records and documents she has kept about the Tenants' Association's work to help preserve Buckingham. I will be sharing some of that information in a later post.

Friday, January 26, 2007

First Entry

In this space those of you will find love letters to Arlington, VA, my home now and again for 21 years, which has been a constant source of pride. As a small part of my debt, I plan to let others know how much there is here to love. There will be short historical pieces, commentary on the current, and reflections. There are many great blogs and communities supporting Arlington. This blog will help fulfill an ambition to join a voice and some action with people trying to keep the community progressive, diverse and successful.

I would like to thank Steve Thurston for offering to pull me into the community and for his work on his blog about Buckingham Village. Sparked in part by Steve's work, The first major piece to feature here will cover Buckingham Village, from a historic and personal perspective. The first installation on this subject will appear soon.