Our occasional series on “five things you don’t know about…” covers all things gardening and DC area related. This month, we explore Fairlington Community Center.
1) No surprise if you feel like a kid when you walk into the stately, brick, colonial revival-style building. Fairlington Community Center started life as Fairlington Elementary School in 1944. Today, as home of Virginia Cooperative Extension service for Arlington County and Alexandria and to Master Gardeners, among other programs, the building still exudes a welcoming spirit of possibilities.
2) The first students at Fairlington School were children of defense workers who swarmed the capital region to help with the World War II effort and moved into the newly built Fairlington garden apartments between 1942 and 1944. Houston architect Kenneth Franzheim created the rental community for 10,000 residents on 340 acres. It was the largest project of the Defense Homes Corporation and the country’s largest apartment complex at the time. The corporation transferred eight acres to the Arlington School Board in 1943 for a school, and a grant from Federal Works Administration paid for its construction.
3) In the 1950s and ‘60s, Halloween was a hoot. One former pupil recalled fondly that at Halloween he and his pals walked home for lunch, put on their costumes and came back for a parade. Other memories of the era were indelibly sad. Another former student never forgot standing outside the school, waiting to hear the fate of Bobby Kennedy who had been shot in Los Angeles in 1968.
4) By the 1970s, prospects for Fairlington School were bleak. The community’s nearly 3,500 apartments went condo between 1972 and 1977, and the school’s population, once robust with 440 pupils, dwindled, along with other county schools. In 1973, Fairlington was operating at 56 percent capacity with 225 students. A group called Save Our Schools fought to keep Fairlington School open as a community center. “Fairlington Has 510 Ways to Keep its School in Use,” The Washington Star reported on Jan. 24, 1979. And so it has.
5) In 1979, Fairlington School closed – and Fairlington Community Center opened. The Fairlington community attained historic status in the late 1990s, with listings on the Virginia Landmarks Register in 1998 and the federal National Register of Historic Places in 1999. In 2007, FCC was renovated to improve energy efficiency and to meet modern needs. Today, visitors enjoy art studios, a gym, fitness room and wifi. Master Gardeners have created a World Food Garden. This year, on Sunday mornings, a new Fairlington Farmers Market sets up in the parking lot.
BONUS: Proving that no item of history is insignificant, the Fairlington Historic Society Archive once reunited a Fairlington Elementary School sweatshirt with its owner.
Want more than five? Check out:
“Managing Underutilized School Facilities Resulting from Declining Pupil Enrollment: A Case Study of Arlington, VA” http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED208482.pdf
You can learn more about architect Kenneth Franzheim from the Texas State Historical Association here.
–Compiled by Marsha Mercer, Certified Master Gardener