Clarendon Neighborhood Guide
At The Heart of Arlington
IN many facets Clarendon encapsulates the heart of Arlington.
On the one hand, it is geographically dead-set in the center of the North and the South, with its boundaries comprising the intersection between Arlington’s three most major roads: Arlington Boulevard, Washington Boulevard, and Wilson Boulevard. On the other hand, it is Arlington’s beating pulse of activity, with premier shopping, dining and nightlife options attracting by far the most foot traffic and vibrancy within the most densely populated area of Arlington. Additionally, it is situated in the middle of the bustling commercial districts eastwards (Ballston) and westwards (Rosslyn), as well as in between Arlington’s most in-demand residential neighborhoods, Lyon Park (south) and Lyon Village (north).
So not only is Clarendon literally central; it is also Arlington’s center of action and excitement.
Clarendon - Arlington, VA
CREATING ARLINGTON'S CENTERPIECE
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From one time being the prime location in Arlington to later falling into steep decline due to suburban sprawl, to taking on the role as an ethnic enclave for refugees fleeing war and then finally to a recovery into what it has now become, Clarendon has gone through various cycles of identity. This is due in large part to two primary interconnected factors: the time period in which it was first platted, and the broad sweeping progression of technology that has gone on since then.
Clarendon’s geographic outline was first drawn out in 1900 in conjunction with the installation of an electric trolley line, which was just beginning to reach ubiquity as a means of transport. What the trolley did that was so influential was centralize. With the trolley fixed along a track, people, shops, and things became oriented towards it rather than the destination determining the means of getting there, as was so common with what later came from the rise of the automobile.
As such this up and coming technology was so impactful and caught on so greatly that it no doubt helped establish the neighborhood’s boundaries. Clarendon was and forever will be concentrated within just a few roads so to maximize total reach within minimal space. And so what is now a blueprint for the modern urban hybrid town was actually leftover from an infrastructure over a century old – teaching that the integration of the best ideas of the past with the mores of today is the best way to progress.
The more people around the more exciting the area, and thus the greater wealth that gets attracted. But when the automobile came around and phased out the reliance on public transportation, this area, so attuned to the trolley, ended up becoming an afterthought as well.
So from one up swinging identity to a subsequent downturn and then back again, Clarendon has gone through various cycles of identity. But the relative newness of its inauguration was integral in priming itself to flourish into what it is today.
CLARENDON IN THE 80s
As with most parts of Arlington, the economic downturn during the 1960s initiated by suburban sprawl sparked a decades-long transitionary period for Clarendon. What was once a bustling array of old-fashioned villages wound up becoming a neglected castaway. With the money which before kept it alive starting to spread and shift further and further out, the suburban shopping mall soon supplanted street retail.
New communities away from the District – which was then at an all-time high in crime and poverty, and indeed one of the most dangerous cities in the United States – began to gain in prominence. The city had become a deterrent rather than a draw. The freedom of movement from the automobile moreover afforded people the ability to live further away and for cheaper, while still being nearby the primary business and governmental sector. And as the population of the area was far below that which it is today, traffic, the biggest pain of living in the suburbs here now, was a non-issue.
But the cyclical nature of things illustrates that what was once up must fall back down, and what is down is bound to rise once again. As we progress through life and time we move in reaction to our previous steps, with the aim to better our path. And so as DC was forced to get its act together to address its drug and crime problems, so was Arlington, being the closest county to DC, in turn, most impacted and in need of revitalizing.
With the Orange Line metro development center stage, Clarendon in the 1980s started to evolve beyond its past. Public transport, which had once bloomed Clarendon into Arlington’s downtown, was bound to ripen it once more.
A Home for Refugees
During this transitionary period that completely overhauled the character and makeup of Clarendon, did you know that the area was once home to a vibrant refugee community?
From the early 70s onward, a sizeable diaspora of refugees fleeing the Vietnam War relocated to the area. Invigorating the neighborhood in an altogether different way, this newly settled community established grocery stores, restaurants, and shopping, bringing their culture and lifestyle into a geographic landscape that badly needed to be infused with something new.
What is viewed as decline to some can just as easily be seen as an opened-up opportunity for others. We put value on things based on the impact that it will have on us; but a shift in perspective can just as well raise something’s value. With low costs of living and an infrastructure ready to be taken over, the barren lifelessness of post-sprawl Clarendon eventually became a perfect landing spot for a sizeable new community of Vietnamese refugees.
You’ll see much of the remnants of this community concentrated slightly further out at the Eden Center in Falls Church, but back then what is now Whole Foods on Wilson was a busy Vietnamese grocery, and where now resides the Cheesecake Factory had prior been the go-to spot for a mouthwatering bánh mì.
Though present-day Clarendon bears an admittedly little resemblance to its former function as an enclave for Vietnamese residents, it’s safe to say that this previous role helped prime Clarendon to become a highly diverse international locality, with people and restaurants from all over the world thriving together.
It’s always sad to see residents (recent refugees, no less) become pushed away from an area as a result of rising living costs. But the impact that their being there has had cannot be forgotten. You can find Pho 75, the one Vietnamese mainstay that has survived over the years, just a bit further down the Orange Line in between the Rosslyn and Court House metro stations just steps away from the Keri Shull Team offices!
CLARENDON IN 2018
The changes that Clarendon has gone through since the development of the underground metro system cannot be understated. Indeed, there hardly remains any of that which was there before 1980! New buildings prop up every year replacing old buildings, while other relics of the past are getting tastefully revised for new, modern uses. Most iconically, the Clarendon Ballroom was for instance first the run down Woolworth Building before it got tastefully restored back to its original quality. With its unforgettable 1938 art deco decor and brightly illuminated storefront sign, it has attracted admirers around the town like Lyon Hall aiming to latch onto that classic aesthetic.
Nowadays Clarendon is unmistakably known for its bustling nightlife, high-quality array of condos, and populace of highly educated young professionals. With endless options for high-quality shopping, dining, and entertainment, it is without a doubt the go-to destination for Arlington.
As a testament to the youthful, vibrant energy that invariably pulsates through Clarendon, it was one of the very first stops that the Washington Capitals chose to celebrate the Stanley Cup after winning it for the first time in 2018. Fan favorites including TJ Oshie and Tom Wilson’s carried the Cup to the rooftop of Don Tito the day after winning, bringing one of sports’ old and amazing traditions to Arlington.
Being the smallest and most concentrated neighborhood in Arlington, Clarendon is best known for several of its notable nodes. Between an open aired green space, a versatile outdoor shopping center, and a classic bar with unparalleled popularity, here are three key spots to help you find your authentic Clarendon experience.
Rocky Run Park
Perfect for families of all ages! This two-acre community park has at its base a playground, basketball court, multi-purpose field and more. As the primary green space in Clarendon, it is constantly bursting with life. Atop the hill just before the Barton Street Community Gardens, there is also an excellent shaded reading area for those wanting a more laid back park experience.
Clarendon Market Commons
As the designated shopping center of Clarendon, the Market Commons contains all the essential shopping fare you need. Get organic groceries at Whole Foods, home accessories at Crate & Barrel, electronics at the Apple Store, and books & media at Barnes & Noble; and with great restaurants, coffee and ice cream all around, you’ll never need to venture into DC again!
Whitlow's on Wilson
Arguably the bar capital of Clarendon, Whitlow’s on Wilson is a longstanding favorite amongst Arlingtonians. Spacious, buzzing and with regular live events, the bar is so vibrant that Buzzfeed declared it the most popular bar in all of Virginia.
LIVE IN CLARENDON
The great draw about living in Clarendon is that since it is so small everything is very walkable. As the middle point of the Orange Line Corridor, it is truly in the heart of Arlington. With such a high density, condos and apartment compose the bulk of the residential units. Check out some of the high quality condos throughout!
If modern condo living isn’t your style, then don’t hesitate to explore the more residential, single-family neighborhoods of Lyon Park and Lyon Village!