|Green Spring Gardens - the home, the plants, the legend. [Photos by James Albright]|
Annandale gets no respect. Most of this lack of respect comes from, as far as I can tell, disgruntled Annandalians; our PR impact is almost infinitely small in the Interwebs. As a matter of TV principle, Annandale escapes almost any national attention except when TV shows set in Northern Virginia have scenes that “take place” in one of our residential neighborhoods, with the mountains of British Columbia prominently in the background.
For all its lack of presence, Annandale does get its own residents riled up and breathing fire. What gives? Why so sore?
|Randomly selected restaurant which turns out to have been a delicious stop.|
True confession: I don’t know if I live in Annandale. Like any good, self-respecting amoeba, Annandale has fluid boundaries. As a child, when I lived briefly on the far side of town – over there on the ritzy side, you know who you are – Annandale was an amorphous beast of a retail district whose very name tarnished the reputation of householders closer to Fairfax.
There is a post office that serves a large zip code – 22003 – but Annandale seems to expand and contract with whoever is describing it. Its heart is the intersection of Route 236 (see my earlier essay) and Columbia Pike; on the map, it radiates with spokes about a mile in any direction. Going east toward Alexandria it bumps into Lincolnia, a similar no-place. In that fluid boundary area, I find my home for the last third of a century. I can claim as my town Alexandria (my post office), Lincolnia (also my post office), or Annandale, the gravitational core of the region. Now as an adult (but barely) I have a better understanding of some of the unstated positive truths about my hometown.
|The moon rising over the verdant pastures and pathways of the eastern end of Annandale.|
Grievances about Annandale are many but diffuse. People, of course, complain. Herewith a list:
- Too many Korean restaurants, not enough “Western” restaurants.
- Can’t read the store signs because they are in some other language.
- Disorganized street pattern, not enough paving.
- I miss that old store that used to be there.
- Too many immigrants that don’t look like me.
- Not taken care of as much as I would like it to be.
- Taxes too high, not enough services.
- Looks like the South Bronx – Should be more like Tysons, Alexandria, Mosaic, the Wharf, central London.
- Schools are different from when I went to school.
- Zoning violations are not enforced, zoning rules are too strict.
This list of a veritable Festivus of concerns can be culled from NextDoor, Facebook, Twitter, and our own inimitable news source, the Annandale Blog. There is, of course, a theme in all of this, a sense that what was here is now gone and I sure don’t like it. Also, immigrants = bad. There are a stalwart few that push back on social media – our heroes – but all of us have day jobs, too. (well, I don’t, thus my blog).
|Lots of these mid-century buildings give Annandale some class.|
I happen to love Annandale – all of it – and sometimes I wish I could sit these curmudgeonly types down and go point by point through their curmudgeon and show them that, rather than misery, they are living in a unique, special, and kind of fabulous place. Since I can’t do that, let me share my list of fabulosity with you.
(1) Annandale represents an old, blue-collar suburb that transitioned from mostly White to a melange of communities – but still retains that same blue-collar panache missing in most of Fairfax. People here have always done the hard work – and they still do! Ride a bus, swing through the 7-11, just busy people of all cultures heading off to their day jobs.
Related story: They built the road they would be forced to walk: a brief history of Little River Turnpike
(2) Annandale’s downtown, “Koreatown” to many, has an inordinate amount of Korean restaurants. This conglomeration is known throughout the region and even way over there in Korea. What do we get for this influx? Virtually every storefront or retail spot has been renovated over the last 30 years – these owners are some of the hardest working folks you can know. I cannot think of more than one or two buildings that have not been rebuilt, filled with new businesses, and then managed to capacity. What more can you want from a business district? Have you been to downtown McLean or Springfield?
And the food. The food! Annandale has an exquisite supply of barbeque, seafood, tofu, grills, buffets, fine-dining, and workaday dining places – almost all of them worth visiting a time or two. If I were to do a blog about differing Korean restaurants, I would be at it for 100 weeks or so. This list does not include the Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Arab, Indian, Peruvian, Salvadoran, and yes, even American restaurants in the mix. There are restaurants here that are internationally known. And we have the gall to complain that they fixed up their buildings.
(3) Annandale is a small-town place with a small-town feel. This is an advantage, folks, in an increasingly big-town kind of city. There are no Metrorail stops, no super mega-blocks of mixed-use, no eight-lane roadways, no drive-through Wegmans. Annandale is not that. All of those things can be found about 10 minutes outside of our core area – a world-class hospital, the capital of the nation, multiple international airports, high-end cultural establishments. But we get to have all of those and not lose our sense of place.
Small retail buildings, restaurants squeezed in among a bewildering array of banks and grocery stores, confusing parking lots – all of this means we are not stuck with the American sameness found everywhere else. Who needs ’em? There is charm in being unique, being complicated, being different. Annandale has that charm in bucketfuls.
(4) Annandale is the home to an amazing mix of people and home types. There are multimillion-dollar homes squirreled away in Annandale, and neighborhoods as inexpensive as any in Northern Virginia. We are home to cabinet members, electricians, famous generals, Washington’s bureaucratic class, chefs, university professors, custodians, schoolteachers, members of the NSO, artists, businesspeople, nail technicians, politicians, veterans, and among them immigrants from every corner of the world. Except for the complainers, Annandale is amazingly receptive.
My wife and I purchased our home here years ago specifically because it was a diverse community. Our schools are fascinating laboratories of creativity and ingenuity, cultural heritages that span our globe, and the young, truly American leaders of tomorrow. Is Annandale always as tidy as a Hilton Head retirement community? Nope. But the endless sameness of the American residential landscape is deadening, and I am glad we don’t have it here.
(5) Annandale is a bit hidden here, side-lined by the roaring growth that characterizes the rest of the Northern Virginia region. But let’s follow the logic. Other areas of the county and region throw up huge buildings, tear down neighborhoods for large retail developments – in essence, exchange character for growth. Here in Annandale our overwhelmingly residential and small-retail community benefits from all that growth – but we get to live how we were before!
County tax coffers are funded by growth and we get the benefits without forsaking our community. Sure, we would always love to see more in the way of goodies for the area, but that is a function of geography and history. Our roads are the oldest in the county, our parks are hemmed in by our earliest developments. We are a small place with a creaky infrastructure. But have you seen how western Fairfax looks these days? Cold, sterile, open, built up…I rush back to Annandale every time I drive through there. Our quirkyness brings distinct advantages.
|Sal’s in the heart of the business district.|
(6) Finally, take advantage of the place we have now, not wait for it to become something else. Go to our own traditional teahouse (Soricha) and catch a performance. Visit one of our several Buddhist temples and chat with a monk. Take lunch at the Block, our little Asian street market, drop in for coffee and cakes at the three bakeries, dine at a different restaurant every night for a month and never eat the same thing twice. Parking is free, everything is close, and everyone, except the complainers, is friendly and cheerful. Rock on, Annandale…we got. your back!
[There is one more thing that makes Annandale special, but you’ll have to read James Albright’s original article to find out what it is.]