Crystal City Makes a Unique Home for the Apartment Renter

Crystal City

Cellar dweller: With a network of offices and retailers located below the street, Crystal City is a veritable underground city. It’s possible for residents to travel to and from work — with shopping and dining in between — without ever stepping outside. (Google)

How many neighborhoods have names that remind you of some groupie that Bret Michaels might have had his arm around circa ’86 on the Sunset Strip? Big hair, pancake makeup, high heels … wait, which one am I talking about? All apologies to the truly sweet, nice Crystals out there … but you gotta admit that I’m on to something. The funny thing about reality is that it can be pretty ironic, too. Culturally, the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Va., does its best to live up to the polar opposite image presented by the L.A. music scene of the 1980s. Preppies, hipsters, solidly middle-class and upper middle-class families, and college educated, probable Greenpeace activist types don’t remind me of what you’d see backstage at the Whiskey a Go Go some 25 years ago. [ Related: Arlington: The Self-Styled Hipster Capital of the Metro Area ] For good or ill, this entry has little to do with Marshall stacks, stacked hair or promiscuous women with hearts of gold. Today, we’ll be talking about the Crystal City neighborhood in Arlington. You know, Crystal City and other Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland outliers really owe the capital quite a debt. Not only for the obvious: no Washington, D.C., no suburbs. But also for the 1910 Building Height Act, which, according to this 1994 article from The Washington Post, prohibits any building being higher than “the width of the right-of-way of the street or avenue on which a building fronts, plus 20 feet.” Further, this law piggybacked a similar measure 11 years earlier that said buildings in the capital “could be no higher than the Capitol Building or other significant government edifices.” This means that Crystal City and the rest of the metropolitan suburbs can go up a bit higher. (But not as high as some would like, as the Federal Aviation Administration reportedly has a height restriction on buildings near the flight path of Reagan National Airport. You can’t win.) Again, where’s all this discursive yuckity-yuck leading us? It’s leading you, the apartment hunter, to the great neighborhood of Crystal City. What’s so great about it, you rightly ask? For one thing, being just across the river from the big city, it has two great transportation options. First, there’s the Crystal City station on the Metro’s Blue/Yellow Line, and the station just to the north, Pentagon City, also on the Blue/Yellow Line. The second (or third) way to get to the capital by rail is by riding the Virginia Railway Express, which has a stop in Crystal City as well. And most of you reading this know you can take the VRE the other way too, all the way to Fredericksburg, Va. Crystal City is the brainchild of Robert Smith. No, not that Robert Smith (if that doofus created a neighborhood, it would be called Mopey City). This Robert Smith, the recently departed one. As a young man working for his father in the early ‘60s, Smith had the idea to develop this swath of Arlington land that was a bit rundown. With it being across the river from the capital city, near both the Pentagon and what was then plain old Washington National Airport (at that time, Ronald Reagan was a couple years away from a gubernatorial victory in California), he saw the potential. With a keen eye for marketing or symbolism, Smith placed a crystal chandelier in the lobby of the first apartment building he built there, which he named Crystal House. That set off a run of buildings, each developed in the area by the family business, that were named Crystal something or other, and the rest is history. Today, the folks at the Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID) claim that the neighborhood is Arlington’s largest downtown. The site also claims “Crystal City is ACTIVE, ARTFUL, ACCESSIBLE, and GREEN.” (Those are their caps, not mine.) We’ll take their word for it. Not only that, but BID initiated Crystal Green, a program focused on minimizing the environmental impact of the neighborhood’s businesses and residences by a variety of measures. Plus, this whole patch of land is very bike friendly. In fact, they seem to make fitness a way of life around these parts. [ Related: Crystal City: Get On Your Bikes and Ride! ] What’s more, Crystal City is a neighborhood filled with restaurants (Morton’s The Steakhouse, Neramitra Thai), coffee bars/eateries (Starbucks, Così, Dickey’s Frozen Custard), apparel shops (Dressbarn, Kelly’s Menswear) … OK, I’m getting tired of hearing my inner voice expounding the pleasures of this great place. Just come on over, check it out and stay awhile. Just don’t tell Tommy or Bret. We don’t wanna dirty the place up any more than we have to. Don’t even tell Robert Smith: too much mascara and red lipstick.

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Scott D

Scott D

Scott is a local writer and has been with the Apartment Showcase blog since its inception in 2010.

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