Neighbors don’t usually get to select public art for their neighborhood, but few neighborhoods have the rich history and active civic associations of Cherrydale and Maywood. This week, installation will begin on a new piece of public art on the median strip of Lee Highway at Monroe Street.
“The artistic style will be illustrations with touches of color similar in nature to hand-colored photographs,” wrote artist Jarrett Ferrier in his proposal to the neighborhood civic associations. “The panels, like the history itself will be tied together by sections of railroad track and ties.”
The panels sweep over the history of the area, beginning with the formative families and moving through the Civil War and the creation of the fire station and public schools. They explain the architectural story of the neighborhood, the history of the railroad and even the influence of the Girl Scouts. Motorists zooming by on Lee Highway will be able to see website addresses where they can learn more about the history of Cherrydale and Maywood.
“This is deeply historic, and the people featured in the panels are real people and real heroes like the guy who started the Cherrydale Library,” said Maureen Ross, president of the Cherrydale Citizens Association. “And it’s in a central anchoring spot that will tie our communities together.”
THE STORY OF HOW a group of neighbors ended up selecting public art for their own neighborhood dates back to 2004, when developer Christopher Companies purchased a property on Lee Highway and wanted a site plan for more than was allowed by-right density. So Arlington County officials said Christopher Companies should contribute about $20,000 for public art. Civic association leaders in Cherrydale and Maywood got together and persuaded the County Board to let them choose the art.
“I think it’s a rare process for public art to be selected by the people who live there,” said Anthony Maderal, president of the Maywood Community Association. “It’s very unique, and I’m not sure it’s ever happened before.”
Neighbors in Cherrydale and Maywood say it wasn’t easy. First they had to persuade officials in the Housing Division to direct money to the neighborhood instead of the general art fund. Then they had to persuade the Cultural Affairs Division that they were qualified to select the winning artist. Finally, the Virginia Department of Transportation resisted allowing art to be installed on its land.
“It was a long, hard slog,” said Ross. “You have to be incredibly persistent to do something the county didn’t initially want you to do.”
THE HISTORY OF THE neighborhoods dates back to the late 1830s, when a branch post office at Lee Highway and Pollard Street was named Cherrydale in honor of Dorsey Donaldson’s large cherry orchard. The area was settled shortly after the Civil War, especially after the Great Falls and Old Dominion Railway Line was established in 1906 along what’s now Old Dominion Drive.
The railway made it possible for people who worked in the city to live in what had previously been the country, creating rapid growth in Cherrydale and a newly created adjoining neighborhood called Maywood. Local lore has it that it was named after the daughter of a prominent real-estate developer with the Conservative Realty Company, whose name was May.
The new panels help tell this story, helping longtime citizens and new residents alike understand the history of their corner of north Arlington.
“It’s going to be a nice piece of art that will outlast us all,” said Maderal.