I wrote a little bit about moving out in my end-of-year post…and while it’s been a little tough getting used to living on my own (well, on my own plus roommate and roommate’s cat) I think it was also time for me to leave the comforts of home and be on my own. So, it’s being the New Year and everything, I’m going to write a little bit about my new place and new neighborhood.
The search. I’m usually pretty lackadaisical about decisions, even major ones, but I decided that being 29 and all, it was time to get more serious and more deliberate, so I thought a lot about what kind of place I’d want to live in at this specific time in my life. Really, my only requirements were 1.) An easy enough commute to work and 2.) A place that feels somewhat unique, and most importantly, 3.) A place with layers. I wanted to live in a place that wasn’t all new and shiny but wasn’t all old and preserved in museum-like fashion either. I wanted a place with a sense of history, evolution, reinvention and respect for the past, present and future. That’s not too much to ask for, is it? Although I would love to live in D.C, I work in the City of Fairfax and the thought of driving through congested, tiny streets with traffic lights at every intersection just to make my way out of the city was more than I wanted to deal with. I wanted to be inside the Beltway, and was originally thinking Silver Spring or Tacoma Park (kind of far from work, but right on the Beltway) but ultimately decided my loyalties are to Virginia…I just couldn’t bring myself to take any more Democratic votes away from VA. As you can see, lots of thinking went into this whole moving-out business.
So after deciding against D.C and Maryland, I was left with two choices: Arlington County or City of Alexandria. I admire Arlington County and I think it’s done and continues to do great things (Ballston-Rosslyn corridor is a mecca for the young and upwardly mobile) but I don’t know… at the risk of being stereotypical, going out in Arlington kind of makes me feel like I’m in the middle of a giant, VA-TECH/UVA Frat/Sorority party all the time, and I’m just not a sorority kind of girl. North-north Arlington is a little too residential and South Arlington is a little too familiar (first job when I moved back to the U.S was as an in-home support counselor with the chronically mentally ill, so I feel like I already know ever street, shop, restaurant, etc. I want a little mystery). So the only place that was really left was the City of Alexandria.
It’s been a life-long, if lofty, dream of mine to own one of those historic townhouses by the Potomac in Old Town Alexandria. However, at this particular moment I don’t exactly have $1.5 million lying around, so I had to scale my ambitions down. I don’t know much about Alexandria beyond Old Town, so I started checking out places everywhere: West End, Beverly Hills, Seminary Road area, Del Ray, even some places in Old Town. So after looking at several places, including a cozy but cramped Beverly Hills house owned by a friendly, talkative sixtyish guy, a luxury and affordable townhouse in Belle Haven where I would have live with a mother and daughter (the space was great, but it seems wrong to move out of my mom’s house to live with someone’s else’s mom…) a dismal, flat-roofed dilapidated duplex in Old Town with too many fluorescent light bulbs and a depressing, ground floor Del Ray apartment with cracked walls, faded, creaky wood floors and a skinny, scared-looking cat (all these conditions might be OK in Manhattan, but this is Alexandria, not New York) I found it — a glorious, sixties-style high-rise in the middle of a residential neighborhood on the border of the Chirilagua and Del Ray neighborhoods.
The Building. As mentioned above, my new apartment is in a mostly residential neighborhood of townhouses, single family homes and duplexes. It rises out of nowhere, a testament to 1960s (or was it 70s?) architectural insipidness. It was immediately apparent that this was the kind of building that gloriously and unabashedly embraces its dated aesthetic. When I walked into the apartment it just felt right, from the off-white laminate, slightly sloping kitchen floor to the gloriously retro Formica cabinets to the “permanent screen” (see pic below) between the kitchen and family room.
The place obviously hasn’t been updated in years, the walls are scratched and scraped due to decades of renters moving in and out, and giant beige radiators proudly decorate every room of the apartment. This apartment isn’t even trying, and in a region where the words “luxury” and “renovated” reign supreme, it’s kind of, I don’t know, both comforting and unsettling to live in a place modernity and yuppieness left behind. But while I love the out-of-date furnishings and layout, the best part of the apartment is the 20-foot window floor to ceiling window and balcony, with views of the Potomac River, the airport, the National Cathedral, the Washington Monument and the Capitol. It’s a constant reminder that I live somewhere dynamic and exciting (if highly ineffective and contentious, thanks to our wonderful senators and congressmen). And, I’m only a 15 minute drive from my sister, my best friend and all the “action” now. Anyway, below are some pictures of my view…some of them are a little blurry, but you get the idea.
The neighborhood. When I decided to move out, I wanted to live in a great, or at least somewhat interesting, neighborhood. Being a life-long suburbanite, I wanted my neighborhood to feel residential, but I also wanted to be able to walk somewhere. My building is right on the border of Chirilagua and Del Ray. Chirilagua is a mostly Salvadoran neighborhood (so Salvadoran, in fact, it was named after a province of El Salvador) composed mostly of garden-style apartments, Latin grocery stores, quick-loan “businesses” auto-shops and a few new townhouse and condo developments. Once you cross Glebe Road, you are in Del Ray, an up-and-coming (well, more like up-and-came) upper-middle class community of mostly young families and single working professionals known for its main street. Del Ray has the feel of an old-timey southern train town but nowadays it’s mostly home to non-southern government workers and no actual train passes through the town. Mount Vernon Avenue, Del Ray’s main avenue, is home to colorful restaurants, weird, puzzling shops (see pic below) yoga studios, several cafes, bars and churches. The side streets are made up mostly of tiny 1940s/1950s bungalows in various states of repair/disrepair. It’s not exactly the most exciting of neighborhoods (most things seem to close down by 10pm) but I guess you could say Del Ray appeals to my sense of small-town nostalgia…but it’s just a 10 minute drive from D.C. My new place is walking distance to Mom’s Organic Market and El Paisa Latin Market and it’s kind of interesting to be in a place where two very different kinds of worlds coexist so closely to one another. I haven’t done too much neighborhood exploring but hopefully I’ll have some more pictures in the weeks to come.