Monday, June 22, 2009

Admirable Alexandria

Fruition of preservation concepts

I just came back from my trip to the Washington D.C. and we stayed at a friend’s place in Alexandria VA. We happened to eat in Old Towne Alexandria on our way back from Mt. Vernon. Generally, I research destinations before visiting but in this case, I did not do my due diligence about the city and was completely awed when I visited one of the most charming Old towns, I have ever been to.

Old Town Alexandria was the biggest surprise of my trip, as I was not aware of the history of this gorgeous town. Being an immigrant, my American history and geography still needs a lot of polishing. This discovery was the best

part of my trip, I would like to go back there again someday, just with the intention of visiting Alexandria.

Since I happened to find Old Town by serendipity, I did not get much chance to explore a lot but could only walk for a mile long stretch on King Street—extending from Potomac River waterfront to Old Town Alexandria. Being a preservationist, it was fascinating to see such a stupendous historic preservation project. Particularly impressive was how urban design principles were beautifully applied without compromising history. —pedestrian friendly wide walkways with tree lined cobblestone sidewalks, visual and cultural anchors on all major

intersections, centrally located public urban space, mixed use development, metro rail station linkages, wonderful graphic and store front design and preservation of rich architectural heritage. Torpedo Factory Art, an actual torpedo factory during World Wars I and II is a key anchor on the eastern end of the King Street. Sitting at the edge of Potomac Waterfront, the Center has six galleries and also houses more than 80 artists’ studios. Market square adjacent to City Hall—the country’s oldest farmers market takes place here every Saturday morning. Historically, it was the place where George Washington drilled its militia troops and also where much of the country’s slave trade took place. The rest of the days it serves as a wonderful urban public space with steps, a central fountain and landscaped features that encourages socialization, and serves as a meeting place for couples and small groups.

The entire King Street is lined with late eighteenth and early nineteenth century beautiful Italianate, Federal and Georgian architectural styled buildings which now have been rehabilitated into International cuisine restaurants, ethnic stores, chic boutiques, eclectic jewelry and antique stores. This gorgeous architecture and varied functions make this place a colored architectural and cultural mosaic.

Old Town Alexandria felt like a whiff of fresh air in this struggling field of preservation. It was a pleasant break to see thedesign principles being applied that preservationists advocate for. It was lovely to see how a town evolved over time, from being one of the ten busiest ports in America in late 18th century to today’s one of the most beautifully preserved historic districts.

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate

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