A Tale of Two Fairlington Schools

A vital part of any community, Fairlington has been home to two elementary schools and has a long history of engagement with both.

The first, Fairlington Elementary School (now the Fairlington Community Center), at 3308 South Stafford Street, was planned and built along with the construction of Fairlington. It opened in February 1944 for children in grades 1-6.

“Arlington’s School Board applied for a grant (September 1942) from the Federal Works Agency… and was given $190,000 for an elementary and $174,500 for a junior-senior high school in Fairlington…. [The] Defense Homes [Corporation] conveyed 8.18 acres to the county “for and in consideration of … Ten (10) dollars … for public school, park, recreation and other public purposes …” in the rental housing project…”*

Fairlington Elementary School, c. 1972 (now the Fairlington Community Center)
(Courtesy Fairlington Properties, Realtors)
Children and a defense worker Utah Street approaching 35th Street, 1945.
(Courtesy Fairlington Properties, Realtors)

The school, then as now, was a focal point of community life. “The Fairlington Parents-Teachers
Association was organized almost the moment the school opened; it later participated in the
Arlington County Council of Parents and Teachers. The school’s grounds were used for
neighborhood sports and other activities, such as the shredding of Christmas trees into mulch for
the tenants’ tiny gardens. The 16-room building offered space for civic meetings, social gettogethers,
and plays.”*

By 1972, when Fairlington’s conversion to condominiums began, school enrollment had dropped
and speculations about what might happen to the property were many. By the time the school was
closed in 1979, the Fairlington Citizens Association (FCA) had successfully lobbied the county to
keep the building and grounds as they were and to keep the space for use as a community education
and recreation center.

Today’s Fairlington Community Center houses a full range of civic, educational, and recreational
purposes. The most recent addition is the Fairlington Farmers Market, introduced in 2015.
The center also houses two significant artifacts. Look up as you enter and you’ll see installed in the
ceiling a stained glass window that was part of a set of Tiffany windows removed from the Abbey
Mausoleum, built in 1924, incorporated into the U.S. Marine Corps’ Henderson Hall Headquarters
in 1942, and torn down in 2000. FCA and the Fairlington Historical Society (FHS) collaborated on
funding the repair, conservation, and installation of this piece of Arlington history when the
renovated center was opened in 2010.

Turn right at the center’s main hallway and then left and you’ll see two large scale models of the
neighborhood. Originally built for the condominium sales office, FHS worked with Arlington
County’s Office of Historic Preservation to conserve and install these models, which continue to
give Fairlingtonians the opportunity to point out exactly where they live.

Fairlington’s second school opened in 1959 as the post-World War II ‘baby boom’ continued to
reach school age and the population of Arlington continued to grow.

“Parents, teachers, and members of the Fairlington Civic Association worked together… County voters approved a bond (May 1947) for a 14-room school in North Fairlington, but a counterproposal to spend the money on an eight room addition to South Fairlington’s school gained widespread support. A civic association delegation went to the school board (October 1947) to report that the existing school was large enough by Federal Government standards and to urge the county to build a new one in North Fairlington… the board agreed with the association’s suggestion of a neighborhood poll… The results: 92 votes against and 2,011 for a northside school.”*

Built on land donated to the county by CBI Fairmac, which had purchased the entire Fairlington
property in 1947, the school was originally called ‘North Fairlington Elementary’ after its location.
By the time it opened, though, it had been named after the Abingdon House and plantation, owned
by the prominent Virginia Alexander and Custis families, and now part of the Ronald Reagan
Washington National Airport property.

Abingdon Elementary School, c. 1992 (Photo by Jim Tingstrum)

Like its sibling school to the south, Abingdon Elementary’s history has been strongly influenced by
Fairlington’s active parents and civic association.

“Abingdon’s original plans called for six rooms. Four more were added after the Parents-Teachers Association and the civic association surveyed each house to learn the number of children in the area.”*

Initially, a schoolhouse for 384 children in 1959, Abingdon added kindergarten facilities in 1965 and
later expanded to 19 classrooms, a multipurpose room, library, offices, and kitchen, with a parking
lot added in 1970.

Today’s Abingdon is a vibrant, multicultural school that serves more than 600 students.
Renovated and expanded (2016-17), FCA, FHS, and Fairlington Villages were all involved in the
challenges of necessary expansion on limited land. In order to preserve Abingdon’s open field, used
by students as well as the community, Fairlington Villages agreed to share certain parking spaces
with the school. Commemorating each decade of the school and community partnership, FCA and
FHS had planted a series of trees on school property that were lost to the renovation and expansion.
New trees will be planted and re-dedicated to that partnership next fall.

  • *All quotations from Catherine Fellows, Fairlington at Fifty. The Fairlington Historical Society, 2012.