Note: This article was featured in the November 2023 edition of the All Fairlington Bulletin.
If, like me, you’re fairly new to this community, you may not know a lot of the history of Fairlington . I recently looked at some essays written about the Community Center and discovered first, that it had been a school, and second, it housed a Tiffany window!
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…”
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 get togethers, 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 a significant Arlington artifact. 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. The windows were incorporated into the U.S. Marine Corps’Henderson Hall Headquarters in 1942 which was later torn down in 2000. FCA and the Fairlington Historical Society (FHS) collaborated to fund the repair, conservation, and installation of this piece of Arlington history when the renovated center was opened in 2010.
Fairlington’s second school (Abingdon) opened in 1950 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.
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, the schoolhouse opened for 384 children in 1950. 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 700 students.