Ryan Merkel stands on the terrace of his building, right next to the Chinatown arch in Washington, D.C.
At first look, Maywood, a neighborhood in Arlington, Va. would seem like a regular suburban community. Bounded by Lee Highway to the south, Route 66 to the east, and neighbors to Cherrydale and Woodmark, Maywood is self-contained and quiet. The neighborhood gives off the sense of being endearing and peaceful. However, what separates Maywood from other residential areas is its history.
A little over 100 years ago, the first house was built in Maywood. Trifton Station, the trolley that ran through Maywood, started the development of the residential area. During World War II, Trifton Station began to serve the residents of Maywood who would travel back and forth from Washington, D.C. for work. The railroad lasted until the mid-'30s before it went bankrupt due to the Great Depression.
Bob McAtee, a 98-year-old resident of Maywood, moved into his home with his parents in 1915. He was 2 years old. McAtee says that he remembers the togetherness of the community--how the residents of Maywood supported each other.
"It was a nice place to live," he says. "People all got together. [It was] a good time."
Today, this unity between Maywood residents continues. Bob Welsh, the vice president of the Maywood Civic Association and a lifelong resident, agrees with McAtee about the closeness of the community.
"I've lived here my whole life," he says. "Maywood is accessible to D.C. The orange line to Clarendon is 20 minutes away from D.C. Besides that, Maywood is a tight-knit community that has good school services."
One of the things that residents are proud of are their homes. The 1,000 Maywood occupants have a total of 400 homes that are all unique to each other. One can see the single-family styles of foursquare, cottage, bungalow, Cape Cod, and two story gable front houses of the Queen Anne and Tudor Revival styles, just to name a few. In addition, each home has an emblem on the exterior of the home that displays the year it was built.
In 1990, Maywood became a historical district. Not all of the homes in Maywood are a part of this historic designation. However, those that are included in the historic district have to be checked by the Arlington County Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board for any modification of the home except for the paint. The historic designation was also established to make sure that all personalized touches of the homes were maintained.
The residents of Maywood have worked hard to maintain their neighborhood the way in which they like it: safe and friendly. However, in recent years, their town has changed dramatically due to Interstate 66. According to the United States Department of the Interior National Park Service, in the 1960s, the Virginia Department of Transportation decided to build the route on top of a roadbed. The highway was to be built on top of the roadbed of the Bluemont line and Rosslyn Spur that was discontinued in 1951.
Maywood residents, including Bob Welsh, didn't want the route because it would have meant opening the neighborhood to urban developments that would have not coincided with the reputation that Maywood residents had worked to protect. Residents fought the construction of the route for 20 years. The residents finally lost their battle in 1982 when the Interstate opened.
Besides the fight to maintain the town's character and charm, the residents still continue to watch out for each other, even in the most difficult circumstances. During the D.C. power outage, Maywood residents began to help each other, making sure that everyone was handling the lack of electricity as best as they could. They traded items such as ice and phone cords and checked on each other's homes to make sure everything was ok.
"It was a true feeling of solidarity," says Welsh.
So how do the residents of Maywood feel about their neighborhood?
"It's a safe, desirable neighborhood," says Welsh. "People who live in Maywood are extremely friendly, extremely helpful. The main thing I like about Maywood is this sense of small town feeling--that you know your neighbor. They're watching out for you, they trust you to take care of them."
In a bright apartment above Urban Outfitters in Chinatown, just off the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro, Ryan Merkel, a four-year Chinatown resident, will tell you it's impossible to get bored living in a neighborhood with so many amenities. For Merkel, Chinatown revolves around the Metro station and the 7th Street business corridor, just by the Chinatown arch, designed by Alfred H. Liu.
The 27-year-old works at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and has been living in Washington, D.C. since he began graduate school at the University of Maryland.
Speaking to the Chinatown of today, Merkel says his favorite spot in his neighborhood is the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard within the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
"It's just a beautiful place to be," he says. "It's this undulated glass ceiling against this more classically designed building." Before 2000, the public space was an outdoor courtyard.
"The theme is old and new because you look at like the National Portrait Gallery, which used to be an old Federal building and now has been turned into this beautiful museum," says Merkel of the two Smithsonian museums, which opened in 1968 in the Federal Patent Office Building.
Loud But Livable
Merkel says when he first moved to Chinatown he thought it was very loud.
"I think the decibel goes up when you're in Chinatown." But he says, "It's just part of the character of the area... the price you pay being right in the middle of everything."
Merkel points out that tourists frequently ask him for directions, especially if they see him carrying a bag of groceries. And, after an event at the Verizon Center, expect area bars and restaurants to fill up pretty quickly.
"It is a strange when you walk out your door and you're suddenly in the middle of a throng of tourists," he says. Nonetheless, Merkel loves the walkability, nightlife and cultural institutions that have taken root in Chinatown making it a "loud and vivacious" place to live.
[Music: "No, Girl" by John Davis from Title Tracks / "I Will Survive (in the style of Cake) (Karaoke Version)" by The Karaoke Channel from The Karaoke Channel]
Photos: Maywood, Va. and Gallerplace/Chinatown, D.C.
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