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Vision of McLean Central Park Takes Form

July 18, 2002

<bt>After waiting 48 years, who needs a rain delay?

The wet weather on Sunday was not a problem for the Friends of McLean Central Park and their president, Bari Levingston.

She was wreathed in smiles as Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer strummed the first musical notes with a banjo from under the 36-foot gazebo in McLean Central Park.

“I wonder how much music will play here? How many children will play here? How many lovers will meet here? How many weddings will be held here?” Levingston asked before the music started.

Despite a deluge earlier in the day, the crowds came on Sunday, and only a few pessimists reportedly left the parking lot of Dolley Madison LIbrary when they realized that a children’s moon bounce and face painter had been rescheduled because of the rain, said Elise Bengston, executive director of the McLean Chamber of Commerce.

She saw one woman packing up to leave before the concert even began, Bengston said.

“I guess my optimism was too much for her,” Bengston said.

“I would have liked for her to stay and enjoy the concert.”

She said the games will be held instead in October, when a playground for young children is completed at the park.

‘We are just so serious about this future event that it’s gonna happen,” she said.

“We’re gong to get financing for this. We are just very optimistic,” Bengsten said. “The momentum is building. “

Drawings of the next phase of the park were displayed on easels on the sidewalk.

The McLean Citizens Foundation, which issued a $35,000 challenge grant to build the gazebo, has also donated a $15,000 challenge grant for the tot lot, which will cost about $50,000.

THE CONCERT ON BASTILLE DAY, July 14, had been 48 years in the making. That’s how long it’s been since Bob Alden, then a sports writer and editor for The Washington Post, envisioned a community center with a green central park, theater, library, and “some form of outdoor amphitheater- bandstand - gazebo within the central park," he said Sunday.

In 1954, when Alden first had the idea, Jack Wilbern wasn’t even born. But Sunday, he sat in the park grinning as the music played and relishing the accomplishment of a goal that he helped reach fruition.

Wilbern, born in 1959, developed the site plan for the gazebo that on Sunday became a bandstand, His architectural firm, Butz-Wilbern, was one of the benefactors listed in the program.

ALDEN DESCRIBED how Washington Post editor and publisher, John R. McLean, first became involved in a project that created a railroad from Washington to Great Falls Park in 1908.

The route of the “Great Falls and Old Dominion Railway” passed through the heart of what is now McLean, and two years later, a post office at Chain Bridge Road and Elm Street combined two others at Langley and Lewinsville.

That became McLean.

It was 46 years before Alden first envisioned McLean Central Park, and another 48 years before the first band concert was performed in the gazebo.

Levingston observed that its roof “rises into the sky as high as our imaginations will take us.”

After Cathy FInk and Marcy Marxer started the first concert with a folksy, upbeat song on the banjo, “How d’ya do?” it didn’t take long for children to leave their family groups and start rolling and somersaulting down a gentle grassy grade beside the stream bed that was the impetus for the park

under the federal Stream Valleys Act in the 1950s. About 19 acres along Dead Run stream could only be used as park land, and it was acquired from the developer of Broyhill Estates, said Alden.

More land was acquired: 2.5 acres for a library and four acres for a community center,. and community groups such as the McLean Women’s Club, the McLean Lions Club, and the McLean Citizens Association gave money to acquire a total of 40 acres.

In the early 1970s, a special tax district was created to fund construction of the McLean Community Center. The first McLean Day was held at McLean Central Park in 1973.

Of all the people who held scissors to cut the ribbon to open the gazebo to music, Alden said it was Alice Starr, the founder of the Friends of McLean Central Park, who deserves the thanks for getting the project back on track after it had been dormant for many years.

As president of the Friends, Bari Levingston headed a fund-raiser that brought the project to completion.

Now, she is working on the next phase, a tot lot for children five years old and younger. It is scheduled to open in October.

ON SUNDAY, Levingston received checks from Vance Zavela for McLean Rotary, Lilla Richards for McLean Citizens Foundation, and Mary Kingman for American Legion 270.

She thanked Simon Romano Construction for the professional expertise to get the gazebo built.

Bob Ryan, meteorologist at WRC-TV/Channel 4 and a McLean resident, was master of ceremonies for the event. Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Kate Hanley, Va. Del. Vince Callahan, Dranesville School Board Representative Janie Strauss, and McLean Community Center Director Bill Bersic were among those wielding scissors.

Weekly concerts will continue at 3 p.m. on Sundays for the next five weeks.