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Boat Club Marks 125 Years

An Alexandria Institution saluted.

As if by divine intervention, the weather could not have been better for the 125th Anniversary Annual Flag Raising Ceremony at the Old Dominion Boat Club Sunday afternoon. The sun was shining and the breeze made for ideal sailing conditions.

"This is a very special day for us," said Lorraine Lloyd, commodore, Old Dominion Boat Club, in opening the ceremonies at 1 King St., with the entrance of the U.S Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard. A total of four flags were raised on the Naval standard next to the club.

Col. Kenneth J. Lee, USMC, raised an American flag he had flown in Iraq during his recent tour of duty. Then came the Virginia State flag, raised by Joe Hadley, commodore, Potomac River Yacht Club Association; the City of Alexandria flag, hoisted by Mayor William D. Euille; and finally Old Dominion Boat Club's flag raised by current club president Chris Marino and former president Paul Thomas.

In hoisting the city flag, Euille promised those in attendance, "We will maintain the Old Dominion Boat Club on the waterfront." He also urged everyone to "use extra caution while boating" referring the recent fatal accident last Thursday on the river.

Euille's reference to maintaining Old Dominion Boat Club "on the waterfront" was in recognition to the controversy gathering over the Alexandria institution in the last year.

As part of the city's efforts to create an open waterfront, there have been suggestions that the Old Dominion Boat Club move from its present location or, at the very least, its private parking lot, immediately south of the club house, be acquired. Euille's comment was greeted with applause Sunday afternoon.

OLD DOMINION Boat Club has had several locations prior to acquiring its present site in 1921 and building the club house in 1923, according to Ray Cobean, club historian. Following its organizational meeting in September 1880, the club located at its first address May 1, 1881.

This original clubhouse was situated on the Strand between Prince and Duke streets. According to Deed Book 9, the property was leased for "$50 per year for a period of five years." It was then purchased by the club on Aug. 28, 1883 "and served as the clubhouse until destroyed by fire on the morning of 21 March, 1922," as stated in Old Dominion Boat Club's 100th Anniversary Commemorative Booklet of 1980.

Old Dominion Boat Club's fire was preceded by another fire on the Alexandria waterfront that same night: The Old Alexandria Washington Ferry Company at 1 King Street. Ironically, it was that building that Old Dominion Boat Club was planning as their new headquarters following its purchase by the club in May 1921.

During the club fire that fateful night, "all boats and shells were destroyed, and $16,000 in damages incurred." As reported in the booklet, "Since both ... properties were hit ... arson was suspected. As one member remarked, "maybe some bootlegger was mad at the club for refusing to let him use the club facilities to bring whiskey during the night from Maryland." No one was ever caught.

After a variety of financial adjustments, construction on the new clubhouse commenced in January 1923. The first membership meeting in the new structure was held June 12, 1923.

AT THAT TIME there were only 75 members. Today that number stands at 700, with a waiting list. In addition to a who's who of Alexandria citizens, the membership has included a number of national notables over the years, according to Cobean. These included the late Arthur Godfrey and Virginia Gov. Westmoreland Davis as well as members of Congress.

Founded not only as a boat club but also as a physical fitness club, Old Dominion Boat Club held its first regatta on the Potomac in 1885. It started its high school rowing club in 1947. "T.C. Williams' rowing team rowed out of here before they had their own boathouse and the school took over rowing in 1971," Cobean said.

But Old Dominion Boat Club is not just about boating. "We've are continually promoting charitable causes and community service. We are also heavily involved in athletics and many water related activities," Marino said. From the 1920s through the '40s the club had its own basketball team.

Property just south of the club house, now used as a parking lot and launch point for boats, including those of the Alexandria Fire Department periodically, was originally purchased by the club in 1935 from the widow of Fred Wagar for $2,000.

It has been this piece of property, the parking lot, that has been a continuing source of contention between Old Dominion Boat Club and the city. As stated in the 100-year history, during 1978 legal fee assessments were "put upon each member to help defray costs of land contention with the city."

In 1979, a historical entry reads, "City of Alexandria takes over club property on south side from Strand to the river even though it was the club which decades ago filled in the open water area of the old ferry slip which terminated at the Strand. City had too much clout for the club to combat."

But the city was also in a contest with the Federal government through the National Park Service which proposed taking over the entire waterfront as a continuation of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. This would have eliminated all waterfront development and removed it from city control.

Through a series of negotiations over the years, one of which was the creation of the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review, the Park Service agreed to Washington Street as the Parkway link. Old Dominion Boat Club also reclaimed control of its property on the Strand to Wales Alley.

"Each year that control is maintained by the Strand being closed one night from the club to Wales Alley with the city's blessing. Members remain on the site over night to reestablish their ownership," Cobean said.

ALTHOUGH OLD DOMINION Boat Club has a long history in the annals of competitive rowing and is considered "the place where scholastic rowing got its start in Virginia," it has a record of charitable and civic actions. These include:

* Providing "needed infrastructure" for security forces in the use of docks and boat ramps law enforcement and fire and rescue as well as Homeland Security patrols.

* Sponsorship of the Select Fall H.S. Rowing program that takes "the best high school rowers to compete in a 5-boat regatta."

* A 30-year history of sponsoring a Salvation Army Christmas Bell Ringing.

* A Retain-able Children program for special needs children at Lyles-Crouch and John Adams schools.

* Donations to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Make A Wish Foundation of Virginia, and Victims of 9/11 Fund.

* Founding the Colin Casey Scholarship and the Jack Franklin and Julian Whitestone Annual Scholarship to the T.C. Williams H.S. for rowing.

Prior to last Sunday's annual flag raising ceremony, marking the commencement of boating season, both the Alexandria and District of Columbia fireboats were on the river paying to tribute to the club and its history with their water cannons.