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Neighborhood in Focus: Nauck

This historic Arlington community rolls with the changes.

In the ever-changing Arlington community, trees can seem to be the only constants. They sit in back yards and on street corners for hundreds of years and silently watch the fabric of society change again and again.

It was appropriate then that Marie Tillander was delivering free American Fringe and Black Gum trees to her fellow residents of Arlington’s Nauck neighborhood.

The occasion for the tree giveaway was the 11th annual Arlington Neighborhood Day when the county celebrates its myriad of distinctive hamlets.

Several other neighborhoods, including Glenncarlyn, Douglas Park and Arlington Heights, had tree giveaways as well. The trees came from the county’s Neighborhood Conservation Program, which seeks to promote Arlington’s flora and fauna.

But Nauck’s tree giveaway was unique if only because the historic Arlington neighborhood is currently in a state of flux.

The residents of Nauck are predominantly African-American and the area is home to almost all of Arlington’s first black-owned businesses such as the Green Valley Pharmacy which is still in operation today.

Nauck also contains several Baptist and Methodist churches that played prominent roles in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.

However, the neighborhood is now experiencing a great generational change.

Portia Clark, vice-president of the Nauck Civic Association, said that as recently as 10 years ago, more than 90 percent of Nauck residents were black. Since then, many Hispanics have moved in and have formed a sizeable minority in the neighborhood.

She also noted that 400 new apartment units are currently in construction in the Nauck neighborhood, most if not all of which will be out of the price range for the average Nauck resident.

But, rather than decry the rising housing costs in her neighborhood, Clark seemed enthusiastic about new residents coming into the community and changing its dynamic.

"Nauck is an older, aging community," Clark said. "But the community is continuing to grow."

MANY THINGS about Nauck are changing. One example of this is the neighborhood’s elementary school which has evolved along with its changing surroundings.

Drew Model Elementary School is one of the lynchpins of the Nauck neighborhood. The school was named after Dr. Charles Drew, a prominent African-American medical researcher who helped to develop the modern blood transfusion process.

Bonnie Baldwin, a library assistant in the Arlington Central Library's Virginia room, said that Drew was built in 1944. In 1971, Baldwin said, a group of Drew parents filed a lawsuit objecting to a plan to bus students from Nauck to other schools. The lawsuit eventually led to the school's integration.

Currently, Drew has a Montessori program that draws students from across the county along with its regular graded program and can boast of winning numerous awards and recognitions.

Despite part of its student body coming from outside of Nauck, Drew’s racial makeup reflects the changing tide in its surrounding neighborhood.

African-Americans still make up a plurality of Drew’s students — more than 40 percent — but Hispanics are close at 27 percent.

While ethnic change such as this might be bristled at in some areas, the Nauck neighborhood seems to be welcoming it with open arms.

Drew’s principal Cheryl Relford holds up her school’s multicultural background proudly.

"We have a very diverse population," she said. "Nauck has been fabulous and supportive. We have a good working relationship with the community."

TILLANDER FINISHED delivering trees in the late morning and stopped by a yard sale put on by the Nauck Civic Association held in front of Drew School.

Some children played basketball on a nearby court while other sat in lawn chairs licking popsicles. Several shoppers browsed racks of used clothes and toys while chatting with the sellers.

Clark chatted with longtime and recent Nauck residents alike drawing little if any distinction between the two.

Tillander said that in a year she would come back to the houses where she delivered trees to check how they were progressing.