Crystal City, Virginia

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Satellite image of the interlocking highrises of Crystal City. The Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway (U.S. Highway 1) can be seen running from north to south left of the image center. The main terminal of National Airport is in the bottom right corner of the image; a few lanes of I-395 are visible in the top left corner, immediately beyond which is the Pentagon. At the bottom is Virginia State Highway 233, the Airport Viaduct. Image from the United States Geological Survey, taken April 26, 2002.

Crystal City is an unincorporated area located in the southeastern corner of Arlington County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC. Crystal City is centered along a stretch of the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway (U.S. Highway 1), just south of The Pentagon, just east of Pentagon City, and within walking distance to the west of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Characterized as one of many "urban villages" by Arlington County, Crystal City is almost exclusively populated by high rise apartment buildings, corporate offices, hotels, and numerous shops and restaurants. There is also an extensive network of underground shopping areas and connecting corridors beneath Crystal City.

Prior to development by the Charles E. Smith Co. (which also built much of downtown Washington), the area was mostly composed of industrial sites, junkyards, and low rent motels. The RF & P railroad tracks were also moved closer to National Airport to accommodate more space for development.

Though it was not intended as a planned community, it unfolded that way after construction began on the first condominiums and office buildings in 1963. The name "Crystal City" came from the first building, which was called Crystal House and had an elaborate crystal chandelier in the lobby. Charles E. Smith's first daughter's name was Crystal, as well, so some debate exists as to where the name arose from. Every subsequent building took on the Crystal name (i.e., Crystal Gateway, Crystal Towers), and eventually the whole neighborhood. Crystal City is largely integrated in layout and extensive landscaping, as well as the style and materials of the high rise buildings, most of which have a speckled granite exterior.

Due to Crystal City's extensive integration with both office buildings and residential high-rise buildings, it is possible for residents to traverse from one end to the other (roughly north-south), performing any shopping or dining along the way, entirely underground, thus making Crystal City a classic underground city. This is of particular importance to residents who rely upon this fact in inclement weather. During the winter months, it can reach temperatures of the low teens (fahrenheit), and snow storms and heavy rains are possible. Additionally all the high-rise apartment buildings are structured such that they have internal hallways with horizontally opposed apartments, forcing neighbors to interact with each other more so than would be in an "open" building.

Crystal City presently has over 6,000 residents, while around 60,000 come to work there every weekday. It is home to the United States Patent and Trademark Office until 2005, when that office will complete a move to nearby Alexandria. It is also has offices of the United States Department of Labor, and serves as many satellite offices for The Pentagon which is presently being renovated.

The layout of Crystal City was considered avant-garde back when when it was built, with superblocks bounded by arterial and circulating roads, and with pedestrian traffic and the businesses serving it relocated from the streets to the pedestrian tunnels. However, as of 2005, Crystal City is being redesigned to give it a more traditionally urban feel, with restaurants on street level, and with traffic patterns changed to make streets like Crystal Drive function less as circulating roads than as city streets.

Crystal City has a stop on the Washington Metro blue and yellow lines, and on the Virginia Railway Express commuter train system.

It is worth noting that Charles E. Smith Residential Realty was purchased in a merger with Archstone, forming the Archstone-Smith Company. Charles E. Smith Commercial Realty, which still owns the commercial buildings in Crystal City, remains separate to this day.


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