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Did You Know? Northern Virginia Used to Have a Neighborhood Called “Crystal City”

It was once located where National Landing is today.

Photograph by Andrew Beaujon

Did you know that National Landing once had a different name? Years ago much of it was known as “Crystal City.” Here’s how Washingtonian covered it in the past:

Crystal City’s unremarkable concrete buildings are situated on a remarkable piece of Washington-area real estate. … Crystal City was never a utopian vision of a city like Brasilia or Chandigarh. The original traffic plan borrowed a bit from Le Corbusier, putting cars far from sidewalks on one-way streets that whisked office-workers to underground parking garages. But to the extent that Crystal City was planned, it was to serve the needs of the expanding federal bureaucracy and military, not an architect’s vision of the future. … Reinventing Crystal City isn’t just an interesting idea for real-estate giants and urban planning nerds, it’s a signal of the Washington area’s overall health.

As part of its daylong exploration of “Crystal City,” Washingtonian visited a revolving restaurant, a puppet store, and a strip club that offered a “pretty solid” breakfast. It seems that in the days before National Landing, Crystal City businesses were a diverse bunch and not easily defined!

What were the people of “Crystal City” like? Washingtonian spoke to many of them, including a young IT specialist or something named Jeremy Barr, who said the neighborhood “makes me want to live a little less.”

We may never know what life was like in “Crystal City”–the records are too few, and the halo effect of HQ2 is too blinding to properly examine the past. We can all be grateful that the few documents we have paint a picture of a concrete wonderland that rose from the shallows of the Potomac to point the Greater Washington area toward its glamorous present. “Crystal City” may be gone, but Washingtonians of a certain age will fondly remember its potential.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.