Cover Story

Knocking on Doors: Alexandria Neighborhoods Explored

How a Cover Story Becomes a Series

Nestled between Arlandria and Northridge, Beverley Hills (with an E, not the one from the Weezer song), is aptly named. Known for azalea-filled front yards, and rolling topography, his neighborhood off Russell Road is just moments away from Old Town, Shirlington, and National Airport. Notable spots include The Pit, a kid and adult hangout, and Monticello Park, more of a nature park, well-known for its bird watching, walking trail and dog run. (Photo Zillow.)

By Grace Billups Arnold, Kris Gilbertson, and Mary Wadland

Alexandria, VA – For the first time in our 12-year history, we think we better explain how our cover story has instead become a launchpad for an ongoing series. You see, this edition was scheduled to be a signature, all-encompassing annual real estate issue, filled with lively thumbprint graphics with easy-to-read facts and figures explaining all the ins and outs of Alexandria’s neighborhoods.

Home to African American Heritage Park, Barca Pier and Wine Bar, and the Linder Academy, the Southwest Quadrant of Old Town basically the newest, hottest retail and restaurant hub. Places you must visit include the murals of Amanda Gorman, John Lewis, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg on the outer walls of the Linder Academy, and the Contrabands and Freedmen Memorial in the 1001 S. Washington St. cemetery. (Photo Susan Fleischman)

We envisioned a quick, light-hearted tour of our Port City neighborhoods, talking to people who live here and there and telling stories about what makes each neighborhood unique, in addition to showing boundaries, showing median real estate home sales, and which metro stops are where. We hoped it would be the definitive Alexandria neighborhood guide, but we discovered how wrong we were to think we could do it all in one quick pass.

Setting out with great enthusiasm, we were stunned to discover there are at least 78 distinct neighborhoods in the City of Alexandria and Alexandria in Fairfax County. Some are small and considered part of a larger neighborhood, but for the people living there, they stand alone.

The 600 red brick townhouses, with different paint colors, characteristics, and renovations, Warwick flows with families and pets. Easy access to the Mount Vernon Running and Biking Trail, and the Gravelly Point and Daingerfield Island green areas along the Potomac. Residents also rave about the view of the Washington Monument just across the river and the proximity to the Pentagon. Bordered by Mt. Vernon Ave, residents also have ample access to the Del Ray Farmers Market, an Alexandria favorite. (Photo Grace Arnold)

This raises the question, what is a neighborhood? Is it an official area with established boundaries recognized by city or county government? Or is it defined by relationships that residents build with each other, interactions and caring that bind over time, quirky individual acts that become local legend? Take Old Town’s Hollensbury Spite House, for example. One man’s act of defiance nearly 200 years ago is forever woven into Old Town’s story. [See the sidebar.]

Uptown–Parker–Gray Historic District is a national historic district (added in 2010 to the National Register of Historic Places) encompassing 984 buildings in the northwestern quadrant of Old Town. Mostly small row houses with a sprinkling of commercial buildings, the architecture includes Greek Revival and Queen Anne. (Photo Wikipedia)

Alexandria is more than its well-preserved history in Old Town. Port City comprises neighborhoods that grew up to meet changing times and continue to grow. Alexandria is older and larger than that city across the river because it has not been constrained by unmovable boundaries.

In the West End, Cameron Station boasts a hub of world and international markets. Some places to highlight include the Afghan Market, LA Mart International Food, Nazret Cultural Foods, and Tsedey Ethiopian Restaurant and Grocery. In addition to international food fare, Cameron Station shines in the green space in Ben Brenman Dog Park and Soccer Field, and Armistead Boothe Park. Residentially, you will find a sprinkling of condominiums and senior residences. (Photo DC Boutique Twitter)
Home to the Birchmere, Art on the Ave, the Del Ray Farmers Market, and many esteemed establishments, Del Ray holds the hearts of hundreds of Alexandria families. It is a beautiful conjunction of history and growth. The DRBA says it is “where main street still exists,” and yet main street still continues to grow, while somehow maintaining its timeless charm. (Photo Del Ray Business Association)

What we envisioned as a single Zebra issue needs and deserves more. This month the traditional feature-length cover story gives way to this introduction to an ongoing series of discussions with anyone who wants to share the story of the neighborhood they call home. This series will be for all of us and for the many visitors who come to discover the complexity of Alexandria. Get ready to join us each month as we dive in deep, and explore Alexandria’s neighborhoods.

A Tiny, Beloved Home That Was Built for Spite

523 Queen Street (Photo John David Coppola)

The Hollensbury Spite House, 7.5 feet wide and 25 feet deep and 325 square feet in two stories, is located at 523 Queen Street in Old Town. The lot measures 356 square feet, including the 350 square-foot, two-story house and a walled rear garden and patio area, measuring 7-feet wide and 12-feet deep. John Hollensbury, owner of one of the adjacent houses, built it in 1830 to keep horse-drawn wagons and loiterers out of his alley.

Structurally, Spite House is more an enclosed alley than a house, although it contains all the amenities for a tiny one-bedroom home. The brick walls of the houses on either side form the painted walls in the living room, which are reported still to have gouges from wagon-wheel hubs. (New York Times/Wikipedia)

But did you know Alexandria has three other narrow “alley” homes? 

205 King Street (Courtesy photo)

205 King Street: What is fun about this alley house is that you can actually go inside it because it currently houses the She’s Unique boutique. It is 11-feet, nine inches wide, and city documents suggest it was built around 1812.

403 Prince Street (Photo Lucelle O’Flaherty)

403 Prince Street: Only 8 feet wide, this tiny 608 square foot brick house was built sometime before 1883, according to Historic Alexandria Virginia Street by Street, when owner Samuel Janney gave his son Henry the rental profits from the three-story house next door.

1410 Prince Street (Photo Angela Lucelle O’Flaherty)

1401 Prince Street: This alley house is unique because it has only one story. At 8 feet wide, it has been made part of the house next door now, but according to the Sanborn Fire Map*, it was built around 1893.

*The Sanborn map collection consists of a uniform series of large-scale maps dating from 1867 to the present and depicting the commercial, industrial, and residential sections of some twelve thousand cities and towns in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Knocking on Doors: The Exploring Alexandria Neighborhoods Series

The name Belle Haven comes from the Scottish pioneers who settled along the Potomac River in the early 18th century and named their settlement after their favorite countryman, the Earl of Belhaven. It is a neighborhood of stately homes close to Old Town, many of which might be familiar to fans of the long-running TV show, The West Wing. (Photo Susan Fleischman)

These are the 78 neighborhoods we have identified to explore. If you think we have missed any, please alert us with an email sent to [email protected].


  1. Alexandria West
  2. Arcturus
  3. Braddock Road Metro
  4. Bradlee
  5. Bren Mar Park
  6. Brookland Estates
  7. Bucknell Heights
  8. Bucknell Manor
  9. Burgundy Village
  10. Bush Hill Woods
  11. Cameron Villa Farms
  12. Cannon
  13. Clermont Woods
  14. Collingwood
  15. Del Ray
  16. Eisenhower Ave
  17. Eisenhower East
  18. Fairland
  19. Groveton Heights
  20. Guilford
  21. Gum Springs
  22. Hayfield
  23. Hollin Hall
  24. Hollin Hills
  25. Hollindale
  26. Indian Run Park
  27. Jefferson Manor
  28. Kathmoor
  29. Lincolnia Heights
  30. Lincolnia park
  31. Maple Grove Estates
  32. Marlin Forest
  33. Memorial Heights
  34. Mount Hebron Park
  35. Mount Vernon
  36. Mount Vernon Manor
  37. Mount Vernon Woods
  38. Newton Woods
  39. North Mount Vernon
  40. North Ridge
  41. Northeast
  42. Oakwood
  43. Old Town
  44. Old Town North
  45. Parker Gray
  46. Parklawn
  47. Penn Draw
  48. Penn Draw Village
  49. Pinecrest
  50. Potomac Yard
  51. Riverside Estates
  52. Riverside Gardens
  53. Rose Hill Farms
  54. Seminary Hill
  55. Snowden
  56. Southwest Quadrant
  57. Stratford Landing
  58. Stratford on the Potomac
  59. Sulgrave Manor
  60. Sunnyview
  61. Van Dorn
  62. Vernon Square
  63. Villamay
  64. Virginia Hills
  65. Waldon Woods
  66. Walhaven
  67. Waynewood
  68. Wellington
  69. Wellington Heights
  70. Weyanoke
  71. White Oaks
  72. Wilton Woods
  73. Windsor Estates
  74. Winslow Hills
  75. Woodland Park
  76. Woodlawn Manor
  77. Woodley Hills
  78. Yacht Haven

Read more:

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