Susan H. Stafford

Photo by Susan Stafford

Alexandria’s Washington Monument

Don't want to wait in that long line for a ticket to the Washington Monument? Try a little-known scenic alternative right on the banks of the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia, where another smaller-scale version stands tucked away at the foot of the thought-provoking Promenade Classique. This little gem of a public park, designed by renowned landscape architect, M. Paul Friedberg, and studded with neoclassical sculptures by Anne and Charles Poirier, forms the unexpected centerpiece of the TransPotomac Canal Center, a commercial office development, at the northern end of Old Town.

To reach the Washington Monument twin, you stroll through what appears to be the ruins of an ancient civilization, tempted by a glimpse of the obelisk's tip. A 30-foot steel arrow shaft set amid white marble fragments and beech trees marks the start of a fountain that cascades from the park center down several tiers to the river's edge. The sound of bubbling water from a huge pair of marble lips draws you farther into the plaza to a peaceful rectangular pool ending at a brick wall with a waterfall flanked by two white blocks, one mysteriously inscribed "DCVLV MEMOR." Only as you peer over the wall, do you see the unblinking eyes carved on the other side of the rough-hewn blocks, staring out to the river and past the obelisk below. Look down into the jumbled remains of a former world--columns, boulders, a stone head fragment, a steel arrow shaft--at the base of the waterfall.

Follow a curved set of staircases to the next plaza level and peek through the brick archway for a hidden view of the sculptures. Next, walk down the steps of a small amphitheater, past massive stone lip fountains, to the river level where the 14-ton marble obelisk stands framed against the sweeping view of the Potomac River and Maryland shoreline. It's not as tall as the Washington Monument it mirrors, but it is equally impressive, and makes the link between remembered time and the present.

For an intriguing historical counterpoint to the Promenade Classique, take a short stroll south to the Alexandria Canal Tide Lock. You are instantly transported forward in time to the mid-19th century when a seven-mile canal linked Alexandria with the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in the District of Columbia. Between 1843 and 1886, four locks lowered boats 38 feet from the canal elevation to the river level and raised them on their return trip. The one remaining restored lock speaks to Alexandria's heyday as a center of shipping activity.

WHAT'S IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Grab a sandwich pocket stuffed with a Middle Eastern delicacy or just plain tuna at The Perfect Pita at the corner of N. Fairfax (915) and Canal Center Plaza (M-Fri only, 7:30-5;703-683-8805). Or, walk a few blocks south on Fairfax to a small shopping center between Montgomery and Madison and grab a cup of coffee and a pastry at the Perk Café and Coffee House (822 N. Fairfax; M-T 7-5; Fri 7-4;Sat 8-4: Sun 10-3;703-706-5886); or a focaccio sandwich at Bruscato's Italian Market and Deli (814 N. Fairfax, 7-3:30 M-F;703-684-3613). If you're ready for more substantial fare, sample the regional Italian cuisine at A la Lucia around the corner at 315 Madison (lunch M-Fri, Sun 11:30-2:30; dinner, Mon-Thurs, 5-9:30; Sat 5-10, Sun 5-9;reservations recommended;703-836-5123).

Get lost among some of the softest, candy-spun yarns you've ever touched at the Springwater Fiber Shop (808 N. Fairfax; 703-549-3634; M-Sat 10-5; Thurs 10-8; Sun 12-5). If you're contemplating a kitchen or bathroom redesign, try Renaissance Tile and Bath (818 N. Fairfax; 703-549-7806; M-W 9-5; Thurs 9-7; Fri 9-5). The store has a selection of tiles and mosaics to please everyone's taste. Have a few hours to spare? Wheel Nuts Bike Shop (302 Montgomery; 703-548-5116; Mon-Fri 11-7; Sat 9-6; Sun 10-6) rents single and tandem road bikes, plus handles repairs. If you've got a yen for the exotic, head several blocks north to 1120 N. Fairfax Street and visit Abaca Imports, a treasure trove of furniture, fabrics, and accessories from Indonesia, China, and other points East (Mon-Sat 11-6;Thurs 11-8; Sun. 12-6;703-683-5800).

King Street, the main shopping area of Old Town Alexandria, is also easily accessible from the Promenade Classique. Proceed south on Fairfax Street, approximately eleven blocks. You’ll find the Ramsey House Visitor’s Center on the corner of King Street and South Fairfax, and a host of restaurants and shops as you walk toward the waterfront. Street and garage parking are available.

HOW TO GET THERE: Promenade Classique and the Alexandria Canal Tide Lock are a fifteen-minute drive or taxi-ride from Ronald Reagan National Airport. They are also accessible by foot, bicycle, or rollerblade from the Mt. Vernon Trail.

By Car:

From the north via the George Washington Parkway. From Washington, DC, and the 14th Street Bridge, take the second right exit, marked National Airport; (or from the north via the Beltway, cross the American Legion Bridge and take the first exit onto the George Washington Parkway). Go south on the George Washington Parkway, which becomes North Washington Street). Turn left onto Madison and go seven blocks and turn left onto North Fairfax Street. Go two blocks to Canal Street Plaza (First Street) and turn right. Two-hour parking is available on the street, if you can find a spot, or, cross the railroad tracks where there is a parking garage on your right. No parking is directly available in the park area. The park is also accessible by foot or bicycle from the Mount Vernon Trail.

From points south: Follow the Capital Beltway 495 to Alexandria via the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Take Exit 1 using the first ramp (Mt. Vernon Highway). Continue on Church Street. Make a left turn on S. Washington Street (which becomes N. Washington past King Street). Continue approximately 1.3 miles to Madison Street. Take a right onto Madison. Then turn left on North Fairfax Street. Go two blocks and turn right on Canal Center Plaza.

By Metro:

Take the Yellow or Blue Line to Braddock Road Station. Take a taxi to Canal Street Plaza, or, during the week, a Canal Center shuttle bus is available every 15 minutes during rush hours and every 30 minutes mid-day from the Kiss-n-Ride area of the station (weekdays only).

Selected Works

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