Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood is a funky community full of some extraordinary architecture, including classic and authentic Art Deco buildings.
This crash-course in Del Ray’s Art Deco architecture is a fun way to spend the day with friends or family and explore the fascinating history of Del Ray, while stopping at some of our favorite restaurants and shops along the way. To get to Del Ray, you can conveniently take the Metro to Braddock Station and hop on a Capital Bikeshare for an active day exploring the neighborhood “where Main Street still exists.”
Swing’s Coffee: Industrial Art Deco
The Exterior of Swing’s Coffee Bar and Roastery in Del Ray. Image Credit: S. Stanton for Visit Alexandria
Start off the day at Swing’s on East Monroe Avenue, celebrating 100 years in the DC area in 2016. The roastery and coffee bar are housed in an authentic Art Deco warehouse-style building designed by a Washington, DC, architect in the 1950’s. The space has housed everything from an engraving shop to the Gold Crust Baking Company.
Art Deco details above the entrance to Swing’s. Image Credit: S. Stanton for Visit Alexandria
As you enter Swing’s, you’ll notice a decorative stone pilaster above the main entrance, carved with ornamental details and the visage of a Native American. The sand-colored pilasters and geometric lines are classic Art Deco, with even more details inside the coffee bar. Grab one of Swing’s signature coffee drinks and stroll around Leslie Avenue to explore a series of five Art Deco warehouses built in the 50’s.
The Del Ray Coffee Bar at Swing’s. Image Credit: K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria
George Washington Middle School
The front steps of George Washington Middle School. Image Credit: S. Stanton for Visit Alexandria
Next up, head to the George Washington Middle School at 1005 Mount Vernon Avenue, one of the largest examples of Art Deco architecture in the area. It’s best to visit on weekends or afternoons when school is out, and I highly recommend taking your time as you walk around the perimeter of the building, Swing’s in hand, to notice the intricate architectural details.
The Shop Building at George Washington Middle School. Image Credit: S. Stanton for Visit Alexandria
The building was constructed in the 1930’s and has remained a school ever since. I love the decorative limestone pilasters and leaf motifs on the roofline, but my absolute favorite are the winged eagles and vertical striations, all distinctive Art Deco. How many eagles can you count?
Winged eagles and vertical striations at George Washington Middle School. Image Credit: S. Stanton for Visit Alexandria
The Poladian Building
The “Poladian Building” on Mount Vernon Avenue. Image Credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria
Hop on your bike and continue your Art Deco tour of Del Ray down Mount Vernon Avenue to the 2400 block, where the “Poladian Building” houses Cheesetique, Swetride and Caboose Cafe. The building you see today is a reconstruction of an earlier Art Deco building constructed in the 1930’s, which burned down in “one of the worst fires in the history of Alexandria” on Christmas Eve, 1945 when the bowling alley in the basement (yes! There was a bowling alley in the basement) caught fire due to the lacquer on the bowling lanes.
Detail of the Art Deco pilasters above Cheesetique. Image Credit: S. Stanton for Visit Alexandria
I recommend grabbing a bite to eat at Cheesetique for the Best Mac and Cheese in the U.S. or at Caboose Cafe, winner of the 2016 Heart of Del Ray Award, for pastries and sandwiches. In the warmer months, dine outside to admire the Art Deco details including the pilasters and small, square windows. You’ll definitely want to look at the Historic Del Ray mural outside of Cheesetique and learn more about Del Ray’s railroad history with informative panels.
Yoga in Daily Life
Image Credit: S. Stanton for Visit Alexandria
Across the street at Yoga in Daily Life, you can spend the afternoon stretching out inside an Art Deco-inspired building with elements of Streamline Moderne architecture. In the 1920’s, the yoga studio was The Palm Theater, one of the earliest purpose-built movie theaters in the area. According to historical documents, tickets in the 1930’s and 40’s cost a dime and “Del Ray residents flocked to the theater on Saturday afternoons for weekly serials (primarily Westerns), which were popular with neighborhood children.”
Image Credit: S. Stanton for Visit Alexandria
End your Art Deco tour of Del Ray in style with dinner outside at Evening Star or a with bourbon slush at Front Porch next door. Although the restaurant is not representative of Art Deco architecture, you can see the Art Deco post office across East Howell Street with interesting architectural details on the windows and doors.
To learn more about the Del Ray neighborhood, click here. For more information on Alexandria architecture, click here. Be sure to share pictures with #ExtraordinaryALX and #DelRayVA to show us your favorite Art Deco details in Del Ray, and most importantly, have fun!
Header image courtesy of S. Stanton for Visit Alexandria.
Special thanks to the City of Alexandria for providing historical documents to make this post possible.