Find Your Place In Penrose

About Penrose

The Penrose neighborhood is a south Arlington community bounded by Arlington Boulevard to the north, Columbia Pike to the south, Washington Boulevard to the east, and South Fillmore Street/South Walter Reed Drive to the west, located about 3 miles from the District of Columbia, less than 2 miles from the Pentagon and Arlington Hall Foreign Service Institute, and the neighborhood abuts the Fort Myer Army base and Arlington National Cemetery.

Penrose began as the Butler-Holmes subdivision was platted and subdivided on 13 acres of rural farmland in 1882 by two farmers, Wm. H Butler and Henry L. Holmes, who were also prominent leaders of Freedman’s Village and Arlington public officials. The men built their family homes there before the plat was complete, followed by a number of freestanding homes to sell. Butler’s 1879 Queen Anne-style home at 2407 South 2nd Street is still owned by the Butler family today, and Holmes’ widow lived in their second Penrose house at 2803 S. 2nd Street until her death.

Along with the developers’ social influence, the site’s proximity to Freedman’s Village and lack of restrictive covenants helped create a large community of African Americans in the area.

One notable resident was a young Dr. Charles R. Drew, who later became famous for his scientific advances in the field of blood plasma transfusion research. Drew was a teacher, physician and medical researcher, the first African American to; receive a Doctor of Science in Medicine, be awarded a 1938 Rockefeller Fellowship in surgery at Columbia University, be appointed Supervisor of the Blood Transfusion Association for NYC. Drew oversaw the “Blood for Britain” program, which saved the lives of many wounded WWII soldiers. He was then appointed Director of the Red Cross Blood Bank and Assistant Director of the National Research Council, responsible for blood collection for the United States Navy and Army. Drew resigned in protest of the War Department’s policy that African American blood should be separated from the blood of white Americans. Later, he accepted positions as Chief of Staff and Medical Director of Freedman’s Hospital and Head of Surgery at Howard University.

The Drew family lived in a two-story clapboard home with a covered front porch and vegetable garden at 2505 South 1st Street, built in about 1910. Charles resided there until he completed high school and returned to visit while earning his degrees from Amherst College, McGill University and Columbia University. The home was designated a National Historic Landmark and is still occupied by members of the Drew family.

Early maps show 15 individual land parcels referred to as a group named “The Arlington Heights,” located between the Butler-Holmes subdivision and Columbia Pike. During the 1960’s, the Arlington Heights subdivision and the Butler-Holmes subdivision merged, forming a new neighborhood called Central Arlington.

Train and trolley development spurred growth in the area. By 1920, there were approximately 70 houses in Central Arlington. With the expansion of federal government agencies in Washington and addition of nearby military establishments, the neighborhood grew to 175 buildings and several churches in the 1930’s. By the 1950’s, there was a mix of Queen Anne and Italianate-style homes built mostly of wood, wood-frame bungalows and newly popular mail-order houses made affordable thanks to convenient rail line shipping of materials. During the 1940’s housing boom, several garden-style apartment complexes were built with federal workers in mind. Fillmore Gardens and Fort Craig Apartments are two examples. Today, Penrose offers a mix of single family homes, townhomes, duplexes, condos and apartment buildings of various sizes. The neighborhood’s commercial center runs along the southern edge of the neighborhood, just north of Columbia Pike.

Neighborhood amenities include two parks; Penrose Park, located at 6th and Wayne Street, Butler Holmes Park, located at 101 South Barton Street and Towers Park, located at 801 South Scott Street. Penrose ‘borrows’ amenities from nearby

In 1995, a citizens’ initiative prompted a name change for the neighborhood, from Central Arlington to “Penrose,” taken from one of the area’s historical trolley stops on the Georgetown-Nauck line. The Trolley became the neighborhood’s symbol.

In 2012, the Penrose Square public space project was completed at 2597 Columbia Pike.