Crystal City is an urban neighborhood in the southeastern corner of Arlington County, Virginia. Just south of downtown Washington, D.C., Crystal City is centered along a stretch of Jefferson Davis Highway (U.S. 1), just south of The Pentagon, just east of Pentagon City, and within walking distance to the west of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Characterized as one of many “urban villages” by Arlington County, Crystal City is almost exclusively populated by high-rise apartment buildings, corporate offices, hotels, and numerous shops and restaurants. There is also an extensive network of underground shopping areas and connecting corridors beneath Crystal City.
Prior to development by the Charles E. Smith Co., the area was mostly composed of industrial sites, junkyards, and low rent motels. The RF & P railroad tracks were also moved closer to National Airport to accommodate more space for development.
Though it is not actually a planned community, it unfolded in much that fashion after construction began on the first few condominiums and office buildings in 1963. The name “Crystal City” came from the first building, which was called Crystal House and had an elaborate crystal chandelier in the lobby. Every subsequent building took on the Crystal name (i.e., Crystal Gateway, Crystal Towers), and eventually the whole neighborhood. Crystal City is largely integrated in layout and extensive landscaping, as well as the style and materials of the high rise buildings, most of which have a speckled granite exterior.
Crystal City’s Crystal Underground shopping mall opened in September 1976. Billed as a “turn-of-the-century shopping village,” it featured antique leaded glass shop windows and cobblestone “streets.” Emphasis was on locally owned and operated businesses and personalized service. The largest retail outlets were a 12,000-square-foot (1,100 m2) Jelleff’s womens store, Larimers gourmet grocery and delicatessen, and a Drug Fair. The mall also featured an “Antique Alley” with small antique and craft stores. At opening there were 40 stores, with an anticipated expansion of 150,000 square feet (14,000 m2) with 70 more shops including the Crystal Palace food court.
As a consequence of Crystal City’s extensive integration with both office buildings and residential high-rise buildings, it is possible for most residents living to the east of Route 1 to traverse from one end to the other (roughly north-south), performing any shopping or dining along the way, entirely underground, thus making Crystal City an underground city. This is of particular importance during inclement weather. During the winter months, local outdoor temperatures can drop to the low teens (Fahrenheit), and snow storms and heavy rains are possible.
Crystal City presently has over 6,000 residents, while around 60,000 come to work there every weekday. It was home to the United States Patent and Trademark Office until mid-2005, when the PTO moved to nearby Alexandria. It also has offices of numerous defense contractors, the United States Department of Labor, the EPA and many satellite offices for The Pentagon, which is currently being renovated.
The layout of Crystal City was considered avant-garde back when it was built, with superblocks bounded by arterial and circulating roads, and with pedestrian traffic and the businesses serving it relocated from the streets to the pedestrian tunnels. However, as of 2005, Crystal City is being redesigned to give it a more traditional, urban feel, with restaurants at street level, and with traffic patterns changed to make streets like Crystal Drive function as city streets, rather than as circulating roads.
Crystal City has a station on the Washington Metro Blue and Yellow Lines, and on the Virginia Railway Express commuter train system.
In 2001 Charles E. Smith Residential Realty was purchased in a merger with Archstone Communities of Denver, forming the Archstone-Smith Trust. Charles E. Smith Commercial Realty (itself a holding of the Vornado Realty Trust), which still owns the commercial buildings in Crystal City, remains separate to this day.