A year after it was first proposed, the renaming of Nauck Town Square in honor of a longtime Green Valley civic leader looks headed to success.
The name “John Robinson Jr. Town Square” has won the support of the Park and Recreation Commission, Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Commission, Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) and the civic associations of Green Valley, Shirlington and Douglas Park.
County Board members will have the final say.
Robinson (1934-2012) was “always the go-to person – he was on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” said Robin Stombler, chair of the community-affairs committee of the Green Valley Civic Association.
“It’s difficult to think of any other name for this town square,” Stombler said. “He just personified what it meant to be a leader.”
For decades, Robinson was involved in community issues of the day, running the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and being active in food/clothing/furniture drives and efforts to rid the Green Valley community of its drug scourge in the 1980s.
He also published the Green Valley News, a compendium of local items, for four decades.
“This was our version of the Northern Virginia Sun – only better,” said Carmela Hamm, an HALRB member.
Hamm said Robinson’s motivation to help his community was deep-rooted.
“John went without for decades so others could have,” she said. “I cannot think of a more deserving person.”
The proposal to name the square – currently being rebuilt – in honor of Robinson was unveiled a year ago by the Green Valley Civic Association. At the time, association president Portia Clark said it was fitting to name the entire square after him, rather than some lesser honor.
“We’ve talked about a statue, we’ve talked about a plaque, we’ve talked about naming a stage,” Clark said then.
A final vote on renaming the square could come by the end of the year.
“What the community wants is certainly the most important criteria,” now-County Board Chairman Libby Garvey told the Sun Gazette last year when the idea was first floated.
The proposal “sounds good to me,” Garvey said.
Construction has been ongoing for more than a year on the town square, located where 24th Street South, South Kenmore Street and South Shirlington Road come together. In recent years, the parcel has been mostly barren (with the exception of a few trees), but has served for decades as a gathering spot for those living in the historically African-American community of Green Valley.
Voters approved funding for the project in a 2018 referendum; County Board members in 2019 approved the final procedural steps needed to move forward, including purchase of an adjoining parcel.
Even before the Civil War, the Green Valley community (alternately known as Nauck) was one of the rare enclaves in what is now Arlington where free African-Americans could live. After emancipation, more moved into the neighborhood and it became one of the hearts of Arlington’s black community. In recent years, increasing home values have led to a degree of gentrification, but some longtime residents and a number of important facilities (including churches and the local YMCA) remain.
A mural of Robinson by artist Romeo Taylor now can be found close to the town-square construction site, next to one of another community stalwart, Leonard “Doc” Muse, longtime proprietor of the Green Valley Pharmacy.
Another part of the effort to honor Robinson’s legacy has been cataloguing his large collection of photographs and identifying who is in them.
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