The Torpedo Factory Art Center: Alexandria's World War II Landmark

U.S. Naval Torpedo Station in Alexandria, Virginia circa 1922

Silently sitting on the waterfront of the Potomac River, the 85,000 square foot Torpedo Factory Art Center at 105 North Union Street in Old Town Alexandria is a landmark of Northern Virginia history. Today, the Torpedo Factory houses artist studios, galleries, art workshops, and even an archeology museum. Yet during the tumultuous years of America’s involvement in the Second World War, workers produced a different form of art within the Torpedo Factory’s walls – the Mark 14 submarine torpedo used by U.S. Navy personnel in the Pacific theater of the war. Over 70 years after its decommissioning as a munitions depot, the history of the Torpedo Factory is a fascinating tale of politics, faulty weapon engineering, and local spirit.

Construction on the Alexandria Naval Torpedo Station began on November 12th, 1918, one day after Armistice Day ended hostilities in the First World War. Early on, Alexandria shared its responsibilities for manufacturing and maintaining torpedoes and weapon ordnance with the primary Naval Torpedo Station located on Goat Island in Newport, Rhode Island. Goat Island housed the Bureau of Ordnance, the organization responsible for the Navy’s primary weapons development and research. In an attempt to keep money and resources flowing to the Torpedo Station on Goat Island, Congressional delegations from several New England states convinced Congress to cease production at Alexandria and focus all resources toward Goat Island and the Bureau of Ordnance. In 1923, Alexandria ceased production, becoming a munitions storage facility for close to twenty years.

The Manhattan Project Comes to Washington, D.C.

War Department Building, 21st and Virginia Ave., N. W., Washington, D. C. (Source: Boston Public Library, Tichnor Brothers Postcard Collection)

When people think of the Manhattan Project, the top secret American mission to build the first atomic bomb, they often think of Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the world’s first atomic device was actually assembled and detonated. But in reality, the project was assigned to 26 locations across the country, from research labs in Chicago and New York to uranium mines in Colorado to production and design facilities in Tennessee and New Mexico.

And it was all run from a small two-room office in Washington, D.C.

The Tizard Mission: The Briefcase That Changed World War II

Sir Henry Thomas Tizard (Source: National Portrait Gallery, London)

On the morning of August 29, 1940, while the Battle of Britain raged in the skies overhead, a small group of men boarded an ocean liner and left the country with the nation’s most sensitive military secrets.

These men were not spies or Nazi sympathizers. They were among the United Kingdom’s foremost civilian and military scientists, and they were headed for Washington, D.C. in an attempt to turn the tide of the war, which at that point was going very heavily in favor of Nazi Germany.

Vin Scully postcard (Photo source: Official Vin Scully website)

Vin Scully Gets His Start on WTOP

If you are a baseball fan, you know Vin Scully. Heck, even if you aren’t a baseball fan you probably know Vin Scully. He’s been broadcasting Dodgers games since 1950 – first in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles. His smooth delivery and anecdotes have captivated listeners for decades. That's why he’s been called the “best of all time” and “a national treasure” amongst other lauds.

But had it not been for a summer job in Washington, who knows how Scully’s career would have turned out?

Mussolini in 1940. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

Mussolini’s Mysterious Stay at St. Elizabeths

St. Elizabeths Hospital has had its fair share of infamous patients. Would-be Presidential assassins Richard Lawrence and John Hinckley, silent film actress Mary Fuller, and “The Shotgun Stalker” James Swann have all called the psychiatric hospital home. But the building has also had some lesser-known, but equally significant, guests – or at least parts of them. St. Elizabeths quite literally got a piece of Benito Mussolini’s mind when sections of his brain were sent there for research in 1945.That’s right: as literary great Ezra Pound spent time in the Chestnut Ward, a portion of his fascist idol was just next door. And while Pound left after twelve years, the brain remained, shrouded in obscurity, until its eventual disappearance more than twenty years later.

Let’s go back to April of 1945. It was the final year of World War II, and things weren’t going well for Il Duce. Allied forces were invading Italy, and as he attempted to flee, Mussolini was captured by Communist partisans near Lake Como. There, he was executed with his mistress, Clara Petacci, and taken to Piazzale Loreto in Milan.

How a Failed German Spy Mission Turned into J. Edgar Hoover’s Big Break

The Nazi Saboteur trial taking place in a converted Department of Justice room, 1942. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

On June 13, 1942, four Nazi spies disembarked their U-Boat on a beach near Long Island, New York. Four days later, a similar group landed on Ponte Verda Beach, Florida. Their goal: to harm American economic targets in the hope of turning the war back in favor of Germany. The men had been extensively trained at a sabotage school near Berlin and carried enough explosives, primers, and incendiaries to support two years worth of destruction. They carried plans with them that outlined attacks of New York’s Hell Gate Bridge, hydroelectric plants at Niagara Falls, aluminum plants in Philadelphia, the canal lock systems in Cincinnati and St. Louis, and other targets.

Arlington Police Department: 75 Years Serving the Community

1940 was a big year for municiple services in northern Virginia. Sparked by the growing population in the region, Arlington created professional police and fire departments and Fairfax created a police department of its own. In celebration of the ACPD's 75th Anniversary, the department has put together a book featuring photos and stories about the history of law enforcement in the county.

Capt. Michelle Nuneville will be sharing some of the stories she and colleagues uncovered tonight in a free public program for the Arlington Historical Society (7pm in the Central Library Auditorium). Don't miss it! Last week, Capt. Nuneville was kind enough to give us a preview of her talk. Check out the video above and read more after the jump.

Baseball But No Palm Trees: Nats Wartime Spring Training

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, shown here in throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Griffith Stadium in 1934, recommended that baseball continue during World War II. However, teams were expected to curtail travel and conduct spring training close to home. (Photo source: National Archives)

Ah, Major League Baseball Spring Training, the annual spring rite when ball clubs escape the cold of the north and go to Florida or Arizona to shake off the winter rust. Teams have been doing it for over one hundred years.

In fact, our hometown Washington Nationals began the trend – sort of –  in 1888 when they became the first club to hold camp in Florida, setting up shop in Jacksonville. The experiment was a little before its time. When the Nats finished the 1888 season with a 46-86 record (a mere 37 and a half games out of first place), they and other teams decided traveling South to train was not a recipe for success.

It took a few years, but teams eventually reconsidered and – thanks largely to a sunshine state building boom – Florida’s Grapefruit League was well established by the 1930s. The Washington Senators camped in Orlando in 1936 and stayed there until 1960, except for a memorable three-year stretch during World War II.

Meeting the Community's Needs: Arlington’s Friendly Cab Company

In the 1940s, Jim Crow held strong in Arlington, Virginia. African-Americans encountered discrimination at segregated eating establishments, businesses and recreation facilities. Even access to medical care was divided along racial lines.

African American mothers were barred from the maternity ward at Arlington Hospital and were expected to travel to hospitals in Washington, D.C. or Alexandria to give birth. For many black Arlingtonians, getting to D.C. was difficult – especially in a medical emergency – as many could not afford cars of their own.

In 1947, three men with bright ideas and business ingenuity stepped up to fill the void.