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Lee Gardens South, also known as Sheffield Courts, is an excellent example of a garden-apartment complex that illustrates the prolific design skills of architect Mihran Mesrobian and the original standards promoted by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). This complex, the first of two such garden-apartment complexes, was completed in 1942. The 36 masonry buildings, abutting at the corners to create landscaped courtyards, present stylistic elements and forms closely associated with the Colonial Revival style, which was favored for garden-apartment design. The use of the Colonial Revival style is strongly presented by the main building that is located at the southern end of the complex. This three-story building is strikingly reminiscent of the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg. Slightly taller and wider than the other buildings in the complex, the main building is set on a raised basement and crowned by a cupola. However, as the property was not financed by the FHA, which favored the Colonial Revival style, Mesrobian was able to incorporate impressive elements of the fashionable Streamline Moderne style. This included the wide overhanging eaves on flat roofs, glass block, openings that wrapped around corners, and zigzag brickwork along the cornice line. Mesrobian tailored his designs to the needs of the developer, Lee Gardens, Inc., and setting of the surrounding residential neighborhood of Lyon Park, which is located to the west of the garden-apartment complex. The property’s location within close proximity to Fort Myer, which is set to the immediate east, allowed the complex to be targeted to military families and wartime workers, who were provided with easy access to Washington, D.C. via Arlington Boulevard (eastern boundary of property).
Lee Gardens South Garden Apartments is a contributing resource to the Lyon Park Historic District, which has been listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places under criterion A in the area of community planning and development because of its association with the early-twentieth-century rental-housing boom spurred by the establishment of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Federal government buildup due to WWII. Lee Gardens South also contributes to the historic district under criterion C in the area of architecture as a unique garden-apartment complex, which was design by noted architect Mihran Mesrobian. The architectural achievement of Lee Gardens South combines the best in garden-apartment planning with FHA-insured financing guidelines to make this property an excellent example of the garden-apartment complex as stated in the Multiple Property Nomination, Garden Apartments, Apartment Houses and Apartment Complexes in Arlington County, Virginia: 1934-1954.
Constructed in 1942, Lee Gardens South is location on nearly 14 acres set to the south of North 10th Street and west of Arlington Boulevard in the neighborhood of Lyon Park. The siting, massing, symmetry, form, and ornamentation of the property is distinctly Colonial Revival in style, with detailing and some fenestration elements strongly influenced by the Streamline Moderne style. The flat-roof structures have rectangular, slightly H-shaped, footprints that abut at the corners to create interior courtyards. Set upon partially raised foundations pierced with window openings, the buildings stand three stories in height, each containing 14 to 15 apartment units (589 in total). The buildings are constructed of concrete with steel joists and a brick veneer laid in six-course American bond (red and blonde brick). The largely symmetrical fenestration is interrupted by three-sided bays that rise two stories and three-bay-wide entry bays that project from the main elevation. The shallow-pitched hipped roofs are framed by Colonial Revival-style cornices with an ogee profile and narrow frieze. The buildings with flat roofs or those with ends wings covered by flat roofs have zigzag brick molding that projects slightly from just below the metal-coped parapet. The window openings, the majority of which are symmetrically placed, originally held metal casement windows that were replaced in 1987 with 1/1, single-hung, metal-sash windows. Concrete panels with Colonial Revival-style designs are set below the windows, reading as spandrels. These symmetrically placed rectangular panels compliment the south and oval panels intermittently placed on the more asymmetrically fenestrated elevations (typically those with flat roofs). Elements of the Streamline Modern include not only the zigzag cornice and flat roof, which is frequently finished on the corners with overhanging eaves, but glass block and window openings that wrap around the corners. The public entries, which are not particularly prominent, are sheltered under half-hipped porticoes located at the center of the primary elevations. The main building, reflective of the Colonial Revival-style Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, is located at the southern dead-end of the North Wayne Street. The building is twice as large as the flanking buildings, set on a raised basement. It is similar in massing, style, and fenestration to the other buildings, save the one-story wood-frame cupola rising from the center of the shallow-pitched hipped roof. Paved walkways, sidewalks, brick walls with concrete detailing and posts, playgrounds, courtyards, and parking improve the landscape.