Nuns can do anything well if they put their minds to it, and Murphy’s form with the sledgehammer suggested she might have taken batting practice earlier.
“That wasn’t bad!” she said in reviewing photos of her efforts.
There was no Las Vegas-style implosion with pyrotechnics, but university and community leaders gathered March 18 to say goodbye to their old building and aim for success in building the new.
“Marymount is making a bold statement,” said John Shooshan, whose development firm is partnering with the university on a two-building successor to the Blue Goose. One will serve as the Marymount’s Ballston academic campus, the other a residential building. Parking, which had been on a surface lot, will go underground.
Shooshan has spent nearly a quarter-century working with a succession of Marymount leaders in an effort to redevelop the 2-acre parcel, strategically positioned at the intersection of North Glebe Road and North Fairfax Drive.
“This journey has not been easy, nor will it be easy,” said Shooshan, who initially contacted then-Marymount President Sister Majella Berg about a potential partnership in 1991.
Finally, “it was the right place at the right time,” he said.
For Marymount, the redevelopment provides the opportunity to leverage pent-up development potential.
“We’re very excited,” university president Matthew Shank said, promising that the new building will serve as “a wonderful statement for the entire Arlington community.”
“We want the finest learning environment and the finest working environment,” Shank said at a reception for about 150 university boosters, held in a tent on the parking lot outside the soon-to-be-demolished, Kennedy-era structure.
When it was constructed a half-century ago, the eight-story building was described as Ballston’s first high-rise. Long before the arrival of Arlington’s “urban-village” days, it shared the neighborhood with a bowling alley and palm reader.
In its early years, the building served as a training center for the Central Intelligence Agency, and due to its distinctive color, was known to a generation of CIA employees as “Blue U.”
The origins of the name “Blue Goose” are shrouded in the mists of history. But Jeanne Broyhill, whose father and uncle were responsible for construction of the building and much else in Northern Virginia during the era, says she always remembers it by that nickname. (A nearby building, now long gone, was known as the Green Hornet, Broyhill said.)
Berg, who served as Marymount president for more than three decades, agreed to purchase the building in the early 1980s to address a space crunch on the university’s main campus a mile north. At the time, the university’s cash coffers were somewhat light, but – as both God and financial wizards often work in mysterious ways – the funds were found.
Berg then was faced with an aesthetic challenge: Arlington County Board members despised the blue color, and wanted it changed. Berg, for whom blue represented both her religious order and her university, was determined to keep it as-is – but needed a strategey to change the minds of board members.
As lore goes, she was given the advice that a few well-placed tears at the appropriate moment could sway elected officials to her side. Feminists may not have approved, but Sister Majella came away with what she wanted.
(Shank joked that he tried the same technique, serving up a few tears in an effort to wheedle more density for the project from county leaders. “They told me to go away,” he said.)
By the 1990s, the building had become tired and was proving a less-than-ideal setting for students and staff, while the rest of Ballston was teeming with new development. The nonprofit group Preservation Arlington believed the building deserved historic status, but the effort came to naught.
Even Jeanne Broyhill, whose family put it up, said the time had come to move forward.
“I have no qualms about it,” she said of the redevelopment. “I can’t believe it has lasted as long as it has.”
The new Marymount building will take its place in a corridor that is now laden with educational institutions, including George Mason University, George Washington University and Virginia Tech. As construction begins, Marymount students and staff have settled into a temporary Ballston home just up the street on North Fairfax Drive.
Cranes already are positioned on the parcel to start removing chunks of the old building. Clark Construction won the contract to build the new compound.
The old building soon will be gone, but not entirely forgotten. Some of the iconic blue panels will be used as decorative pieces on the new facility.
After having the chance to whack away with the sledgehammer, those attending the demolition party went away with 3-inch squares of the blue tile as mementos.