King Street: Alexandria, Virginia


Historic, vibrant, and eclectic, King Street has been enhanced by active planning and implementation through its evolution from an 18th century colonial seaport and 19th century center of trade to a center of 21st century commerce and tourism. Planning and preservation have ensured that King Street, part of the "Old and Historic District" in Alexandria's "Old Town" neighborhood, balances the past with the present. The city's Archeological Protection Code, adopted in 1989, requires impact assessments on cultural resources for new development and a Board of Architectural Review ensures that designs for new construction and exterior alterations blend with the street's historic buildings.

Designated Area

Twenty blocks between the Potomac River to the east and the King Street Metrorail Station to the west.

Surrounded by 18th and 19th century buildings, King Street's preserved Market Square hosts one of the nation's oldest continuously operating farmers markets, along with festivals and other events. Photo courtesy of Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association.

Planning Excellence

Approval of special zoning in 2005 and 2007 encouraged a mix of businesses and outdoor dining, which help foster activity along the street and prevent concentrations of any one type of business.

At the western end of King Street, beyond the historic district, is a Metrorail station built in 1983. While this part of the street has a larger scale, a 1992 plan led to redevelopment from low-scale warehouses, an auto dealership, and surface parking to offices, hotels, restaurants, and infill commercial development. The resulting transition area, with moderate building height restrictions and a wayfinding system installed in 2008, guides visitors to Old Town by foot or a free trolley service.

With its attractive mix of dining, retail, and other attractions for residents and visitors alike, King Street continues as an economic center and gathering place for the City of Alexandria – a role it has served since George Washington drew early plats for the street in 1749.

Outdoor diners, furry friends included, enjoy their meals al fresco, as a result of the King Street Outdoor Dining Overlay Zone encouraging such use. Wide sidewalks allow for pedestrian movement, and old-fashioned street lamps line the streets, setting the mood for a pleasant evening outside. Photo courtesy of Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Two centuries of history

  • Ceded with the City of Alexandria to form the District of Columbia in 1801, King Street suffered neglect until Alexandria returned to Virginia in 1847
  • Union occupation of Alexandria during Civil War prevented the destruction of many of the buildings, including those along King Street
  • The Second Empire-style Alexandria City Hall (301 King Street), built in 1871, features a clocktower based on a 1817 design by U.S. Capitol architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe
  • Burke and Herbert Bank (100 South Fairfax Street), built 1906, demonstrates early 20th century Vernacular Classical architecture
  • Torpedo Factory Art Center on the waterfront (corner of North Union and King Street) built as World War I armaments factory; converted to artists' studios in 1970s; today houses more than 165 artists and yearly attracts 500,000 visitors

Planning and preservation

  • Archeological Protection Code adopted in 1989 was first of its kind for a U.S. city; requires evaluation of development projects for impact on archeological resources and to reduce loss of cultural heritage sites, objects
  • Alexandria Master Plan (1992) included the King Street Metro Station Small Area Plan, which implemented transit-oriented development near Metro station; Old Town Small Area Plan balances shops and dining along street
  • King Street Retail Zone (2005) provides regulatory flexibility that encourages a balance of retail, residential, and commercial uses yet ensures King Street feels and functions as a downtown "Main Street"
  • King Street Outdoor Dining Overlay Zone (2007) encourages outdoor dining, standardized guidelines, streamlined approval; most restaurants now offer seasonal outdoor dining, contributing to vibrancy found here
  • Proposed Waterfront Plan (draft introduced February 2011) includes reducing frequent flooding at popular intersection of King and Union Streets; plan would reduce waterfront flooding from 150 to 10-15 times a year

Transportation connections

  • Compact blocks, attractive sidewalks, interesting storefronts, visible crosswalks contribute to street's walkability
  • King Street Metro station also transfer area to buses, Amtrak, commuter rail
  • Free King Street Trolley provides service between Metro Station and waterfront every 15 minutes from 11:30 a.m. to 10:15 p.m.
  • Street bisected by 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail, connecting Mount Vernon, Washington, D.C., and Alexandria's West End; bicycle racks on every block
  • Water taxis service crosses Potomac River from eastern end of King Street to the new town center of National Harbor, Maryland

The oldest section of King Street is dominated by 18th to 20th century architecture, typically constructed of brick and two to three stories high. Portions of the street were listed as part of a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places. This section of the street is commonly referred to as Old Town. Photo courtesy of Nathan Macek.

Authentic and eclectic character

  • 18th and 19th century buildings, preserved through strict architectural and demolition control, provide visual variety along streetscape
  • Market Square at Alexandria City Hall (301 King St.) has one of oldest continuously operating U.S. farmers markets — produce from Mount Vernon once sold here; also site for concerts, festivals, community events
  • Area closest to Metro is fastest growing residential area of Old Town; weekly farmers market held across from Metro at King Street Garden Park, which features a sculptural trellis representative of Alexandria's colonial history
  • Commanding views from western portion of King Street of 333-foot tall George Washington Masonic National Memorial located just beyond Metrorail station; divided Metrorail station roof canopy preserves view
  • Of 300 retail businesses along King Street and adjacent blocks, 77 percent are independent; 14 percent are national chains