Gerald Ford in Alexandria
Gerald R. Ford in Alexandria — Remembering Our 38th President
During Ford’s 12th term in Congress, President Nixon nominated him as Vice President upon the resignation of Spiro T. Agnew. Ford became Vice President on December 6, 1973. President Nixon, embroiled in the Watergate scandal, resigned less than a year later, and Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States on August 9, 1974. President Ford and his family continued to live at Crown View Drive for ten days before moving to the White House.
During the Fords’ years in Alexandria, they were active in community affairs and the children attended Alexandria City Public Schools. According to Mayor Euille, who attended T. C. Williams High School with the two oldest Ford sons, Mr. Ford visited the schools “as a parent, a speaker to government classes, and an athletic booster for his sports-minded children.”
President Ford passed away on December 26, 2006, at the age of 93. In honor of his years in Alexandria, his funeral motorcade passed through Alexandria on December 30, as it traveled from Andrews Air Force Base en route to the U. S. Capitol. Hundreds of Alexandrians lined the streets to say farewell to one of their most famous residents.
Congressman Ford in Alexandria
1521 Mount Eagle Place, 1951 - 1955
Congressman Gerald R. Ford and his family moved to Parkfairfax in Alexandria in 1951, during his second term. Parkfairfax, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was a rental community of apartments and two-level townhouses built in 1942. A number of other members of Congress rented homes in Parkfairfax over the years, including future President Richard M. Nixon.
The Fords moved to Alexandria with their young son Michael. Their second son, Jack, was born in 1952. In 1953, while the Fords were living at Parkfairfax, construction began on their future home on Crown View Drive.
Congressman Ford in Alexandria, 514 Crown View Drive
514 Crown View Drive, 1955 – 1973
Gerald R. Ford (R-Michigan) and his family moved into their newly completed four-bedroom, two bath Colonial house at 514 Crown View Drive in 1955, during his fourth term in Congress. Built on a quarter-acre lot, the brick and wood-siding house had four bedrooms, a finished rec room in the basement, and a two-car garage. The Fords later added a backyard pool.
The Fords moved to the Clover neighborhood from Parkfairfax, along with their two oldest children, when Michael was five years old and John (Jack) was three. Steven was born in 1956, and Susan in 1957. The family also had pets, including a dog, Brown Sugar, who enjoyed swimming in the pool.
The neighbors remember Ford as a good neighbor and an involved parent. They heard the splash each fine morning as he swam in the pool. And they saw him playing with the children and mowing the lawn.
The three boys attended Alexandria’s T. C. Williams High School, and were active in sports. Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille attended T. C. Williams High School along with the two oldest Ford boys, Mike and Jack, from 1965 to 1968. Euille and Mike Ford both served as senior class officers. The children walked to school and rode their bikes through the neighborhood. Susan attended Holton Arms, a private school in Maryland, and babysat for neighborhood children.
Betty devoted time to her children’s activities, including Cub Scouts, Brownies, baseball and football. She was also active in the Alexandria Cancer Fund. Soon after leaving Alexandria for the White House, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and helped to bring this disease to the attention of the American public.
Vice President Ford in Alexandria
Ford became Vice President on December 6, 1973, after the resignation of Spiro T. Agnew. At the time, the U. S. Naval Observatory was being readied as a new Vice President’s residence, but the Ford family remained at Crown View Drive, living in their own home, as had former Vice Presidents. Alterations were quickly made to the house to accommodate Secret Service protection. The garage was converted into a room for use by the Secret Service, numerous phone lines were installed, bulletproof glass was placed in the master bedroom windows, and steel rods were placed under the driveway to support the armored limousine.
In 1974, when his son Steven was attending T. C. Williams, Vice President Ford delivered the keynote address to the graduating class.
Ford’s short tenure as Vice President, and his family’s 23 years as Alexandria residents, ended in August 1974 when he became President of the United States upon Nixon’s resignation.
President Ford in Alexandria
After Nixon announced his resignation on August 8, 1974, crowds gathered outside the Ford’s home. The Alexandria Police Department closed the road to traffic, and a stand with microphones appeared for the press. According to the Alexandria Gazette on that day:
“…Crown View Drive… came alive with news media personnel, neighbors and curious passers-by. Neighbors joined the professionals in the picture taking experience as Ford entered, then resumed the friendly vigil waiting for something to happen. It didn’t.” (Alexandria Gazette, August 8, 1974.)
Neighbor Louise Abbruzzese allowed reporters to use her telephone, television and bathroom as they waited hours for Ford to arrive home. Her husband Peter provided a pitcher of martinis in their garage, as a way for reporters to get out of the rain. In thanks, the Press presented the Abbruzzese family with a plaque for their garage, which reads “First press room of President Gerald R. Ford, August 8, 1974.” (CNN transcript, December 27, 2006.)
Ford took the oath of office the next day, on August 9, 1974. That night, close friends gathered at the Ford home for an informal dinner. Margaret and Trammell F. Crow were among those in attendance. Mrs. Crow noted that a couple of White House servants came over to help prepare and clean up. (The Dallas Morning News, December 29, 2006.)
Two days later, the Fords attended an Episcopal service at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, at 3606 Seminary Road. The sermon by the Reverend William Dols, Jr., addressed the need to “pick up the broken pieces” of Nixon’s presidency. (Alexandria Gazette Packet January 3, 2007.)
The President commuted down I-395 from Alexandria to the White House for the first ten days of his term. According to Time Magazine: “Preceded by a police car and trailed by four other vehicles, including a Secret Service station wagon and a press van, his limousine was hard to miss. Many motorists waved a cheerful if somewhat bemused good-morning as the Chief Executive, immersed in his morning newspapers, sailed past them in the lane reserved for buses and car pools.” (Time Magazine, August 24, 1974.)
Betty Ford later wrote: “For me, leaving the White House wasn’t nearly so much of a wrench as leaving our house in Alexandria.”
President Ford, in his remarks to the Alexandria Police Association in September 1974, said: “We have many fond memories of living in Alexandria, and we aren't going to sell our home. We are going to come back there. I don't know how soon.” The Fords did not return to live on Crown View Drive. After he left the Presidency in 1977, the Fords retired to Palm Springs, California, and Vail, Colorado.
Funeral Procession and City Commemorations
His funeral plans, established several years before his death, called for the motorcade to pass through the City of Alexandria in remembrance of his long residency here. On the evening of December 30, 2006, President Ford’s funeral procession passed through Alexandria as it traveled from Andrews Air Force Base en route to the U.S. Capitol.
Hundreds of Alexandrians lined the streets to say farewell to one of their most famous residents, and to pay respects to the Ford family. As the long motorcade proceeded northward on Washington Street, mourners were moved to see Mrs. Ford wave to the crowd. Some placed their hands over their hearts as the President’s hearse passed, and others gave a military salute. Some in the crowd applauded, but most stood in respectful silence.
That week, Mayor William D. Euille announced plans for a process for the City to commemorate President Ford and his strong affection for his adopted hometown. Mayor Euille appointed a committee chaired by former Councilman David G. Speck and comprised of Ferdinand Day, Jessica Gibson, Pat Troy and Donnan C. Wintermute. In October 2007, the committee, after considering many suggestions from the public, recommended a new park, not far from where the Ford family had lived, be named in honor of President Ford and that a street associated with the new open space also be named for him.
The Planning Commission unanimously approved a new street off Janney’s Lane, originally designated as Barecroft Place, be renamed President Ford Lane. The City Council approved a new open space at 1422-1426 Janney’s Lane, at the southeast corner of North Quaker Lane, be named President Gerald R. Ford Park.
President Ford’s association with the Masons is also commemorated in Alexandria at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. On February 17, 1975, President Ford was at the Masonic Memorial for the unveiling of the bronze Gerald R. Ford Masonic Medallion and plaque now displayed in the auditorium. Also on display at the Memorial is a football from the East-West Shrine game bearing the autograph “Gerald Ford”. An exceptional athlete and star football player at the University of Michigan, a young Jerry Ford played for the East in the East-West Shrine Game in 1935.