Just south of the 14th
Street Bridge in Arlington stands Crystal City, a concrete forest
of some 50 high- and low-rise buildings where more than 6,000 people live
and more than 60,000 work.
The vast mixed-use project began in 1963, displacing salvage yards,
motels, factories, the old Airport Drive-In – but practically no
residents – on a plot of south Arlington land between the Pentagon
and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Jefferson Davis
Highway (U.S. 1) and the RF&P (Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac)
railroad right of way. Today, Crystal City is virtually a self-contained
city. It has a full-service commercial district, the longest string of
luxury hotels this side of Vegas, a Metro station, a VRE
commuter-line station and its own glossy quarterly magazine, Crystal
City etc., published by the Charles E. Smith Realty Cos., which has
built more than half of the development's buildings.
Those who regard
Crystal City as the kind of institutional vertical eyesore D.C.'s
building-height restrictions have successfully shoved across the river are
reminded that lack of beauty, like beauty, may be only skin-deep. Beneath
the surface exists a nine-block network of tunnels and walkways (left)
that offer weatherproof connections between Crystal City buildings –
with imaginative names like Crystal Plaza Offices 1 to 6, Crystal Gateway
Offices 1 to 4, Crystal Square Offices 1 to 5 – located along U.S. 1
from South 12th to South 23rd Street.
If you don't have business to transact or friends to visit, the best
reason for an excursion to Crystal City is the U.S. Patent and
Trademark Museum (PTO Museum, for short). The museum opened in 1995 on
the ground floor of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Crystal Park 2
to explain the importance of intellectual-property protection to the
nation's social and economic health. After a quick visit to the compact
gallery, visitors can expound upon the differences among patents
(rights for inventions, valid for up to 20 years), copyrights
(rights of authorship, valid for the life of the author, plus 50 years)
and trademarks (rights to names, symbols, words or colors that
distinguish goods and services, valid possibly forever).
Exhibits offers a short course on the history of intellectual-property
protection, beginning with trademarks found on shards of 7,000-year-old
pottery. The U.S. Patent Office was founded in 1790 when Secretary of
State Thomas Jefferson awarded the first of more than 6 million patents to
Samuel Hopkins for a potash-making process. Abe Lincoln is the only U.S.
president to hold a patent – for "a Device for Buoying Vessels over
Shoals." The museum has room for only a handful of the 250,000 patent
models once displayed in the Old Patent Office Building (now the National
Portrait Gallery and National Museum of American Art).
Permanent displays range from a gilded Grammy award to shrines to star
inventors and patent holders such as George Washington Carver (peanut
oil), Earl Silas Tupper (Tupperware) and Patsy Sherman (Scotchgard). You
can also see products with names like Muhammad Ali Sweet Hot Potato Chips
(pictured above) or shapes like Coke bottles, Ovation guitars and
Dustbusters that were deemed worthy of federal protection.
The current temporary exhibit, through January 1999, is "The House
That Innovation Built," a room-by-room assemblage of brand-name
innovations: Corning Ware, Jell-O, Ritz crackers, La-Z-Boy recliners
(left), Westclox alarm clocks, mercerized shoelaces and bikinis. In
February, an exhibit on minority inventors will spotlight the African
American who devised the third rail and a Native American rocket
scientist. In March, an exhibit will feature women who hold patents,
including the inventors of signal flares and Kevlar bulletproof vests and
– believe it or not – Julie Newmar and Jamie Lee Curtis.
A small gift shop carries a not particularly inventive selection of
shirts, posters, mugs and other trinkets. More to the point is the rack of
free literature that simultaneously details the process of applying for
intellectual-property protection and throws cold water on any grandiose
ideas. According to the pamphlet "Facts for Consumers: Invention
Promotion Firms," "Few inventions ever make it to the
marketplace and getting a patent doesn't necessarily increase the chances
of commercial success."
See also: Crystal City's underground