CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When builders broke ground on the Arlington Court apartment building 100 years ago, another construction project garnered more newsprint. Luna Park, an amusement park on Charleston's West Side, opened in 1913 with much fanfare.
The park is long gone, but Arlington Court, which stretches between Lee and Quarrier streets on the East End, not only remains standing, but also houses a vibrant community of residents.
The residents share more than an address. Most are friends, or at least acquaintances -- they don't have much choice in the 22 attached units, which all feature front porches that sit in close proximity to each other and to the walkway that divides the diminutive, individually tended plots.
In warm weather, the courtyard is dotted with neighbors chatting informally or gathered for several scheduled celebrations such as a summer cookout or an Oktoberfest.
Forced outdoors during the winter months to walk their dogs, some hardy souls still visit, but Shawn Means and Amy McLaughlin make sure everyone has a chance to visit weekly in February. They host Hibernal Humpday Happy Hour on Wednesdays, brightening one of the year's most dreary months.
Friends and neighbors brave the cold, bearing snacks and perhaps a bottle of wine. They share a libation and a bite as they catch up on news.
The Wednesday events became so popular that the residents recently decided to hold them year-round, rotating hosting duties. "We have every spot covered through the end of the year," McLaughlin said.
It's hard to say if the original residents were a sociable crowd. They were largely professionals, according to Means, who has researched the court's history and created an Arlington Court Community page on Facebook.
The oldest resident record Means found was the 1914 Polk City Directory in which residents' occupations are listed as clothiers, a tailor, lawyers, statehouse employees, a dentist and live-in domestics.
The units are nearly identical in size, except for the four on the ends, which are larger. Some townhouses were occupied by just a few people, while the directory listed others as two families sharing the 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom places.
"They were built during a time of great expansion in Charleston. They needed housing," Means said. Maple Court, a similar row of townhouses in the next block, was constructed at about the same time.
"From the references we find in the society pages, we know they were part of that culture," said Means of the residents' social status. He found newspaper accounts, mostly on the society pages, of residents' weddings, parties, honors and even hospital stays.
A June 30, 1929, story reads, "Miss Peggy George entertained Wednesday night with a delightful party held at the YWCA preceded by dancing and a slumber party at her home No 15 Arlington Court. A breakfast was served to the small guests. A pink and white color scheme was used with roses and sweet peas in the center of the table."
The scene probably changed during the Depression, a time from which Means said he found many notices seeking boarders from residents whose fortunes had changed. A more prosperous time reigned after World War II.
The standards slipped in the late 1960s and 1970s, when absentee landlords didn't keep up with repairs and maintenance. "The place was old and attracted sort of sketchy people. There was reputed drug activity," Means said.
Enter developer Brooks McCabe, who purchased the units in 1981 and formed Arlington Court Neighborhood Inc. for the purpose of reviving and transforming the building into condominiums. McCabe's grandfather Robert McCabe was one of the original owners and incorporators of Arlington Court.