1883 - 1952
Most Successful Woman in Realty Development
In the 1920s, entrepreneur Ruby Lee Minar built a real estate empire in and around Arlington so expansive that in December 1929 the American Business Review described her as the “most successful woman in realty development in the country.”
Minar entered the real estate business in 1919 by investing $200 from Liberty Bonds in property in Chevy Chase, Maryland and working as a sales agent at a Washington, D.C. realty firm.
The following year, Minar opened her own real estate business headquartered in the Evans Building in Washington, D.C. with her husband, John Milton Minar, as a partner. She quickly set her sights on Arlington for development.
Land in Lyon Park had been on the market in 1920, but by May 1921 Ruby Lee Minar had become the exclusive sales agent for the subdivision owned by Lyon & Fitch. In 1922 a residence in Lyon Park - complete with gas, electricity, and sewer - could be purchased for 15 to 20 cents a square foot (prices increased after street lights were installed). With the success of this attractive subdivision, Minar’s business quickly expanded and diversified to include subdivision, farm, and house departments, run out of offices in the District, Lyon Park, and Cherrydale by a staff of 20 saleswomen and men. After two years, Minar had sold $1,000,000 worth of property in Lyon Park.
Lee Heights & The Palisades
In 1921, Minar purchased a 400-acre tract of land between the Washington Golf and Country Club and the Potomac River. This was placed on the market in July 1923 and developed into a $3,000,000 subdivision, which she named Lee Heights.
Minar advertised Lee Heights with a simple question: “How would you like to live at the top of the monument?” Standing 400 feet above Pennsylvania Avenue, Lee Heights offered a picturesque and unobstructed view of the nation’s capital.
Transportation was another selling point for the subdivision which was connected via Lee Highway, Chain Bridge Road, and five station stops on the Old Dominion railway, as well as the Key and (planned) Memorial Bridges.
Lee Heights also boasted graded streets, sewer, concrete sidewalks, a water system, and electricity, providing home buyers with all the modern conveniences of city living. So popular was the Lee Heights subdivision that it was featured in a motion picture film in 1927.
Minar’s last major realty venture in Arlington County was the Palisades, a 518-acre estate with two miles of Potomac River waterfront property, whose country homes went on the market in 1929.
Sales and Publicity Tactics
By 1926, Minar had 50 employees in her subdivision salesforce. That year she incentivized sales by offering Thanksgiving turkeys for those who met their quotas before November 22, and two winter holiday trips to Bermuda for winners of a sales contest in Lee Heights. Minar also held contests and awarded prizes to private citizens for naming streets and new subdivisions, such as Greenway Downs (1927) in Fairfax County and Brandon Village (1928) in Arlington County west of Clarendon and Ballston.
Minar also incorporated the “silent salesman” method, which had been successful in other cities. Instead of a salesperson meeting face-to-face with a potential buyer, the “silent salesman” method used coupons listing each subdivision lot’s price affixed to a numbered stake. Buyers could inspect various properties at their leisure and then bring the coupon for their chosen lot to the sales office.
Civic and Professional Service
Born into a time when women did not commonly work outside the home, Minar saw no reason that married women and mothers could not also find time to engage in business. She was acutely aware that to compete in the male-dominated world of business in the 1920s “women must be more experienced, must have more knowledge than men to gain the same results, under the same conditions.”
She was a prominent advocate for women’s rights in her roles as first president of the Washington, D.C. Soroptimist Club (1922)—a worldwide civic organization for business and professional women—and first president of the American Federation of Soroptimists (1928). In addition to these leadership roles and her position as president of Ruby Lee Minar, Inc., in 1923, she became the first woman admitted to the Virginia Real Estate Association and went on to be the only woman on the Alexandria-Arlington-Fairfax Real Estate Board. She also served as president of the Lee Heights Citizens’ Association and was a member of both the Arlington County and Washington, D.C. Chambers of Commerce, the Washington Golf and Country Club, the Arlington County Civic Federation, and served as a director of the Peoples State Bank of Cherrydale.
Ruby Lee Minar’s keen foresight and understanding of how the expanding infrastructure of the Roaring Twenties such as bridge and road construction - driven by the rise of the automobile, increased electrification, and installation of sewer systems - had transformed cities across America brought her extraordinary success in developing Arlington County “from woodlands and meadows into exclusive and desirable Washington suburban colonies.”