Kenwood: Home of the Other Cherry Blossoms
By Barbara Ruben
Special to The Washington Post
April 12, 2003
Each spring in the 1970s, Ted Beverly would ride his bike through the Chevy Chase community of Kenwood just as the 1,200 cherry trees lining the neighborhood's curving streets burst into full blossom.
"I realized it was so gorgeous that I just had to live there," said Beverly, who bought a house in Kenwood in 1977. "It's like a huge pink cloud descends on the neighborhood every year."
The Montgomery County neighborhood's Yoshino cherry trees are the same kind as the ones that ring the Tidal Basin, although they bloom a couple of days later.
"They're more beautiful than the Tidal Basin trees," said Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-Calif.), who has lived in Kenwood since 1979. "It's almost like you're walking through some kind of wonderland."
Of course, the 307-home community can't keep all that beauty under wraps.
Kenwood's trees were featured in a four-page spread in the March issue of Southern Living magazine, which proclaimed the blossoms "breathtaking."
Thousands of Washington area residents and tourists flock to Kenwood for the week or so the blooms are at their peak. Their cars move slowly down the streets of million-dollar-plus Tudors and colonials, video cameras whirring.
Kenwoodians, as they call themselves, are, for the most part, happy to show off their bounty.
"One woman walked up to me and said, 'You know you live in paradise, don't you?' " Barbara Libbey said. "Oh, we always complain that there's so many people, but we really do love them. We would be disappointed if they didn't come."
Beverly said, "If it takes you 15 minutes to get out of your neighborhood, you can get a little impatient. Or if there are people eating lunch on your front lawn and throwing chicken bones on it, it can get you mad. But if you're too much of a curmudgeon, you better not live here."
Neighborhood children put up lemonade and cookie stands. Some rake in as much as $ 100 a day.
Kenwood's developers planted the trees in the late 1920s as they carved what was then considered a far-flung suburb out of a tobacco farm. To help lure Washingtonians to Kenwood, they built the Kenwood Country Club, to which every homeowner was given membership.
Calvin Coolidge considered buying one of the model houses as a summer presidential residence, said Beverly, who serves as the community's unofficial historian. But when Coolidge decided not to run again in 1928, he instead retired to Massachusetts.
Still, Kenwood has drawn its share of local luminaries. During the 1960s, Spiro T. Agnew lived there. Today, Matsui's neighbors include New York Times columnist William Safire and a number of federal judges.
The Kenwood Citizens Association began in 1934 and still flourishes.
At cherry blossom time, residents gather for an annual race walk through the neighborhood. There is also a yearly Easter Egg Roll and Matzoh Ball, a Fourth of July parade, a Christmas party and other festivities. Association President Brenda Murray said there are few problems in paradise. There are some complaints of cut-through traffic, and "there's been a terrible time arguing over what plants to plant in the circle" at the intersection of Kenwood Avenue and Brookside Drive, she said.
But rather than complaining, neighbors pull together to form a tight-knit community, Murray said. When they wanted to replace the aging playground equipment at a small park that abuts the Capital Crescent hiker-biker trail at the edge of Kenwood, they raised nearly $ 19,000. The new playground is to be installed this summer.
During the February snowstorm, Murray said a cardiac surgeon who lives in the neighborhood shoveled out the driveways of some of the older residents, several of whom are more than 100 years old.
"It's really a little peaceful enclave. We care about it and each other," Murray said.
About 15 percent of homeowners grew up in the neighborhood, moved away and came back to raise families, said Beverly, who is a real estate agent with Evers & Co.
Home prices are generally more than $ 1 million, he said. Even the few lots that have been subdivided recently from existing homes have sold for more than $ 1 million.
"Having such a pretty neighborhood doesn't hurt sales prices," Beverly said. "And if you have a for-sale sign up when the blossoms are out, you have terrific exposure."
Matsui said he probably would not be able to afford a house in the neighborhood today. "We're just lucky we discovered Kenwood when we did," he said. "It's just 30 minutes to the Capitol and 20 minutes down the bike path to Barnes & Noble in downtown Bethesda. It's a very friendly, open neighborhood, and we're very glad we bought a home here."