The Washington Post's Wendi Kaufman writes:
"There is another Reston, a place where people still live amid shops, galleries and restaurants in an open-air European-style plaza on the water's edge.
Developer Robert E. Simon had a dream. The son of an established New York real estate family, Simon parlayed the profits from his sale of Carnegie Hall and other family-owned properties into 11.5 acres in western Fairfax County. Simon wanted to create a town that had a mix of urban flair, neighborhood character and thriving commerce, not unlike the neighborhood where he had grown up, on 115th Street in New York City. Reston -- the name derives from a combination of Simon's initials and the English suffix for town -- would be the culmination of this dream.
Today, at 85, Simon lives in an apartment in Reston's Lake Anne Village, the town center he created. Modeled on the fishing village of Portofino, Italy, the concrete-and-brick plaza on the lake is home to many of the same residents and businesses as when it first opened in 1965 -- unusual in a Washington-area community, where corporate relocation, political transfers and out-of-state transplants are commonplace. The plaza's unique structural design has been featured in urban planning and architectural texts, noted particularly for its combined-use commercial and residential properties. Several apartments in Lake Anne are built above storefronts, a feature not typically seen in suburban development.
But, then again, things are far from typical here. The Lake Anne Village Center exists as a self-contained entity. The stores, apartments and town houses form an enclave, a large semi-circle of housing and commerce facing a center courtyard with nothing but a lakeside view and a whimsical fountain sculpture in sight. The antithesis of the "strip mall" concept -- driving to the door of any of these establishments is not a possibility -- the design is far from driver-friendly. Parking is available in one central lot, located at the entrance to the center. The parking lot is best known to locals as the home of the Lake Anne Farmer's Market, which is open Saturday mornings, May through November, and is considered by many as one of the best sources for area-grown produce, fresh herbs and baked goods. For most who live nearby, driving to Lake Anne is not a necessity; the Village Center is connected to most area neighborhoods by a series of linked walking paths and tunnels that bypass all street and highway traffic.
Visitors who do plan on driving here for the first time should be forewarned that neither the parking lot nor the center are visible from the road: Store owners report that customers have actually called from the parking lot, unable to find the plaza.