‘Old-school’ and a grade school


The neighborhood, in the Colesville area of Silver Spring, consists of more than 800 houses in several subdivisions. (Jim Brocker/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
March 16, 2012

When Linda Pescarmona walks her dog along the hilly, shaded streets of her Cannon Road neighborhood in Silver Spring, she gets plenty of hellos and greetings from the local children. The youngsters know Pescarmona well: She teaches many of them in her art classes at Cannon Road Elementary School. The school is just a short walk from Pescarmona’s home, and in the winter, she can see her house from her art classroom.

“It’s fun to be in the neighborhood, to see [the children] grow up,” said Pescarmona, 61, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years with her husband, Peter Barbernitz. “When the kids see me walking my dog, it’s a more human way for me to build up a rapport with them.”

The elementary school, recently renovated and transformed into a two-story building, has been a focal point of the community for decades. The school, which reopened to students after the winter break, is planning an open house, Pescarmona said. Many residents are interested in attending, especially those whose children attended the school, built in the 1970s.

Some of those residents — longtime resident Beverly Roof, 73, calls them the “old-timers” — have kept in touch with neighbors they met when their children were in school. Two of Roof’s three daughters attended Cannon Road Elementary, and Roof said she was an active parent there in the late 1970s.

“Most mothers didn’t work then,” Roof said. “I was very involved with the school.” She and her husband, Jack, 73, have remained in the neighborhood, where they live in a four-bedroom Colonial with a two-car garage. “A move made no sense to us,” she said. “We were not ready for a 55-and-older community, and we just stayed.”

The Cannon Road neighborhood is a collection of about 850 homes in several subdivisions in the Colesville area along New Hampshire Avenue. A few homes, including some traditional bungalows, were constructed in the 1950s, but most of the houses were built in the late ’60s and early ’70s as the Washington suburbs expanded beyond the Beltway. A number of newer homes were built in the 1980s.

Styles range from Colonials and ranchers to bungalows, traditional split-levels and contemporaries. There are also a few townhouses. Many residents say they moved to the area to take advantage of the Montgomery County school system and have found that the neighborhood is convenient for commuting to workplaces throughout the region.

Dan Wilhelm, 66, moved to the neighborhood with his wife, Judy, in 1978, in part because the location allowed him to be close to family in Baltimore and his workplace, which at the time was in Tysons Corner. His daughters, now grown, attended Cannon Road Elementary across the street from his home. Wilhelm soon became involved in community affairs with the Greater Colesville Citizens Association. He is still a member and weighs in on transportation issues with Montgomery County officials. “We like it here. We like the location, and we like the community,” Wilhelm said.

A park adjacent to the school is important to the neighborhood, Wilhelm said, providing ballfields and tennis courts, and the school has added new playground equipment. On a recent sunny Saturday, children were getting a workout on the basketball courts to the rear of the school.

Local schools such as Cannon Road offer a plus for any neighborhood, said Dave Savercool, an agent for Long & Foster. “If people like the school and then their kids get a good education, it lends stability to the neighborhood,” he said. Savercool added the area has also always been well suited for couples with “split destinations” to workplaces in the Washington and Baltimore areas. The opening of the new Intercounty Connector highway just north of the neighborhood and the move of the Food and Drug Administration to the Federal Research Center in White Oak have made the Cannon Road area more desirable, he said.

Savercool said that area properties have had “a fair amount” of turnover in the past few years, as empty-nester sellers are replaced by younger families with children. “That’s a natural cycle,” he said. Prices range from the low- to mid-$300,000s to $450,000. Some homeowners have elected to add on to their original structures. Will and Olive Chassion raised six children and expanded their house over the years, said Will, 82.

Residents say the neighborhood is much more diverse than it was back in the 1970s. Jose Gonzalez, who moved with his parents from Langley Park in 1970, said he was a Latino “minority of one” when he attended Cannon Road Elementary. Gonzalez, 60, who went on to work for the Montgomery County school system as a bus driver, said he has “clear memories, very pleasant” of the school growing up. “I didn’t get picked on,” he said. Gonzalez went on to attend White Oak Middle School and Springbrook High School, just south of the neighborhood.

Gonzalez and his wife now live in the house in which he grew up, and says residents have remained friendly and caring. He noted that he and another neighbor joined forces to split up firewood from a downed tree, and residents enjoy growing tomatoes in the summer. “Mothers get together around the neighborhood,” he said. “Kids run up and down the street.”

The close-knit neighbors have been a plus for Ivie and Melinda Higgins. They were looking for a single-family home with a good-sized yard back in 2006 when Melinda was pregnant with their daughter, Bella, now 5, and found just what they needed in the Cannon Road neighborhood. Their house, built in the 1950s, features hardwood floors and a fireplace. “You can’t get this kind of craftsmanship anymore,” said Ivie Higgins, 43, who works at Freddie Mac in Northern Virginia, often leaving by 6:30 a.m. to beat the traffic.

Melinda Higgins, 41, says her street has “an old-school feel” that reminds her of her New England neighborhood growing up, where everyone knew one another. “It’s a nice environment to raise your children and to live in,” she said. Melinda Higgins is actively involved with Cannon Road Elementary’s PTA, and her daughter is making friends at school.

Ivie Higgins, a graduate of Silver Spring’s Montgomery Blair High School, said they wanted their daughter to attend Montgomery County schools, and the Higginses say the area’s diversity has been a real plus. “It’s important if you have children that they know it’s a big world out there and they are not the only one . . . there are other people out there and they need to respect their cultures,” Melinda Higgins said.

Jim Brocker is a freelance writer.

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