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Where We Live: Edgemoor, with diverse architecture and a convenient Bethesda location

By Amy Reinink,

To explain what sets Edgemoor apart from other Bethesda neighborhoods, real estate agent Gretch­en Koitz likes to share a joke: What do you call the neighborhoods bordering Edgemoor?

Edgeless.

“Edgemoor has a certain panache to it, and that’s a big draw for people,” said Koitz, who lives in the nearby Battery Park neighborhood.

But Edgemoor’s tony reputation is only part of what residents say is special about the neighborhood, just west of downtown Bethesda. Edgemoor is within walking distance of the restaurants and bars of Bethesda Row and offers a short commute to downtown Washington and Northern Virginia. The Bethesda Metro station is also in walking distance, and a bustling social life is available through the Edge­moor Club, a private swim and tennis club, and the Edgemoor Citizens Association, which sponsors events throughout the year.

“Everything we need is right at your fingertips,” said Susie Tapley, 34, a banker who has lived in Edgemoor with her husband, Andrew, since 2009. “We walk downtown for dinner. I walk to yoga. And anytime you go out, you see other neighbors out and about. It’s a great neighborhood if you actually want to meet and get to know your neighbors.”

Edgemoor was established in the early 1900s and has always drawn its identity from its proximity to downtown Bethesda, according to the Edgemoor Citizens Association.

But residents say it wasn’t until the past decade or so, when downtown Bethesda grew into the bustling center of commerce and nightlife that it is today, that the neighborhood acquired the “panache” Koitz spoke of.

“Since we moved here in 1996, we have really watched this incredible evolution of the downtown area,” said Len Simon, president of the Edgemoor Citizens Association. “We saw Bethesda Row going up, and saw the explosion of restaurants and retail activity. Since we are the neighborhood most adjacent to downtown, we have benefited from all that growth.”

The Edgemoor Citizens Association has been actively involved in mitigating the effects of nearby development, said Simon, 59, who owns Simon and Company, a D.C. firm specializing in municipal government concerns.

Most recently, Simon said, the association worked with Federal Realty, whose downtown Bethesda projects include Bethesda Row, to fund improvements to Caroline Freeland Park, located near the library on Arlington Row.

Simon said the association has also been active in assuaging residents’ concerns about one of the neighborhood’s most volatile issues: tear-downs.

The tear-down trend started in the 1990s, said Glenn Chen Fong, an architect who has designed roughly a dozen houses in Edge­moor. In most cases, Colonials and other smaller homes have been torn down to make way for sprawling mansions ranging from 4,000 to 10,000 square feet.

“I think everyone there just assumes that any original house is a tear-down waiting to happen,” Koitz said.

This led to bitter arguments in the neighborhood in the late 1990s, as residents debated the best way to curb the construction of “McMansions” without limiting homeowners’ freedom.

“It’s been a stressful issue over time, but we have tried to work in the direction of more graceful change, not jarring change,” Simon said.

The association’s work with the Montgomery County Council helped lead to the passage of two pieces of legislation in 2004 and 2007, limiting building height and lot coverage, respectively, Simon said.

Fong said despite the controversy over tear-downs, Edgemoor contains incredible architectural diversity, comprising “everything from Mediterranean to English and French cottage to extraordinary contemporaries.”

“The breadth of architectural styles makes Edgemoor almost like a textbook of great architecture,” Fong said.

The association also sponsors several annual or biannual events, including a Halloween party, the Edgemoor Classic 5K and a Fourth of July parade.

“You definitely get a strong community feeling with all the events going on,” Tapley said.

Many kids in the neighborhood grow up swimming and playing tennis at the Edgemoor Club, which was founded in the 1920s. Tapley said the club serves as a social hub for kids and adults alike.

“In the summertime, the club is just teeming with kids, and you see kids out riding bikes and playing outside, like the way it was when we were growing up,” Tapley said. “It has the feeling of an old, established community.”

Kids also benefit from the public schools the neighborhood is zoned for, said Simon, who moved to the neighborhood from Northwest Washington so his three sons could attend the school cluster, which includes Bethesda Elementary, Westland Middle and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High for most of the neighborhood.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important the schools are to the community,” Simon said. “They’re really vital resources. Between Bethesda Elementary and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, you have two great schools within walking distance.”

Houses in Edgemoor don’t come cheap, with prices routinely reaching multiple millions of dollars.

Residents said the prices are worth the sense of convenience and community that comes from living there.

“It’s a busy life out there, and everyone has things to do, between jobs, family, school, soccer and Little League,” Simon said. “Sometimes, we just don’t have the opportunity to stop and say hello. Living in Edgemoor, there are so many great things going on, and so many people participating, that you actually do get to know your neighbors.”

Amy Reinink is a freelance writer.

© The Washington Post Company