Mid-century marvels find a home in Fairfax’s Holmes Run Acres
By Cheryl A. Kenny,
Once architect Edith MacArthur discovered the Holmes Run Acres community of mid-century contemporary homes in 2003, she and her husband had a mission: “We would hawkishly drive through the neighborhood to find for-sale houses.”
When she found a bi-level with walls of glass and high-beamed wood ceilings, she was hooked before entering. “When you open the front door, there’s a clear sightline through the living room and bedroom outside to the garden,” MacArthur said. “The house has no landlocked spaces; there are views of the yard from everywhere.”
Holmes Run Acres — called “the Acres” by residents — was developed 61 years ago by architects and builders with an unorthodox view: no brick colonials and capes in uniform rows. Instead, inspired by the California Modern ranch style and the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, they created about 365 post-and-beam contemporary homes with low-sloping rooflines, overhanging eaves and open-plan interiors.
The one- and two-level homes, ranging from 864 to 2,400 square feet, included vaulted ceilings, large expanses of glass, brick fireplace walls and, nearly always, four-foot-wide entry doors. They were designed and individually sited to enhance privacy and meld with the natural setting of their sometimes irregularly shaped lots along curving roads and cul-de-sacs. The Fairfax County community has earned accolades from prominent publications and historical community recognitions from federal and state registries.
“These homes have a following,” said longtime resident and real estate agent John W. Purvis Sr. “There’s an allure of something nontraditional and a natural setting that accents the homes nicely. . . . It attracts people who don’t want to be told what color to paint their front doors.”
The inside-the-Beltway neighborhood, designed by architects Nicholas Satterlee and F. Donald Lethbridge, was developed in three waves during the 1950s. Luria Brothers Builders built one- and two-story homes on pasture land, followed by Gaddy Brothers Builders, which constructed larger bi-levels on more wooded lots. André Bodor added a few much larger bi-levels in the late 1950s.
Holmes Run Acres Civic Association historian Vivian Douglas Smith said the community sought historic designation in the mid-2000s, when a proposal to widen the Capital Beltway included demolishing several Acres’ homes. Volunteers worked to help put the Acres on the Virginia Landmarks Register in 2006 and the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, saving the at-risk homes. “The historic designations are a source of pride and uniqueness for the neighborhood,” said engineer Scott Birkhead, one of the civic association’s 18 board members.
Acres homes had small kitchens and nearly no storage space, leading most homeowners to add on. Smith said that when she toured the neighborhood with architect Lethbridge in 1976 to celebrate the community’s 25th anniversary, “he liked that there were so many additions, that the homes all looked so different and it didn’t look like a development. Some neighbors were concerned that some homes were slightly ‘blowsy’ [not manicured] but he said he liked the natural look, that this is what he had in mind.”
Although most renovations have maintained the mid-century style — Smith said that was true when she toured with Lethbridge — some notable exceptions subsequently led residents to publish a 2007 guide called “Remodeling Your Holmes Run Acres House: Remaining Faithful to the Original Design.” Birkhead said he hopes the historical recognitions, combined with the guide, will “get people thinking” when they plan renovations.
MacArthur plans to remodel with the same roofline and two-foot-eave overhangs that let her slider windows stay open when it rains. She also will keep the dark wood ceilings and walls that, combined with tree-shaded yards, lead many residents to add skylights. But Doug Piner renovated with broader strokes when he nearly doubled the square footage of his one-story home in 1993-97.
“Post-and-beam construction makes it easy to change interior walls,” he said. Piner extended the eave overhangs from two feet to three feet, covered the original exterior and interior brick with cultured stone, and drywalled the vaulted ceilings and walls. The house, which showcases Piner’s contemporary art and furnishings, has been featured on the Acres’ House and Garden tour.
From international dinners to “Day in the Park” festivals, the volunteer-run civic association, established in 1952 and boasting 81 percent of households as members, has been continuously active. “It’s probably one of the most active in Northern Virginia,” Purvis said. “Residents from adjacent neighborhoods without active associations have contacted the Acres association to become involved in our activities.” Birkhead said it can be challenging to enlist volunteers to run all the events, and “new residents tend to get pulled in quite quickly.”
The Acres’ original residents created the Holmes Run Acres Recreation Association in 1953 to build the first community owned and operated swimming pool in Fairfax; both are still operating. In 1954, the civic association began a partnership with Fairfax to improve Luria Park, then undeveloped marshland along Holmes Run stream at the Acres’ northern border. The 4.2-acre park now includes a playground, picnic area and walking/biking trails.
The neighborhood’s history is documented through “The Holmes Runner” newsletter and in three volumes of resident-written community histories published for the neighborhood’s 25th, 40th and 50th anniversaries.
Acres residents often interact outside the auspices of the association, in venues ranging from a men’s breakfast club to a “pet registry” that has reunited owners with lost pets for 36 years. The “Open Holmes” program of neighbors hosting casual happy hours or potlucks open to all residents was started by the Smiths in 1979 and is still going strong. MacArthur, a mother of three, said impromptu gatherings initiated by parents watching their children bike in the streets are also common. According to Birkhead, the Acres’ growing population of children encompasses about 90 households, with an average of two children per household.
“What I love and find so unique here are the traditions that get carried on,” said 10-year resident Renée Klein. “I’ve never seen anything like this in another neighborhood.”
Cheryl A. Kenny is a freelance writer.
ZIP CODE: 22042 BOUNDARIES: Approximately Interstate 495 on the west, Gallows Road on the south, Surrey Lane on the east and Luria Park on the north. SCHOOLS: Woodburn Elementary, Luther Jackson Middle School and Falls Church High School. HOME SALES: Ten homes were sold between October 2011 and October 2012 for prices ranging from $412,000 to $610,000, according to John W. Purvis Sr. of Remax Xecutex. A contract for one home, with a list price of $379,999, is pending. No homes are listed for sale. WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Woodburn Elementary, Luria Park and Holmes Run Acres Recreation Association swimming pool. WITHIN 15 MINUTES BY CAR: Seven Corners, Loehmann’s Plaza, Merrifield and Tysons Corner shopping centers; Inova Fairfax Hospital; Dunn Loring and Falls Church Metro stations; main roads such as I-495 and Interstate 66, and Routes 29, 50, 7 and 236. TRANSIT: The Dunn Loring Metro station is within a 10-minute drive. Fairfax Connector Bus 401 runs along Gallows Road to the Dunn Loring Metro station.