To get a sense of Bannockburn, all you really need to know about is the clubhouse.
The stately looking building is a remnant of a golf course that anchored the neighborhood when it was built in 1946 as the focal point for a group of New Deal-loving residents who wanted to create a housing cooperative as an alternative lifestyle.
Today, much has changed, but the strong neighborhood traditions enjoyed by generations of Bannockburn’s residents has remained the same, including the clubhouse, which serves as a central gathering place.
The clubhouse serves as the location for Bannockburn Nursery School, the community’s 62-year-old cooperative preschool for kids ages 2 to 5 years old, and hosts key rituals such as a newcomers’ dinner, a Halloween party and an annual satirical musical revue called “the Spring Show.” Residents serve on committees that manage these events, care for the clubhouse and represent the community before local government.
Realtor Beverly Nadel, of Evers and Company, has sold properties in Bannockburn. She says there is not a lot of turnover; once they have moved in, people tend to stay put. “I think the reason that Bannockburn has been so desirable is that it is close in, inside the Beltway. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, there’s an elementary school right in the neighborhood, and it’s an interesting neighborhood with some variety of houses and beautiful terrain.”
Being “close in” means that Bannockburn commuters can get downtown easily via car or the many Ride On buses or Metrobuses that run on the MacArthur corridor. Both Bethesda and Friendship Heights Metro stations are about four miles away. Residents enjoy riding on the bike path that runs along MacArthur, or going to the nearby C & O Canal towpath. In the summer, many families (along with those from neighboring communities) belong to one of the two private swimming pools in the neighborhood, Bannockburn and Merrimack. And the Potomac River offers a natural spot for kayakers.
Giovanna Ban and her husband, Mike Smith, have lived in Bannockburn since 2006. They chose their house because they were specifically interested in mid-century modern architecture, which dominates the neighborhood.
With two young children, Ban finds the neighborhood optimal; their daughter attends local public school Bannockburn Elementary, where Ban appreciates the involved PTA and many special events. She also likes her neighbors. “There’s a good diversity in terms of what people do and where they’re from,” she says. “A lot of diplomat families, which makes it interesting in terms of your kids getting exposure.”
Ban says that Bannockburn’s many traditions, such as the Spring Show, are especially family-friendly. The production showcases musical send-ups of current events, written and performed by residents of all ages. “When we went to the first one after we moved in, I think I cried. It was moving to see kids and older people getting together and putting on the show,” she says.
Henriette de Bruyn Kops, who is originally from the Netherlands, has lived in Bannockburn since 1980, and also appreciates the neighborhood’s conviviality. She was the PTA president at Bannockburn Elementary from 1987 to 1989, and has served on several of the neighborhood’s many committees over the years. “As a foreigner,” she says, “what I really enjoyed is the acceptance. And getting integrated by participating and volunteering has made us integral parts of the neighborhood. I think it’s the classic case of, ‘If you give something, you get more back.’ You become part of a greater thing that goes beyond the four walls of your house.”
As popular as Bannockburn is with young families, an aging senior population is finding the neighborhood comfortable as well. Nadel says that because many of the houses are one story with a bedroom on the first floor, staying at home is easy for the elderly. Also, says de Bruyn Kops, a committee focuses on helping these residents, Neighbors Assisting Neighbors, was formed to help people can age in place. Block coordinators take care of those who might need some help with grocery trips, snow shoveling or transport to a doctor’s office.
Nadel says that there is more to the neighborhood than the “mid-mod” ramblers. “Bannockburn is kind of interesting because you’ve got those mid-century moderns, but then you’ve also got some much newer construction, and some that was built in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Like many other suburban neighborhoods, Bannockburn is experiencing growing pains as some of those older homes are demolished to make way for vastly larger ones.
“There is a growing debate about tear-downs,” says Ban. Evolving differences in housing stock have affected the flavor of the community, as well. “We’ve had some really big houses coming up, and I hope that despite the fact that there is suddenly the expensive house next to a Bannockburn rambler, we can still pull it all together,” says de Bruyn Kops.
She’s not really worried, though. Even with these changes, the Bannockburn spirit, with its many service committees, involved parents and deep community feeling remains. “In the end, people come through,” she says. “The essence of the neighborhood is still there.”
Eliza McGraw is a freelance writer