Noreen Bryan was looking for a community that felt like the small Connecticut town where she grew up, with historic homes built in a variety of architectural styles, tree-lined streets and a charming downtown business district nearby.
She also wanted a place with good Metro access, so she could easily commute downtown.
Bryan, a retired senior executive with the Naval Air Systems Command, found both in Rockville’s West End neighborhood, a residential community with a wide variety of historic houses located between Interstate 270 and downtown Rockville, a few blocks from the Rockville Metro station.
Bryan and her husband, Galen Whittaker, moved into their 1953 brick Cape Cod in June 1985.
“My husband is a testament to how easy it is to walk wherever you need to go in this neighborhood,” said Bryan, now 68 and serving as president of the West End Citizens Association. “He walks everywhere. When he has to mail a letter, he walks to the post office. When he needs milk, he walks to the grocery store.”
Victorian roots: The West End neighborhood experienced its first major development in the 1890s, when Washington lawyer Henry Copp touted the community of grand Victorian homes he built along West Montgomery Avenue as “Peerless Rockville,” Bryan says.
Copp marketed the neighborhood as a haven for train commuters from the city, thanks to the nearby Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Many of those homes still stand today and are part of the West Montgomery Avenue Historic District, which was founded in 1974, along with the South Washington Street Historic District. The West Montgomery Avenue district and the nearby B&O railroad station are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to “A Walking Guide to ‘Peerless Rockville,’ ” a booklet produced by the Peerless Rockville preservation organization.
Rockville bay windows: Bryan said residents of the present-day West End neighborhood value the architectural details present in the historic districts. Many of the Victorian houses have arched doorways, intricately patterned woodwork, towers and even “Rockville bay windows,” characterized by their polygonal shape and shallow-pitched roofs, according to the city’s Historic Buildings Catalog.
The West End developed piecemeal around Copp’s original neighborhood, with vernacular houses, Cape Cods and bungalows from the 1920s and 1930s, ranch-style houses from the 1950s, split-levels from the 1960s and 1970s, and modern architecture from recent decades, Bryan said. It also includes remnants of three communities founded by free blacks before the Civil War.
Historians say the neighborhood is special not only for its preservation but also for the great diversity of architectural styles that lie within it.
The neighborhood is so representative of Montgomery County’s unfolding development, Montgomery County Historical Society has located its headquarters there, in the former home of Clerk of Court Upton Beall.
“It really is 100 years of housing history in a single neighborhood,” Bryan says. “It’s a very eclectic mix of houses.”
Bryan says the diversity of housing options brings economic diversity, too.
“There are small ranches and Cape Cod houses, which are much more affordable than the large Victorians,” Bryan said. “So we have a wide spectrum of housing prices, which makes them accessible to people of different income levels.”
Residential and commercial at odds: Early residents enjoyed the neighborhood’s proximity not only to the railroad but also to the governmental institutions associated with Rockville’s status as county seat. The courthouse and other county services, not to mention Metro, Rockville Town Center and Interstate 270, remain a draw today, Bryan says.
“We surround the Town Center on the west and south, so this really is our downtown,” Bryan said.
Bryan said residents enjoy being within walking distance from a wide variety of restaurants, including Woodside Deli and Bombay Bistro; shops and services such as a CVS pharmacy; and entertainment options including a movie theater and ice skating in Rockville Town Square in the winter.
Occasionally, homeowners find themselves in battles to retain the neighborhood’s residential character as pressure to convert to commercial or institutional use creeps in.
“We are very concerned about the neighborhood becoming less residential and more institutional,” Bryan said. “We are very much in favor of development that enhances the neighborhood. For example, we love having the Town Center there, love having restaurants close by and are very supportive of the Town Center. We just want development within the neighborhood to remain residential . . . to help preserve the character we all love.”
Schools: Beall Elementary, Julius West Middle and Richard Montgomery High.
Boundaries: Roughly, Maryland Avenue and West Argyle Street to the south, Interstate 270 to the west, Washington Street to the east and a collection of streets including Dawson Avenue to the north.
Living there: In the past 12 months, 27 houses sold, at prices ranging from $301,000 to $980,000, according to Pat Shultz of Long & Foster. Also sold were nine townhouses, from $545,000 to $602,500 and 35 condos, from $115,000 to $384,000. Seven houses are on the market, priced from $425,000 to $1.195 million, as are four condos, from $195,000 to $529,000. Under contract are 16 houses ($340,000 to $1.249 million), three townhouses ($229,00 to $619,900) and eight condos ($128,300 to $350,000).
Amy Reinink is a freelance writer.