Inside-the-Beltway homes with large yards — providing what resident Cyra Doty called “room to breathe” — are a major attraction of Wilburdale, a community of 108 homes, originally built as modest, one-story ramblers on lots of half an acre or more. The houses, most from the 1950s, are easily enlarged; many residents have bumped up or out, and nearly a dozen homes have been razed for construction of conspicuously larger residences.
Interest in further developing the community peaked in 2003, when residents considered whether to sell their houses to a developer as a block. Chatelain said the neighborhood’s response was unequivocal: “We voted overwhelmingly against it.”
Pressure from development remains an issue for Wilburdale as the community deals with storm-water runoff exacerbated by infill development both inside and outside the neighborhood. Sriwardene, currently president of the Wilburdale Civic Association, said the group was recently one of several that successfully fought a proposed four-house development on nearby Backlick Road because of runoff concerns.
Property maintenance on a few homes, including one that was abandoned, occasionally has been an issue, Sriwardene said. “But there are some beautiful homes and yards here. By and large, people take pride in their community.”
The neighborhood gets no cut-through traffic — it is shaped like an elongated loop with one egress off Backlick Road — although its wide streets lure some residents to drive too fast. (Sriwardene said one resident places “fake geese” in the street to slow things down.) More often, though, Wilburdale’s pleasant, one-mile loop attracts joggers and walkers.
“At 5 a.m. and 11 p.m., a lot of people walk the neighborhood because it’s closed with wide streets and not too many cars,” said Jim Trollinger, a real estate agent and 42-year resident. “What you have is friendly people who often stop and talk.”
Wilburdale residents also look out for one another, Trollinger said, recalling that many years ago his daughter, while still in grade school and with her dog in tow, drove the family pickup truck for a spin around the neighborhood. Trollinger’s neighbors quickly helped him bring that excursion to a safe end.
The neighborhood, like many in the area, has seen a demographic shift in recent years, with an influx of younger families and of families from other cultures. “They’re coming for the same reasons that brought me: the quality of life, room to stretch your legs and the beautiful park at the end of the street,” Sriwardene said.
“It’s a loving neighborhood with a personal touch,” Chatelain said. “One woman still does a welcome basket for newcomers. Neighbors give flowers to people who are sick or have a family death.”
An essential part of Wilburdale is Wilburdale Park, on more than 13 acres along the back of the neighborhood. The park offers everyday recreation — a tot park, a basketball court and picnic tables are among the amenities — as well as a site for association activities such as Easter egg hunts and annual fall festivals.
Chatelain said the association fall festival’s cakewalks (similar to musical chairs) are a well-loved neighborhood tradition. “If you win, you get a homemade cake,” he said. “Fifty-year-olds still remember those cakewalks from when they were kids. Some who’ve moved out of the neighborhood still come back for them.”
The list of activities sponsored by the association, which Trollinger termed “one of the stronger civic associations I’ve seen for the age of the community,” is less extensive than in years past and includes mostly child-oriented events. But Sriwardene said the association is moving toward “a more modern focus” to get more people, especially young residents, involved. “We recently got some younger residents to help redesign our five-times-a-year newsletter,” Sriwardene said. “We’re on Facebook, and have a Listserv. We have a neighborhood watch.”
The association also puts out a directory that includes a neighborhood history, most of which 48-year residents Herb and Betty Hicks remember. “This neighborhood was an old dairy farm when I grew up,” said Betty, an Annandale native who moved to Wilburdale because it was “a neighborhood, not a development.” She and Herb raised four children in Wilburdale and remember such landmark events as when the neighborhood got streetlights, curbs and gutters installed in the 1970s and ’80s.
“We’re close to Annandale and to the Bradlick Shopping Center, which has a lot” to offer, said Herb Hicks, a retiree from the building materials industry. “The location is part of what keeps us here.”
Doty came to Wilburdale in 2004 for a specific reason. “I wanted a place where neighborhood kids could just show up at our door to play, where I would feel comfortable letting my kids play in the front yard,” said Doty, who moved from Old Town Alexandria to Wilburdale to find a more family-oriented place to raise her son, then 12.
Doty, who now also has two young children, said Wilburdale had what she was looking for. “We love the mix of different generations and ethnic groups. Now my house is where all the other kids hang out. This neighborhood is beyond my expectations.”
Cheryl A. Kenny is a freelance writer.