Where We Live: Rollingwood, bucolic but near the city


(L-R) Anna, Bradley, Lauren, Karla and Fritz Hirst play catch in the front yard of their Rollingwood home. (Photo by Amy Reinink) (Photo by Amy Reinink/PHOTO BY AMY REININK)
May 20, 2011

Karin Rich wanted her kids to have a childhood like the one she had.

Growing up in Rollingwood, Rich, now 34, played on the
Candy Cane City playground, rode her bike to shops along Brookville Road, explored the trails and creeks of Rock Creek Park, and generally enjoyed the small-town atmosphere that defined the Chevy Chase neighborhood.

So when she and her husband, Ganon, started house-hunting four years ago, they found themselves drawn back to Rollingwood, which Karin Rich found to be refreshingly unchanged.

“I really wanted my kids to grow up in a place where there were other kids playing outside and adults mingling with their neighbors,” said Karin Rich, whose parents still live in the house where she grew up. “Rollingwood still has a nice, hometown, community feel to it.”

Rich said she has grown to appreciate a host of Rollingwood’s other charms, such as its varied housing stock, its easy access to the Beltway and Connecticut Avenue, and its proximity to Bethesda and downtown Washington.

The neighborhood, west of Rock Creek Park and south of East West Highway, started as a single 100-acre estate with a 30-room castle and grand gatehouse, according to Jan Broulik, whose parents bought the gatehouse in 1979.

The castle, built in 1926 by Washington socialites Daisy and Clarence Crittenden Calhoun, was sold at auction for $40,000 in 1939 and was bulldozed in 1957, Broulik said.

But the gatehouse remained standing as the rest of the property was subdivided, Broulik said. It has been used as a single-family residence for decades.

Broulik has owned and lived in the house with his partner, Joe Phillips, for eight years. Broulik said he likes that Rollingwood is “off the beaten path” yet easily accessible from a variety of locations.

“It’s in between Bethesda and Silver Spring, and it’s easy to take Beach Drive into the city,” said Broulik, 59, a lighting sales consultant for Maurice Electric Supply. “It’s been a while since I’ve had to get on Connecticut Avenue.”

Proximity to Rock Creek Park also means easy access to Meadowbrook Park and to the paved, 18.6-mile Rock Creek hiker-biker trail. Rich said she likes knowing that neighborhood kids can safely ride their bikes to multiple parks, or to a row of small businesses on Brookville Road.

“There’s a cute little pharmacy, a local grocery store and a little diner, and it really gives the neighborhood a small-town feeling,” said Rich, whose three children range in age from 1 to 6 years old. “I like knowing that when my kids are old enough to bike around the neighborhood, they’ll have somewhere fun to go.”

Residents said the crowd at one of those small businesses, Olympia Coffee Shop, illustrates the neighborhood’s laid-back, inclusive attitude.

“You see the gray-haired matrons from big old Chevy Chase Village houses sitting next to contractors who are doing work on someone’s house,” said Gaby Gandal, a real estate agent who has lived in the neighborhood for 46 years.

As in most sections of Chevy Chase, brick Colonials dominate Rollingwood’s housing stock. But “we also have a handful of contemporary houses, a lot of ramblers, some Cape Cods and some modern homes,” said Rollingwood Citizens Association President Fritz Hirst, 44, who works in government relations for a Florida energy company. “We’re sort of the Wild West of Chevy Chase.”

Rollingwood attempted to incorporate several years ago, which would have let the community of more than 800 households set up its own taxing district and handle its own public services.

“We had observed how neighboring municipalities had better services, like speedier snow removal, than what we have under Montgomery County, and we felt that by having a locally elected village council, we would have better, more responsive services,” Hirst said.

The Montgomery County Council rejected the proposal, and Hirst said there are no current efforts to renew the battle.

Hirst said the Rollingwood Citizens Association is working to distinguish the neighborhood from other sections of Chevy Chase by establishing a functional Web site for the association and putting up signs at the community’s borders.

Houses in Rollingwood don’t come cheap — the least-expensive home sold there in the past 12 months went for $724,000, according to Gandal.

Other downsides include a lack of Metrorail access, though not all residents consider that a negative.

“You can’t walk to Metro from here, and we’re not that close to busy downtown streets,” Gandal said. “It’s a choice: Do you want to walk to Metro or have more of a parklike, quiet environment?”

Once people move to Rollingwood, they tend to stay, with many houses remaining in the same family for decades, Gandal said.

And those families find that the neighborhood’s charms mostly stay the same, no matter how much time passes.

“When my children were young, I used to take them to Candy Cane City to play, and I so enjoyed walking through the park,” Gandal said. “Now, I take their children to Candy Cane City — and I still enjoy spending time in the park.”

Reinink is a freelance writer.

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