With its tall, old trees, large lots and houses set back from sidewalk-free streets, Mantua looks more like a rural neighborhood than a 1,642-home community not far outside the Beltway in Fairfax County.
Drive north on Prince William Drive from Mantua's southern border, Little River Turnpike, and in a few blocks you will cross over Crooked Branch Creek, a babbling stream arched by tall oaks and maples. The thoroughfare with its median strip quickly gives way to a winding, hilly street.
Lou Brenner, who heads the Mantua citizens group, holds son Erik while wife Monika holds son Nicholas. Residents are an involved group.
(Susan Straight For The Washington Post)
BOUNDARIES: Prosperity Avenue to the east, Pickett Road to the west, Arlington Boulevard the north and Little River Turnpike to the south.
SCHOOLS: Mantua Elementary, Robert Frost Middle and W.T. Woodson High schools.
HOME SALES: Eighty-five houses sold in the past 12 months at prices from $425,000 to $830,000, said Mary Thyfault Clark of Weichert Realtors. Six houses under contract, at prices from $619,00 to $699,900. There is one active listing at $620,000.
WITHIN FIVE MINUTES BY CAR: Fairfax Hospital, Capital Beltway, Interstate 66, Vienna, Merrifield, Vienna Metro, Woodson High School, Northern Virginia Community College Annandale Campus, city of Fairfax.
WITHIN 15 MINUTES BY CAR: Tysons Corner, Fair Oaks Mall, George Mason University, Burke, Falls Church.
The neighborhood's houses, on lots ranging from one-fourth to a full acre, are a mix of Colonials, brick or stone ramblers, bi-levels, wood-sided modern structures, plantation-style houses with tall front pillars, and an occasional modern design. Individual developers bought and developed lots from the late 1950s to the 1970s.
The character of the neighborhood was a draw for former Arlington resident Mary Thyfault Clark, who stumbled into the area several years ago when trying to drop off her husband to play tennis nearby. Because of all the different builders, she said, the area didn't have that cookie-cutter feel she associated with most outside-the-Beltway suburbia. "I pulled in there and found it by chance -- immediately we knew that's where we wanted to live," she said. Now Thyfault Clark sells real estate in the community while raising children.
Thyfault Clark said the Mantua Swim & Tennis Club helps hold the neighborhood together. "It's an active part of the community -- a very community-oriented thing -- a good reason for people to get together and cheer for their kids, have barbecues or socialize," she said.
The swim and tennis club is so popular, even at $1,100 per refundable share and $375 annual dues, 120 families are on the waiting list. The club has started offering rental memberships for $495 per year. About 85 families took advantage of those last year, Thyfault Clark said.
For tennis players who don't join the club, there are also county-maintained courts at Eakin Park.
The park -- the several-hundred-acre wooded area surrounding Accotink Creek that runs across the middle of the community -- also includes part of the Cross County Trail connecting Pohick Stream Valley near Interstate 95 to the south to Great Falls and the Potomac River to the north. The trail, for use by runners, walkers, bikers, skaters and pedestrians, is scheduled for completion this year, according to Fairfax County.
Mantua residents are an involved group. Mantua Elementary and its PTA, located within the neighborhood, offer a Hands-On Science program, 5K run and community youth basketball league.
The neighborhood's civic association, headed by Lou Brenner, has 24 standing committees and three special committees. The group organizes four major events each year: a holiday party, summer picnic, newcomers' dinner and neighborhood watch brunch.
The neighborhood's most pressing project now is lobbying for "additional north-south commuting routes in order to alleviate traffic through the neighborhood," Brenner said. Prosperity Avenue, the neighborhood's eastern border, is an alternative north-south route when the Beltway is congested. Recent traffic increases have led residents to push for more speed humps. The most recent set was installed in November.
The neighborhood is divided when it comes to the issue of sidewalks. Less than 30 percent of the neighborhood has them. Mantua was originally marketed as geographically "far out and rural in character," Brenner said. Many residents oppose additional sidewalks because they would make the community look too suburban.
However, "almost everyone who has kids wants [sidewalks], as do older residents without kids who aren't original residents," Brenner said. The citizens association is talking with County Supervisor Linda Smith about adding a sidewalk along Lido Place leading to Mantua Elementary, Brenner said.
Mantua includes about a dozen subdivisions, including Mantua, Mantua Hills, Ridgelea Estates and Ridgelea Hills, according to Judy Wonus, a resident and real estate agent at Re/Max Horizons. The oldest houses are those on the full-acre lots along Barkley Drive, according to Wonus. House prices throughout Mantua range from about $500,000 to more than $1 million. Most homes sell from the high $600,000s to low $700,000s, Wonus said.