Getting Into the Swim of Things

By Karen Tanner Allen
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, March 17, 2001

Most neighborhood swim clubs close soon after Labor Day. Carderock Springs Swim and Tennis Club in Bethesda buzzes all year long.

There are yoga classes in the mornings and evenings, movie nights for the children and teenagers, potluck dinners of all kinds, an "International Night" in tribute to the neighborhood's many foreign-born residents, and private parties.

In January, snow was cleared from the tennis courts so a group of men could play their weekly game.

The club is a big draw for the wooded subdivision, as well as its centerpiece. Children and adults come to play, teenagers come for their first jobs and residents of all ages find an instant social life.

"The club is the heart of the community," said 24-year resident Theres A. Kellermann, a linguist and social worker who also sells real estate.

Although the neighborhood is relatively isolated -- bounded by nature and thoroughfares on all sides -- residents say newcomers feel welcome right away.

"There are so many ways for people to get to know each other and see each other again," said Mary Lou Shannon, a real estate agent who has lived in Carderock Springs for 17 years.

Carderock Springs was an experiment in community planning when it was built in the 1960s. At the time, constructing subdivisions around Washington often meant flattening entire landscapes, clearing forests and building matching houses in orderly rows on identical lots. Developer Edmund Bennett had different ideas for the old stone quarry land he had bought between River Road and the Potomac River.

Inspired by some of the towns being built in Europe, especially Sweden, his goals included building houses that would fit into the woods and hills rather than overwhelm them, providing an exercise and social center, and saving the trees.

Keeping the trees made "the community look as if it had been there a long time, even though it was brand new," said Bennett, now retired, from his home in Tucson.

He hired architects to design ramblers and split-levels that varied depending on where the houses would sit on the slope. The houses have low profiles, rising one or two stories, and open floor plans, brick- and cedar-shingled siding and mural-size windows, skylights and glass sliding doors.

One of the designs, the "atrium" house, has won architectural awards and was featured in House Beautiful magazine. Shaped like a square doughnut with a porch as the hole, the atrium house was more expensive than other layouts. Only about a half-dozen were built.

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