Where We Live

Hammond Wood Opens Windows Into Delights of Contemporary Architecture

Tim Keen, Larry Converse and Patricia Price work on the landscaping around their neighborhood's new historic-district sign.
Tim Keen, Larry Converse and Patricia Price work on the landscaping around their neighborhood's new historic-district sign. (By Susan Straight For The Washington Post)

By Susan Straight
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, December 24, 2005

The densely forested Hammond Wood neighborhood was easy to miss before residents erected a sign at the Veirs Mill Road entrance this fall.

"I drove by Hammond Wood for eight years" on a daily commute "before finally looking into this heavily wooded area," said resident Larry Wannemacher.

Now the sign makes the 15 acre, 58 home Montgomery County neighborhood easy to find. It also marks it as special -- last year, largely because of the distinctive architecture of the houses, the neighborhood was named to the National Register of Historic Places. Although Hammond Wood is tucked inside the larger Rock Creek Palisades neighborhood, the houses, designed by well-known contemporary architect Charles Goodman and built from 1949 to 1951, are notably different from the brick Colonials that typify many suburbs of the era.

Hammond Wood's houses were built with entire "window walls" made of glass, the better to take advantage of the wooded setting and make optimum use of natural light. They have high peaked ceilings and open living and dining rooms. All of the houses are angled to minimize direct exposure to neighboring windows. The neighborhood's dense foliage, which includes forsythia, dogwood, beech, maples, tulip poplars and hemlocks, also contributes to privacy.

Dorothea Musgrave Malsbary, a resident and historic preservationist, wrote the application for the historic designation, based on work done by Joey Lampl, an architectural historian under contract to the county who had completed a general study on Goodman houses. A major benefit of the designation is the 20 percent state tax credit available to residents for capital improvements, according to Malsbary.

Resident Patricia Price moved into her two-story house in Hammond Wood in 1988. She had been looking for something that was as contemporary and well-designed as the Goodman house she owned in Wheaton Crest across Veirs Mill Road from Hammond Wood. But she wanted a larger house, one with a basement. When she first saw her current home, she "liked the cathedral ceilings and open floor plan."

On a Saturday afternoon last month, Price joined her neighbors Larry Converse and Tim Keen to prepare the ground in front of the community's new sign for planting. They laid edging around the planting area, then hauled 100 pounds of gravel. Plants will include those endorsed by the architect, such as azaleas and daffodils. When the homes were new, Goodman recommended landscape architect Lou Bernard Voigt to residents who wished to improve their yards. Voigt's preferred plants included arborvitae and native rhododendron.

Wannemacher organized the sign design, fabrication, painting and placement. He has been active in community matters for the 16 years he has lived in Hammond Wood, often hosting meetings and organizing special projects. "We've had many meetings at my patio here. We ended up with what I call the Gang of 11," a particularly motivated group of neighbors that takes on responsibility for community projects.

The historic markers, for example, took about five planning meetings, plus "cooperation from a lot of people with a lot of talent -- there are a lot of talented people here," Wannemachersaid. The residents designed the sign; a professional signmaker in Kensington fabricated it; and then a resident, Ron Ames, painted the lettering and vertical siding and added a Spanish cedar frame.

The result is meant to resemble the Goodman houses it designates: horizontal brick symbolizing the "prominent chimney" across the front of the homes, juxtaposed with vertical tongue-and-groove siding.

The homes of Hammond Wood are among the more than 275 residences Goodman designed in Montgomery County, including seven subdivisions, as well as custom homes. He is also known for two subdivisions in Virginia, especially his earliest of the local communities, Fairfax County's Hollin Hills, planned in 1946. Goodman referred to his style as "contemporary" to set it apart from what he thought was the less visually distinctive "modern" style.

Goodman's liberal use of windows sold Wannemacher on his home on Highview Court in 1989. "There's a sense of being indoors and outdoors at the same time because of the floor-to-ceiling windows. There's nothing like being in a Goodman contemporary in a snowfall," Wannemacher said.

The windows also are the reason Ruth and Tim Keen bought their home there this year. "We wanted to be closer in," Ruth Keen said, but had a difficult time winning bidding wars in the still-competitive housing market.

Ruth Keen said that when they walked into what is now their own sunny, window-surrounded living room, she was convinced.

"I said to Tim, 'Get me this house,' " she recalled. At the time, they didn't know much about the architect, but because his name was included in the real estate listing, Tim Keen did some online research to understand what they were buying.

"When for-sale signs go up on a Goodman, people notice," Price said. "We hope the historic designation focuses attention on their history and architectural significance so there's less of a likelihood of the houses being torn down and McMansionized."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company