Old Money Takes Its Time At Chevy Chase Land Co.

Luxury retailers cluster at the Collection at Chevy Chase, at Friendship Heights.
Luxury retailers cluster at the Collection at Chevy Chase, at Friendship Heights. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Jerry Knight
Monday, May 22, 2006

From Ed Asher's penthouse office on upper Connecticut Avenue, the canopy of leaves that covers Washington's suburbs rolls off in all directions like a verdant sea.

To the east and west, the emerald waves are broken by the high-rises of Silver Spring and Bethesda. To the south is the heritage that Asher oversees as chief executive of the Chevy Chase Land Co.

The blocks stretching to Dupont Circle were bought up more than a century ago by a U.S. Senator from Nevada who moonlighted as a land developer.

Nowadays, real estate deals by members of Congress attract grand juries, special prosecutors and ethics investigators, but in the 1890s no eyebrows were raised when Sen. Francis G. Newlands (D-Nev.) began buying farms in the boondocks of the District of Columbia and beyond.

He called his development Chevy Chase -- Chevy for Cheviot in Scotland, where his family came from, and Chase for the fox hunts he hoped to hold. By the time Newlands stopped buying, the Chevy Chase Land Co. owned 1,700 acres.

Today, Asher looks down on what's left of that land -- the old Chevy Chase Supermarket, a little shopping center with a Smith & Hawken gardening boutique, the T.W. Perry lumberyard and a filling station that proclaims it's "The Last Gas Before the Beltway."

"We're running out of inventory," Asher said, half-seriously.

The Chevy Chase Lake East shopping center and the adjacent property are the last remaining parcel of the original Newlands land that is waiting to be rebuilt now that "the land company" has completed the flashiest project in its far-from-glitzy history.

Over the summer, the final tenants will move into the radically renovated Chevy Chase shopping center at Wisconsin and Western avenues at the Friendship Heights Metro station.

It took 10 years to shepherd that project from inception to the grand opening of what instantly became Montgomery County's most upscale strip of stores. On paper the project looks like a "big box" center. But instead of Target, Linens & Things and the Sports Authority, the names on the boxes are Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Max Mara and Jimmy Choo.

Money changes everything -- or at least a lot of things.

There's enough money in things like a pair of $400 Jimmy Choos or a $200 tank top from Barney's to pay for the four levels of underground parking and the other infrastructure needed to develop the long-neglected urban parcel into a boutique collection, a Giant supermarket and an office complex worth an estimated $500 million.

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