Where We Live

A Design Hub Tucked Into the Park

The architecture of Forest Hills reflects the work of Richard J. Neutra and the District's Hugh Newell Jacobsen, said local architect Travis Price.
The architecture of Forest Hills reflects the work of Richard J. Neutra and the District's Hugh Newell Jacobsen, said local architect Travis Price. (By Andrea Rouda For The Washington Post)

By Andrea Rouda
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, June 16, 2007

Some of the District's most dramatic houses are hidden inside Rock Creek Park, visible to passersby during only the leafless winter months.

These houses are in Forest Hills, a neighborhood that has somewhat of a split personality. It includes some of Washington's oldest and newest homes, where blocks of grand Tudors and stately Colonials are almost abruptly interrupted by the cutting-edge architecture of ultramodern glass-and-steel homes. But it also includes sections that are much more affordable and grounded in reality, with rows of modest 1940s and '50s split-levels and Cape Cods.

Besides the obvious natural beauty of the surrounding forest, many Forest Hills residents appreciate the mix of architecture on almost every block. That was especially appealing to Travis Price, an architect, who felt lucky, he said, when he found the site for his home four years ago. "I thought: 'Man, that's for me. It's challenging, it's right in the center of D.C., and I'm in the forest.' "

His firm, Travis Price Architects, is widely recognized for the outside-the-box designs it creates for its residential clients. He is also director of one of the graduate programs in architecture at Catholic University.

"Forest Hills has always embraced authentic change," he said, citing the work of several famous architects, including the internationally known Richard J. Neutra and the District's Hugh Newell Jacobsen. "Modernism is growing constantly, and there's something from every decade."

Price placed the front of his house between two neighbors at the far end of a cul-de-sac, facing out into a conventional street scene complete with a basketball hoop for the kids. But from the rear, it's quite a different story: The house appears to hang precipitously into and over a chunk of Rock Creek Park.

"The back yard is a jungle, there's no lawn to mow, and the kids can climb trees," Price said. To make sure his neighborhood wouldn't be saddled with what he derided as a McMansion, Price offered to design his next-door neighbor's house. Like his own, it backs dramatically over the park's untamed landscape. "The natural setting feeds my philosophy of being at peace with nature," Price said.

Forest Hills was first home to the Piscataway Indian tribe and later to Civil War encampments. In 1929, the Forest Hills Citizens Association was established to ensure that the beauty of the landscape remained unharmed.

Homeowners seeking to build along the perimeters of Rock Creek Park have a few more hoops to jump through than homeowners in other parts of the city. "In all, it takes about three months of extra time to get approval from the tree and slope people, the Fine Arts Commission, and the local ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Commission]," Price said. "It's not about style, whether it's old or new -- they are flexible. Rather, it's about having minimal impact on the environment."

Rebecca Israel, a real estate agent with Randall Hagner, has lived in the neighborhood for 12 years and raised two children there. She's a widow and shares her home with her pug, Samantha.

"One of the nicest things about living here is that you can usually see into other people's back yards, which seems to increase the size of your own back yard," she said.

On the downside, "it's harder to meet your neighbors because there are no sidewalks," she said. "It's not really a walking kind of place. Also, because many of the homeowners are affluent enough to have several homes in other cities, more than a few mansions are unoccupied for most of the year."

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