Where We Live

A Neighborhood of Dense Trees, Eclectic Architecture

By Susan Straight
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, March 14, 2009

Trees, large lots and the Walt Whitman High School district draw families to Redland Knolls, a mix of houses and townhouses built between 1940 and 2007.

The approximately 35 single-family houses in the Montgomery County neighborhood, once called Locust Ridge, are mostly large and on half-acre lots. Many of them back up to the sports fields at Whitman and the adjacent Montgomery County park, Whittier Woods. The 15 three-story townhouses along Bannockburn Ridge Court were built in 1998.

The dense, tall old trees, which have been cleared from all but the backyards of nearby neighborhoods, give Redland Knolls a green feel. "In the summer, this place becomes like a nature preserve," said neighborhood resident Gareth Conway, gesturing toward the woods separating the houses on the east side of Pyle Road from the high school fields.

"I've got a forest all around me," said Dick Tastet, who moved into his split level, built in 1953, with his parents in 1959. He is now married, and he and his wife, Judy, raised a daughter there. "You have to go out of your way to speak to your neighbors. You're too far from your neighbors to talk over the fence much."

Although the neighborhood isn't an easy walk to much except Whitman and the park, residents are within two miles of a major shopping area on River Road as well as the entertainment, shopping and dining of downtown Bethesda, and less than 10 minutes by bus or car from the Bethesda Metro station.

Houses are a mix of styles, including contemporary, French country, ramblers and split levels. "It's pretty eclectic here, which makes it interesting. None of them are alike," said Ilissa Flamm, a real estate agent and neighborhood resident. There's a wide range in home sizes, too, from a few thousand square feet to a 10,000-square-foot house with a three-car garage. There hasn't been a lot of turnover in the neighborhood -- the last home sale was in February 2008, for $1.275 million.

Conway was told his three-floor mid-century modern house was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright's students. He has not been able to verify that, but the house certainly looks as if it was influenced by the legendary architect, with its cantilevered roof eaves and large windows throughout.

Conway, a Los Angeles native, said it reminded him of houses back home. Although it suffered from a lack of maintenance when he first saw it, "I saw the potential," he said.

Conway's wife, Melissa, a Montgomery native, was not as used to contemporary-style houses. "I'd never seen anything like it. I loved it and still love it," she said. "We're big Frank Lloyd Wright fans, and there are some aspects like that to this house." Her top priority, however, was living in the Whitman school district, one of the nation's top-performing public school districts, so the architecture was just a plus.

The school district is important to families with children, but the Whitman athletic track also is used by many neighbors for walking or running, whether or not they have children in school there. "If there's a focal point, it's the high school," said Kelly Levy, who moved to the neighborhood in 2005 with her husband, Michael, and three daughters, Lauren, Jessica and Amanda.

"It's great being one minute from school," said Lauren, a Walt Whitman student, who says she can run to school if she leaves a little late.

In a pattern that's the reverse of most neighborhoods, the middle school students can also walk to their school, Pyle Middle School, but the elementary school students take a bus. Residents with young children say that's how they meet one another -- at the bus stop.

When they moved to the neighborhood in 1996, "there were no children," said Tucker Bernard, Flamm's husband. "Everyone was already retired."

Now, "kids are starting to move back into the neighborhood," said Bernard, who has a son in grade school.

The other way residents meet in this neighborhood of large houses, large lots and no sidewalks is by walking their dogs, either on the street or along the path behind the houses backing up to the high school and Whittier Woods Park. "A lot of people from the neighborhood gather every morning from 6:30 to 7 a.m. to socialize," Flamm said.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company