Where We Live

One Neighbor Completes the Block

By Jim Brocker
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, April 18, 2009

The community of Hillandale and the adjacent Navy lab in White Oak grew up together in the years after World War II. They made a good pair, as the lab attracted professionals who made their homes in the eastern Montgomery County neighborhood.

And when the Navy left the site in the mid-1990s as part of a military reorganization, Hillandale residents helped attract a new partner. The Food and Drug Administration is now the major tenant at the lab site, called the Federal Research Center, in part because of lobbying by neighborhood leaders who wanted a government agency on the 660-acre tract.

"That's what a community can do," said Betsy Bretz, who participated in that effort as president of the Hillandale Citizens Association. The association represents 1,400 households in Hillandale, which has about 3,300 residents. Members weigh in on education, land use and zoning issues.

Civic activism is a byproduct of living in Hillandale. True "Hillandalers" relish their relationships with one another, residents said.

"It's unusual to find a neighborhood where neighbors really care about getting to know each other and being a part of each other's lives," said Sue Present, a 15-year resident of the community, which is located along both sides of New Hampshire Avenue. "When my children were little, they had neighbors who treated them like their grandchildren."

The Hillandale area once was a mix of woods and farms, including a dairy, according to a history compiled by the association. When the government in 1944 began building the Naval Ordnance Laboratory for the manufacturing and research of explosives, more housing was constructed along New Hampshire.

In subsequent years, Hillandale's location, just off the Beltway and minutes from the District, attracted government workers, military members, and University of Maryland teachers and employees. Residents eat and shop at nearby centers and in downtown Silver Spring, and enjoy walking along the tree-lined streets and through Northwest Branch Park.

Housing styles vary, as well as lot sizes. Some older homes were designed by a local builder, Merritt Lockwood, said Ross Sutton, a Long & Foster agent. He lives in one of Lockwood's brick houses, characterized by high, sloping roofs. The east side of Hillandale, where many residents have lived for decades, has large houses on lots without curbs and sidewalks.

On the west side, some residents live in contemporary homes designed by modernist architect Charles Goodman. They feature plenty of glass and are designed to blend with the contours of the land. "I liked the openness of the stairwell and the high ceiling," said Carroll Alley, a physics professor at the University of Maryland who has lived in his Goodman home since 1969.

Other west Hillandale streets have a more traditional mix of ramblers and split-level houses on quarter-acre lots, said Sutton, who produces the citizens association newsletter. That area has attracted younger residents.

Newcomers are greeted by a visit from members of the citizens association, as well as support from neighbors. After moving to the area, Kristine Manlove, a five-year resident, was worried about safety after hearing about peeping Tom incidents. Her neighbor promptly installed floodlights around her house.

Children get plenty of attention, too. Resident Kathryn Hopps gave high marks to two Hillandale schools, Cresthaven Elementary and Francis Scott Key Middle. Hopps helped lobby for special academic programs and the long-awaited renovations now underway at both schools. Her two children belong to one of the area's swim teams and have taken music lessons from Hillandale instructors.

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