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Faith in the Future

By Lisa Leff
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 07, 1992

It must have been with considerable optimism that the Silver Spring community of Woodmoor was created.

The year was 1938 and the nation still was staggering its way out of the Depression. But Washington builder George J. Moss saw a lot of potential in “the great middle-class market.” So he built two- and three-bedroom homes that came with room to add garages or more bedrooms and waited for people to come to his “perfectly planned community.”

The avalanche of white-collar jobs that World War II brought to Washington and the baby-boom years that followed the war eventually justified Moss’s confidence. Today, more than a half century later, the people who call Woodmoor home have a similar faith in their neighborhood’s future. As signs of urbanization spring up around them, many resident said it is a place that still feels more like a small town than a model suburb and attracts buyers because it is a good place to bring raise children.

“For a while downtown Silver Spring was getting so bad and of course Langley Park [one mile east] has problems with crime,” said Mary Lodato, who grew up in Woodmoor and is raising her four daughters there. “But the people who come into this neighborhood spend a lot of time and effort on their homes. Everyone seems to take a lot of pride in the neighborhood.”

“It feels like a little piece of the Fifties and I mean that in a good way. It’s a well-functioning community with a lot of stability,” said John Siegel, who lives with his wife and four children in the house that his parents bought in 1956.

The area that is called Woodmoor is made up of nearly 1,200 homes on a slice of land bordered by Colesville Road (Route 29) on the west, University Boulevard on the south, the Capital Beltway on the east and the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River on the north. When it was built this section of Silver Spring was considered rather remote, but is now well-established by modern suburban standards.

Woodmoor stands out from its surrounding subdivisions from the same era, however, because it was built on gently rolling, tree-packed terrain rather than flat farmland. It is distinguished, too, from the abundance of postwar, brick cookie-cutter communities that line University Boulevard because many of its homes were custom-built or, true to Moss’s vision, have long since had additions put on that give the houses individuality.

The residents of Woodmoor seem to fall into two camps: those like Lodato, who grew up there and never left, and those who wanted to buy in Chevy Chase or Bethesda and could not afford a home there. Jay Callahan is a member of the latter group. In July, he and his wife moved with their 2-year-old into a 1938 Williamsburg Cape Cod that is larger than their present needs. Because his wife grew up in Kensington and prefers older homes, the couple had looked there and in Chevy Chase.

“It was impossible,” Callahan said. “A home like the one we have now you could not touch. It would be well over $300,000.” Houses like theirs in Woodmoor can go for as little as $230,000.

At the same time, it is not unusual to find several generations of the same family living in Woodmoor. Judy Hanrahan’s father bought one of the original Woodmoor homes in 1938. Today, she, her aunt and two cousins still live there. Lodato’s sister and brother live within several blocks of her home.

“We call ourselves the Woodmorons a lot of time,” Lodato said. “It’s like Peyton Place—everyone knows each other.”

The old-timers and the newcomers find common ground in community institutions such as their local schools—Pinecrest Elementary School and a well-regarded parochial school, St. Bernadette’s—and holiday traditions. During the 1940s, the community participated in an annual Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at the Woodmoor entrance off Colesville and held a contest to see which house had the best holiday decorations. Both rituals were revived in the 1970s and take place today.

In the years since she moved to Woodmoor in 1974, Sally Busker has added her own annual rite, an Oktoberfest to raise money for Democratic candidates. According to Busker, politics are something her neighbors take seriously, but never personally. She said there are several “two-party” marriages in Woodmoor, including her own.

Busker said Woodmoor residents often unite behind causes that affect their community. Ever since the Beltway was built in the 1960s, for instance, an immense parcel of land at University Boulevard and Colesville Road that was once the site for the Indian Spring Country Club has stood vacant. The neighbors have fought to keep the tract from being developed, and they are trying to keep Montgomery County from building a new high school there. The community association also has been active in monitoring the development of the intersection of Route 29 and University Boulevard, where the state has proposed building an underpass.

“We value what we have,” Busker said.

After its civic spirit, residents said what they like best about Woodmoor is its convenience. When it was established, a small shopping center was built simultaneously on the edge of the subdivision.

Edward Tappe said he moved to Woodmoor in 1950 because, as an airline pilot, he knew he would be out of town often and he wanted his wife to be able to shop for necessities in his absence. Today, the center includes a bakery, grocery store, dry cleaners and drug store, and residents still walk there to run errands.

It’s location near a Beltway exit and a few miles from the Silver Sring Metro station is considered a drawing card, too. Lodato said that over the years her husband, Paul, has worked in the District and the Virginia and Maryland suburbs and never had more than a half-hour commute.

As Woodmoor has aged, many of the original homes have been purchased by young families who are drawn by the same attributes that attracted the original owners, said Judy Hanrahan, a real estate agent who lives in Woodmoor. This week, there were 28 homes for sale, and during the first half of this year, the average sale price was $195,310. The most expensive house sold this year cost $280,000, she said.

“It always tickles those of us who have lived here a long time to hear people say, ‘This looks just like Bethesda and Chevy Chase and it so much less expensive and so close to everything. Why didn’t we know about it?’ “ Hanrahan said.

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