Anyone who has lived in Washington and its proliferating satellites, or who means to do so, should stash away the November issue of Washingtonian for a rainy afternoon of history and enlightenment.

The cover's enshrinement of prominent Washington area developers is a nose-wrinkler, but consider it a harmless obeisance to the latter-day Medicis of the federal enclave, patrons of this magazine and much civic worthiness besides. Behind the cover, though, is fine stuff: the absorbing results of Larry Van Dyne's historical odyssey from the somnolent bogs of 18th-century Potomac River plantations to the $1,000-a-square-foot postmodern palaces of today's metropolitan Washington.

George Washington is portrayed here as the father not only of his country but of the earliest public-private real estate deal, in which landowners gave up their property to the federal government in exchange for most-favored-speculator status in the nascent capital. Its deep-water site and the construction of the C&O Canal fanned the city's early hopes to prosper as a commercial hub. But that future turned out to be Baltimore's, a historical disappointment that fixed Washington's destiny as a city of clerks with clean fingernails and paychecks coated in economic Scotchgard.

Evidence that Washington has grown at breakneck speed turns up on almost every page of Van Dyne's rolling chronicle. When wealthy developers began sinking money into lavish mansions around Dupont Circle after the Civil War, one house was called (after its owner) "Stewart's Folly" because it was so remote from the center of things. Two decades later, when another farsighted fellow extended Connecticut Avenue from Kalorama to the District line to induce home-buying in his new project, Chevy Chase Village, it is not recorded here that anyone called him foolish.

Today, the District of Columbia is but a fraction of a sprawling region, but fortunes continue to be wrung from pastures along a fluid metropolitan perimeter. As Van Dyne's story moves into the neighborhood of the present day, it becomes more cautious as journalism and less discriminating as history. Many of the extant makers of modern Washington have inspiring tales to tell. But no real estate project and no developer (and, seemingly, no developer's favorite charity) goes unmentioned, while the messy side effects of their success (such as carried Audrey Moore to power in Fairfax County last week) usually do.

The Early Line The New Republic's 1988 presidential election coverage goes into full swing this week (the Nov. 23 issue) with the return of former editor Hendrik Hertzberg as the magazine's special election correspondent. Even as the 467th pundit to weigh in on the Republicans' "Firing Line" debate in Houston, Hertzberg manages to deliver the kind of knowing acerbities that make you look forward to his year of reporting.

Pat Robertson, for instance, "gained by appearing affable and not having his head rotate 360 degrees with the sign of the beast tattooed on his forehead." Of George Bush and Pete du Pont, Hertzberg writes: "Patronizing, humorless, and ice-cold, du Pont is the perfect picture of a banker about to foreclose on the mortgage ... He makes Bush look like the Godfather of Soul." Bob Dole "managed to convey a (to me) attractive impatience with the low company he was being forced to keep {and} a similar subtle scorn for some of the positions he apparently believes himself obliged to take."

In the same issue of The New Republic (providing prescient context for the recent news about Al and Tipper Gore's pilgrimage to California), Ronald Brownstein describes the ongoing "Hollywood Primary," in which Democratic aspirants prostrate themselves before movie stars and entertainment industry pooh-bahs. Candidates need money and approval on the liberal fast track; for their part, Hollywood types evidently find politicians glamorous, not just potentially useful. But except for Michael Dukakis, Brownstein says, the Democrats are finding the experience thus far to be "all foreplay, no consummation."

The Erector Set There's a terrific package of articles on "signature architecture" in this month's issue of Avenue magazine. Once considered wasteful indulgences, today attention-getting design, big-name architects and deluxe interior details have become essential elements of profitable construction projects, according to a report by Joanna Krotz.

Elsewhere in the magazine, Suzanne Stephens analyzes the new wave of architecture criticism, generated by the demystification of the profession and marked by ad hominem attacks on architects. "The easily-summed-up observation and the memorable epithet are rewarded," she writes, "the measured, logically developed evaluation of a building is not."

Avenue, originally delivered free to addresses in upper-crust Manhattan Zip codes, has now expanded its reach (but not its demographics) across the country. If you're not in one of this area's socially correct Zip codes, you can pay to subscribe. For 9 issues, send $80 -- yes, $80 -- to Avenue, 145 E. 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10022. There are no newsstand sales.

Package Deals The timely seasonal question in the November Consumer Reports is "What's the best way to send presents?" The magazine, characteristically, is careful in answering, with test mailings via major surface and air carriers, for short distances and long. But for value and speed (rather than one or the other) trusty old UPS seems to be the best bet