In the fourth of Weekend's occasional neighborhood guides, we explore the nation's first planned community.
It was the first community of its kind, an anti-suburbia born in suburbia's heyday. It's been imitated and emulated and yet remains unique. Reston, a revolutionary concept built from the ground up in the early '60s, was an experimental attempt to establish a new sort of community, one open to all races and income levels, with ample shops, parkland and office space for all. If the thought of a completely planned community existing beyond the Beltway is enough to make your eyes glaze over--a suburb by any other name, right?--think again. There is more here than meets the eye.
The nation's first zoned "residential planned community" caused quite a stir at one time. Photos of the new town were splashed across the pages of Life, Time and Look magazines in the mid-'60s, with feature stories hailing it as the ultimate modern community, a new way for people to live. Eighteen miles west of D.C., a stone's throw from Dulles International Airport, Reston was intended to be a suburban antidote; in the original plan it was designed as a community where people could come together to live and work and play--all in one place. Goodbye suburban isolation and cookie-cutter housing; here were contemporary residences built alongside storefronts and man-made waterfronts, a place where the town center truly served as a place for communal meetings and gatherings. In its early incarnation, Reston looked more like a European village than an American suburb.
Today, the innovative '60s-style suburb heads into the new century still holding many of those original ideals intact. Even if you think you know Reston--with its Town Center, upscale shops, multiplex, outdoor ice skating rink and restaurants--take a closer look. In addition to the Town Center, there is another Reston, a place where people still live amid shops, galleries and restaurants in an open-air European-style plaza on the water's edge.
Lake Anne: The Other Town Center
Thirty-five years ago, developer Robert E. Simon had a dream. The son of an established New York real estate family, Simon parlayed the profits from his sale of Carnegie Hall and other family-owned properties into 11.5 acres in western Fairfax County. Simon wanted to create a town that had a mix of urban flair, neighborhood character and thriving commerce, not unlike the neighborhood where he had grown up, on 115th Street in New York City. Reston--the name derives from a combination of Simon's initials and the English suffix for town--would be the culmination of this dream.
Today, at 85, Simon lives in an apartment in Reston's Lake Anne Village, the town center he created. Modeled on the fishing village of Portofino, Italy, the concrete-and-brick plaza on the lake is home to many of the same residents and businesses as when it first opened in 1965--unusual in a Washington-area community, where corporate relocation, political transfers and out-of-state transplants are commonplace. The plaza's unique structural design has been featured in urban planning and architectural texts, noted particularly for its combined-use commercial and residential properties. Several apartments in Lake Anne are built above storefronts, a feature not typically seen in suburban development.
But, then again, things are far from typical here. The Lake Anne Village Center exists as a self-contained entity. The stores, apartments and town houses form an enclave, a large semi-circle of housing and commerce facing a center courtyard with nothing but a lakeside view and a whimsical fountain sculpture in sight. The antithesis of the "strip mall" concept--driving to the door of any of these establishments is not a possibility--the design is far from driver-friendly. Parking is available in one central lot, located at the entrance to the center. The parking lot is best known to locals as the home of the Lake Anne Farmer's Market, which is open Saturday mornings, May through November, and is considered by many as one of the best sources for area-grown produce, fresh herbs and baked goods. For most who live nearby, driving to Lake Anne is not a necessity; the Village Center is connected to most area neighborhoods by a series of linked walking paths and tunnels that bypass all street and highway traffic.
Visitors who do plan on driving here for the first time should be forewarned that neither the parking lot nor the center are visible from the road--which means you have to know what you're looking for. Even then, it's not always easy: Store owners report that customers have actually called from the parking lot, unable to find the plaza. "It makes us the best-kept secret in Reston," says Victoria Reed, a Lake Anne resident and owner of the Reston Used Book Shop (1623 Washington Plaza, 703/435-9772). For the past 22 years, the cozy book shop has been a haven for those searching for hard-to-find or out-of-print books. The shop's motto--"We buy, sell, trade and share"--speaks to the spirit of the store, a quiet, no-pressure place to browse and read. Unlike the bigger booksellers who go out of their way to create a reader-friendly environment, the Reston Used Book Shop comes by it naturally. With its wooden, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, thick Persian throw rugs and comfortable chairs, the shop is more like a friend's study--an eclectic, well-read friend, that is, one who has more than 28,000 titles covering 56 distinct categories.
Most of the stores in the Lake Anne plaza are lakefront property, and all make good use of the natural elements. The restaurants feature outdoor dining patios and terraces, and the shops are brightly lit, awash in natural light. "You can actually see shadows of the lake rippling on the ceiling," says Pat Macintyre, a local artist and owner of the Reston Art Gallery & Studios (11400 Washington Plaza, 703/481-8156). Macintyre, who proclaims the light in Lake Anne perfect for artists, runs the gallery as a cooperative, providing studio space for 11 local artists. If you drop by you may catch Macintyre and others at work. Visitors are always welcome, says Macintyre, who, when not working, likes to watch the sailboats float by her studio window. "There's no other place like it."
If watching the boats go by inspires you to venture out onto the lake, pay a visit to the Lake Anne Coffee House (1612 Washington Plaza, 703/481-9766). Not only does this shop offer over 60 coffees, it doubles as the lake's harbormaster. Here you can arrange to sip your latte out on the open water. Sign up at the coffeehouse to rent one of the row boats, canoes or paddle boats--or even the pontoon party boat. Catered boat rides are also available, just give the owner, Alfredo, some advance notice and he will prepare menu selections for your group. If you're looking for sandwich style takeout for a lake excursion, go no further than Calvert Gourmet Cafe & Deli (11424 Washington Plaza West, 703/471-7177). A favorite in Lake Anne for 16 years, this eatery, with a large and loyal following, is best known for its daily specials and homemade desserts.
For those looking for a more landbound and upscale dining experience, Lake Anne offers a trio of choices, with not one chain restaurant in the mix. Il Cigno (1617 Washington Plaza, 703/471-0121), an Italian restaurant named for the lake's swans, is strictly a white linen affair, featuring Southern Italian dishes, with a wide variety of pasta and seafood specialties. The owner, Silvio Valbusa, is from Naples, and is on hand to help with menu recommendations. For French cuisine, Cafe Montmartre (1625 Washington Plaza, 703/904-8080) is a bustling bistro with a sleek bar and contemporary feel. Hors d'oeuvres recommendations include escargots de Montmarte and the country pate served with black pepper. High tech meets Lake Anne at Montmartre: You can enter your reservation requests over the Internet (www.cafemontmartre.com). Next door is Jasmine Cafe (1633-A Washington Plaza, 703/471-9114) where American fare is the specialty, though chef Eduardo Faubert has been known to include a few menu items that hark back to his Latin American roots--check out the blackened salmon served with Cuban black bean sauce and aioli. When visiting Jasmine, allow some time to look at the work hung by local artists as part of the Art in Public Places Program.
The arts community is alive and well in Lake Anne, both at the Reston Art Gallery and at the new Reston Community Center (1609-A Washington Plaza, 703/689-3550). The gleaming, 8,000-square-foot facility offers life drawing and painting classes, Corcoran Artist Lectures and pottery seminars, and has a new ceramics lab that is open to the public. It also hosts an international film series, a free monthly program with films from Japan, China, Scandinavia and Latin America on the schedule. Included in the Community Center is the Jo Ann Rose Gallery, where work by local artists is on display ("Reflect on the Past, Imagine the Future," a millennium-themed juried show is on exhibit through Jan. 30).
Across the plaza, eKspoZa (11414 Washington Plaza, 703/471-5805), a clothing consignment shop, draws both hip and corporate crowds, with clothing fit for the boardroom or boho scene. The shop is small and firmly packed, half the allure here is the adventure of discovery. A newcomer to Lake Anne, this store takes over the space operated for 18 years by Small Change, the children's consignment shop, which recently moved to a larger venue on the plaza (1629 Washington Plaza, 703/437-7730). Small Change has expanded its inventory to include more hand-crafted children's items and gifts, including hand-painted children's furniture. The larger space will also come in handy on Tuesday, says co-owner Susann Gerstein, when the store draws a crowd for its annual half-price sale.
Next door to Small Change is the Ley-Canovas Gallery (1631 Washington Plaza, 703/437-7373), which specializes in gifts with an international flair. This is a showplace for South American fine arts, Portuguese linen and crystal from Venice and the Czech Republic. For international food flavoring, stop by La Villa Market (1611 Washington Plaza, 703/437-7741) for Latin American, Caribbean and African products. The store carries hard-to-find seasonings as well as fu fu flour, Salvadoran beans, Boldo tea leaves and a good supply of cold Inca Kola and tamarind-flavored beverages.
A day at Lake Anne would not be complete without paying a visit to the Reston Storefront Museum and Shop (1639 Washington Plaza, 703/709-7700). Dedicated to preserving the message and the legacy of Reston for future generations, the museum houses photos and magazine features from Reston's early days as a suburb of the future. Sarah Larson, executive director of the museum, and a Restonite since 1967, regards Lake Anne as a visual icon, emblematic of the Reston ideal. "This is a tight-knit community that works and lives together," says Larson. "That's what Reston is all about."
Reston Town Center
As for what the future of Reston holds, nothing could be more emblematic than Reston Town Center. About two miles from Lake Anne, the town center, built in 1990, is four square blocks of modern urban architecture, featuring more than 45 stores, 12 restaurants and a 13-screen cinema, and it is still growing. The center has been likened to a scaled-down version of Georgetown, without the parking hassle (free parking is available at three parking lots and two garages). Locals are less happy about parking these days because of new construction projects, but the situation still beats wrangling with meters or paying to park in a garage.
At the heart of the center is the Fountain Square Pavilion (1818 Discovery St., 703/709-6300), a large, glass-ceilinged structure that's used as an ice skating rink during the winter and doubles as an open-air concert hall when the weather is warmer; in spring and summer months, concertgoers pack the open space for live musical performances, often bringing their own lawn chairs for evening events under the stars. During winter the rink is illuminated at night and the music on the sound system is festive and lively. For a bit of cold-weather comfort, order a hot beverage from Bread and Chocolate (11928 Market St., 703/467-0460) and take it rinkside to watch the skaters glide by.
If you prefer to have a hot beverage indoors accompanied by a good meal, you can watch the ice skaters from the window in the Hunt Room at Clyde's, the Reston outpost of the Georgetown favorite (11905 Market St., 703/787-6601). When the weather turns chillly, Clyde's keeps the fireplace roaring. The warm, mellow-toned interior has the feel of a turn-of-the-century saloon with silver, gas-flamed wall sconces; high-beamed ceilings; and solid mahogany appointments. In warmer weather, the side terrace is opened and furnished with solid teak tables and imported English Chippendale chairs.
For athletic types, the Reston Town Center is located around mile marker 18 on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. Stop by the Washington Bike Center (11932 Democracy Dr., 703/742-7775) for bike rentals or perhaps to purchase a bike and gear of your own. Ride the trail west to Leesburg or take it east and head toward the District.
If your interests include less physically active pursuits, there's the Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE, 11911 Freedom Dr., Suite 110, 703/471-9242), a nonprofit gallery that features monthly curated shows highlighting regional artists. Now on exhibit, "Take a Second Look," art that demands a second viewing, through Feb. 5. GRACE also coordinates the annual Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival at the town center every spring and ongoing solo exhibits at the Market Street Bar and Grill (1800 Presidents St., 703/709-6262). Go to Market Street for the exhibit but stay for the regional American cuisine, grilled seafood and the live jazz on weekends. A few doors down is Appalachian Spring (11877 Market St., 703/478-2218) a boutique that sells only American handcrafted items, with an abundant selection of wooden boxes, handblown glass vases, pottery, intricate quilts and one-of-a-kind jewelry to choose from.
Those looking for light menu fare need look no farther than Wrap Works (1820 Discovery St., 703/318-5200). Wrap your choice of veggies or meat in a colorful tortilla and wash it down with one of the many varieties of fruit smoothie on the menu. If you like your fruit drinks a little more potent, sample a margarita or pina colada at the Rio Grande Cafe (1827 Library St., 703/904-0703), a Mexican-style cantina with mesquite grilled specialties. For Italian, it's hard to pass up Paolo's Ristorante (11898 Market St., 703/318-8920), a sleek-lined modern take on the old-style trattoria that features indoor and outdoor dining. And for Chinese, China Town Restaurant (1771 Library St., 703/435-4260) is a longtime favorite among local diners for both its table service dinners and its rice bowl serving station at lunch time.
If you've come to the Reston Town Center to shop, you've come to the right place. Many of the stores here are mall standards--The Gap, Express, Eddie Bauer, Banana Republic, Victoria's Secret--yet there is something about shopping in the great outdoors that elevates the experience. Take a break between stores to sit on a bench near the Mercury fountain at the heart of the center and people-watch. Or stop by Lee's Ice Cream and Deli (11917 Freedom Dr., 703/471-8902) for some homemade dessert treats, well-known for their restorative effects on the weary shopper. If it's housewares and home furnishings you're after, make sure to check out Pottery Barn, Hold Everything, Bombay Company or Williams-Sonoma, all conveniently located along a two-block stretch of Market Street.
Shopping, dining, entertainment. Reston has covered all the bases and people have responded. It has become known as a "downtown" for western Fairfax County and parts of Loudoun, drawing millions of visitors per year. Reston has also sparked imitations, with like communities springing up all over the country. The thought of a residential planned community is now far from revolutionary. Yet Reston, once the suburb of the future, is well on its way to becoming the future of the suburb.
Getting there: Reston Town Center. From I-95 take the Dulles Toll Road West to Reston Parkway (exit 12). Turn right on Reston Parkway. At third light make a left turn on New Dominion Parkway. Park free in the surface lots or garage.
Lake Anne Village Center. From I-95 take the Dulles Toll Road West to Wiehle Avenue exit. Turn right on Wiehle Avenue. Turn Left on Baron Cameron Avenue (approx. 1.5 miles). Turn left onto Village Road. Turn left at stop sign and make immediate right into Lake Anne parking.
1 Bread and Chocolate
11928 Market St.
2 China Town Restaurant
1771 Library St.
11905 Market St.
4 Lee's Ice Cream and Deli
11917 Freedom Dr.
5 Market Street Bar and Grill
1800 Presidents St.
6 Paolo's Ristorante
11898 Market St.
7 Rio Grande Cafe
1827 Library St.
8 Wrap Works
1820 Discovery St.
9 Applachian Spring
11877 Market St.
10 Greater Reston Arts Center
11911 Freedom Dr.
11 Washington Bike Center
11932 Democracy Dr.
12 Reston Skating Pavilion
1818 Discovery St.
Reston Town Center Shops
13 Banana Republic
14 Eddie Bauer
17 The Bombay Company
18 Hold Everything
19 Pottery Barn
21 Victoria's Secret
21 Reston Community Center
1609-A Washinton Plaza
22 La Villa Market
1611 Washinton Plaza
23 Il Cigno
1617 Washington Plaza
24 Reston Used Book Shop
1623 Washington Plaza
25 Cafe Montmartre
1625 Washington Plaza
26 Small Change Consignment Store
1629 Washington Plaza
27 Ley-Canovas Gallery
1631 Washington Plaza
28 Jasmine Cafe
1633-A Washington Plaza
29 Reston Storefront and Museum and Shop
1639 Washington Plaza
30 Lake Anne Coffee House
1612 Washington Plaza
31 Calvert Gourmet Cafe & Deli
11424 Washington Plaza West
11414 Washington Plaza