(This story is divided into two portions)
THE SEPTEMBER AIR WAS WARM AND THICK, EVEN at this altitude. Long gray wisps of mist snagged on trees and rolling hills to the east, in the direction of Washington. From the walkway near the top of Tycon Tower, Til Hazel could still point out exactly where his father's farm had been, before the earth had moved.
"You know, it's a strange thing," he said. "We took very few pictures. One of the great disappointments is that I have no picture at all of our horses. The old team that I used to work and plow and everything.
"But as far as Tysons, let's try to set the stage. Basically, 123 was a narrow two-lane road. There was a big hill over here and 123 snaked around. Oh, yes, it's been leveled. The topo has dramatically changed.
"In 1939, when I first saw it" -- Hazel was 9 -- "Route 7 had a beer joint and it had the feed store. The beer joint -- it seems like to me I remember one of those Coca-Cola signs that said 'Tysons Inn.' But around here, you want to talk about it, you just said 'the beer joint.' "
Hazel stepped over a rope the diameter of his wrist, from which a window washer dangled, 100 feet below. The brick precipice from which he dispensed history rimmed a Philip Johnson-designed skyscraper.
"The famous orchard was right over here at the entrance to the mall. It was just on the other side of the Marriott." Pointing, he leaned far enough out over the parapet to make his companion queasy. "Apple orchard. Then you had a 95-acre dairy farm that was foreclosed on during the war. It was on the market for $18,000 in 1945. Owned by a family named Ayers. That was the farm I tried to get my aunt to buy. She said to me -- and I remember it vividly -- she said, 'Well, tell me, what in the world would I want with a property way out in the country?' "
From the perimeter Hazel prowled, one could enjoy a vista from the spires of Washington National Cathedral, a dozen miles to the east, to the foothills of the Blue Ridge, 25 miles to the west. What he pointed to as he walked this day were not those wonders, though. Instead he was consumed by the hundreds of strange sprawling, towering shapes below.
That hill with all the tower cranes -- that's where old one-eyed Marcus Bles grazed his Angus cattle in the '50s. "Bles bought the gravel pit and his first money-maker was gravel, 50 cents a ton, and you haul it."
Only from this height was it clear that a hill existed where Hazel pointed. It was not that the rise was inconsiderable. To the contrary, it was the highest natural point in this part of Virginia. It was just that much closer to ground level, the landscape had been so bulldozed and banked, it was easy to think no contour of the land was left that had been put there by the Creator. On the slopes of that cow pasture and gravel pit of yore was now rising the Tysons II Galleria, a 15-year, $1 billion office, retail and hotel project, which, when completed, would by itself dwarf many of America's old downtowns.
From the top of this tower, Hazel viewed the landscape that John Rolfe Gardiner referred to in his novel In the Heart of the Whole World. To be sure, Gardiner was being irreverent when he barely fictionalized this mall-centered metropolis. But then again, there was something about Tysons -- the largest urban agglomeration between Washington and Atlanta -- that evoked irreverence in people. Over to the west was the megastructure with the curved white six-story entrance that caused everybody to refer to it as the Up Toilet Seat Building. Above Hazel, at the very pinnacle of the JTL Tycon office tower whose edge he now paced, jutted two crowning brick arches. It was these arches that led this building to be variously dubbed the World's Tallest Shopping Bag and the World's Tallest McDonald's.
Directly below was the mall in which the arrival of Bloomingdale's -- seen in the '70s as the epitome of New York fashion, not to mention decadence -- caused a sensation. When one pioneering diplomatic contingent from Peking arrived in Washington, the first thing they wanted was not a tour of the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument. What they wanted was to get out past the legendary eight-lane Beltway that reputedly separates "Washington" from "reality." They wanted to go to Tysons. They wanted to see "Broomie's." They wanted a stiff dose of America.
As Hazel walked and talked that September afternoon, he was not only pointing out what were quite literally the landmarks of his six decades of life. He was marking the revolution in America that had crystallized in places like Tysons Corner.
Hazel should know about this revolution, for he has done more to shape the Washington area than any man since Pierre L'Enfant, the Frenchman who designed the District of Columbia for George Washington. A comparison of Hazel to L'Enfant is by no means idle. Metropolitan Washington today is not only one of the 10 largest urban areas in America. In the late '80s -- before the real estate market inevitably cooled -- it was the No. 1 fastest-growing white-collar office job market in North America or Europe for four years in a row. Its increasingly private-enterprise, high-information, high-education, post-industrial economy made it a model of the 21st century.
What's more, its growth came in a strange new urban form -- Edge Cities. Edge Cities are the biggest change in 100 years in how Americans build cities. They represent the third wave in our move beyond the old downtowns. First we moved our homes far past the traditional idea of what constituted a city. This was the suburbanization of America, especially after World War II. Then we wearied of returning downtown for the necessities of life, so we moved our marketplaces out to where we lived. This was the malling of America, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, we have moved our means of creating wealth -- the very essence of urbanism, our jobs -- out to where most of us have lived and shopped for two generations. This has led to the rise of Edge Cities such as Tysons. There are more than 200 of them nationwide. Each is or will soon be bigger than downtown Memphis by any significant urban standard -- white-collar jobs, corporate headquarters, bright lights, tall buildings, prestige hotels, restaurants. There are six times as many Edge Cities as there are downtowns of comparable size in America. There are 16 in the Washington area alone. As a result, Washington is a paradigm for every city worldwide that is growing.
Hazel, by being among the first to comprehend and enthusiastically clear the way for this kind of world, originally as a lawyer and then a developer, had by the late '80s accumulated a personal fortune estimated to be on the order of $100 million. The estate on which his family lived, only an hour from the White House, spanned a fair-sized valley and 4,000 acres of land -- a respectable spread by the standards of Montana. To understand him was to understand how a whole new world had been shaped.
John Tilghman "Til" Hazel Jr. has a face you could carve into a jack-o'-lantern. Angular slabs dominate. They descend outward from his eyes and his nose in parallel diagonals, like corporal's chevrons. His jaw is a meaty block. His crew cut -- crew cut! -- makes the top of his head as flat and square as its bottom, although less wide. The effect is like looking at the end of a barn with its peak razored off.
Over the decades, Hazel has so successfully, rapidly and visibly transformed entire Northern Virginia landscapes that his vanquished opponents have been reduced to describing him in satanic terms -- the Prince of Darkness, the Father of Lies. He is thought by them to epitomize rapaciousness and hypocrisy and greed. They hiss about the time he bulldozed one tree a day in a pristine wilderness, in protest of a government delay. They scream about the time he clear-cut a 26-acre site rather than have it spared for a park. They point knowingly to his successful legal defense of a state official charged with bribery at a time of rampant corruption. They rage about his legal wiles before the state Supreme Court, his capacity to frustrate and overturn the decisions of any government, any planning board that might dare to oppose growth. Hazel is seen as invincible. He is the legendary despoiler of the soil, the destroyer of the planet, the raper of the land. He is vilified for the traffic, for the pollution, for the chaos, for the noise, for the Change. He has been, in short, elevated to the status of a monster.
His friends and allies tell a strikingly different story. They speak of him as being a real gentleman, a man of cordial, even antique manners, a man of his word. They tell glowing tales of his personal generosity. They talk of how he graduated Harvard Law and is now chairman of the Harvard College Fund; how he helped steer George Mason University from its origins in a strip shopping center and an old elementary school to its current eminence. They describe him as that rare individual who has a grand vision for the entire region, from its airports to its seaports, from the Blue Ridge to the Chesapeake Bay. If there are problems as a result of all this growth, they say, the fault is not Hazel's. It is the fault of those petty, selfish and parochial minds, from the bureaucrats to the bleeding-heart ankle-biters, who stood in the way of building everything for which he had foreseen the need -- especially the roads.
But of all the things said about Hazel, the most startlingly incongruous are about his relationship to the land. For this is what his allies repeatedly volunteered: They said that what truly distinguished him as a developer and as a seer was that he had an uncanny feel for the land. Yes, the land. They insisted this was true.
Compared with his depiction as an arrogant and reprehensible despoiler and exploiter by his legion of detractors, there can be no more profoundly and diametrically opposite characterization for this force behind the bulldozers. Yet it is true that he never seems more comfortable or animated than when recounting the most particular details about his Fauquier County farm.
On that day in September he easily remembered on exactly what dates corn had been planted in which fields. He took more pride in the idea that his farm had once won the state corn championship for highest yields four years in a row than he ever expressed in his stylish office park. He knew what the expected harvest dates were, what would be the likely yields, how much water there was in a given field that day and what the odds were of frost. That day, he knew that he had exactly 1,020 cows, mostly Angus with a few Hereford crosses, with 600 calves just weaned, an additional 400 to go and 600 more in the feedlot. He was proud that the just-weaned calves had come in at 750 pounds.
Hazel is, in short, a man of contradictions, as is the world he created. And the contradictions he embodies illuminate a great deal about the America from which he came. THE WORLD INTO WHICH TIL HAZEL WAS born on October 29, 1930, was later so eradicated by the new one he helped create that today it is difficult to imagine. Hazel was born not where his family lived, in Virginia, but across the Potomac River in the District of Columbia. That is because, as he is fond of saying, "it was either that or the kitchen table." His Virginia homeland was then so rural and backward that it had no hospital of its own.
Today Arlington County, where Hazel grew up, is one of the more urban places in America. It is more densely populated than Dallas or Denver or Cincinnati. It has the largest office building in the world -- the Pentagon. Its airport, Washington National, is busier than Houston Intercontinental. It has two mirror-finish Edge Cities, Rosslyn/Ballston and Crystal City, each the size of downtown Milwaukee. It has 8,700 hotel rooms. It has 10 snazzy subway stops. And, of course, it has half a dozen hospitals.
In 1930, none of that existed. No jets, no interstates, no department stores, not even a proper library to nurture a young mind. No air conditioning. If the place that today gives Arlington its foremost name recognition is Arlington National Cemetery, wherein burns John Kennedy's eternal flame, back then most of its land was an agricultural experiment farm.
This land was beginning to acquire some new residential enclaves as Hazel grew up. But it was still largely a dozen crossroads punctuating fields and dairy farms and forests in which his relations hunted wild turkey. It lay between two river port towns -- Georgetown and Alexandria -- that had been active in colonial times, before George Washington ever dreamed of locating the nation's capital in these parts, but had not seen vigor- ous commerce since. Segregation that was "very distinct," as the old saying went, was the rule. Most of the roads were dirt. A full troop of cavalry was stationed at nearby Fort Myer, and Hazel remembers being transfixed, watching the horses march on Wilson Boulevard, the main drag.
Across the river, not even Congress hung around once that drained swamp around Capitol Hill got steamy. It was an era when a motorist, caught in the rain with his top down, could pull under the porte-cochere of the White House and be invited in to shake hands with the president.
America itself was still a land of unthinkably vast spaces. The bulk of those people who lived in cities lived in the Northeast, of which the Washington area was by no means considered a part. For a quarter of a century to come, the southwestern-most baseball team would be St. Louis.
In 1930, Herbert Hoover was president, and though the stock market crash was three months old when Hazel was conceived, it was not yet clear that the Depression was at hand. Not until the second half of 1930 did "people feel the ground give way beneath their feet," as a contemporary economist put it. By the time Hazel was 2, 24 percent of the work force would be unemployed. Birth rates -- the statistic that probes most deeply into people's personal lives -- had plummeted.
Thus Hazel's character was shaped in a world far different from the one he ended up building. It had different hopes, different fears, even different referents. "The War," for example, was automatically understood as meaning the Civil War. His mother's grandfather was a Confederate soldier. Her family's roots were in nearby southern Maryland, which even in the 1930s took pride in its rebel sympathies. The foremost historical site in Arlington, looking out across the Potomac toward the Capitol in the distance, was the mansion of one Robert E. Lee.
Hazel's father's father, William Andrew, lied about his age to join the 7th Cavalry only a few years after its last conflict with Indians at a place called Wounded Knee. When William returned from the West after the turn of the century, he stuck with what he knew and became the stable manager for the delivery wagons of the Chestnut Farms Dairy. Hazel remembers riding his horse, Honeypot, in the median of one of America's first concrete roads.
These were rough-and-ready days. In the '20s, a group including Til Hazel's grandfather decided that an area down by the river had become infested with squatters, riffraff and various perpetrators of crime. So they got together secretly one night and "blew the place away," as Hazel related it. (Later, Grandfather Hazel started his own dairy in an area known as Sleepy Hollow. That exercise ended during World War II, for lack of men to help. But not before a labor dispute that involved the burning of trucks.)
Thus it was a considerable departure for a Hazel when Til's father, John T. Sr., decided to become a surgeon. He was the first and only person for decades in his family to aspire to that quantity of education. In fact, William Hazel opposed John Sr.'s university ideas. After all, in a family of modest means, it was not trivial that the son was making as much money keeping the books at Chestnut Farms as was his dad, tending the horses.
John Sr. paid no small price for being the first to better himself. He was able to complete his medical education only by signing up for a hitch with the Public Health Service. That outfit moved the 26-year-old father to Boston only weeks after Til, his firstborn, arrived. Upon John Sr.'s return to Arlington, he had to move his family into the home of his father-in-law, a prosperous businessman.
The mid-'30s saw John Hazel, Arlington's only surgeon, making good money by the standards of the South and of the Depression. But all that meant was that he could finally build his family their own house -- if he kept his offices in it. And John Sr. did not think things were looking up. When he looked into the future, he saw war. He would talk about it to his wife, Ruth, and Til could hear. John Sr. had vivid memories of hunger. If those days were before the Depression and now there were bread lines, what would war bring?
He became worried about barest subsistence, worried that his wife and children would starve. So he took steps to make sure they could raise their own food.
"Today he's a fairly senile man," Til says, "but he remembers having an overcoat and a car when East Boston was full of people with no work and no food. It's a very real thing."
The solution was land. John Hazel bought land from his father-in-law. He started with 29 acres, but his "subsistence" farm ultimately came to 110 acres -- more than a sixth of a square mile. It was a lot of land for one family, by the standards of the East. And this land was even farther out than Arlington. It was in the next county, Fairfax, in a remote area known as McLean.
John Sr. sent away for hundreds of pamphlets on subsistence farming from the Department of Agriculture. The result was bacon for the family from their own home-butchered hogs and cottage cheese that Til's mother would make from their own cows' milk. Gardening was a serious activity. Putting up food for the cold times was an important part of life.
For all his desperate concern, though, John Hazel Sr. had absolutely no time himself to raise crops. He scarcely had time to raise sons. He was a driven man, working long hours. "Dad was so involved in medicine that it was like Sunday was the same as any other day for him," Til recalls. "That was the day he made rounds. The only difference was he didn't schedule any operations on a Sunday." For two years, just as Hazel became a teenager, his father was gone completely, working at the Mayo Clinic.
That was why Til, even before he reached his teens, became the mainstay of the farm, working alongside a hired man and his aging grandfather, the cavalryman. He started by bicycling or hitchhiking the eight miles from Arlington to the McLean farm. But by the age of 12, he was getting out of school by noontime and driving an automobile out there himself. Because few tractors were available during the war, he worked behind draft horses and a borrowed pair of mules. At an early age, Til Hazel repeatedly proved that he could be every bit as driven as his father. Family legend has him reading encyclopedias even as he lay recovering from such dreadful maladies as appendicitis and acute poison ivy.
More significantly, working the farm was the main means by which he gained contact with his father -- and his approval.
"We used to have kind of a routine session after dinner -- if he was home. Before he made his evening rounds. Where we would discuss what had happened at the farm. What the plans were. He got a lot of enjoyment out of that. And I got a lot of enjoyment out of it," Hazel says. His mother called that precious half-hour ritual the Men's Club.
It was not that Til Hazel held any romantic notions about the land itself. "I figured out it was better to do something at school. Because you sure in hell weren't going to get very far on a farm. That was from day one."
So when a beloved Latin teacher and guidance counselor told her bright, hard-working and precocious young ward that he really only had two choices -- to go to Iowa State to study agriculture or to go to Harvard -- for Til the decision was easy. His classmates thought the acme of achievement was to attend William and Mary in Virginia's colonial capital of Williamsburg. But his father had taken a few courses at Harvard while working for the Public Health Service. "My father said, 'That's good. I know Harvard,' " Til recalls. With that ringing endorsement, in 1947 he left for New England. HAZEL WOULD REMAIN DISTANT FROM the affairs of Arlington and Fairfax for 10 years, only a sporadic visitor while he completed law school and did a stretch in the Army Judge Advocate's Corps. Of his final summers on the farm, however, two things stuck in his mind. The first was what a pleasure it was to finally have a tractor. Photos of him atop his International Harvester Model H -- with those two tiny wheels snugged together up front -- show a satisfied man. Cutting the wheat and barley and oats and rye of McLean by pulling a combine behind a tractor was infinitely better than working with horses and mules. He never sentimentalized that experience.
The other thing that remained with him was watching, as he was making hay, the building on the horizon of a place called Pimmit Hills. It was the area's first big postwar subdivision -- hundreds of three-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath, single-level, $7,950 homes. "I remember looking over there, and they probably had 50 or 75 houses all being framed at once. It was like a really big deal." Hazel remembers a picture on the cover of Life that was just like it. "It was a general topic of conversation among the farmers. It was, 'Goodness, look at all these new houses and look at how much good it's doing in the area.' It was a fraction of the agenda that you now have out of these things. You know, a very minimal understanding of all that went with it." So minimal, in fact, that one of the things Hazel noticed in streams that watered milk cows were feces escaping the subdivision's primitive sewage treatment facility.
But pollution was by no means what people were talking about. It was the blessing of this new growth, this prosperity. It seemed a miracle. "It was a tremendous new change. I was generally alleged to have been a pretty serious kid, and I was interested in what was happening and what it meant for the farms."
Indeed, almost nobody in America expected this. If anything, the lurking fear had been that the war years might end up being the high point of people's lives. There was little reason to think that life after the war would be much different from life before it. With all the veterans returning home, looking for work, most people figured America would return to the Depression. After all, Franklin Roosevelt had tried everything to pull the nation out of its doldrums; nothing had worked. Now half the world was in ashes, Roosevelt was in his grave, and his third vice president, a man almost no one knew, was in charge. This was a recipe for prosperity? The most strike-ridden year in American history was 1946. Shortages of meat were widespread. In 1947, America's gross national product hit its lowest total since 1942, adjusted for inflation. The pessimists' worst fears seemed confirmed. The reason the Hazel family has no photos of Til with his team of horses is probably simple: There was no reason to think that era would ever end.
The rest -- as the saying goes -- is history.
Michael Barone in Our Country refers to 1947 as "a hinge in American history, a time in which the country changed quite markedly from one thing to another."
Following 1948, America's GNP, adjusted for inflation, grew at an average rate of 4 percent a year for 20 years. That kind of boom was without precedent in the annals of mankind. America was changed forever.
While Til Hazel was away from his home, meanwhile, other things happened that would reverberate in decades to come, as they influenced his view of the land.
First of all, at Harvard College, he majored in American history. He started with the revolution, wherein it seemed every other hero was a Virginian who had trod the ground he knew so well -- from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson to George Mason. That led him backward into European and especially British history from 1500 on, because it related to the revolutionary history with which he was entranced.
Decades later, the fact that he was an American history major was as dumbfounding to one interlocutor as was Hazel's relationship to the land. What about the Civil War? he was asked. It seemed like an important question to ask a man who, in 1988, had thought to develop a mall next to Manassas National Battlefield Park. Much of the Civil War was fought in Virginia, from Manassas to the Valley to Chancellorsville to the Wilderness to Cold Harbor to Appomattox. Did he study much history of the Civil War?
No, he said, "the Civil War always struck me as a great waste and a great tragedy, and, you know, I don't know whether it was I don't like to lose, or not. But I just never got all wound up in the Civil War . . . Did I identify with the Confederates? Yes, oh yes. You've got to if you're raised in my family. Lots of courageous activity, lots of exciting things, but all for no danged good reason. When you say 'Lost Cause,' you've said it all. It just seemed to me a great waste."
A few years after he came to that conclusion, a second thing happened.
His father sold Til's farm.
The farm that was the basis of their relationship, the land on which Til had sweated to build a concrete-block barn for his younger brother Bill in which to milk cows and even live sometimes . . . the place designed to be the family's salvation, where it could literally go to ground in hard times . . .
It was sold. To developers.
Hazel claims to this day that the transaction was of no particular concern to him. "In those days," he says, "it never occurred to anybody that you weren't supposed to use the land for whatever purpose it was needed."
But on that warm September day -- the one that had started out with Hazel pacing the tower in Tysons -- Til ended up swinging his giant Oldsmobile back and forth, concentrating seriously, trying to decode the convoluted swirls of an old suburb three miles east. He was looking for some particularly huge old trees, much larger than the suburban growths nearby. He wanted to show them to a reporter. They were the last things left from the farm where he had turned himself into a man.
"My father was big on something he called a scarlet oak. He got some and I planted 'em and watered 'em and pruned 'em and picked the caterpillars off until I thought I'd never ever want to see another oak tree. Hey, you know what? There they are over there. Well, I'll be damned. See that oak tree? Yeah, I planted that tree in 1940. And there's a couple more. We had a house in the middle of 'em. Those are our trees right there. This was a cornfield. And that creek is right down here. Boy, getting across that creek was a big issue. Now that cinder-block barn was right about there. And this was our garden and the hog pen. We had a little orchard back there. And those are the trees we planted. Those are the famous scarlet oak trees. I'm going to come back in the fall and see what color they turn. Most red oaks just get kinda dirty red. But that gets brilliant red. And Dad, who was not much of a nature type, somewhere heard about that, and he insisted we were going to have scarlet oaks."
In fact, Hazel said, the boy and his father had talked about it at length. It was during their ritual evening rendezvous in which they shared a little time, just the two of them. The news that this serious, husky, man-child, soon to be 11, brought home of the progress of the oaks had pleased his father a great deal, Hazel said. And that had pleased him.
This, of course, had all happened -- before the earth had moved. TIL HAZEL'S PARTNER, DEVELOPER Milt Peterson, remembers precisely when the earth really did move in the pastures of Northern Virginia. It came with the erection of Melpar.
"It was real early -- even before the Beltway," Peterson recalls. It was 1952. An electronics firm with a name that made it sound like a science fiction creature, Melpar built its headquarters way, way out -- past Arlington County, past Falls Church, 10 miles out from downtown, all the way out in Fairfax County. It was surrounded by fields. The planners and builders and politicians and developers of the day were agog. They had never seen anything like it.
"Melpar sat back about 400 feet from Route 50," recalls Peterson of the building that was such a departure from those downtown that it stuck in his mind four decades later. "It bought about three times more land than it needed. It had a little pond on the side that had a willow tree. It had its parking in the back, and it had a brick front and a flag. There was a big lawn leading up to it. Melpar, like, became a word. You know how a feeling becomes a word? That became what all development should be -- Melpar. Everyone said we want Melpar all over here. I mean that's the only kind of development we wanted. It became, 'Where can you get more of that Melpar?' "
Melpar was an electronics-warfare contractor. That is why when it built its headquarters it took its cue from the Pentagon -- in more ways than one. The Pentagon -- the actual building -- remains the world's archetypal Edge City structure. With a still-astonishing 3.7 million square feet of office space -- equivalent to downtown Fort Lauderdale -- it attracts 23,000 employees every day. It has four Zip codes. Opened in 1942, the Pentagon gives form to the idea of bringing the most awesome Machine of all time -- the American war machine -- into a kind of Garden.
MIT cultural historian Leo Marx, author of The Machine in the Garden, points out that nowhere in the American national character is there as deep a divide as that between our reverence for "unspoiled" nature and our enduring devotion to "progress." The raging debate over what we have lost and what we have gained, as we flee the old urban patterns for the new, is constant. And that is why the rise of Edge City leads to profound questions: Are we building a world in which we poison everything across which we sprawl? Or are we satisfying our deepest yearnings with Edge City, bringing the forces of the city (the Machine) out to the physical edge of the landscape (the Frontier), where we try once again to merge the two in a newfound union of nature and art (the Garden)?
The Pentagon is a prime example of this paradox. It is surrounded by a lot of lawn. Its myriad jogging trails are full of light colonels. It has a yacht basin, trees and hanging vines. The courtyard in its center is a nice place to catch some lunch-hour sunshine. At the same time, the building is utterly oriented toward the transportation machines of the late 20th century. It is encircled by parking lots, freeways and helicopter pads. When the Pentagon was built, the nearest major structure was National Airport. Four decades later, an underground Metro station was added.
But that was not the crowning glory. That came in the late '80s when another megastructure was built just across Interstate 395. It was -- yes. A mall. Very flashy, very upscale. The advertising got more than a little weird around Christmas. Some found it tough to deal with the whole Peace-on-Earth, Goodwill-to-Men routine in a place called Pentagon City.
Be that as it may, back in the early '50s, Melpar located itself just as the Pentagon had a decade before -- out in the fields, in campus-like splendor on a big open highway, suspended between two magnets. The customer it emulated was in one direction, toward town. On the opposite bearing were all those wonderful new suburban houses that John Cheever would glorify, in which one could "shout in anger or joy without having someone pound on the radiator for silence."
Of all the breakthroughs of Melpar, what is remembered as something truly different was the brick. The brick on the facade. What daring! You could work out where you could feel the breeze, and be in contact with God's good ground, but at the same time, not have to work in a tin warehouse or a barn. You could have the sophistication and urbanity of brick just like that of Capitol Hill. Way out here! That the combination was even possible seemed never to have occurred to anybody before. It was no less than a vision of a newer and better world.
"The demander of space is like a voter," explains Peterson. "Developers, what do they build? They build what they think they can sell. So they are saying, You voter or consumer, what do you want, what would you pay for, okay? The consumer has got the option of going downtown. But the ultimate, okay, is Melpar. Melpar was the flag, the lawn and set back from the road, but the big thing was to have a brick front.
"Melpar was trying to be the antithesis of the city. Total antithesis. Curvilinear as opposed to rectilinear. See, the whole thing in sales and marketing is making people feel good about themselves. Suburbanites live on country lanes. They picture themselves going home in their Porsche or whatever -- it is down a lane with trees on it, and they swing along. The other reason you don't do the street straight is then if you line 'em up, cars is all you see. But if you make it go like this" -- Peterson swings his arms back and forth -- "you can have one tree here and one tree here and one tree here, and as you drive down here you go along and what do you see? You see this tree and you start around here and you see this tree!"
As he recounts all this, Peterson is gesturing toward the newest development he and Hazel have built. It is called Fair Lakes. Its 657 acres near the intersection of Interstate 66 and Route 50 in the center of Fairfax County are scheduled to have more than 5 million square feet of office space -- equivalent to downtown Dayton, Ohio, or Wilmington, Del. Nonetheless, it is among the most leafy and park-like of all the Washington area's Edge City locations. Including, as it does, shops and homes, it is state-of-the-art Machine in the Garden. "This is not the '60s Melpar," Peterson says. "This is the '90s Melpar."
Why didn't he build an old downtown out there, Peterson is asked -- a place with grids and blocks and sidewalks? "We could have made this all straight," he says, "but hell. You make it vrooooom -- you swing around. You want the mind to not know what to expect next. You want it to be eventful. You want it to be different.
"Everybody, when they come to the suburbs, they want the trees and bunnies and birds, okay? And that's why we put two swans out there and feed the damn ducks so all the frigging geese and ducks come around and people say, 'Gee, I work out in a place where they have paths and running tracks, ponds, birds. Do you have a running track where you work?'
"Employers have to go where they think they can attract the best employees that they can afford. So they have to then locate their facilities in a place and in a setting that'll give them the most chance of having a successful business.
"We're trying to make a person here feel as though he's going to drive in the country and his office just happens to be one of those little buildings off in the woods next to the birds and the bunnies, all right? And that's what he feels. Yes, a city in a garden. Here we had one goal -- that was to make the person feel as though they were with the birds and bunnies, they got residence, they got shopping, they got everything here. They're living in a garden. Trees, ponds, lakes. Good access, right on Interstate 66, but swing in here, you get rid of those ugly, garish signs -- now you're going to get an earthy-toned sign. Then you get special permission from the highway department to put trees closer to the road. You're going to take your bridges, see, and make 'em curved and put stone over here so they'll feel as though they're out in the country. If they would of let us, we would have taken the cobblestones on that so when you drove over your wheels would go bllllmmmmmm, bllllmmmmmm, bllllmmmmmm."
Highly evolved indeed. But to hear Til Hazel tell it, all this was inevitable and inexorable. WHEN HAZEL RETURNED TO VIRGINIA in 1957, his former Harvard Law classmates felt a small pang. Here they were, moving on to places of significance, like Wall Street. He was returning to that jerkwater county, Fairfax. He seemed so bright, too.
Truth be told, his first job didn't sound like much. It was spending endless hours amid dusty deed records to condemn land for a new road. It was not, however, just any road. It was to be built with funds from the brand-new National Defense Interstate Highway system. This road was going to serve as a bypass up the East Coast around both sides of Washington. It would be roughly a circle, 66 miles all the way around. It would skirt the city by a goodly distance -- more than 10 miles -- so as not to be severed by an atomic bomb hitting the White House. That distance -- beyond even Melpar -- went through land that Hazel remembers as "like Kansas." By that he meant that as far as he could see, there was nothing there. Anything -- anything -- would be a higher use than this void of pasture and forest that had not seen real prosperity since its conquest in the Civil War.
The land was considered so vacant, Hazel recalls, that the highway engineers saw no significance to how this new highway would cut across two little farm-to-market roads, routes 7 and 123, just east of their corners, named after a 19th-century landholder, William Tyson. It didn't register on them that the resultant triangle would instantly become a place easily driven to from any direction. This superhighway was designed to get people from Maine to Florida. Local traffic? What local traffic? No commercial development was even imagined at any interchange. The only reason the triangle got created the way it did, Hazel says, was that the engineers located their superhighway along the most geometric curve they could lay down from a point, five miles distant, where the Potomac narrowed. That seemed the best place to build a bridge.
When the die was cast for this prototypical Edge City, nobody knew the Beltway would become known as Washington's Main Street, or that an international airport would be built a dozen miles west. One of the area's earliest real estate speculators, Frank Kimball, himself started buying up property in 1959 only after he failed to persuade his employer, the Marriott Corp., to view the place as a credible location for a hamburger stand. It just seemed too far out.
Til Hazel came to know this land better than anybody. Decades later, he would still take great pride of craft in his work as a young lawyer. By the time the alignment of the Beltway was in place in 1960, he says, his decisions were never being appealed, either by the highway department or the owners. His word had come to be viewed as that of authority. When he put a value on a piece of land, it stuck.
No small accomplishment. It was a time when many other values were coming unstuck:
In 1954, General Foods Corp. moved its headquarters out of Manhattan to White Plains, in Westchester County.
In 1955, the first McDonald's restaurant opened in Des Plaines, outside Chicago.
In 1956, Southdale Shopping Center, the world's first climate-controlled shopping mall, opened outside Minneapolis.
In 1965, William Levitt, of Levittown fame, started building houses outside Paris.
In the early '60s, at the same time as the completion of the Beltway in the Tysons area, Hazel was spotted as a comer by the courthouse crowd. The Byrd Machine was still Virginia's political juggernaut. It drew its power from large landowners whose conservatism was so deep that even issuing bonds to build roads was viewed as a newfangled, hence suspect, idea.
The population of Fairfax County by 1960 had tripled in only one decade, to more than a quarter of a million. Subdivisions erupted like mushrooms after a warm rain. The first rezoning of the rural land around Tysons for commercial purposes began in 1962.
In 1966, a federal grand jury gained nationwide attention when it indicted 15 people under the recently enacted Federal Racketeering Act on charges of conspiracy to exchange bribes for rezonings in Fairfax County. Among those indicted were county supervisors, planning officials, developers, zoning attorneys and one former state senator so prominent he was referred to in press accounts as a "civic leader."
Hazel, who that year had just started his own full-time law practice, took the defense of the senator, Andrew W. Clarke. Clarke was charged with being the kingpin of a scheme to distribute $52,000 in bribes. Hazel pled him innocent. Next he got the federal counts dismissed. Any alleged conspiracy, he argued, ended four days before the passage of the Federal Racketeering Act under which the indictments came. Thus no federal laws had been violated. Then, to the outrage of the prosecutor, he succeeded in getting Clarke excused from trial on state charges on grounds of failing health. Clarke had, in fact, suffered three strokes, and died in March 1968. But he did so while vacationing in Florida. Several of his fellow indictees ended up vacationing in Lewisburg Penitentiary. This bottom line escaped the attention of no one. Both Hazel's friends and enemies saw he was going to be a legal force to be reckoned with.
Little did they know. By the time the population of Fairfax had passed half a million in the early 1970s, Hazel was credited with and blamed for the presence of 100,000 of the county's residents. He was the John the Baptist of development, making clear the way. With righteous prowess did he ceaselessly pursue the rezoning of farm and forest into quarter-acre lots. He had become the preeminent force for growth, the legal sledgehammer systematically destroying on the anvil of the Virginia courts all attempts to slow it. Hazel knew the Old Dominion had always been shaped by this moral certitude: A man may not have the value of his land taken from him, save by due process of law.
But at the same time Hazel began to really roll, America, nearing the end of its second decade of unprecedented growth, was changing profoundly. The Apollo space program was sending back photographs that altered people's dreams forever. Our planet, from the July 1969 moon landing, looked like a precious little marble, lonely in a vast black void. The idea of "Spaceship Earth" brought people to understand that the planet really was a closed and finite system. It did have limits. The first Earth Day in April 1970 rallied national attention to the perils of unrestrained economic development. In 1972, a report titled "Only One Earth," by Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos, was presented to the U.N. World Conference on the Human Environment. It argued that man's foremost allegiance had to be to his planet.