In Bannockburn, they like to joke that none of it would have happened if they had paid attention to reality.

After all, how many cooperative communities were formed in a few living room meetings by a few dozen friends who had almost no money?

It is a postwar suburb that started out almost entirely New Deal Democratic, populated by mostly Jewish-surname families. They were mostly between 30 and 40, couples either just starting families or about to.

"It does sound a little implausible," says Don Wagman, who has lived in Bannockburn for 30 years.

Even more implausible is that much of the old dream -- and much of the old guard -- remains and prospers. In a metropolitan area known for transience, more than 35 percent of Bannockburn's original settlers still live there 31 years after they first moved in. Their cooperative spirit lives there, too.

"The long and the short of it," says Fia McDowell, another 30-year veteran, "is that it's like a community of relatives, without the disadvantages of relatives."

Bannockburn sits on a wooded tract in northern Bethesda, just east of MacArthur Boulevard and just south of Wilson Lane. The land used to be a golf course, and it is still possible to make out how the strips of oak tress are shoulder-high shrubs once constituted "the rough."

Most of the 276 homes sit on sloping half-acre lots. In Montgomery County terms, the houses are on the small side -- seldom larger than three bedrooms. Most are ranbler-style, built of red brick, although there is an occasional redwood "California bungalow."

Sales prices of Bannockburn homes ranged from $12,000 to $20,000 when they were built. Today, the range is $120,000 to $160,000.

But housing values are not what has kept the "originals" around.

"The reason people have stayed here is the people," said Don Wagman. "The word you keep hearing is distinctive."

Indeed, no other community this size -- and few of any size -- writes and produce an original musical comedy every year.

Or holds an annual pot luck supper to welcome everyone who has moved into the community in the previous year.

Or runs a cooperative nursery school, swimming pool, community newspaper and community center, each with an all-volunteer board of directors.

Or has always voted at least 95 percent Democratic.

Or thinks nothing of one neighbor walking into another's house without knocking.

Neighborliness and the democratic process are so ingrained in Bannockburn that they are the subjects of two often-retold community stories.

Story one: A teacher asks a Bannockburn Elementary School class how you tell the sex of a frog. A youngster raises her hand and replies: "You take a vote."

Story two: A professor at a prestigious New England college asks his students whether any of them has ever been truly friendly with a neighbor who lived more than two houses away. Among dozens, only one student raises his hand. "Are you by any chance from Bannockburn?" the professor asks.

"I suppose we keep telling these storeis," says Don Wagman, "because we recognize ourselves."

Perhaps the clinching testament to Bannockburn's togetherness came during the epic snowstrom of February 1979.

In the 7100 block of Braeburn Place, site of Bannockburn's orginial 24 houses, 10 reisdents had dug out several hundred feet of streets and driveways two hours after the snow stopped. Minutes later, seven more residents were on their way to the grocery in a convoy. They bought enough food to stock all 24 homes on the block.

Without asking.

But such distinctiveness may be starting to erode. Where the original settlers were so much alike, today's Bannockburn is a patchwork quilt: Young couples, middle-aged single parents, elderly widows, as well as political views and ethnic heritages across the spectrum.

But the most noticeable change in Bannockburn is that there are fewer children.

"There's less kids at the pool, less kids on the swimming team, less kids to run the show," said Helene Granof, a 39-year-old teacher at the community nursey school and mother of three children, who has lived in Bannockburn for the last 11 years.

"And there's more and more trouble getting people to volunteer for committees and groups. I've never heard of them having that problem in the old days."

"It's getting so some of the orginal people are getting too old to play the roles they used to play plausibly," said Arthur McDowell, Fia's husband.

"Whatever the spark was then, I don't think it really exists now," said David Weisz, a 35-yar-old Labor Department policy analyst who grew up in Bannockburn and returned there to live two years ago with his wife and two children.

"The people our kids can walk in on are not as close to us as our parents were to the parents of kids I grew up with," Weisz said. Some of the reason, he said, is "difference in style between the older and younger generations."

The Bannockburn Clubhouse has become the focus of some of those differences.

The former "19th hole" for the former golf course, the clubhouse served as the community meeting hall in Bannockburn's early years. More recently, it has been rented to a nursery school, and for occasional private parties.

Two years ago, for the first time, the state of Maryland designated the clubhouse and the six acres on which it sits taxable land. Although the state's determination is under appeal, the community has had to come up with about $2,500 a year in taxes by soliciting funds door-to-door. Meanwhile, repairs to the building have been largely neglected over the years, so it is in less-than-perfect condition.

So far, "there's been no problem," said Eugene Granof, a lawyer and a member of a committee studying the status of the clubhouse. "And I can't imagine the community letting the clubhouse die, or be sold. But, yes, it's possible."

Also possible is a lag in Bannockburn's property values in relation to the rest of Montgomery County, since many of the community's homes are smaller and older than those elsewhere in the country. Most of the original houses do not yet need major repairs, but as Fia McDowell put it, "30 years in 30 years, and one no-longer tries to get every dandelion out of the lawn."

Meanwhile, stable as Bannockburn home ownership has been, renters are becoming more and more common. According to real estate agents familiar with the community, more than 15 percent of Bannockburn's homes are now occupied by nonowners (usually renters). That figure was 5 percent years ago.

But Bannockburn is still "the area with the best reputation in Montgomery County, if you're looking for a neighborhood that's really a neighborhood," said one real estate agent.

The proof of the pudding: The average Bannockburn home sold during the 1970 stayed on the market only 11 days.

"Look around at these houses," said Betty Wagman, a Braeburn Place "original" who arrived in 1949. "You'll see decks added, rooms added. The point is: this place is special. People don't want to leave this place."