The Bannockburn neighborhood in Bethesda began with the utopian, postwar dream of a collectively owned suburban community, a progressive place for young and old.
The dream grew out of the cooperative movement of the 1930s and 1940s, and the ideals of democratic socialism.
The bible for some of the cooperators was Marquis Childs' "Sweden: The Middle Way." A number of the earliest residents of the neighborhood east of Wilson Lane and north of MacArthur Boulevard were Depression-era graduates of the City College of New York, where children of immigrants who couldn't afford private schools received a free education. Many Bannockburners had come to Washington to work in Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal administration and would later rise to the upper ranks of the civil service.
"There were a whole lot of people with a socialist background," said Murray Weisz, a City College graduate whose immigrant father was a socialist. "There were a number from the old Jewish socialist tradition."
In the spring of 1946, eager to make a move to a suburb of their own making, the cooperative's organizers made a collective bid of $193,000 for the 124-acre Bannockburn Golf Club a few blocks west of the Glen Echo amusement park. It was 2 1/2 miles from the District line and only 20 minutes by car or "high speed" trolley from downtown Washington, according to an early brochure.
The concept of a cooperative community "was very exciting," said Lee Kotz, a native New Yorker and early Bannockburn resident. "I'd always been interested in co-ops."
Over the years, however, the Bannockburners' idealism sometimes clashed with reality.
To stave off bankruptcy, the cooperative sold chunks of land to developers. The initial plan, calling for high-rise and garden apartments, duplexes and single-family homes, was defeated. Recently, Bannockburners themselves have successfully opposed the construction of a 50-unit town house complex on the edge of the neighborhood.
And, despite the community's involvement in civil rights -- including the 1960 battle to desegregate Glen Echo and its pride at having the county's first black elementary principal, following school integration in the county -- only a few of the 275 families are black.
Among the black residents are John and Carolyn Reinhardt, who moved there in 1966. John Reinhardt, 65, was head of the United States Information Agency under President Jimmy Carter and now holds a high-ranking post at the Smithsonian Institution.
"My wife did most of the house searching," he said. "There were neighborhoods where she'd spot a house and the real estate agent would say, 'You wouldn't be welcome . . . even if you could afford it.' There were limited housing options for blacks 20 years ago, and Bannockburn was one of them."
Recalled resident Holgate Young: "We had four black families in the '60s. One guy said it was too boring here. He moved back to the city."
Aileen Brody, another resident, said she and her family were "devastated" when a black family they had befriended through the busing program at Bannockburn Elementary School chose to move to Prince George's County instead of to an available house next door.
"We felt like we'd failed," she said.
Nonetheless, four decades after its inception, the spirit of Bannockburn survives. Its activist residents are planning a big celebration to mark the auction on April 6, 1946, that brought Bannockburn into being. The first families moved into "pilot" homes on Braeburn Place in 1949.
Bannockburn sits between Cabin John and Glen Echo on hills of the old golf course above MacArthur Boulevard. Some of the houses, like Herb Blinder's, offer stunning sunset views of the Virginia palisades.
"We bought this house because of the view," said Blinder, who has lived there since 1962. "Then, I was absolutely delighted to find a colony of people who were interesting, socially conscious and involved in issues important to me."
Bannockburn's population over the years has included activists such as the late Mary Fox Herling, executive director of the cooperators group, who had been secretary of Upton Sinclair's League for Industrial Democracy during the Depression and had worked with socialist Norman Thomas; and Ralph Showalter, lobbyist for the United Auto Workers who was later an official of the United Planning Organization, Washington's antipoverty organization.
Hyman Bookbinder, Washington lobbyist for the American Jewish Committee; Edmond Rovner, a former labor lawyer who is assistant to the Montgomery County Executive; labor writer John Herling, Brookings Institution senior economist Joseph Pechman and former Treasury senior economist Herman I. Liebling are residents; Herbert Hauptman, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, still owns a house there.
Bannockburn's stately stone clubhouse, built in 1912, is collectively owned and used as a meeting place. It also houses the cooperatively run nursery and studios for artists. Nearby is the Bannockburn pool. Below it, a creek courses to the Potomac River along a valley, and past a meadow where neighborhood weddings occasionally were held. Tall trees all around give the community a settled and rustic look.
It is, some residents like to say, as much a state of mind as a place. But it is, by now, also home to a third generation.
Leslie Weisz, 17, for instance, is the daughter of David Weisz, 42. They live around the corner from his parents, Murray and Yetta Weisz, who were among the first buyers. Down the street, Dr. Carol Salzman, 31, her lawyer husband Mike Mann and their 6-month-old son Aaron live just four doors from her childhood home.
"When these houses were built, the front doors all had the same locks," she said. "You could borrow a neighbor's key if you were locked out. It was sort of odd to move back to the same street. I was worried about being thought of as the little kid on the block."
Bannockburn's camaraderie, Salzman said, is "an obsession of a lot of people who live here."
So the traditions continue: the political satire of the spring show at the clubhouse, the annual newcomers dinner, and the liberal politics reflected in election results and bumper stickers. "Mondale-Ferraro," "Scientists Who Care" and "Stop Deportation of Salvadoran Refugees," as well as a Washington Redskins sticker, were among those seen recently on cars in one block.
Bannockburners voted heavily Democratic for Adlai Stevenson, George McGovern and Walter Mondale, bucking national trends.
Most Bannockburn houses, many of them ramblers and split levels, are modest, and owners tend to add on rather than move to larger houses, residents said. In fact, original owners occupy 114 houses, 41.4 percent of the total. Thirteen of 24 families living in the 7000 block of Braeburn Place are the original owners of the first houses built in 1949 and 1950.
Commonly, families posted overseas on government assignments, sometimes for years, rent their homes while they are away and then return to Bannockburn. The senior Weiszs, for example, were posted abroad for two decades before returning to the community.
"I wanted to sell the house, and I'm glad I didn't," said Murray Weisz, 72.
"For Sale" signs are not all that common in Bannockburn. Some houses are sold by word of mouth, residents say. When they are available, houses that originally sold for $13,500 to $26,700 now go for anywhere from $120,000 to more than $200,000.
"You don't get a great deal for your money. You're paying for the location and prestige," said real estate agent Michael Ray. "You put a house up for sale in that neighborhood, you'll have lots of offers."
Many Bannockburn houses are furnished in 1950s and 1960s Danish modern, and a large number of occupants are nearing or in retirement.
"A lot of us are getting older," said George Grier, a demographer who has lived in Bannockburn since 1967. "A lot of us have kids now out of school or in college. Very few have kids left in the elementary school.
"It's going to be interesting to see what happens to this place in 10 years, because that's going to be the critical time. I would hope a lot of young people come in."
Today, three-fourths of the children in the nursery school are from outside the community, and a majority of students at Bannockburn Elementary School are bused in from surrounding subdivisions.
The neighborhood telephone directory, published by the civic association, is revealing: There are just five families with as many as four children and a number of couples with separate surnames. Reflecting societal changes, the pool has replaced "family" memberships with memberships for "couples" and for "three or more" swimmers in a household.
Bannockburn, like any small town, has its share of internal problems and scandals. Residents tell typical Peyton Place tales, and talk about a time when teen-agers were heavily into drugs.
Minor controversy recently swirled around the monthly newsletter, published since 1953, when an announcement of a nuclear freeze pot-luck supper was refused.
"I spent more time on this than I cared to, believe me," said former civic association president Ed Malloy, who made the decision not to print the notice.
"It was absolutely ridiculous," said George Grier. "The community's always thrived on controversy. This was just a passing fluke."
In the aftermath, the newsletter again is open to announcements of all upcoming events, the largest of which are tied to the 40th anniversary.
There already are plans for a Homecoming Day, an "Anniversary Coalition" of committees, a slogan ("The spirit grows") and a resolution rededicating the community to "cooperative principles," also known as teamwork.
In true Bannockburn fashion, there are to be many meetings and discussions, all typical of what former civic association president Malloy called "this unique community . . . that exercises its democratic rights with such care, gusto and humor."