Northern Virginia most prominent structural profile is Skyline City, set on a 98-acre site between Seminary Road and Leesburg Pike where the Baileys Crossroads Airport once operated.
Skyline evidence of the increasing urbanization of Washington close-in suburbs, is a $250 million complex of high-rise apartments and condominiums and large office buildings. There is also a shopping center and a major health club facility that includes seven tennis courts and four racquetball crts. A large motor hotel is expected to be started within the next six months.
The 14-building complex, scheduled to be completed by the mid-1980s, is being developed by the 33-year old Charles E. Smith Companies. That firm is also developing the huge, high-density Crystal City complex west of National Airport in south Arlington.
The Smith firm has built 36 office building in the Washington area and owns and manages a portfolio of 14,000 rental apartments. At Skyline, the Smith conglomerate -- headed by Robert Smith and his brother-in-law, Robert Kogod -- is in partnership with Charles Benn family, which formerly owned and operated the Baileys Crossroads Airport. Each of the buildings at Skyline is set up as a separate partnership.
With its spectacular view of Washington, Skyline is by far the tallest kid in its neighborhood. Baileys Crossroads is largely made up of detached houses and low-rise apartments. Its commercial strips are Leesburg and Columbia pikes, where traffic buildup have been somewhat alleviated by the construction of an overpass and widening of Leesburg Pike (rte. 7).
Any development as imposing as Skyline makes an impact on its neighborhood. However, much of earlier neighborhood opposition to Skyline has been muted in recent years because of the quality of the development.
"We hardly notice it anymore," said the owner of a house nearby. The shopping, movie houses, restaurant and other facilities have not yet lured him inside the complex, he added.
David A. Edwards, executive director of the Fairfax County economic development effort, views Skyline favorably because "first-class firms" (including Trw, Westinghouse, Procter & Gamble, Bell & Howell and others) have chosen to locate in the two completed office building. A third office building is under way and two more are planned.While the federal government could possibly occupy one building, so far the government presence at Skyline is minimal.
"It's a comfortable walking situation for residents and business people at Skyline," Edwards added. But he conceded that the physical dominance of the aptly named Skyline might not be to the taste of all nearby homeowners.
The Skyline complex is also etched in the minds of many Washington area residents for another reason: the collapse of a 26-story apartment building during construction in 1973.
"It was an unfortunate catastrophe," said Smith executive vice president Irwin Altman, "that was the result of poor practice in the field by the concrete subcontractor."
Fourteen men were killed when the structure collapsed and 34 were injured. The Smith firm was absolved of liability in a court-ordered investigation.
Altman said that the tragic accident resulted in a two-year delay in the development of Skyline. Since then the second of two 26-story condominium apartment building has been sold out and occupied; a third condo high-rise is nearly completed and almost fully sold and a fourth building is under way. Two more tall condo high-risers are planned.
Two tower-like rental apartments with a total of 940 dwellings have also been completed -- and there is a waiting list for the buildings. Rents there range from $284 to $591, with utilities included. "They're a good investment because they were built a yesterday's prices. But building more rental apartments for market rents does not make economic sense now," Altman said.
The market for condominium apartments at Skyline has continued strong, even though prices per square foot have nearly doubled to $69 during the 1970s.
"We mostly get Northern Virginia buyers who are leaving single houses," said Gene Charles, sales manager and a condo resident himself. "some of our owners are already moving up to larger units. We are also getting some foreign nationals who pay all cash."
However, one Northern Virginia executive assistant said she had shopped Skyline on the recommendation of a friend with real estate savvy. "The units themselves are very livable," she said, "but the building exteriors were too cold for me."
Charles said that 90 percent of the Skyline condos are owner-occupied. He added that resales are strong. "one owner recently sold a one-bedroom for $65,500. That unit was purchased originally for $37,000." Charles also cited the recent resale of a three-bedroom, 1,900-square-foot unit for $126,000. The original price in 1977 was $74,000.
Among the attractions at Skyline are the commercial facilities, which include a Drug Fair and Safeway and nearly 40 shops in an underground mall with covered connections to two office buildings.
The nearly-two-acre Skyline health club facility attracts many more tennis, racquetball and exercise buff from outside than inside the complex, according to manager John Harris.
Skidmore, Owings and Merill did the original Skyline architectural planning and the Washington firm of Weihe, Black, Jeffries and Strassman designed the individual buildings. Those buildings will eventually add up to 3 million square feet of office space and more than 3,000 apartment units.
Dewberry, Nealon and Davis of Northern Virginia did the engineering and site work. The property will have parking for 10,000 cars. Hundreds of trees have already been planted at Skyline and a park area will be created later along Seminary Road between apartment buildings.
The Skyline name was selected, according to Altman, from among 200 considered. "It just seemed right because we are providing a new skyline in a new, easily identifiable urban neighborhood of its own in Northern Virginia," he said.