The first thing one notices about Maryvale are the houses: Street after street is filled with well-kept ramblers -- white with maroon awnings, slate blue with matching trim, pale green, buff, salmon.

Maples line the sidewalks and give them a sun-dappled look. Lawn ornaments are plentiful: a swan planter is filled with petunias, an American flag waves on a patch of green lawn.

The result is a modest neighborhood near downtown Rockville that looks cozy and old-fashioned -- not far removed from the way the development must have looked in the early 1950s, when it was built to provide first-time homes to young families.

But life there is not quite the same. While quite a few of the original families remain, many new residents have moved in, changing the once predominantly white community into a mixed neighborhood of blacks, whites and Asians. The Rockville Metro station opened nearby six years ago. And some disturbing signs of urban life have appeared. For several years, Lincoln Park, the neighboring community whose streets merge with Maryvale's, has been labeled as one of Montgomery County's most active drug markets, but efforts by police and residents have helped to control the problem.

"We've had to get past a lot of denial," said Anne Hedian, 32, a computer specialist who has lived in Maryvale for eight years and has been active in citizens groups.

"It's a big family community and so often there's the attitude about someone on drugs -- 'Well, he's my uncle, so it's okay.' But there's been a lot of work on the part of people living here," she said.

Maryvale, located in east Rockville, used to be a large working farm, said Carlton Tabler, a longtime resident.

In 1951, a developer subdivided the farm into mostly quarter-acre lots, installed a water and sewer system, then offered the unusual deal of selling the three-bedroom houses to young families for $8,000 to $10,000 while renting them the land.

"It was so people could have a home without having too much money to put down," said Tabler, 71. "People took care of things and we'd observe Arbor Day every year and made sure we went out and planted trees. It was just something we did."

As the original families moved out, new families moved in with the option to purchase their lots.

Today, Maryvale has about 300 homes, many with renovated interiors and selling for as much as $150,000, and its residents include plumbers, retirees, construction workers and government employees.

"No matter what you need, it's a community where you have a neighbor who can do it," Hedian said.

At the same time, Maryvale is not the kind of neighborhood someone simply stumbles upon. It has several dead-end courts, no busy highways and its main access is from Route 28. "You're only back in here if you live here," Hedian said.

The neighborhood has a small industrial zone, with a Wonder Bread warehouse and refrigeration and lighting companies. There also is a retail strip that includes a laundry and a convenience store.

"It is okay here, no problems," said Jung Kim, who has owned the Maryvale Deli-Convenience Store for three years. "People hang around. They're on the streets a lot."

Since 1968, Maryvale has been home to David Scull Courts, one of two public housing complexes in Rockville.

Although its 76 units house residents of different ages, its most conspicuous building is the senior citizens unit, which is surrounded by bright beds of flowers. A tree-shaded park nearby is usually full of children. Maryvale Elementary School is down the street.

"It is low-income housing by nature of its creation, but over 70 percent of our residents are employed," said Sandra Crewe, director of Rockville's public housing office, who oversees David Scull Courts and the nearby Lincoln Terrace. "We are taxpayers.

"We do have our negatives," Crewe said, "but it's still the kind of community, where somebody greeted me the other day by saying, 'Did you know Mrs. X went back in the hospital?' It's that kind of community spirit, not from a perspective of gossip but a perspective of concern."

Crewe's major goal, she said, is to secure money to provide air conditioning in the units. "It's a personal-comfort thing, a health thing, not a luxury," she said.

On a summer afternoon, Maryvale has a peaceful, small-town look. A retired resident watered his yard. Two small boys rode bicycles down the sidewalk. At the laundry, all of the dryers were in use.

"Maryvale has changed, but it hasn't changed a whole lot," said Bill Wyckoff, a postal service employee who grew up in Maryvale, now lives in another section of Rockville, and was waiting outside the laundry for his clothes to dry. "It still feels like home."