Linda and Eric Christenson's neighborhood has looked the same for 25 years, and that's just fine with them.
They bought their detached, two-story colonial house in North Arlington for $20,000 in 1965 and put up one addition. Later, they added another as they had a family.
All around them since then, other couples have done the same, attracted by the neighborhood's easy access to the District of Columbia, relatively moderate home prices, nearby schools and low crime rate.
What has emerged is a remarkably stable area called Arlington-East Falls Church, named because of its proximity to the city of Falls Church. More than half the residents in the community of 1,200 single-family homes have lived in the same house for at least five years, according to a 1986 county neighborhood plan.
East Falls Church residents said their neighborhood, settled in the 1950s by a burgeoning number of federal government professionals, is a place where people feed the pets of their neighbors on vacation and take in their trash cans after the sanitation truck has pulled away.
"This the kind of neighborhood where people still call on new people and say, 'Welcome to the neighborhood,' " said Linda Christenson, a freelance picture researcher who makes such house calls.
Even residents who move away retain a certain fondness for the area, Christenson said.
Two and a half years ago she and her husband, an English teacher and potter, held a block party for everyone who had ever lived on their short, one-block street.
Fifty people showed up on North Potomac between 26th Street and 26th Road.
Commuting to the District has always been easy from East Falls Church, a straight shot of about six miles by bus or car east along Lee Highway (Route 29). Driving west to Tysons Corner for shopping is equally quick except during rush hours.
The construction of Interstate 66 and the opening of the East Falls Church Metro station in mid-1986 made both trips even easier and gave the neighborhood what the county plan calls "a certain uniqueness in Northern Virginia, that of being a single-family residential neighborhood -- and planning to remain so -- served by a Metrorail station located within walking distance of many of its residents."
Convenience, said real estate agent Cathy Lucas, is what she touts first when showing homes in East Falls Church. Prices for a three- or four-bedroom house range from $209,900 to $279,000. Adjacent to I-66, there are 44 rental units with rents of $550 to $660 for a one-bedroom apartment.
Lucas said most of her clients interested in East Falls Church are couples with small children hoping to move out of their apartment or condominium into their first detached home. One of the first things they ask about are the schools, she said with a laugh: "Everybody who moves here has a gifted and talented child."
The two neighborhood elementary schools, Tuckahoe and Nottingham, are small with all the accompanying benefits and disadvantages: high parental involvement, a close relationship between parents and teachers, sometimes smaller classes, but little choice in teachers and few elective classes. Because there is no busing for purposes of desegregation, the classes are mostly white, with some Asians.
Arlington County implemented a middle-school plan this fall, and sixth through eighth graders in East Falls Church now go to Williamsburg Intermediate High School. The high school, Yorktown, enjoys an excellent academic reputation in the area, and this year produced the third highest number of National Merit semifinalists out of Northern Virginia's 39 high schools, behind Fairfax County's Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and Langley High School in McLean.
Two generations ago, most of the area was farmland and woods. Joe Keller, 84, who moved into his home in 1942, remembers when a cow wandered into their back yard while his wife Margaret was hanging out clothes to dry. Keller, who used to work in construction, paid $7,200 for his house and shakes his head at today's prices. "Just goes to show you what a county can do with lawyers and real estate developers," he said.
Construction in the area took off in the 1950s and early 1960s. Houses were built of cinder block and brick, with plaster walls, not plasterboard, and hardwood floors.
By contemporary building standards, the rooms were small, particularly the kitchens and bathrooms, and closet space was minimal. Thus many families renovated and enlarged their homes, particularly in the late 1980s when the prices of homes inside the Capital Beltway surged beyond their means.
East Falls Church is a quiet area, primarily because there is little commercial development compared with neighboring communities. Quietness, even obscurity, is what attracted the neighborhood's biggest celebrities in the late 1970s: Jeff and Annette Carter, President Jimmy Carter's son and daughter-in-law.
The young Carters officially lived in the White House, but took refuge in the house of a friend at 2600 N. Powhatan St. A 1979 Washington Post story quoted a source close to the Carter family as saying Jeff and Annette went to the house to "listen to rock music and smoke dope."
The Metro subway station has attracted some additional traffic and parking in the immediate area of the station, but tough county enforcement of parking codes has kept the problems to a minimum, according to residents. The county plan identified two other problems: cars speeding down residential streets and the deterioration of roads and landscaped areas.
Resident Bob Benson has taken on the latter. About a year ago, Benson, an analyst for the Environmental Protection Agency and a tree lover, consulted his neighbors about an empty traffic island of about 12,000 square feet at the three-way intersection of North Pocomoke, 26th and Potomac streets.
With their encouragement, he asked the county to plant some trees and shrubs on the island. The county recently agreed to fund the project and anticipates completion by next spring.
Benson, a member of the county Urban Forestry Commission, said such county-civic cooperation is one reason he and his wife, Audrey, a Justice Department analyst, decided to buy their first home in East Falls Church three years ago.
Traffic to and from the District -- the bane of many Northern Virginians -- is sometimes frustrating, he said. But when their blood pressure starts to rise, the Bensons recall growing up in New York.
"You think you've seen traffic, you ought to be sitting on the Long Island Expressway at rush hour," Benson said. "It's all relative."