To understand the changing fortunes of Arlington's Ashton Heights neighborhood, look no further than Ann Felker's house on North Irving Street.

Felker's parents bought the house in 1947, when she was 4 years old and the house was 25 years old.

Felker's father loved the central Arlington neighborhood's convenience to the District but her mother despaired of the house's tiny kitchen and lack of amenities such as central heating. "She hated it," said Felker, recalling how her mother longed for a more modern suburban house.

But the house is still in the family. Felker and her husband Tim, a retired U.S. Army officer who now works as a Defense Department intelligence analyst, bought it from her parents in 1972 for $33,000, installed central heating and made other substantial improvements. The couple has nine children.

Along with home improvements like those the Felkers have made, the perception of Ashton Heights has improved considerably.

"Now we have a good old-fashioned bungalow that all our friends in Springfield are envious of," said Felker, listing among her home's charms its "nooks and crannies, big walk-in closets and beautiful pine woodwork."

Bordered by Wilson Boulevard, Glebe Road, Arlington Boulevard (Route 50) and North Irving Street, the neighborhood began as a subdivision in the 1920s, when a streetcar line linked the District to nearby Clarendon and Ballston.

Ashton Heights boomed with sturdy brick houses in the 1930s and 1940s when the nearby Clarendon business district was the downtown for all of Northern Virginia. By the 1950s it was fully developed. The neighborhood thrived until the 1960s when families began moving to Fairfax County.

Now, the popularity of Ashton Heights is on the upswing.

Metrorail has a lot to do with the attraction. The neighborhood is astride the booming Rosslyn-Ballston development corridor. The Ballston Common shopping mall is within the neighborhood borders and the restaurants of Clarendon's "Little Saigon" district also are close by. Most houses are within a 10-minute walk of either the Virginia Square or Clarendon Metro stations on the Orange Line.

In recent years, baby-boom generation couples and families have moved in, drawn by the brick homes, the towering trees, the friendliness of the community and the ease of the commute.

There are even a large number of bicycle commuters who find it a quick ride to Fort Myer and then through Arlington Cemetery and over Memorial Bridge into the District.

A recent civic association tally estimated there are 1,800 homes in the neighborhood, most of them single-family houses, though there are garden apartments near the commercial edges of the area.

Rather than leave the neighborhood as their families grow, many residents instead have taken advantage of the deep lots that many homes have and renovated and put large additions onto their homes.

Erin R. Devine, 30, and her husband, Philip M. Keating, 31, are part of the recent changes that have come to Ashton Heights. The couple, both lawyers, moved into the neighborhood 3 1/2 years ago.

"Walking home from the Metro, we always commented on the baby parade," said Devine, co-president of the Ashton Heights Civic Association. "Now we're part of it." She now stays home to look after the couple's two young children.

The reappearance of many children is one of the most noticeable changes in Ashton Heights, several residents said. A recent neighbor-hood Christmas party drew dozens of children, many more than in previous years. Numerous play groups and baby-sitting cooperatives also have sprouted.

The sense of community is strong in other ways: Along with a Christmas party there is an annual June picnic, a spring community yard sale, well-attended monthly meetings of the civic association and a monthly newsletter.

The neighborhood also is home to a large number of politicians. County Board Chairman Albert C. Eisenberg and many Democratic activists live in Ashton Heights. So does Alice Tennies, the Republican candidate in next month's special election for a House of Delegates seat, and Republican Dorothy Grotos, a former member of the County Board.

"It's so neighborly. When we moved in, the neighbors had a tea for us," said Joy Gatewood, 34, a student who along with Devine is co-president of the civic association. "During the day you see young mothers walking with their children and older people tending their gardens."

Gatewood and her husband Jim Rowland, 39, a computer consultant, brought their well-tended brick colonial from its original owner in 1986. The couple has an 11-year-old son.

They recall rushing over to see the house as soon as they heard from Rowland's boss, who lived in the neighborhood, that it was available. "We always loved this neighborhood. We thought it was the best," Gatewood said.

"It's a Currier & Ives neighborhood, charming," said real estate agent Colin Middleton. She said single-family house prices in Ashton Heights range from $250,000 to $350,000.

"I find a lot of people already know about Ashton Heights," Middleton said, adding that homes in the neighborhood still generate "a tremendous amount of interest" even in the current difficult real estate market.

"There's a feeling of historic depth," said Mary Hufford Oaks, 38. "It doesn't have the feel of a place that just came into being overnight."

She and her husband, Steven Oaks, are among the residents who have remodeled their homes recently. The couple turned their attic into a large second floor to accommodate their two young children. "We'd really like to stay here," said Mary Hufford Oaks, a folklorist who commutes by bicycle to her part-time job at the Library of Congress.

Stephen L. Nearing and his wife, Nancy Nearing, have spent about $70,000 to renovate their house twice, turning an attic into living space and building a new garage with bedrooms above it.

To save money, Stephen Nearing, 42, a civilian Coast Guard employee, did some of the demolition work himself, using a spinnaker sheet, a pulley and his Volvo to pull down his old detached garage.

Now the family, which includes two young children, has a six-bedroom, three-bathroom house with a two-car garage. "To get something {else} like this inside the Beltway would be astronomical," Stephen Nearing said.

The proximity to the Metro, which has fueled the neighborhood's popularity, also has brought its worries.

Traffic is a concern, particularly now that the community has so many children.

Neighbors recently banded together to persuade Arlington County to install new curbs and a parking lane on Pershing Drive in an effort to slow speeding cars, Stephen Nearing said.

The civic association vigilantly monitors development proposals in nearby Virginia Square and Clarendon.

Though the land-use plans and zoning that will allow high-density development along the Metro corridor were decided years ago, "we can do a lot to influence design and make sure there's adequate parking" in the high-rise buildings, Devine said.

Another worry is the propsed extension of North Quincy Street between Wilson Boulevard and Glebe Road, on land now occupied by a Metro bus yard.

If the project is approved by county officials, the neighborhood wants some of the land to be used as a park and measures taken to discourage cut-through traffic in the neighborhood, Devine said.

The neighborhood is also home to a number of Arlington social service facilities.

They include homeless shelters, a substance abuse treatment program and a day care center for mentally ill adults.

"They are so well blended in that most people have to be told they're there," longtime resident Felker said of the service facilities.

Even with all the changes and even though the tiny oak saplings she remembers as a child are now 50-foot trees, Felker said the essence of Ashton Heights has remained the same.

"I think of my childhood growing up here and my children's childhood. I don't think the quality of life has diminished at all," she said.

"If I could buy them all houses in Ashton Heights, I would."