When Seena King saw the sand-colored brick walls around the houses of the new Drumaldry neighborhood in Bethesda, she was sold. It wasn't the privacy the walls offered that attracted her, although that was nice. It was the secure courtyard they might provide for her cat, Kacy.
That was 1972, and though Kacy eventually passed on at the ripe old age of 23, King still contentedly lives in Drumaldry, as do a number of other original residents, many of them attracted by the privacy. "There is almost a Japanese impression of being subdued and quiet, and we like that a lot," said Richard Kaufman, a resident of 14 years.
Different as it is, the cloistered feeling is easy to get used to, one resident pointed out. Now when he visits friends in other neighborhoods, said resident Ron Marshall, he is always somewhat surprised when he can watch neighbors walking about in nearby yards.
At the same time, one resident noted, Drumaldry can produce a real sense of isolation because "you can't watch the passing parade." King agreed, pointing out that it can be hard to get to know neighbors.
Even outside the walls, it's easy to see one other distinction of the neighborhood: the California contemporary style of the houses. All have cedar siding with redwood trim, with stain chosen from a palette of muted colors specified by the homeowners association. Roofs are cedar shakes. Any siding or roofing replacements must fit the original material specifications.
The style was exactly what Kaufman and his wife, Dilys Parry, were looking for. "We wanted a contemporary home, more open," Kaufman said. "And we wanted a garden." When they saw the house in Drumaldry, they immediately felt sure it would meet their requirements.
Since buying their house, the couple has put on two additions, both designed to permit expanded views of their property. "The outside is part of the living space," just as the developer intended, Kaufman said.
"The layout is very creative," a resident said. "Depending on what you do with it, you can make it different. In ours, every room can have the sense of being outdoors. Every room has a beautiful view."
On the other hand, some long-time residents said that Drumaldry's houses may not have appreciated in value to the extent houses in many other neighborhoods have, precisely because of their modern style. "Washington" equals "colonial," they said, and modern simply won't sell for as much.
Even 30 years ago, the developer, Miller and Smith, was well aware of the area's taste for the traditional style, but the company favors smaller "niche" markets; a contemporary-style subdivision was one such opportunity. Drumaldry was Miller and Smith's fourth project--single-family homes on lots averaging 6,000 square feet.
The idea was that large windows would make the outdoors into part of the living space, said the company's president, Alvin D. Hall. That kind of exposure meant there had to be walls around each property for privacy.
But the brick walls did more: They "gave the community unity," Hall said. "Other places, you see different kinds of fences right up next to each other." The walls also would provide for private gardens and secure yards for children to play in.
Five models were designed to fit the sloping terrain, Hall said. In fact, Drumaldry got its name from the site's topography: It was derived from the Celtic word drum, meaning knoll or hill. The developer opened the neighborhood in 1970 and finished delivery of houses three years later. Most of the houses sold for $57,000 to $63,000, Hall said, although the last unit sold for about $90,000. These days they sell for $375,000 and up.
"There's nothing else like it in Montgomery County," said Susan Schuck of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. The houses are "well planned not to look into a neighbor's yard," even from over a wall. Son and colleague Steve Schuck noted that few other subdivisions below $400,000 offer contemporary design and a garage on the main level. "To get that, you will do a lot better in the $500,000 to $600,000 range," he said.
In addition to the purchase price, owners pay $430 annually to the homeowners association. Much of the money goes to maintenance of the common areas. Landscaping contractors mow the areas and the grass in front of walls; residents who don't want that service put reflectors out. Flower beds maintained by King and her landscape committee brighten street corners.
Although she takes pleasure in working with flowers, King made sure her back yard, like many others in the neighborhood, was low maintenance. After one year of cutting grass, she substituted a terrace and gravel, and gave away her lawn mower.
Swimming pools, oriental gardens and ponds dominate many residents' yards. In fact, Miller and Smith offered a pool as an option to new home buyers.
Kaufman and Parry also love their garden. In fact, they joke that that's where they spend the energy they save not running up and down stairs because of the design of their house. Even though Drumaldry's houses are multi-level, their home's master bedroom, kitchen, living room and recreation room all are on one level.
With all the time he and his wife spend outside, Kaufman has noticed that the area attracts a lot of birds and animals. "It's like a menagerie around here during the day," he said.
Kaufman and Parry have seen a pileated woodpecker, the inspiration for Woody Woodpecker, which Kaufman said is uncommon in residential areas. The bird makes a weird sound, announcing its presence, then goes about its business pounding on a tree trunk. The couple also reported seeing a hawk every fall. This year a mother rabbit kept her babies nearby, and Parry rescued one she found stranded on a lily pad in their pond.
Rabbits and hawks are not what most people think of as among the advantages of living in Bethesda, however. More often the location itself comes to mind. Ron Marshall calls his neighborhood the best located in the area. It's close to downtown Bethesda, Rockville Pike and Tysons Corner ("I can get there quicker than to White Flint," he said), and access to the Beltway is easy. He, wife Charlie and family used to live in Takoma Park, and it's quick to get there too, he added.
One recent arrival from Gaithersburg came to Drumaldry looking for a combination of life closer to the city yet without street noise: "There was the challenge," she said. During the house hunt, "we would drive to beautiful homes in Potomac, roll down the car windows and hear noise from the Beltway. We wouldn't even get out of the car."
The park-like grounds and cul-de-sacs of Drumaldry proved to be the answer.
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BOUNDARIES: Greentree Road and the Baptist Home for Children and Families to the south and southeast, the new North Bethesda Middle School to the east, Swords Way to the north, and Drumaldry cul-de-sacs to the west.
NUMBER OF HOUSES: 104 single-family homes (4 BR/2 1/2 BA), three of which have sold this year for $375,000 to $385,000; one house on the market now
SCHOOLS: Wyngate Elementary, North Bethesda Middle, Walter Johnson High schools
WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: National Institutes of Health, National Naval Medical Center
WITHIN 10 MINUTES BY CAR: White Flint mall, downtown Bethesda, Davis Library, Montgomery Mall, Suburban Hospital, Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway