Fame is coming to Landover Hills.
Next fall, toymaker Mattel Inc. unveil six new Matchbox cars, one of which will be a little die-cast metal replica of the Prince George's County town's police car. It's part of a Matchbox effort to honor the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program. The town's blue-and-white 1994 Crown Victoria sports a DARE logo.
The town didn't seek the recognition. Police Chief Henry Norris Jr. said he was surprised to find his five-man police department in competition with other, bigger, departments around the country to be immortalized as a toy. A collector of police cars took a photo of the town's 1994 Crown Victoria and put the picture on a hobbyist World Wide Web site, where a Mattel representative saw it.
It will be a rare time in the spotlight for Landover Hills, population 2,000, a town that often goes unnoticed.
The main highway that those police cars cruise, Route 450, also known as Annapolis Road, runs in front of the town rather than through it. To the casual observer, Landover Hills is just another neighborhood in the long chain of communities that hug the six-lane road in Prince George's County.
But to the people who live there, it is a real town where traffic does not intrude. Quiet residential streets thread their way up and down the aptly named terrain, and the combined town hall and police station--once also the fire department--sits on a peaceful cul-de-sac.
"This is still a quaint, old-fashioned community," said resident Alicia Brown.
The town is appealing not only because it is quiet, but also because it is affordable, said the town's manager, Kathleen Tavel. "You don't need a dual income to live here," she said.
Long before Route 450 was a highway, the link between Bladensburg and Annapolis was a dirt road that bore the footprints of marching soldiers, setting out on a failed attempt to defend the new capital in Washington during the War of 1812. After World War I, the road was paved in anticipation of needing to move future military forces and was known as Defense Highway.
Landover Hills was built in 1940 as homes for defense workers. In 1945 it was incorporated as a town. Its 500 homes are divided into three wards, putting each resident within a few blocks of his or her elected local representative.
"You get immediate access to elected officials, police response time is faster, and the streets get plowed sooner than when dealing with the county," Mayor Lee Walker said.
Landover Hills is on the upward swing of a cycle common to housing developments built in the 1940s. Young families are returning to what had been a graying neighborhood, and they are fixing up the aging homes.
Frame Colonials, Cape Cods and ramblers present a random rainbow of pale pink, blue, yellow and green hues along rolling hills, where streets are crowded with parked taxicabs, pickup trucks and SUVs. Properties that used to take six to nine months to sell are now turning over in two or three months, said ReMax real estate agent Phil Mullings, who grew up in the community.
There are some problems, though. Mingled among well-tended lawns are properties where rusted chain-link fences surround neglected houses with clutter-strewn yards. Walker, first elected mayor in 1995, is working with town council members to establish a development agency, made up of officials and residents, to promote the upkeep of properties. The aim is to cut the red tape in connecting needy homeowners to available resources.
But unless there is a burning issue, or a special celebration, few residents actually get actively involved with town government or attend council meetings. Two-term councilman William Kley said he believes that's because people in this blue-collar neighborhood are too busy making ends meet to take an active role.
Others, though, said it is because things are running smoothly. "I think they are doing pretty well," resident Laberta Bolster, 86, said.
Bolster is qualified to make evaluations of town officials because she has seen them all. She was one of the town's original residents; back when she moved to Landover Hills, three-bedroom houses cost $3,000 to $4,000. Mortgage interest rates were 4 percent.
She has worked at Chandler's Drugs since 1948. For decades Chandler's was the neighborhood hangout. Its popular soda fountain drew teenagers and senior citizens. A neighborhood dentist, Herbert Earnshaw, was known for his "medicine" coupons--redeemable for ice cream cones at Chandler's.
The soda fountain closed 15 years ago, but Bolster still works two mornings a week at Chandler's, which is now a medical supply store.
Others also have deep ties to the community.
For instance, Norris, the police chief, began his career in Landover Hills. He then served almost 32 years with the Prince George's County police force before taking over the top Landover Hills law-enforcement job last year.
"The county strives for community-oriented policing, but we never had time to get to know the homeowners or bond with the community," he said. "This is the ideal spot to do that kind of stuff."
And the ideal spot to do it in a life-size version of a Matchbox car.
Let us know about your little corner of ever-greater Washington and maybe we'll tell everyone. Write to Where We Live, Washington Post Real Estate Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHERE WE LIVE
BOUNDARIES: Route 450 to the north, Parkwood Avenue to the south, 72nd Avenue to the east and 69th and 70th avenues to the west.
PROPERTY SALES: According to agent Peter Mullings of ReMax, 26 houses have sold in the past 12 months at prices ranging from $61,000 to $127,950. There are now 15 houses on the market, priced from $95,000 to $119,900.
SCHOOLS: Glenridge Elementary, Charles Carroll Middle and Fairmont Heights High.
WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Town Hall, New Carrollton Metro, MARC station, Chandler's Drug, St. Mary's Church and St. Mary's Elementary School, Landover Hills Baptist Church, New Hope Academy, Landover Hills Park and the Center for Deaf Ministries of the Archdiocese of Washington.
WITHIN 10-20 MINUTES BY CAR: FedEx stadium, US Airways Arena, Prince George's Community College, University of Maryland, Greenbelt Park
WITHIN 20-30 MINUTES BY CAR: Capitol Hill, Baltimore, BWI, Six Flags