When architect Berny Hintz trucked his four-story, custom-designed modular home into Treasure Cove two years ago, residents were astonished. Not so much by the size, although that was unnerving, but by the fact that it took only one day to set up the house, complete with finished interior.
"This is the wave of the future," Hintz proclaimed. "If you can get this house in here, you can get it anywhere."
That's because Treasure Cove is a waterfront community hidden away in Prince George's County, tucked in among parallel driveway-width roads that steeply descend from Fort Foote Road to the Potomac River under a canopy of mature chestnut, sycamore and black walnut trees.
This is no developer's development. Once known as Thorne farm, lots were platted in 1926, slated to provide a retreat for the Washington elite. Plans called for a country club, hunting lodge and golf course, but financial shenanigans on the part of a partner in the project put an end to that design, leaving Treasure Cove to grow quietly, uniquely and almost unnoticed.
Houses are as different as snowflakes in this 59-home community. There is the cedar-shingle house where, when he is not hosting swing dances on the gleaming cherry floors inside, the owner tends his antique Black Twig apple trees outside. A New Orleans-style house, meticulously decorated inside and out by its resident interior designer, perches on a bluff overlooking the river. Next door to the waterfront home where Allen Drury wrote the novel "Advise and Consent" (the property now is owned by radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy) is the cove's newest addition, a glass-walled view catcher owned by a retired Air Force officer.
A few doors away is Vagabond House, a country cottage with a cross-shaped floor plan, where for more than 30 years the owners have worked to create the dream house described in Don Blanding's 1920s poem of the same name. The second verse of the poem begins, "My house will stand on the side of the hill, by a slow, broad river, deep and still"--and so it does.
Treasure Cove is "exclusive, in an oddball way," Eric Little said. He and co-owner Charlie Gote found their house 5/8 which they 1/8ve dubbed 1/4The Beach House 3/8, while boating down the river four years ago. "It has the distinction of being the first waterfront house south of D.C. on the Maryland side of the Potomac," Little said. "There's a status to living on the water," he added, noting that it's fun to have friends call by boat rather than car.
Treasure Cove houses are known by the original owners' names rather than by addresses--or by the current owners' names. County councilman Isaac J. Gourdine (D-Fort Washington) lives in "the old Bennett house." Little and Gote own one of the two Teuton houses built by Frank "Pappy" Teuton in the 1940s.
Mike Arnold, a retired Immigration and Naturalization Service controller who lives in the other Teuton house, praised Teuton for his legacy of flourishing camellia and azalea bushes at both ends of the cove. Recalling a recent article on how camellia bushes can grow to 12 feet in the D.C. area, Arnold said, "There are camellia 'bushes' 15 to 18 feet tall here. I guess Pappy just had a knack for it!"
The abundance of vegetation shields houses from one another, with each situated to take the best advantage of the view. Only 10 minutes from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, residents can avoid traffic by boating diagonally across the water to dine in Alexandria, or upriver to jobs in the District. Others enjoy watching the reflections of changing seasons from the comfort of their homes.
Martha Kline, a church organist and choir director for over 50 years, has a coveted, unobstructed western view of the water from Vagabond House. "I make it a point to be by that window each evening at sunset," said Kline, a resident since 1961, who never seems to tire of the scene.
Eagles and ships glide by. As lawyer Larry Koenick watched the Tall Ship Endeavor sailing past one foggy morning, he said it was "like looking back 300 years."
Only 10 houses are waterfront, but the stadium-seating layout offers others a river view, especially after the trees go bare in the fall. Some of those with water access, such as 19-year resident Linda Will, generously share their docks with landlocked neighbors. "We are always looking out for each other," Will said.
Even the neighborhood curmudgeon--known for his broad definitions of where his property begins and ends--is lauded for galvanizing residents to save a neighbor's swamped boat, or coming to the aid of another in a time of family crisis. As long as residents come together when necessary, individual eccentricity seems to be taken in stride.
Lacking an "us against them" attitude, Treasure Cove old-timers welcome newcomers. Renters enjoy an equal voice with owners in the Treasure Cove Residents Association, and rules governing what one may or may not do with private property are few. Koenick says that people who settle in Treasure Cove "want to protect the beauty around them and tend to treat their properties accordingly."
Informal association meetings are held in a member's home and usually find residents staying into the wee hours of the morning, chatting over wine and cheese. "There's probably more socializing than business going on," said Linda Neilson, the association's president.
What does concern the community is the looming National Harbor project, only a cove away. The idea of a massive resort development encroaching on their quiet corner of the world doesn't bother residents as much as the project's vagueness. "The more they are not telling us, the more skeptical I become," said Neilson, who grew up riding horses on the property.
Janis McGeehan, a reading teacher who commutes to Waldorf, said, "So far, all we've seen are artists' renditions." Other residents express amazement that both the National Capital Planning Commission and the County Council seem to have given the developer free rein, without a definite blueprint in place.
Despite the germinating development nearby, Treasure Cove remains a pocket of uniqueness. Minor annoyances--such as the noise from airplanes in and out of Reagan National Airport--are tuned out. Others, such as the rampant growth of a waterweed in the river, are turned to residents' advantage.
"Hydrilla makes a great fertilizer!" declared Charlie Gote.
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WHERE WE LIVE
BOUNDARIES: Fortside Drive to the north, Fort Foote Road to the east, the Potomac River to the west and Thornton Parkway to the south.
SALES: Seven houses have sold in the last two years, ranging in price from $99,000 to $235,000, said John Vanderwerker of Century 21. On the market now are two houses ($180,000 and $300,000) and one lot ($50,000).
SCHOOLS: Indian Queen Elementary, Oxon Hill Middle and Friendly High.
WITHIN 15 TO 20 MINUTES BY CAR: Alexandria, the Naval Research Lab, Bolling Air Force Base, Andrews Air Force Base, Rosecroft Raceway.