Robert and Cathy Betz bought a house in Arlington's Country Club Hills neighborhood three years ago because of their daughter Gillian's lively imagination.
When they first approached the 1935 Tudor home in North Arlington, Gillian, then a preschooler, noted the sparkles emanating from the granite bordering the front door and exclaimed, "Look! This house has fairy lights!"
The fairy-lights house reminded Robert Betz of his grandfather's home in Tennessee. Noting the original clinker bricks, arched front door, interior archways and walnut trim, Betz said, "We preserved the character of this great structure."
After 18 months of interior renovations that included replacing all wiring and plumbing, Betz, a health care policy consultant, is grateful for his decision to hire a preservation-oriented architect to undertake the project. "I would have made a lot of mistakes," he said.
Ann Holladay's nearby 1940s brick Colonial is "built like a battleship," she said. A buzzer system connecting rooms to what were once maids' quarters in the basement still works; the original wood kitchen cabinets sport a pullout pie table. The back yard is wide and deep, sheltering activities from hectic North Glebe Road to the front.
Country Club Hills takes its name from neighboring Washington Golf and Country Club, founded in 1894. (There is another neighborhood with the same name in Fairfax County.)
Kevin Fitzgerald said that his brick 1929 Colonial, which overlooks the first fairway of the golf course, has the architectural detail his wife remembers from her childhood home in Boston: a slate roof, copper gutters, 10-foot ceilings and working exterior wooden shutters.
Country Club Hills is a "real established neighborhood," said Fitzgerald, with the emphasis on real.
"The theme here is of a bygone era," he said.
The custom-built houses are a distinctive touch, while the rolling wooded terrain offers some natural gems. For instance, Susan and Bob Harding's grand white oak is one of 12 in the county on Arlington's "Notable Trees" list.
Without the orchestration of social committees, children set up lemonade stands, neighbors enjoy homemade cookie swaps, and families participate in old-fashioned July 4 celebrations.
There are no homeowners association covenants or architectural review boards, but the properties are impeccably maintained. "It almost becomes a neighborhood culture," said Sharon Weiss, a seven-year resident.
"People take care of their yards, so you feel the need to take care of yours," she said as she trimmed the 17 boxwoods in front of her house. "That's why it works without an association here."
The lack of community oversight on remodeling and new construction occasionally leads to some collective breath holding, though, because Country Club Hills is in the midst of a bumping-up-and-out craze. Residents are remodeling instead of moving, making curbside dumpsters common, but Fitzgerald said, "Most renovations here, like the houses, can stand the test of time."
Jill Majors is among those residents who expressed concerns about the growing number of teardowns, which have been common over the last few years throughout Arlington and other older suburbs.
Majors's 1950s rambler received a front facelift just before she moved in 17 years ago, but a similar house a few doors away recently fell to the wrecker's ball. A new three-story Colonial with a three-car garage is being built in its place.
In Country Club Hills, preserving the character of the community is applauded because to many, this rolling wooded enclave has been home for decades.
Mary Lunger now enjoys afternoons with her granddaughter in a house that Lunger's parents built in 1949. "We have four generations of friends here," she said after round of golf with childhood buddies who still live in the community.
Country Club Hills is one of the few Arlington neighborhoods without a civic association, but Fitzgerald, a managing partner at the law firm Troutman Sanders, is joining with other neighbors to form one to deal with public safety issues.
Civic associations carry clout with county government, he said. "To the extent that we want to do street lights or traffic calming, they [county officials] will look at an individual and say, 'Where is your association? Do you have a consensus?' "
Beyond the occasional speeding car, residents say they can't praise the community and its location enough. Marymount University, churches and Yorktown High School are within walking distance. Georgetown and McLean are minutes away by car. Washington Golf and Country Club is like an extension of the community, where children take tennis and swimming lessons.
"Here's a very prestigious country club, six miles to the city, with spectacular views of the city, and you can walk to it," Fitzgerald said. On July 4, more than 200 neighbors sprawled on his lawn and the one next door to watch the country club's fireworks display.
The club isn't a social focus for everyone, though. Stephen Easley and his five siblings grew up in a 1939 six-bedroom Colonial built of handmade bricks. The family's social center, he said, was their home.
After moving away for a while, Easley returned to Country Club Hills 10 years ago, buying a 1938 house 200 yards from his childhood home. "The in-fill has really changed the community," he said. "The lot where I played baseball -- so tiny that a six-year-old could hit a home run -- now has a house on it."
Still, he said, "there are more active communities in Arlington, but none more beautiful than Country Club Hills."