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A mid-century modern neighborhood ‘ensconced in nature’

The houses in Rock Creek Woods were designed by noted architect Charles Goodman

In Rock Creek Woods, houses of brick, wood and glass built in 1959 and 1960 melt into the landscape without disrupting it, just as famed architect Charles Goodman intended. (Photos by Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)
5 min

Driving down the winding, leafy roads of Rock Creek Woods in Kensington, Md., all around are mid-century marvels. Houses of brick, wood and glass built in 1959 and 1960 melt into the landscape without disrupting it, just as famed architect Charles Goodman intended.

“Goodman situated the sloping, bucolic curves of the neighborhood as an intentional, organic and communal response to the sterile and rectilinear ‘crabgrass frontier’ of postwar American suburbia,” says neighborhood historian Steve Lorenz, who is also a cultural historian by profession.

Lorenz, who’s been living in Rock Creek Woods with his wife and three children since 2016, points out that Goodman’s ultimate goal was to provide a sense of being ensconced in nature.

The innovative architect was a leader in the D.C. area for bringing contemporary design and naturalistic site planning to the housing market. His many neighborhoods include Hollin Hills in Fairfax County, Va., and many in Montgomery County, Md., including Hammond Wood and Wheaton Crest.

He designed the homes with large glass windows to “reflect the heightened visuality of the modern television age,” Lorenz says.

“He also discouraged owners from building fences that would disrupt the circular sight lines intended to foster closer neighborly relationships,” he adds.

Goodman’s vision for close-knit neighbors has been fulfilled, according to Julie Marcis, co-chair of the Rock Creek Woods Civic Association. Marcis, who has lived in the community for 21 years, notes that in addition to the lovely architecture, neighborhood ties are what keep many rooted there.

“Mostly it comes down to the people who live here,” she says. “We are so different and so interesting and congenial.”

The civic association sponsors many activities that bind neighbors together, including a Labor Day picnic, a Halloween parade and celebration, a years-old book club, and popular house tours and parties. Marcis says covid put the brakes on some of the activities, but they’ve recently started up again.

Rock Creek Woods abuts Rock Creek Park and homeowners use the park’s many biking and hiking trails, dog parks, tennis courts and playgrounds, according to Sophia Hu, real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Realty in Potomac.

“We’ve also been really lucky that people who buy these houses are not interested in tearing them down,” Marcis says.

As an added incentive, homeowners receive a 20 percent tax credit toward Maryland state income tax for any exterior repairs that preserve the original design of the home, according to Hu.

“This includes roof repairs and maintaining frameless windows,” she adds. “Everyone is very careful to not alter the original integrity of the Goodman architecture.”

A former administrator for a public relations firm, Marcis notes she and her husband live in a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house that’s gone through several renovations while still maintaining the look and feel of Goodman’s original design.

“There’s tons of windows,” she says. “And while it cuts down on the amount of artwork I can hang, I don’t know if I could ever live in a house that didn’t have as much light as this one.”

The community also features more than 100 cherry blossom trees, a natural splendor that arrives each spring.

“That’s in addition to the many mature trees, shrubs and plants in every yard,” Hu says.

Sightings of deer, fox, squirrels and owls are regular occurrences, she adds.

With only 76 single-family homes, Rock Creek Woods seems like a secluded nature preserve. The community has no drive-through traffic and just one entrance on Spruell Drive that also serves as its only exit.

But public transportation and major roads and highways are nearby to easily connect to the rest of the region. Tucked away from Connecticut Avenue, Rock Creek Woods is a short drive to Interstates 495 and 270 and just a few miles from the National Institutes of Health and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, according to Hu.

Restaurants and stores in Kensington and Silver Spring serve the community, and Kensington’s Antique Row is just five minutes away.

“During covid, the neighbors were lifesavers,” says Marcis, who notes that over the years the neighborhood is gradually turning over with younger families.

“It’s very exciting because there are children and dogs and people that just enjoy each other,” she notes.

“This neighborhood will continue forever,” Marcis says. “It’s just that kind of neighborhood.”

Living there: With quality neighbors and its serene close-to-nature feel, Rock Creek Woods is popular with potential buyers, Hu says, adding that no houses are on the market.

“It has very low turnover,” she says. “Some original owners still live there, including one who just celebrated her 102nd birthday in May.”

In 2021, seven houses were sold, and in 2022, none have sold. The average sale price of single-family homes this past year was $957,428. The most expensive was a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house for $1.2 million. The least expensive was a fixer-upper with five-bedrooms and three-bathrooms that sold for $650,000.

Schools: Rock View Elementary, Newport Mill Middle and Albert Einstein High.

Transit: Rock Creek Woods is between two Metro stations, Wheaton, 2.5 miles away, and Grosvenor-Strathmore, 3.5 miles away on the Red Line. The 33 Ride On bus and L8 Metrobus are just a short walk away on Connecticut Avenue.