Where We Live | McLean Gardens in Northwest Washington

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McLean Gardens, a small community in Northwest Washington, takes its name from the wealthy family of John Roll McLean, who was an owner and publisher of The Washington Post. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

McLean Gardens is a hidden gem in Northwest Washington along Wisconsin Avenue, north of the shops and restaurants in Cathedral Commons. The small community takes its name from the wealthy family of John Roll McLean, who was an owner and publisher of The Washington Post. His daughter-in-law Evalyn once owned the Hope Diamond. It’s said she let her dog wear the precious jewel while romping around the estate.

The federal government bought the property from the estate’s trustees in 1942 and built housing for federal workers hired during World War II. The government sold the property in 1948. The rental property was converted to condominiums in 1981.

Today, the property is two complexes — Vaughan Place at McLean Gardens and McLean Gardens. Bounded by Rodman Street NW to the north, Idaho Avenue to the south, Wisconsin Avenue to the east and 39th Street NW to the west, McLean Gardens resembles a self-contained college campus. The isolation is a major draw for residents.

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“In my mind, McLean Gardens is the best of both worlds,” says Lisa Mize, president of McLean Gardens Condo Association. “Once you drive off Wisconsin Avenue and you get into the neighborhood, you don’t feel like you’re in a city.”

“We have deer that wander through the neighborhood. When your windows are open you can hear all the birds singing outside and on a summer night you hear the foxes and the cicadas in the trees. It really feels like you’re in the country in a way . . .but also being able to find that energy within a few blocks.”

Mize moved to McLean Gardens more than 20 years ago. She was drawn by the history, the old buildings and the restful atmosphere.

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“Every time I drive into McLean Gardens and all that busyness goes away,” she said. “It feels like my blood pressure comes down 20 points. For me, it’s such a stark contrast and I really appreciate the peacefulness and serenity here.”

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McLean Gardens also offers a strong sense of community. Both Vaughan Place and McLean Gardens are pet-friendly, with most residents owning at least one cat or dog. The condo association hosts jazz on the lawn, barbecues in the summer at the communal pool, and holiday parties in the community center’s ballroom.

Fannie Mae’s former headquarters were next door to McLean Gardens. After Fannie Mae announced its move downtown, Roadside Development acquired the property in 2016. Residents worry about how the changes will affect their idyllic neighborhood.

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“I am concerned about the congestion and the traffic,” says Kathy Thomas, a nearly 20-year resident of McLean Gardens. “I feel resigned to the changes but working with Roadside is the best possible scenario we could have because I trust them to do what’s in everyone’s best interest.”

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Richard Lake, a founding partner with the company, has been working with the condo board to address residents’ questions and concerns.

“We entered into a cooperation agreement with our neighbors at McLean Gardens,” Lake said. “They’ve formed a neighborhood action committee which we participate in so there’s direct communication on an as-necessary basis.”

Roadside will preserve Fannie Mae’s large front lawn as a park and common area that could include an interactive fountain for children to play in, a performance stage for concerts, art displays or movies. There will be a Wegman’s grocery store, a child-care center and a health club. Restaurants and retail are still being negotiated.

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“We don’t want it to be a town center and take away the energy from Wisconsin Avenue, we actually want to help the energy on Wisconsin Avenue,” Lake says.

According to Lake, the six residential buildings within the planned village will be smaller, boutique-style apartments. Most will be rentals, but one could become condos. Amenities could include a greenhouse on the roof for organic farming, reflecting pools, music rooms and spaces for activities. Apartments will range from one-bedroom to three-bedroom units, with 8 percent allocated for inclusionary zoning.

Increased traffic is one of the residents’ biggest concerns. Lake concedes that their concerns are valid but believes traffic won’t be as bad as they fear.

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“Fannie Mae here employed about 3,000 workers, so that was peak in the morning and peak in the evening as they were leaving,” Lake said. “Our development will have a fraction of that as far as employees go.”

"We're looking into introducing a shuttle that will take people from our property to the Metro," Lake said.

Living there: No properties are for sale in McLean Gardens. According to real estate agent Lou Vivas at Viva the Life Properties, nine properties were sold in the past year. They ranged from a four-bedroom, two-bathroom duplex for $681,800 to a 506-square-foot studio that sold for $245,000. There are 14 units available to rent at Vaughan Place at McLean Gardens, ranging from studios ($1,991 to $2,512 a month), to two-bedroom, two-bathroom units ($3,133 to $4,013 a month). One-bedroom units are available for between $2,354 and $3,129 a month.

Transportation: The closest Metro station is Tenleytown on the Red Line, about a 20-minute walk away. The N4 and N6 bus lines stop nearby.

Schools: Eaton Elementary, Hardy Middle, Wilson High.

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