“It’s really the closest you can get to D.C. without being in D.C.,” says Dominique Rychlik, a Compass real estate agent who grew up in Brookdale and who sells houses in the area. “Young families love the walkability, and the fact that their kids can walk to school or walk to meet their friends.”
Brookdale, named for a stream along the eastern border, was established in 1938 by Cooper Lightbown. It was advertised as “a community of distinctive small homes” and was part of a larger tract known as the Friendship land grant of 1713. Lightbown, a builder and developer and native of Washington, was inspired by his European travels and had returned to the area after living and working in Palm Beach from 1912 to 1928. It was there that he built the famous estate of E.F. Hutton and Marjorie Merriweather Post, better known as Mar-a-Lago and now owned by another famous resident, President Trump.
Lightbown’s Brookdale houses were known for architectural variation and unifying details such as painted white brick. Flourishes include boxed bay windows with scalloped slate or copper roofing, iron stair railings and doorknobs, indoor arches, and other flourishes. A history of the neighborhood, written by resident Amy Rispin for the neighborhood’s 75th anniversary in 2013, notes that no two houses were alike. They were intentionally built so that no house was directly across or adjacent to its neighbor’s.
Over the years, Brookdale grew to encompass the contiguous neighborhoods of Wohlshire and Orchardale, creating the enclave that is now covered by the Brookdale Citizens Association. The annual $40 dues, which are voluntary, pay for a directory, a newsletter and social events.
In addition to the Lightbown-designed houses, the neighborhood’s hilly, no-sidewalk streets include red-brick Colonials, ranch houses and a few surviving, refurbished farmhouses. Residents run the gamut from young families to retirees. Rychlik and citizens association officials estimate that about 90 percent of the houses are owner-occupied. The neighborhood bulletin, the Brookdale Bugle, listed 13 rentals and 15 home sales in 2019.
Citizens Association President Richard Podolske says he toured 150 houses before he settled on his Brookdale home 42 years ago. The Friendship Heights Metro stop had not yet arrived, but he knew it was on the way.
“Best investment I ever made,” he says of paying $132,000 for his home in a neighborhood where the average sale price today is $1.25 million.
On a recent afternoon, he enjoyed a socially distanced happy hour with his wife, Diane Waters, and Heather Paul, his next-door neighbor of 34 years and treasurer of the citizens association.
Paul recalls bonding with Podolske’s family because they both had small children at home.
“I moved in and knocked on the door and explained that I was moving in, and the rest is history,” she said.
Paul and Podolske said neighborhood concerns center mostly around attracting quality retail stores and ensuring safe traffic through the busy intersections bordered by Western and Willard avenues and Wisconsin Avenue and River Road. The neighborhood also works with Geico on shared concerns. The insurance company, which has its headquarters on Western Avenue, recently added a gazebo with a security camera to monitor after-hours activity on its property. The campus borders one of the neighborhood’s two parks.
“They’ve been good neighbors,” Podolske said.
Living there: Brookdale’s borders are Willard and Newport avenues to the north and west, the Geico property line and Western Avenue to the east and southeast, and Park and Montgomery avenues to the southwest. River Road bisects the neighborhood.
In the past year, according to Rychlik, the lowest-price home sold was a 1,225-square-foot, two-bathroom, three-bedroom house for $834,000. The costliest was a newly built 4,361-square-foot, seven-bedroom, eight-bathroom house for $2 million. The average sale price in 2019 was $1.3 million. There is one house on the market, a 1,712-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bathroom home for $895,000.
Rychlik estimates that new construction accounts for about 5 to 7 percent of the houses in the neighborhood.
“Brookdale prices are not that attractive for teardowns. Most houses have been expanded at some point and many renovated. Four of the 16 sales of the past year are newer homes. So in terms of resale, the older houses are exceeding the actual number of new in the neighborhood,” she said.
Schools: Westbrook Elementary, Westland Middle and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High.
Transit: The Friendship Heights Metro station on the Red Line is a 10- to 15-minute walk from the neighborhood. Metro buses run along River Road, and Western and Willard avenues.