Christopher Oehrle and his wife, Joanne Rotondi, were looking for a house in the Washington area while renting a condominium in the Pennsylvania at 658 Pennsylvania Ave. NW in the District.
They considered a number of neighborhoods, including Arlington Ridge in Arlington County and Takoma Park in Montgomery County, but neither met their needs. Price and the structure of the house were important to them.
“I like my houses built really solid,” Oehrle said. Besides, “prices were really zooming up at the time.” So when a real estate agent took them on a tour through University Park in Prince George’s County in 2001, they bought their first house there.
They were mostly satisfied with their home, but by 2006, with their son almost a year old, they were keeping their eyes open for a bigger house. While going to open houses, they saw a five-bedroom house built in 1957 with a “big picture window in the living room and a garden room that’s all glass” in an adjacent neighborhood called College Heights Estates, Oehrle said. Their second child, a daughter, was born after they moved.
They decided it would be a great place to raise their family. “We love the house, the size of the almost half-acre lot,” he said. “It’s perfect for raising a family and having dogs.”
The family now has two poodle puppies.
“Automobile suburb”: A Maryland-based real estate company called College Heights Estates, founded by Arthur H. Seidenspinner, E. Pauline Seidenspinner and Clara S. Shepherd in 1937, developed the neighborhood between 1938 and 1960, according to the National Register of Historic Places.
The original 18 plats, part of the Eversfield farm in unincorporated Prince George’s, became what was known as an “automobile suburb,” just two to three miles from the D.C. line. The houses and the lots were larger than those in surrounding areas.
Each house, whether created by the real estate development company or by architects who collaborated with property owners, was approved by Arthur Seidenspinner, who lived in the neighborhood, according to the National Register of Historic Places.
The neighborhood has mostly cul-de-sacs or dead-end streets designed to separate the homes from the main business arteries in the area. “This is such a pocketed community, most people looking for houses don’t even know we’re here,” said Ron Blunck, longtime resident and president of the College Heights Estates Association.
About 10 to 15 years ago, as the original owners died or left because they could no longer maintain their homes independently, younger families with children began to buy the houses. The trend has continued.
“We really like the community,” said Oehrle, 52, an attorney with the federal government. “University Park and College Heights Estates do a lot of things together,” and many of the elementary school-age children from both neighborhoods attend University Park Elementary School, a public school, although others attend private schools.
Change is coming: People who grew up in College Heights Estates sometimes are drawn back to live in the neighborhood. Blunck and his wife, Rosemary, have lived in two houses in the neighborhood since 1978. The one they live in now was built by her parents. Blunck worked in information technology management at the Geico insurance company in Bethesda for 33 years before retiring. He founded the College Heights Estates Association in 1994. “Prior to that there was no collective voice for the community,” he said.
Through the years, several University of Maryland presidents have lived in College Heights Estates, including the current one, Wallace D. Loh, along with tenured university professors and university administrators.
College Heights Estates has residential properties only; residents shop nearby in Hyattsville and Riverdale Park.
“We have to go out of the community for any services,” said Beverly Silverberg, who served as president of the association for a decade and has lived with her husband, Robert, in the neighborhood for 42 years. They raised their daughter there.
With a new mixed-use development in the works on Baltimore Avenue (Route 1), change is in the wind. A Whole Foods Market is scheduled to open next year at Riverdale Park Station. Other businesses that have signed leases include Old Line Bank, Bella Beach Spa, Burton’s Grill, Jersey Mike’s submarine sandwich shop, the Habit Burger Grill and District Taco, according to H&R Retail, a real estate brokerage firm.
Living there: College Heights Estates is bounded roughly by Adelphi Road to the west, Windsor Lane and Hunters Lane to the north, Baltimore Avenue (Route 1) to the east and Wells Parkway, Woodberry Street and Pineway to the south.
The community relies on Prince George’s County for refuse collection and snow plowing. Houses in the Reserve at College Heights Estates are also part of the neighborhood of approximately 200 homes. The College Heights Estates Historic District includes properties within unincorporated College Heights Estates as well as some in the town of University Park.
In the past year, 11 properties sold in College Heights Estates, ranging from a five-bedroom, four-bath rambler for $453,500 to a four-bedroom, four-bath Colonial for $872,013, according to Jean Bourne Pirovic, a real estate agent with Long and Foster Real Estate.
There are five properties on the market, ranging from a four-bedroom, three-bath split-level for $549,000 to a six-bedroom, six-bath Cape Cod for $745,000.
Transit: The area is served by the Prince George’s Plaza and College Park Metro stations on the Green Line and the F4 Metro bus.
Schools: University Park Elementary, Hyattsville Middle, Northwestern High, College Park Academy, Eleanor Roosevelt High.
Crime: According to the Prince George’s County Police, in the past year, there were two burglaries reported within the College Heights Estates Association boundaries.
To see more photos of College Heights Estates, go to washingtonpost.com/realestate.