“It’s a comfortable mix of this nod to tradition without feeling like you’re living on the set of a period film,” said resident Cindy Gueli. A history professor married to a history buff, Gueli and her husband were drawn to the Tudor revivalist architecture in Woodhaven and the feeling of bygone times it inspires.
“You just don’t see houses like this anymore,” said Dan Levine, who grew up in the neighborhood and then moved back in 2000 after 25 years away, purchasing his family’s home.
The small neighborhood of about 150 homes is distinct from other areas of Bethesda by retaining all of its original houses — there are no teardowns. In fact, Woodhaven residents put up a fight in 2003 when one homeowner on Woodhaven Boulevard wanted to sell his house to a developer to create a planned McMansion. Appealing to the Montgomery County Planning Board and its Historic Preservation Commission, the residents won and Woodhaven’s all-Tudor revival core remains intact.
Documents from that battle show developer Philip Dein began building Woodhaven in 1936 with the intent of re-creating a classic English village. Dein was so attached to his vision that he lived in the neighborhood in different Tudors from the late 1930s until his death in 1962.
In his original plan, 50 homes were built along Woodhaven Boulevard and the surrounding streets from the late 1930s into the 1940s. Additional houses were built in the 1950s. More modern homes adjacent to the ones he built were incorporated into the Woodhaven Civic Association starting in 1963.
But even these mid-century modern homes blend into the landscape, using some of the same building materials as the original Tudors. Dein fused the buildings with the setting, constructing houses that blended into the hills and existing trees.
“There’s a very intentional integration of the landscape and the buildings,” said Gueli, who lives in one of the original Tudors on Woodhaven Boulevard. She said Dein created a parklike feel, enhanced by no sidewalks and fences, that takes advantage of the natural dips and rises in the land.
“He wasn’t trying to conquer the land but work in harmony with it,” Gueli said.
Levine agreed and said the 60-to-70-foot-tall tree canopy is an important part of Woodhaven’s unique feel.
“Also, because no houses have been torn down, we’ve been able to keep the trees on the side of the roads naturally,” he said.
Residents have managed to update their homes by expanding in the back and on the sides. Levine’s parents first renovated their home in 1975, adding an additional fourth bedroom. Then in 2013, his family of four needed more space, so they bumped out the kitchen, turning a galley design into a full kitchen and dining area.
Gueli appreciates the traditional craftsmanship of the houses, noting that the stone fireplaces inside match the pale green stone on the outside, and many homes still have the original terra-cotta clay roofs and copper gutters.
Unfortunately, Woodhaven also followed one of the more negative traditions in many Washington suburbs built in the 1930s and 1940s. Racial covenants were written into the deeds, according to documents from the Montgomery County Historical Commission. At that time, the Federal Housing Administration required developers to exclude racial and religious minorities if they wanted to qualify for FHA-backed loans.
Those restrictions were lifted in 1948, and since then Woodhaven has broadened from an all-White enclave to one that includes a diversity of races, and ages, too, according to Danielle Barr, who has lived in Woodhaven for the past five years.
She said it’s been easy to meet neighbors in the close-knit community at happy hours and pot lucks. During the pandemic, residents kept the get-togethers going outside. And a nearby cul-de-sac became a meeting place for her three children to play with other kids.
Before the pandemic, she said, children met at the playground at nearby Landon School, a private all-boys school.
Woodhaven disbanded its longtime civic association about 20 years ago, said Levine, who now runs the neighborhood online discussion board, which serves as a de facto association.
“People don’t live the civic association lifestyle any more,” he said. “Younger people who moved here operate more online and by seeing people in the neighborhood.”
But Levine said the neighborhood is still close-knit and has plenty of informal activities, including block parties, barbecues and holiday events. One formal neighborhood tradition has carried on since 1948: A Christmas pageant held each year on Woodhaven Boulevard. After building a creche, neighborhood children act out the story of Christmas and then Santa delivers presents from a local firetruck. Christmas of 2020, during the pandemic, was the first time Levine can remember the event being canceled.
The neighborhood has no stores or restaurants, but Barr noted that it’s just two miles from downtown Bethesda.
Living there: Woodhaven Boulevard from the northwest part of the neighborhood to Springer Road on the west. Springer Road runs south to Wilson Lane, which meets Bradley Boulevard southeast. Then Bradley Boulevard runs north to Woodhaven Boulevard.
Kevin Koitz of Koitz Group at Compass said buyers are especially attracted to the location, as well as the well-maintained Tudor homes and gardens. Twelve houses sold over the past year, he said. The least expensive was an original Tudor on Woodhaven Boulevard built in 1938. The four-bedroom, three-bathroom home sold for $921,000. The most expensive was a five-bedroom, five-bathroom house for $1.85 million. No homes are on the market right now, he says.
“The houses define the neighborhood but truly, I think the residents themselves make all the difference,” says Gueli. “And it’s nice to know there are some old-guard residents who act as conservators to deter massive rebuilding and the absolute destruction of what for many is a unique community.”
Schools: Burning Tree Elementary, Thomas W. Pyle Middle and Walt Whitman High.
Transit: The Bethesda Metro station on the Red Line is about two miles from the neighborhood. A Ride On bus runs down Bradley Boulevard to the Bethesda Metro stop.
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