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Ashton Heights:
Young Families Stir Revival

By Linda Wheeler
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 10, 1994

Trudy Ensign moved into her newly built house in Ashton Heights almost 50 years ago, when there were very few lots left in what was then considered the new suburbs of Washington, way before developers were to push housing miles out from the Capitol.

In an Arlington community that was advertised as having "natural beauty, a wonderful view and picturesque qualities," Ensign settled with her husband and raised their two children.

Enough time has passed for Ensign's children to have grown and moved away, but there now is a new wave of young families to move onto Ensign's street, with children once again holding tea parties on front porches and ditching bicycles on generous front yards.

"They love the charming old houses," Ensign said. "It's the next generation coming in. This new generation is renovating everything and making it like new."

This attractive neighborhood of about 1,800 houses, now getting some extra polish, is composed of well-kept brick colonials, large frame bungalows and a scattering of brick ranch models. It is bounded by Arlington Boulevard, Glebe Road, Wilson Boulevard and North Irving Street. Although three of the boundaries are marked by busy commercial roads, with fast-moving Pershing Drive bisecting the neighborhood, the residential area is quiet.

As with nearby Courtlands and Lyon Park, the combination of a commercial strip and access to Metro is what many residents say they like about the area. An early Ashton Heights shopping center known as Parkington was transformed years ago into Ballston Commons, a shopping mall combined with a Metro station.

When Ensign first arrived, her neighbors were people her age also raising families. She and they became active in the Ashton Heights Women's Club and the Ashton Heights Civic Association, both founded in 1924. In long-ago days, the civic association dealt with the county government on such things as paving streets and the placement of traffic lights, while the women's club handled social events.

Decades later, the women's club continues to meet in its clubhouse built at 413 North Ivy St. for lunches and bridge games, while the civic association still appears before the county board on neighborhood issues.

This year the civic association has co-presidents. As with other community organizations, the residents of Ashton Heights have had difficulty finding anyone with the time and interest to hold office. The solution was to have two people split the duties.

Alan Balutis, 48, a Commerce Department budget manager, said he didn't know Dan Holterman, 37, a Georgetown University Medical Center cancer researcher, before they were teamed. Balutis said his wife, Miriam, was on the search committee for a president and discovered Holterman was somewhat interested.

"My wife maneuvered it," Balutis said. "Dan said he would do it if he could share the duties. She called me that night and we got paired up."

Balutis said the division in duties has worked well because he likes to run the community meetings and Holterman doesn't mind attending county hearings and other meetings of importance as a representative of Ashton Heights.

"Everyone is busy," Holterman said. "Everyone has less and less time for community issues. Splitting things seems to work well."

Holterman said residents usually draw together when there is an issue or proposal to consider. Recently, the county's proposed extension of Quincy Street within the neighborhood brought residents out to hear the county's plan. Holterman said that rather than ask for a simple vote for or against the proposal, he requested that residents provide their own plans for discussion. He then sent a summary of the local proposals and indicated whether residents strongly supported one over another.

"We coalesce around issues and work for days or weeks on it and then take a break," Holterman said.

The co-presidents split the front page of the local newsletter, each with a column about current events. This month, they are organizing an auction to benefit Arlington charities. Neighborhood restaurants have donated meals, car washes have put in certificates, accountants offered tax preparation sessions and those who like to cook will make desserts for the sale.

The history of Ashton Heights is similar to several other developer-driven housing projects in Arlington where huge areas were subdivided and built with little participation of the local government until the late 1930s, according to a history done recently by George Washington University students.

The students found that neighborhood streets were laid out as builders progressed through an area. The subdividers made critical decisions as to layout and construction of streets, dictating what improvement would be made. Initially, this also meant a duplication of names of streets and general confusion for postal and store deliveries. It wasn't until 1932 that the county government took responsibility for revamping the streets and giving them their present-day names.

In Ashton Heights, it was land speculator Ashton Jones who not only gave the neighborhood its name in the early 1920s, but who also subdivided his property along the present lines of today's community.

Jones hired a Washington advertising company to market his development, targeting sales to city dwellers who had grown tired of congestion and noise. "Build your love nest" was what the advertising company used as a pitch to entice city people to take advantage of a free car ride to see the new community across the Potomac River. It seemed to work, because in nine months, Jones sold 50 lots.

Seventy years later, city people are still making the trip to Ashton Heights to look for new places to live in what are now vintage homes on streets lined with tall trees, according to Century 21 Campaigne real estate agent Glenda Anderson.

"We have lots of buyers from Washington and a lot of the agents who come to look at the listings are D.C. agents," she said.

Anderson moved to Ashton Heights from Annandale more then two years ago after listing a house there and deciding it was the place for her. She said Ashton Heights has a charm and a character that newer developments in Northern Virginia don't have.

"You have to like funky to live here," she said. "Some buyers want everything new, a hot tub, all the bells and whistles. You won't find that here. Here you have to put up with some funky aspects like undersized rooms or kitchens with outdated appliances, things you might want to change. This is what I call charm, what Ashton heights has to offer."

Charm has a certain price tag. There are seven houses available with prices ranging from $229,000 to $365,000, Anderson said.

One longtime resident, retired lawyer John Daugherty, said Ashton Heights seemed like an expensive neighborhood when he moved there in 1958. What he paid $25,000 for then, he said, today would sell for about $250,000.

"It's appalling to me," he said. "But it is a very good neighborhood, with good services and close proximity to the city. When I think what these places are now worth, I have to treat my house well."

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