10 Great Neighborhoods
Northern Virginia is in hot demand (the population of Arlington County alone has grown by 12 percent over the past decade), but certain neighborhoods are especially prone to scouting visits from would-be homebuyers.
When real estate agents talk about location, they’re really talking about neighborhoods—those geographic amalgams of people, architecture and shared lifestyles that, together, establish a sense of place. But pinpointing what makes a neighborhood great isn’t an exact science.
In polling more than 20 local agents, builders and architects (not to mention homeowners), we learned that our area’s most desirable communities do have certain things in common—namely, interesting people; nationally ranked schools; bearable commutes; and ample parks, shops and other amenities that create a collective vibe.
But they also have their differences. Some provide a feeling of luxury and exclusivity; others stand out for their history or their connection to nature; still others pulse with the thrum of urban life. Proof, perhaps, that the places where we choose to live are not just about what we can afford or what’s nearby; they also represent who we are and how we define ourselves.
Northern Virginia, as a whole, is in hot demand (the population of Arlington County alone has grown by 12 percent over the past decade), but certain neighborhoods are especially prone to scouting visits from would-be homebuyers, keeping their hopeful eyes out for the ever-elusive “for sale” sign. Here are 10 of them.
Arlington Ridge/Aurora Highlands
When Julie Udani and her husband were searching for their first single-family home, she brought him to Arlington Ridge to show him “what a real community looked like,” she says, “with mature trees and people out walking their dogs.”
Add to that, convenience and access. In the contiguous neighborhoods of Arlington Ridge and Aurora Highlands, residents live within walking distance of the Pentagon, shopping at Pentagon Row and the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, the booming high-rises of Crystal City, a thriving “restaurant row” on South 23rd Street and two Metro stations. Jet-setters are a five-minute hop from Reagan National Airport.
With a Walk Score of 85 (as designated by WalkScore.com, an online site that promotes walkability), Aurora Highlands is considered the fourth-most-walkable neighborhood in Arlington.
Lining those pedestrian-friendly sidewalks is an eclectic blend of new and old houses, including many Cape Cods, Colonials and bungalows dating back to the 1930s and ’40s. Residents who live atop “the Ridge”enjoy enviable views of Washington, D.C., and Army Navy Country Club is just around the corner.
Newt Gingrich and Al Gore both lived here once. Washington Nationals powerhouse Bryce Harper has a condo here now.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Aurora Highlands draws its name from two of the area’s three original subdivisions, platted between 1896 and 1930: Addison Heights, Aurora Hills and Virginia Highlands.
Many homeowners take pride in this legacy and have chosen to move within the neighborhood, build new or rehab existing homes rather than go elsewhere.
“People come here and stay,” says Katie Buck, president of the Arlington Ridge Civic Association, who moved with her husband into her parents’ old neighborhood home in 2009 and did an extensive renovation. “Their children stay, and their children’s children stay.”
A couple years ago, Wynn Coggins and her husband renovated the brick Colonial they’d purchased in 1998 near Arlington Ridge Road. “We worked with an architect to keep the look and feel of the original home but gain the extra space we needed,” she says.
“We moved here for the convenience and the amenities…but have stayed because of the people,” says Becky Middleton, who lives with her husband and two kids in the home they’ve owned since 2003. “We look out for each other, check in on each other and welcome new neighbors.”
At A Glance
Average home price:
$808,716 (Aurora Hills*)
$1.13 million (Arlington Ridge Road)
Average days on market:
55 (Aurora Hills*)
113 ( Arlington Ridge Road)
Homes sold in 2012: 28
Neighborhood schools: Oakridge Elementary, Gunston Middle, Wakefield High
Closest Metro stops: Crystal City and Pentagon City
Notable landmark: Aurora Highlands is home to the Arlington Historical Museum, which is housed in the Hume School, the oldest school building in the county.
*MRIS real estate data characterizes this area as Aurora Hills.
Eclectic architecture, wooded lots and easy access to shopping and major roadways make Broadmont one of Falls Church’s most-sought-after neighborhoods. Tucked along Route 7 just north of Seven Corners, the community is “an alternative for upper-end home seekers in nearby Arlington,” according to Bret Brock, co-owner and principal broker of Arlington-based Brock Realty. “Broadmont’s woodsy feel, character and proximity to the East Falls Church Metro are all great reasons to become an ex-Arlingtonian.” And it’s not cookie cutter, he says, citing the neighborhood’s “welcome mix” of postwar Cape Cods, historic Victorians, popped-up ramblers and new construction—including a few contemporary homes.
Here, residents are only minutes away from the Seven Corners Shopping Center to the south (which is anchored by big-box stores such as Home Depot and Barnes & Noble) as well as the Eden Center, a popular Vietnamese cultural hub that boasts more than 100 Asian restaurants and shops.
Nearby Donald S. Frady Park speaks to Falls Church’s Victorian heritage with a Victorian-style gazebo, tiered fountain and formal garden beds.
Residents also have easy access to shops, nightlife and cultural spots in Falls Church City, including the vintage State Theatre and Creative Cauldron at ArtSpace Falls Church.
Gina Caceci, who has owned a home in Broadmont since 1996, says she knows every person on her street and many other neighbors as well. When a tree fell on her house last fall, many of them emailed, called or stopped by to offer assistance. “That friendliness is one of the reasons it’s a wonderful place to live,” she says.
“Broadmont has a yesteryear personality of established homes, shaded and sheltered by large canopies of trees,” says Laura Fall, principal broker for Falls Church City-based Fall Properties. “It is an expensive neighborhood with low turnover and true friendliness.”
At A Glance
Average home price: $1.05 million
Average days on market: 40
Homes sold in 2012: 10
Neighborhood schools: Mount Daniel and Thomas Jefferson Elementary; Mary Ellen Henderson Middle; George Mason High
Closest Metro stop: East Falls Church
Notable landmark: The clock tower at nearby Eden Center is a replica of the original in downtown Saigon, and the gateway to the shopping center is framed by a dramatic, pagoda-style arch.
Country Club Hills
Drive past the stone entryway to Country Club Hills, and you get the immediate feeling of being in a rarefied place. The neighborhood takes its name from the adjacent Washington Golf and Country Club, a bucolic retreat that has been called “the playground of presidents.”
“The name says it all,” says Norm Odeneal, an agent with Keller Williams Realty in Arlington. “Exclusive, expensive and well-located.”
Country Club Hills was developed from the 1920s to the 1940s on 126 acres of the former Civil War-era Grunwell estate. Archives in the Virginia Room of the Arlington Public Library indicate that the first 15 homes—built with brick and stone, variegated tile roofs, copper gutters and two-car garages, by Brumback Realty Co.—sold for an average of $20,000 in 1929. Today, the enclave’s “Old Arlington” mix of English Tudor, Colonial and Spanish-style residences is interspersed with mid-century ramblers and many newly-constructed homes and additions.
Summer traditions in the neighborhood include block parties and an annual Fourth of July parade. Not surprisingly, the country club also is a hub for social and recreational activities among residents who are members. In 2003, the club was certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, in recognition of its excellence in wildlife habitat preservation and environmental management.
Residents are accustomed to running into notable neighbors, including U.S. Congressman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Georgetown men’s basketball head coach John Thompson III, Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila Johnson and retired Gen. David Petraeus, all of whom reportedly live here. Nearby Yorktown High School is famous for notable alumni such as Katie Couric and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
“Country Club Hills seems to be the neighborhood for the ‘Who’s Who’ of Arlington,” agent Bret Brock says of the picturesque quarter, where new houses on teardown lots go for $1.8 million and up. “The pride of ownership is evident.Owners spend a lot on curb appeal, manicured landscapes and luxury details in their homes.”
At A Glance
Average home price: $1.42 million
Average days on market: 202
Homes sold in 2012: 17
Neighborhood schools: Jamestown Elementary, Williamsburg Middle, Yorktown High
Notable landmark: Gulf Branch Nature Center, which sits just to the northeast, is housed in a 1920s stone bungalow that, according to local legend, was once the home of silent film star Pola Negri.
Located off Old Dominion Drive, near the Arlington-Fairfax County line, Franklin Park is one of McLean’s oldest and most coveted neighborhoods. Despite its immediate proximity to Arlington and D.C., the picturesque community feels a world apart, buffered by its hilly terrain and old-growth forest.
A 1909 advertisement touting the then-new subdivision stated that “Nature has been truly lavish in her devotions to Franklin Park, and any one with artistic sense and an eye for the beautiful would appreciate the marvelous advantages offered here.”
Some would argue those claims still hold true. Local real estate agent Steve Wydler with Long & Foster pegs the exclusive neighborhood as one of the two hottest properties in McLean (the other being Langley Forest).
“It’s a little closer in and feels like a real developed neighborhood, with mature trees and really interesting architecture,” Wydler says. “You feel like you’re in the country. Builders are tripping over themselves to get lots there.”
Michael Winn, president and owner of Falls Church-based Winn Design & Remodeling and a resident of Franklin Park, confirms that there’s a bit of a frenzy. “People are spending upwards of $1 million for a teardown [lot] in this community,” he says. “The big irony is that people want to move to McLean for the great public schools, but once they’re here, many of them send their kids to private school.”
It’s an upscale place, to be sure, but not one where homeowners hide behind gated entries. The “Franklin Frolickers” group has been getting together for decades to plan social activities, such as a Halloween parade and neighborhood potluck.
At A Glance
Average home price: $1.42 million
Average days on market: 106
Homes sold in 2012: 25
Neighborhood schools: Chesterbrook Elementary, Longfellow Middle, McLean High
Notable landmark: Although it has undergone many modifications over the centuries, a log structure dating back to the 1700s can still be seen at the corner of Virginia Avenue and North Nottingham Street.
When Daphne and Aras Butas were looking to upgrade from their condo in Courthouse in 2007, Aras insisted that, if they were going to stay in Northern Virginia, he would only buy a house in the place where he grew up—Lake Barcroft in Falls Church. As an agent with Century 21 Redwood Realty in Arlington, Aras literally knew whereof he spoke.
“Lake Barcroft is kind of a hidden secret,” Aras says, alluding to the fact that his boyhood neighborhood offers something that other spots inside the Beltway can’t: waterfront living.
As one would expect, life in Lake Barcroft revolves around the nearly 100-year-old, 135-acre private lake at its center. Used only by residents who pay an annual fee and their guests, it offers five beaches and multiple common areas.
Jennifer Talati, a Lake Barcroft homeowner and an agent with Long & Foster in Falls Church, calls it “an oasis of calm in our very hectic lives.” Houses here are larger and frequently on bigger lots than Arlington homes listed at the same price point, and yet the lake is only seven miles from D.C.
“There is no other neighborhood in the area where a resident can enjoy swimming, boating [electric motor only], kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and great fishing,” Aras says. Social events include barge parties, art shows, concerts, chili cook-offs and an annual Fourth of July fireworks display.
“The lake—what an amazing, natural outdoor learning classroom for our children—there is just nothing like it,” says Daphne Butas. “I like growing up in the same place with my family where my husband did 30 years ago as a kid himself. I like that every house looks different…and that all the people want to support the lake and the wonderful experiences it has to offer us.”
At A Glance
Average home price:
$730,063 (ZIP 22041)
$789,464 (ZIP 22044)
Average days on market:
78 (ZIP 22041); 122 (ZIP 22044)
Homes sold in 2012: 36
Neighborhood schools: Bailey’s, Belvedere and Sleepy Hollow Elementary; Glasgow Middle; J.E.B. Stuart High
Notable landmarks: The pedestrian footbridge over Holmes Run, which connects the south and middle parts of the lake, was sponsored by the Lake Barcroft Women’s Club and dedicated in 1977. The club also created a community garden not far from the bridge.
Many dream of living in this scenic stretch of grand homes along Georgetown Pike. It is virtually bookended by parkland, with the Scott’s Run Nature Preserve to the west and Claude Moore Colonial Farm and Clemyjontri Park to the east. At the same time, it’s close to the Beltway and the George Washington Memorial Parkway, as well as the CIA headquarters and the shops of Tysons Corner. In other words, it’s a little bit country, yet simultaneously metropolitan.
“Langley Forest is one of the hottest neighborhoods in all of McLean,” agent Steve Wydler contends, noting that teardowns are an increasingly regular occurrence in this large-lot community, with land going for premium prices. “I just sold a 1-acre lot for $1.4 million, and a builder is going to put a $4 million-plus home on it,” he says.
Steep housing prices mean that the neighborhood is more of a fantasy than a reality for most buyers. This exclusivity is self-perpetuating, Wydler says, in that the price points are so high that it’s a difficult spot to overdevelop.
Residents swim and gather at the nearby Langley Swim and Tennis Club, a private members-only facility. And the area due east of the neighborhood has a considerable pedigree. Not far away, at the intersection of Georgetown Pike and Old Chain Bridge Road, sits the Langley Fork Historic District, whose most famous house, Hickory Hill, was once owned by Robert F. Kennedy.
Of particular interest to residents of this posh locale is the ongoing construction of Metro’s Silver Line, which is already changing the landscape around nearby Tysons Corner. Many are hoping that the Metro will spur more investment and mixed-use development in McLean, as well as a usable network of walking and biking trails connected to the Metro system.
At A Glance
Average home price: $3.16 million
Average days on market: 189
Homes sold in 2012: 12
Neighborhood schools: Churchill Road Elementary, Cooper Middle, Langley High
Notable landmark: Clemyjontri Park includes a carousel, walking trails and an expansive playground designed for kids of all abilities, including those with physical or developmental disabilities. The park is named after the four children (Carolyn, Emily, John and Petrina) of benefactor Adele Lebowitz, who donated 18 acres for the creation of this public amenity, and still lives on the property with her family today.
Occupying a patch of prime real estate just one block north of Clarendon, this intimate neighborhood covers all the bases on many a homebuyer’s wish list. It’s a mere stone’s throw from the Orange Line Metro corridor with its many restaurants and shops; features kid-friendly parks and green spaces; and is powered by a network of active homeowners.
Plus, it’s heaven for pedestrians. Described by one local real estate agent as a “storybook” neighborhood, Lyon Village boasts a Walk Score of 86—the third-highest of all Arlington neighborhoods, after Ballston-Virginia Square and Clarendon-Courthouse.
The local Community House, which dates to 1949, is available to residents for a range of activities. Annual events include holiday parties, an Easter egg hunt, a Fourth of July parade and a spaghetti dinner fundraiser.
The neighborhood also has some interesting lore. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was developed in the 1920s by real estate mogul Frank Lyon, who purchased the former Cruit dairy farm and subdivided it.
“Here, in Washington’s finest close-in suburb, are ideal homes,” reads a 1920s ad for the community. “In the midst of native trees and rippling streams, beautiful parks are being provided, fully equipped for the amusement of children.”
Those claims still ring true today in the village that was voted “Best Neighborhood” in our 2013 “Best of Arlington” reader survey.
“Many of Arlington’s most established and popular neighborhoods like Lyon Village were developed as early-20th-century commuter suburbs,” says county historic preservation planner Cynthia Liccese-Torres.
“They remain just as viable into the next century, as current residents are attracted to the very same principles and amenities that the original communities offered.”
At the same time, Lyon Village, with its active, 900-household listserv, is forward-thinking in its use of 21st-century technology. After last summer’s derecho storm, for example, former Lyon Village Citizens Association president H.K. Park sent out a message soliciting information from residents about power outages and downed power lines. He then layered the ensuing data onto a neighborhood map and sent it to Dominion Power, which made restoring order much easier.
“Lyon Village has always been a close-knit community where neighbors have historically looked out for one another,” Park says. “[But] I didn’t fully appreciate, until then, how digital tools such as an email listserv or website could turbocharge our community spirit.”
At A Glance
Average home price: $1.07 million
Average days on market: 49
Homes sold in 2012: 20
Neighborhood schools: Taylor, Key Immersion, Jamestown and Arlington Science Focus Elementary; Williamsburg Middle; Washington-Lee High
Closest Metro stops: Clarendon and Courthouse
Notable landmark: In 1940, neighborhood residents sued developer Frank Lyon (and won, in a case that went to the Virginia Supreme Court) for failing to relinquish control of a community trust fund that had been created with proceeds from early lot sales and intended for community use. The two empty lots and $20,000 that Lyon paid in the court settlement were used to build the Lyon Village Community House, in 1949, on North Highland Street.
Of all the Arlington neighborhoods cherished for their ageless charm, Maywood is historic with a capital H. It’s listed on the National Register, but also has the distinction of being the only full neighborhood among the county’s 30 locally designated Arlington Historic Districts. Homeowners contemplating renovations here must adhere to design guidelines meant to preserve the historic character of their vintage homes and streets.
Some might view this process as restrictive, but in Maywood the designation is largely a point of pride—one that has inspired many residents to rediscover and protect the architectural heritage of their Queen Annes, Craftsman bungalows and Colonials.
Maywood was developed by the Conservative Realty Co. between 1909 and 1913 as an early trolley suburb, to take advantage of the nearby Great Falls & Old Dominion Railway line. One of the company owners reportedly named the neighborhood for his wife, Mary, who went by “May.”
“Maywood truly is the only Arlington neighborhood that has not fallen prey to the teardown trend,” says Cynthia Liccese-Torres, an Arlington County historic preservation planner. “Not a single home within the 205-home historic district has been demolished since the neighborhood achieved its historic status [in 1990]….Each year, dozens of design projects are approved in the neighborhood by the [county] Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board [HALRB].”
Dean Arkema, who lives in a 100-year-old house designed in what he calls a “simplified Queen Anne” style, had one such project. When he and his wife purchased the property on North 22nd Street in 2010, they knew they were making a commitment; the home’s antique windows were broken and nonfunctional. Arkema painstakingly repaired them, one pane at a time, to maintain the house’s original character. “There’s something about the essence of the original materials that just works,” he says.
Arlington-based architect David Ricks, who has served as vice chair of the HALRB and led its Design Review Committee, says he’s sympathetic to those who face the bureaucracy of getting new or altered home designs approved.
“However, taking the long view, the results are undeniable,” he says. “In terms of the built environment, and the preservation of a unique collection of early-20th-century homes, historic designation has secured Maywood’s future and made it an architecturally significant place and a much better neighborhood.”
At A Glance
Average home price:
$1.21 million (ZIP 22201)
$754,031 (ZIP 22207)
Average days on market:
140 (ZIP 22201); 34 (ZIP 22207)
Homes sold in 2012: 9
Neighborhood schools: Arlington Science Focus and Taylor Elementary; Williamsburg Middle; Washington-Lee High
Closest Metro stops: Clarendon and Virginia Square
Notable landmark: The exceptional Craftsman bungalow at 3299 North 22nd Street (not pictured) was built by the most prominent builder in Maywood, John Smithdeal. After its completion in 1915, it was purchased by the McAtee family and has remained in the family ever since.
Penrose is a historic neighborhood with deep roots that nonetheless feels like a sparkling up-and-comer. Located just three miles from D.C., and between Columbia Pike and Route 50, the community has a main line to all the amenities in Clarendon to the north, at the same time benefiting from the ongoing revitalization of Columbia Pike along its southern border.
Much of Penrose’s appeal comes by way of its diversity. That includes its population—the 2010 Census showed that nearly 65 percent of residents along Columbia Pike are nonwhite—and its housing types, which include condos, apartment buildings, townhouses, and single-family homes. The decidedly nonhomogeneous nature of its housing stock makes it more affordable than many other Arlington locales.
Recent redevelopment along the Pike has already caused a spike in foot traffic, with new eateries such as William Jeffrey’s Tavern, Eamonn’s A Dublin Chipper and Taqueria el Poblano—as well as the popular 24-hour gym, XSport Fitness—joining old standbys like Bob & Edith’s Diner. Last fall, a crowd gathered for the ribbon-cutting for the new Penrose Square Park, an urban oasis complete with a public art sculpture titled Echo, by Richard Deutsch.
Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso, who has lived with her husband, Randy, in Penrose since 2004, notes that the Pike’s transformation continues to add conveniences (such as the new Giant at Penrose Square) to existing amenities such as the library and the Columbia Pike farmers market. “There have been some really valuable improvements, too,” she says. The couple enjoys taking their 6-year-old daughter to Penrose Park (“her favorite playground”) and to her tae kwon do classes at Creative Martial Arts on the Pike, just a couple blocks away.
Penrose is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Once known as the Butler Holmes subdivision, the neighborhood became an important area for African-Americans after the dissolution of nearby Freedman’s Village, which existed on the grounds of Arlington Cemetery until the turn of the 20th century. The 1910 home of Dr. Charles Drew, an African-American pioneer in the field of plasma transfusion research, can still be seen on South First Street.
In 1995, citizens led the charge to change the neighborhood’s name to Penrose, a moniker referencing a stop along the early-20th-century trolley line that once ran through the area. A trolley car remains the neighborhood symbol, which is fitting as the county makes plans for a new streetcar line on Columbia Pike.
“Penrose has great parks, good transit access, including the 16Y express bus to downtown and the future Columbia Pike streetcar,” says active neighborhood volunteer Chris Slatt.
“And it’s a quick drive or bus ride to additional shopping in Pentagon City, Ballston or Shirlington.”
At A Glance
Average home price: $562,171
Average days on market: 74
Homes sold in 2012: 14
Neighborhood schools: Patrick Henry, Hoffman-Boston Elementary; Thomas Jefferson Middle; Wakefield High
Notable landmark: Located on Penrose’s western border, the funky Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse—whose 65-year-old building still bears its original marquee signage—is a popular spot for second-run movies, live music and comedy acts.
For a long time, Williamsburg—which hugs the northern edge of Arlington County along the Fairfax County line—flew under the radar, a quiet, modest community of ramblers and other 20th-century housing styles lining the sloping and wide Williamsburg Boulevard.
In recent years, however, the area has been discovered. It is now a prolific epicenter of residential construction activity, with modest mid-century homes being razed and renovated to accommodate modern lifestyles.
Over the past decade, Williamsburg has seen more new homes built (more than 120, according to county statistics) than any other Arlington neighborhood. Some of the new homes popping up from its low-lying streets are commanding price tags well over $1.5 million, and their lot sizes tend to be large by Arlington standards—routinely around 10,000 square feet.
“There is a big progression out of the [urban] neighborhoods among purchasers who are looking for large lots,” observes Arlington-based real estate agent Billy Buck of Buck & Associates. “The Orange Line is a big draw…but looking toward the future, it’s not unusual for clients to relinquish that urban lifestyle in exchange for more land and a larger building envelope.”
History buffs appreciate that Williamsburg preserves a bit of Civil War territory. Minor Hill Park is named for a hill where Union troops built an observation tower and performed hot-air balloon ascensions to gain intelligence about Confederate troop movements in Fairfax County.
In keeping with the building trend, nearby Bishop O’Connell High School has completed renovations to its track-and-field area, which is now open for neighborhood recreational use at designated times.
But one spot that remains largely unchanged is the quaint Williamsburg Shopping Center, built in the 1950s, which serves the community with a drugstore, bank, hair salon and homespun establishments such as Backyard Barbeque, where locals can enjoy pulled-pork with a side of slaw.
“The Bishop O’Connell area of West Arlington is, economically, [like] the new U Street corridor of D.C.,” comments Rob Morris, president of Morris-Day Architects and Builders in McLean. “Perhaps because properties remain more affordable than in other Arlington locations, the growth has been phenomenal. Builders, homeowners, developers…they jump on anything that comes on the market and the disparity between what was and what is becoming has never been greater.”
At A Glance
Average home price: $947,390
Average days on market: 64
Homes sold in 2012: 10
Neighborhood schools: Nottingham and Tuckahoe Elementary; Williamsburg Middle; Yorktown High
Closest Metro stop: East Falls Church
Notable landmark: Minor’s Hill is the highest point in Arlington County, which is nonetheless only about 460 feet above sea level.
Data provided by MRIS
Kim O’Connell, who writes frequently on architecture and preservation, has lived in Aurora Highlands for nearly 13 years. She has no intention of leaving, but enjoyed visiting all the other great neighborhoods for this piece.