By Bridget Hall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 11, 1998; Page E01
The first thing you notice when you turn off Western Avenue onto Cortland Road is that there are no sidewalks. There's no room for them. The blacktop roads run narrow, the front lawns are modest patches and the white-brick houses are clustered together.
But the Chevy Chase, Md., neighborhood of Brookdale could hardly be called crowded. Intimate is more like it.
"The original intent was to have the neighborhood look like an old English village," said David C. Montgomery, president of the Brookdale Citizens Association. "We have no curbs on the street because it makes it look more rural."
Brookdale, on the fringe of Friendship Heights, also is enveloped by large-scale urban development, a contrast that makes residents especially protective of their village atmosphere. Although they fought to keep commercial and housing developments to a minimum, Brookdale residents are disappointed with the latest version of the Friendship Heights Sector Plan, which allows three more office buildings and up to 500 town houses or apartments to be added to the Geico Corp. site that borders their neighborhood.
"We realized there had to be some development. We knew we lived a charmed existence with only a parking lot and a single building next to us," Montgomery said. "But we hoped to maintain a more campuslike atmosphere. The excessive heights of the three proposed buildings -- nine, eight and five stories -- will be a visual intrusion."
Residents say their location on the cusp of the District is a mixed blessing. Pinned in the northwest corner of Wisconsin and Western avenues and bisected by River Road, Brookdale is a 10-minute walk from the Metro station and a wealth of shops in Friendship Heights. Living so close to major Washington streets, however, residents worry about crime and traffic cutting through their roads.
While it shares some of the concerns of the city, the 362-house neighborhood feels anything but urban. Pass the curving rows of timber-topped colonial houses, fronted by yards littered with children's bicycles and plastic gardening toys, and the whir of Western Avenue traffic is out of earshot. Further down, where Cortland turns onto Dalton Road, a park sits as a buffer between Brookdale and the Geico lot.
"You couldn't find anything more convenient," said James Norton, who moved to the neighborhood in 1984. "But you also have that unique, village sense to it. You walk down the street and it just gives you a different feel."
Brookdale homes were built around World War II, soon after houses went up in nearby Orchardale but before construction began in neighboring Wohlshire. Architect Cooper Lightbaum gave Brookdale homes a homogenized look -- all white-brick exteriors, mostly two-story colonial houses -- but added enough individual touches, such as extra porches or variations in floor plans, to distinguish the houses. In the late 1960s, Orchardale and Wohlshire became part of the Brookdale Citizens Association and those areas are included in what now is considered the Brookdale neighborhood.
Bounded by Cortland and Dalton roads, Willard Avenue, Keokuk Street, Dover Road and Western Avenue, Brookdale is home to about 840 residents. The nine houses that sold in the neighborhood over the past year ranged in price from $300,000 to $420,000, said Diann Gottron of Weichert Realtors. She said Brookdale is seeing the trend experienced by many affluent District neighborhoods: Young, two-income families are slowly replacing the older residents who first bought the houses.
For years Brookdale residents have been drawn to the area by the high-quality Montgomery County public schools. Sterling Ivison, for example, was just out of the Navy when he moved to Brookdale with his family in 1959 because friends told him Montgomery County had the best schools in the Washington area. Residents such as Nancy Wiegand, who has two sons at Westbrook Elementary, still point to the public schools as one of the prime features of the neighborhood.
"The schools here are the best-kept secret around," she said. "The faculty is very caring and addresses each child's individual needs."
The Wiegands moved to Brookdale as newlyweds in 1986, when Martin Wiegand bought the home originally owned by his grandfather, Adm. Alfred White Chandler. Location tops Martin Wiegand's laundry list of reasons they like the place.
"It's close to everything we do: work, school, shopping, church, recreational activities," he said. "And we like the traditional layout. It has good-size rooms and a good design for a relatively small house."
Like many Brookdale residents, the Wiegands have renovated parts of their three-bedroom house, adding a breakfast room, remodeling the master bathroom and refurbishing the basement. Such touches make the older houses -- which were built on a smaller scale in accord with the village motif -- more comfortable for modern living.
"For a while people were moving here, staying for a few years, then moving on because they wanted bigger houses," Nancy Wiegand said. "Now people are realizing they don't want to go anywhere. They want to make their houses work better for them and add value to their property."
While many residents take on minor home improvements, they are worried about larger construction projects -- specifically, those that will be allowed by the Friendship Heights Sector Plan. Brookdale residents have written letters, signed petitions and spoken out at county council meetings, begging that only minor developments be made. Given the neighborhood's intimate setup and its united opposition to large-scale development, residents say the neighborhood is a "tightknit" community. The citizen's association updates the neighborhood's Web site (www.geocities.com/Eureka/ Gold/8862/ SINCE CHANGED) with developments in the Friendship Heights plans and other community information. Block parties and an annual Halloween bash give residents more social opportunities to come together.
"People move here for the stability, the atmosphere and the location," Norton said. "Then they invest in the community -- they add on to their homes and they stay."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
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