Today Vernacular Architecture Forum conference attendees had the opportunity to choose one of two bus tours that explored a variety of neighborhoods, from modest public housing complexes in northeast DC, to modernist avant-garde homes in Virginia.
On bus tour option 1, Langston Terrace in northeast DC was notable as the city’s first public housing project, as well as an application of the Bauhaus style in America. Designed and built by African-Americans in the 1930s, the row houses and walk-up apartments are still in high demand. VAFers were struck by how well the buildings blended with the landscape, but we were also acutely aware of the racial and class differences that kept us from real dialogue with residents. Greenbelt, MD provided another example of a Depression-era planned community. Sidewalks and pedestrian underpasses connected homes to a vibrant community center, houses of worship, and a shopping center. Residents frequently praised the livability of the area, and we were inclined to agree. Three more Maryland neighborhoods provided examples of post-World War II modernist homes in wooded areas. Hammond Wood, designed by Charles Goodman in the 1950s, featured small but spacious-feeling houses. We were impressed by walls of windows that provided sunlight and views of nature. Rock Creek Woods was another Goodman development. These homes demonstrated how later homeowners wanted more space and greater design flexibility. Finally, New Mark Commons showed how modernist trends continued in the 1960s and 70s. Notable neighborhood features were a man-made lake, a central community center, and master bedroom suites far larger than those in previous homes.
For bus tour option 2, the modern ranches and split levels of Hollin Hills in Alexandria, VA were a real treat. It was fascinating how well Charles Goodman designed the homes in harmony with the rolling, wooded landscape, and how seamlessly owners expanded the homes to accommodate contemporary needs. Similarly, we were able to see how the owners of condos of Fairlington in Arlington, VA adapted and combined units. All of the homeowners were incredibly welcoming and were eager to explain the various changes to the units. Later in the afternoon, the Mayor and former Mayor of North Brentwood, MD gave us a short tour of their community, the oldest incorporated African American Municipality in Prince George’s County. It was great to hear how much character the community has retained, both architecturally and culturally. We concluded our day of tours at the Clara Barton National Historic Site, which the National Park Service describes as a “Gothic steamboat revival” house. It was moving to see the house where Clara Barton did such great work and to learn about her interactions with nearby Glen Echo Park.
Both tours came together for a lovely dinner at the Art Deco amusement park at Glen Echo. The highlight of the evening was a ride on the meticulously restored 1921 Dentzel Carousel. VAFers relaxed and socialized under the glow of neon lights on colorful amusement park buildings, just like previous generations of Washingtonians.