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Glass from the Past

Hollin Hills opens its doors to gain national recognition.

Suzanne McLees remembers attending junior high school with children from Hollin Hills. She would return to her traditional brick center-hall Colonial house, while they would go home to a bastion of modern design and architecture.

“For years and years I wanted to be in Hollin Hills,” said McLees, who now lives there. “The people there are just fascinating. Very different. When you turn in [to the neighborhood], I like to pretend that I’m in California.”

McLees is the proprietor of Design Within Reach in Adams Morgan, which for the second straight year will take part in celebrating Hollin Hills’ storied past and continued place as a design landmark in Northern Virginia. The studio’s event on May 9 comes a few days before Hollin Hills holds its 2006 House & Garden Tour on Saturday, May 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We did this last year, and the focus is that contemporary architecture from years ago is still alive. That they’re very functional houses. Some people live with a lot of walls — we live with a lot of glass,” said Tania Ryan, chairwoman of the tour committee.

“It’s a community of people who don’t want to live in a collection of center-hall Colonials, and who want to embrace people’s differences.”

Hollin Hills has about 450 homes and was designed by Alexandria architect Charles Goodman and developed by Robert Davenport over 50 years ago. It was the first community of contemporary homes built in the D.C. area: the homes feature floor-to-ceiling windows, emphasizing a brick and glass design. Many also have garden plans originally created by Dan Kiley, who also designed landscapes for Dulles Airport and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

“Goodman was way ahead of the curve. It ended up being one of the hallmarks of his career,” said McLees. “When you have this glass, the outside becomes part of the interior décor.”

Breaking down barriers and inclusion are the essence of Hollin Hills, according to Ryan. “It’s a very funny little neighborhood,” she said. “People don’t understand how it works. But it does work.”

LAST YEAR MARKED the first House & Garden Tour for Hollin Hills. Ryan said the committee expected roughly 300 people to show up for the tour — but over 800 ended up visiting the neighborhood.

The tour was a facet of a larger effort to get Hollin Hills recognized by National Register of Historic Places as a monument to Goodman’s contemporary design from over a half-century ago.

Ryan said the event is a fundraiser for the continued push for that recognition, which would bring Hollin Hills not only some national renown, but also a sense of preservation.

After last year’s tour, it became obvious that this wasn’t just a functional event or a chance for several of the neighborhoods homes to have their day in the spotlight. “It wasn’t all about them. It was about the community. The goal at the end of the day is as a community-building event. It’s never ‘look at me, look at me!’” she said. “It’s highlighting a pretty unique little neighborhood, and not trying to present it like Mount Vernon, where rooms are roped off.”

Ryan said the dozen or so houses and gardens featured this year each have their own virtues, but return to the common themes of Hollin Hills — blending nature with home design.

“We don’t have a shade or blind in the entire house, yet you feel like you live in a tree house. It’s just a very different way to live, but it’s unpretentious,” she said.

“[The tour is about] recognizing why you have glass houses. Because when it’s a beautiful day and you’re reading the paper, it doesn’t matter if you’re outside or inside — it’s one and the same.”

The tour itself will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ticket sales will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday at the entrance to Hollin Hills, located at the corner of Paul Spring Road and Fort Hunt Road, about four miles south of Old Town Alexandria. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased throughout the day, and homes or gardens can be visited in any order. Docents will be available at each location to answer questions and provide information about the home or garden. The tour will be held rain or shine. Advance tickets may be purchased for $15. See www.hollinhills.org for more information.

Copies of “Hollin Hills: Community of Vision. A Sem-centennial History 1949-1999” will be for sale during the Tour. The book, published in conjunction with the neighborhood’s 50th anniversary, is heavily illustrated and costs $50.

THE DESIGN WITHIN REACH event that coincided with the 2005 House & Garden Tour in Hollin Hills was a standing-room-only affair at the Georgetown studio that covered many of the neighborhood’s exceptional aspects. Hollin Hills has won many awards, beginning with the Revere Quality House award from the Southwest Research Institute in 1950 and including two 1982 Test of Time awards from the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects, for houses on Stafford Road. Hollin Hills also is on the Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Sites.

This year’s event at the Adams Morgan studio will focus on Goodman’s vision for Hollin Hills and its home designs.

“When Goodman started embarking on this project, he was convinced this was the wave of the future,” said McLees. “Ironically, here we are more than 50 years later, and D.C. has a history of modern architecture but mostly for commercial structures and government buildings — not for residential.”

The first part of the presentation will feature Gregory K. Hunt, FAIA, vice chairman and director of design for Leo A. Daly. He will speak about the planning of Hollin Hills. After that, a panel of residents will share stories and answer questions about living in the progressive housing community.

“Imagine the self-selective nature of the people there. Everyone chose that style of architecture,” said McLees.

She said that the residents bring their own eclectic personalities to the event in discussing their homes, which begs the question: do quirky homes make quirky people, or vice versa?

“I think it’s a symbiotic relationship,” said McLees.