Haus Schwatz: Cati's DC Real Estate


Neither/Nor--DC's Strangest Suburb

Okay, all you historic homes buffs: take a look at the picture on the left.

Where would you think this is? In the US? Holland? Poland? Someplace in the Baltic? And when do you think the houses were built? In the 19th century? Or the 17th?

Well, try again. How about 2008, brand-new construction in the Washington, DC suburbs?

Yes, you read that correctly. The National Park Seminary in close-in Silver Spring is the quirkiest new development in our ‘burbs, an eclectic mix of townhouses and condos that are sleek and contemporary inside and feature facades in Tudor, Colonial and whatever-period stucco style.

(Okay, I admit, tinting my picture in sepia was a little misleading.  To make up for it, I show you a "real" one on the right.  That's the old town market square of Wroclaw in Poland, formerly Breslau, Germany.  The oldest building dates from the 14th century. :-)

In any case, the pleasant weirdness has a tradition at this location. The site was once the campus of one of Americas finest “finishing schools” for wealthy girls, then a Seminary, and finally owned by the US military for many decades before most of its buildings started their decay into a silent, slow death. The ruins of the school’s gymnasium with its then state-of-the-art heated indoor pool and of a magnificent multi-story ballroom (check out the history and old pictures on the developer's website) are being restored, and so are those of a castle-like dormitory or a pagoda-look-alike sorority building.

There is parkland all around, there are some replicas of ancient statues and a lot of other fun stuff. There’s a newly paved road going through the whole thing, and even a new access path to the Rock-Creek Hiker-Biker trail is about to be inaugurated.

So, it’s great fun. Just one thing seems truly out-of-whack, at least to me, the city girl. It’s such an urban picture: townhouses, sidewalks, tiny yards, roof decks. And it is indeed barely more than a mile from the DC city limits. But where is the infrastructure? Where are the urban amenities to go with the images? Where are the cafes, the bakeries, the newspaper stands? Perhaps they will follow.

I love the place, and I have been trying so hard to come up with buyers to show those homes to. But it seems, they’re always either-or. Either they want the suburbs, a detached house and a big yard and the neighborhood pool. Or they want the city, the noise, the stores, the metro, the minimal commute, fast pace.

This is a little neither-nor.

© 2012, Catarina Bannier


Comment balloon 9 commentsCatarina Bannier • July 25 2008 03:12PM


How cool! DC is just the city to try something like that. That's great!

Posted by Elizabeth Ward Small (REALTOR & CEO The 3B Method Seminars) almost 12 years ago

Cati, I love this post!  And the sepia is sort of a nice touch!  Yes, it does need a good bakery and other stuff, but it is quirkily cool.

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (Redfin) almost 12 years ago

Liz, thanks!  It's so true -- this city is aching for every bit of history it can come up with.  And if necessary, it will just be produced...  I have a feeling I'll be a regular visitor at the site in the next few months.   Some of the ruins that they are incorporating are really fascinating.

Pat, aren't you supposed to enjoy the beach already?!  Thanks for the compliments, though :-)  I'll go over and check out your island pix now...

Posted by Catarina Bannier, DC Real Estate The Smart And Fun Way (Compass) almost 12 years ago

Hi Catarina... this is very off-beat in a DC sort of way.  I kind of like it myself, nut I can see what you mean about it being a Neither/Nor.  Hopefully buyers will discover it and take to it.  Thanks for sharing (and I liked the sepia!).

Posted by Steve Shatsky almost 12 years ago

Steve, thanks for visiting!  I also hope it's going to be a popular place, and who knows, maybe there will be some cute little gallery or restaurant one day.  I have no idea how many of the homes have been sold so far, but the developer of the townhouses (priced from the 600s to the 800s) is now offering a 5% co-op to buyers agents which is pretty unusual in this area. 

Posted by Catarina Bannier, DC Real Estate The Smart And Fun Way (Compass) almost 12 years ago

I love the style of the buildings ~ very cool.

Posted by Kelly Sibilsky (Licensed Through Referral Connection, LTD.) almost 12 years ago

I really like that European look.  If only the builder had staggered the  facades to make them look like individual buildings built over the centuries.

Posted by Michael Greenslade (Better Homes & Gardens | Mason-McDuffie Real Estate) almost 12 years ago

Keep the faith on the either-or buyers. If higher gas prices are a permanent reality, the in-between city and suburban market is going to be one of the fastest growing. Especially in major metropolitans like DC. Good luck.

Posted by John Doe (None) almost 12 years ago

Kelly--a belated thanks for visiting.  I have my mom over from Germany right now and am planning on taking her there for a walk.  Think she'll love it.

Michael--I love that idea, that would really take it a little further...

Dean--You're probably right.  There has been a lot of discussion lately about the trend for buyers to seek the smaller, close-in as opposed to the further-out, larger homes.  This will certainly give new weight to options such as these.

Posted by Catarina Bannier, DC Real Estate The Smart And Fun Way (Compass) almost 12 years ago