Allowing nature to be part of their ‘personal oasis’

Homes built by renowned architect are designated as historic places

Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2005


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Photos by David S. Spence⁄The Gazette
Larry Wannenbacher (Above), a resident of the Hammond Wood neighborhood in Wheaton, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, talks Monday about his home, which was designed by renowned architect Charles M. Goodman. (Below) The homes in Hammond Wood feature floor-to-ceiling windows that allow plenty of light to come in.




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The sun beams past a set of tall trees in Larry Wannenbacher’s back yard, through a wall of windows and into his open living room.

Every home in Hammond Wood, a small Wheaton community off Veirs Mill Road and Pendleton Drive, seems like you are in the middle of your own forest. That’s at least how Wannenbacher said he feels about his abode, nestled in a neighborhood designated last year under the National Register of Historic Places.

‘‘It’s like a personal oasis,” said Wannenbacher, looking out of the ceiling-to-wall windows that span the room.

The design of the Hammond Wood neighborhood marries nature with contemporary houses, an approach Charles Goodman, an architect some considered the father of mid-20th century modernism, took about 50 years ago. That mid-century modern theme is a hot commodity, according to preservationists, who are looking to protect such neighborhoods nationwide.

‘‘We need to preserve these structures, their innovative use of materials, the way the buildings are tied to landscape and the scale of the buildings,” said Joey Lampl, a planner⁄coordinator for Montgomery County Park and Planning’s Historic Preservation division.

‘‘There are a lot of reasons to take a scholarly look at this architecture before it disappears,” she said.

Earlier this month, the county’s Historic Preservation Commission installed a historic marker, funded by a grant, at the corner of Veirs Mill Road and Pendleton Drive. It plans to install another marker at Woodridge Avenue and Highview Avenue. A brochure about the neighborhood is being written.

While the designation under the National Register of Historic Places offers residents tax credits and protects Hammond Wood from adverse federal or state intrusion, like the construction of a highway through the neighborhood, more could be done to protect the area, Lampl said.

The National Register designation is generally honorific and doesn’t prevent residents from renovating or tearing down their homes –– a growing trend in the county, she said. A local historic district designation would provide tighter control over changes in the neighborhood.

‘‘We have a strong track record of working with citizens to allow for changes of houses that are in keeping with the spirit of the architecture that make the community sort of unique,” she sad.

But that’s a choice residents need to make, said Lampl, noting that an effort to register as a local historic district must be done by the neighborhood.

A local historic designation would mean a 10 percent property tax credit off state and local taxes. But it would require homeowners to seek approval from the county’s Historic Preservation Commission to modify their homes.

Some Hammond Wood residents haven’t thought that far ahead. Dorothea Malsbary said she considers the national recognition an achievement for the community, but doesn’t know if residents want anything further.

‘‘It’s definitely an issue to look into. That is really a hot topic, especially if you move into an established neighborhood,” Malsbary said.

In the architectural world, Goodman was known for designing government buildings, air terminals, office parks, schools and churches, but his unique housing projects represent the best-known aspect of his renowned career, according to a 2004 county report.

Montgomery County is home to several Goodman-designed communities, including Rock Creek Woods north of Kensington, Takoma Avenue in Takoma Park, Wheatoncrest in Silver Spring and Hammond Hill in Wheaton. Only Rock Creek Woods and Takoma Avenue are designated under the National Register of Historic Places.

Most of the 58 houses in Hammond Wood were built on lots less than an acre and designed as three-bedroom, 1,100-square-feet, one-story houses –– smaller than most townhouses today. Goodman and developer Paul Burman planned the neighborhood around the soft hills and range of trees in the area, using cul-de-sacs to slow traffic and create a cozy, family-oriented neighborhood, Lampl said. Also, all houses are angled so that the sun shines through the dominant glass wall, and are designed for privacy.

Hammond Wood two-story houses are tucked into a hillside, making the structures seem like one-story from the entry, Lampl added.

The landscaping at Malsbary’s Hammond Wood home provides a subtle getaway that blends into her back yard. She said she lucked out when she bought her house in 1991, not realizing that she had purchased a home with an acclaimed architectural design.

‘‘I feel like I’m in a cabin in the woods, even though I’m one mile from a Metro station, one mile from a library and one mile from great restaurants,” Malsbary said. ‘‘I have both convenience and seclusion.”

Wannenbacher said he appreciates the tranquil setting, which he complemented with a small, stone waterfall in his patio. There are no sidewalks in the neighborhood, and people like the overall rustic feel, he said.

‘‘I think creative environments result in creative people, which enriches life,” Wannenbacher said. ‘‘I think it enhances one’s own feeling of individuality, space and creativity.”