2006 Great Places to Live: Alexandria

In Alexandria, tall trees, short commutes, and pleasant living mean lots of families come...and stay.

By: Cindy Rich

Alexandria is the kind of place where people come and stay. Families are attracted to older neighborhoods with architectural diversity and a sense of community. Residents enjoy being close to the waterfront and appreciate the city's rich history. With very little new construction, residents make the houses they have work for them. "Lots of people are popping up the tops because they want to be close in," says real-estate agent Barbara Murray.

It's hard to find two houses that look alike in Rosemont, a mix of bungalows, Tudor Cape Cods, Colonials, farmhouses, and Arts and Crafts homes about a mile northwest of Old Town.

Many of the houses in this former trolley neighborhood were built in the early 1900s. Some have front porches or pillars. Prices typically range from $800,000 to $1.5 million; townhouses on the east end start at $500,000; most apartments run from $300,000 to $400,000.

Location is one of the biggest attractions. "We can just get up and walk down the street, and within a few blocks we have antiques and plenty of restaurants," says Stan Norris, who ten years ago moved back to the Rosemont house he grew up in. The King Street Metro is a few blocks away.

Neighbors gather for an old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration on the grounds of Maury Elementary School. The civic association sponsors a home show where residents meet landscape designers, electricians, painters, and others recommended by their neighbors.

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial sits at the edge of the neighborhood. "My daughter ended up getting married there in the fall," says 34-year resident Elizabeth Little, director of special events at the National Museum of American History.

Next to Shirlington and just east of I-395, Beverley Hills is another desirable neighborhood for families.

Kids get together at a park they call "the pit," also the site of a holiday tree-lighting ceremony and caroling. Residents have their own Halloween traditions. And on Memorial Day, also known in this neighborhood as "wheel day," children and parents decorate strollers, wagons, and bikes for a parade.

Most homes--lots of 1930s and 1940s Colonials and Cape Cods--are priced from the high $500,000s to $1.2 million. With so many rolling hills, some yards slope to the street.

Resident Cassie Pickard brings her two-year-old daughter, Sophie, to a moms group with more than 20 kids. "She's been seeing them every week since she was born," says Pickard. The group hosts bigger gatherings--doughnuts at the park and barbecues--on weekends.

There are three preschools within walking distance. Some kids attend Charles Barrett Elementary; others go to George Mason Elementary. The lower-school campus of St. Stephen's and St. Agnes, a well-respected Episcopal school, is a few miles away.

Many residents drive to work. "I leave at 8:30, and it takes me 20 minutes," says Karen Christian, an attorney who works on Capitol Hill. Buses run to the Braddock Road or Pentagon Metro stops.

The neighborhood is filled with old oak trees and dogwoods. Christian and her husband, David Torborg, have about ten trees on their small corner lot. "The lore is that the person who designed it felt the houses should be built within the footprint of the trees," says Christian, who moved into a Colonial four years ago. Yards are filled with azalea bushes. In the spring, she says, "it looks like a Monet painting."

Residents like the convenience and community feel of Clover and College Park, quiet neighborhoods in the heart of Alexandria.

The small adjoining neighborhoods--often referred to as Clover-College Park--mix brick Colonials, ramblers, split-levels, and Cape Cods ranging from $500,000 to $1 million. Gerald Ford lived in Clover when he was vice president.

"Nobody builds the mansion on the hill with columns," says real-estate agent Dave Hawkins. "These aren't 'look at me' homes."

Residents plant trees in the neighborhood and keep yards nicely landscaped. They walk dogs along a trail that leads to the Chinquapin Park Recreation Center or take their children to a nearby duck pond. Kids can walk to the well-liked Douglas MacArthur Elementary School. One block holds an annual street fair.

"It feels almost like a 1950s neighborhood," says 18-year resident Susan Butler, "except the women all work."

Commuters can catch a bus to the King Street Metro, and there's easy access to the Beltway, GW Parkway, and 395.

When Chris Tucker moved to College Park from nearby Del Ray in 2004, he realized the houses weren't as close together as they were in his old neighborhood. Residents needed better ways to get to know one another.

He and his wife, Ann, invited neighbors over for a party. "We had 50 people," says Tucker, who runs a software-development company in Old Town. Soon Tucker was asked to join the civic association and became the social-activities chair.

The group's event calendar includes block parties, pumpkin carvings, and backyard movie nights. There are four listserves--one is for setting up playdates; another for finding neighbors with similar interests such as knitting, woodworking, or brewing beer.

"There's not a snobby feel," says Susan Butler. "It's just fun."

HOUSE PRICES

COLLEGE PARK

3 BEDROOMS

$909,000

BEVERLEY HILLS

4 BEDROOMS

$799,000

ROSEMONT

4 BEDROOMS $1,135,000


Where Prices have Climbed the Most in Alexandria

Neighborhood Zip Code Avg Price 2005 Avg Price 2004 % Change 2005 Sales 2004 Sales
Braddock Heights 22302 $425,688 $340,519 25% 591 755
Landmark 22304 $421,504 $353,463 19% 1,051 1,344
Beverley Hills 22305 $463,930 $398,112 17% 242 298
Del Ray/Rosemont 22301 $606,394 $526,671 15% 303 354
Old Town/Clover 22314 $638,123 $565,180 13% 906 1,100

Information for Zip-code charts provided by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems.