Hidden among the trees and fauna of Hybla Valley in the southern part of Alexandria, is a neighborhood far removed from typical Washington Metro norms. You won’t find spacious Colonial homes, luxury condos or antique row houses for sale here. What you will find are riveting examples of bold design—Hollin Hills was the first DC area community comprised exclusively of mid-century modern homes. More than 450 of these iconic structures were built between 1949 and 1971, set into ungraded lots, surrounded by trees and featuring giant windows with which to gaze out at the natural splendor
It all began when developer Robert Davenport purchased 326 acres of hilly wilderness for a song and set about creating a paradise where homes would be affordable, stylish and at one with their surroundings. Those, of course, were guiding principles of modernism—a trend that was beginning to find new acceptance across the country in post-World War II suburbs.
Davenport was joined in his quest by the Rodman Brothers builders, landscape architect Lou Bernard Voight, and Charles Goodman, an architect who had designed public buildings and military structures for FDR’s New Deal from the 1930s through the war years. Goodman introduced a sense of avant-garde to his government work and was now ready to create modern homes for the Atomic Generation.
Split-level homes hadn’t yet breached America’s collective consciousness to any wide degree in 1949. But Goodman’s first floor plan offered such a house. This wasn’t your typical Brady Bunch abode however, instead presenting a flat roof and giant floor-to-ceiling windows. Another early model featured classic modern cubism on a smaller level with just one story, a large chimney and the signature large windows placed side-by-side.
There would be a number of different designs in Hollin Hills over the years. The land itself was (and remains) an integral part of the overall concept. Davenport, Voight and Goodman all had an aversion to the rules and regulations of typical lot design and so the steep slopes, trickling creeks and abundance of trees became part of the allure. Homes were sometimes built right into the hills with top levels projecting out over the uneven topography below.
In addition to flat and low-sloping roofs, there were also unusual reverse butterfly shapes that curved upward from the center. The wide expanses of glass also added to an interesting geometric aesthetic in which vertically grooved wood panels contrasted with the ultra-wide banks of horizontal glass. Garages were typically eschewed in favor of the ubiquitous mid-century car port.
Cost effectiveness was part of the master plan, with salvaged brick used in the earlier years, later giving way to cement blocks. The builders also employed prefabrication methods with standardized sizes for each model, allowing houses to be further differentiated from one another by adding and subtracting modules. Solar panels were also used to cut down energy costs.
The endless variation from one house to the next was further complemented by their actual placement—using different setbacks from the curving road and facing in an assortment of directions, thus allowing maximum privacy and unobstructed views. Home owners could also pay an extra $100 for plantings that would further differentiate their lots from their neighbors.
Original landscape architect Voight passed away in 1953 and was succeeded by Dan Kiley and eventually, Eric Paepcke. And while Goodman delivered his last home design in 1961, his overarching influenced remained.
These days, the award-winning Hollin Hills remains true to its original vision with a watchful design committee monitoring any proposed changes or additions. The community was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Residents also enjoy a pool and tennis club, holiday events such as Winter Potluck and Octoberfest, and an eclectic array of visiting food trucks during the warmer months.