In the beginning it was a large parcel of land, well-watered and forested, in the
Northern Virginia Piedmont. It was a place waiting to become the most remarkable
community of its region. Only imagination, experienced judgment and funding were
needed to realize this potential. The story of Reston’s growth becomes more fascinating
as it unfolds.
Over a period of approximately 70 years, several attempts were made to create the
place that is today a large, self-sufficient community spread over more than 7,000
acres. First a doctor from Philadelphia tried to establish the Town of Wiehle here
in the 1890s. It turned out that he was ahead of his time. Then two brothers from
Kentucky, cattle raisers and distillers, drew up a town master plan in the 1950s.
Too many problems arose and frustrated their efforts. Their successor, a Realtor
and builder of large shopping centers from
New York City, proved to be under capitalized and was followed by two major oil
companies eager to try their hand at land development.
Meanwhile, the idea of community building was experiencing an evolution. The concept
of “new towns” emerged in western England and Scandinavia in response to the demands
of modern living. The idea was simple and sound: a self sufficient urban development,
taking the form of a small-to-medium size city with a broad range of housing and
recreational facilities. It was a place where urban landscape in a rural setting
could offer a quality of life, amenity and individual dignity.
It was Robert E. Simon, Jr., who saw this land in 1961, fell in love with it, and
succeeded in gathering the essential elements needed to begin the process of bringing
the new town concept to Northern Virginia. The new town which resulted was named
“Reston”, using the founder’s initials and the English suffix for town. In its 11.5
square mile space, over 58,000 residents live, work, play and enjoy Reston as their
Bob Simon engaged noted planners and architects to prepare a grand design for the
development of his land and a talented environmentalist to plan for the management
of open space. He persuaded the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to pass an ordinance
making possible the clustering of housing closely together so that open space with
fields and trees could serve as large areas of commonly held land to improve the
physical appearance and the environmental quality of the community. Natural streams
were dammed to form lakes, and village centers were designed to provide
shopping facilities and other services.
Lake Anne Village Center with its tall apartment building, Heron House, and innovative
townhouses surrounding the lake like a European coastal village, became an internationally
recognized symbol of this growing American New Town.
Providing the services of roads, streets, sewer, water,
shopping centers, parklands and
recreational facilities, and working with county
officials to provide schools, libraries, and other necessities became too great
a burden for one man’s bank account. One of his principal investors, Gulf Oil, stepped
in to save the project from bankruptcy in 1967. It is to their lasting credit that
Gulf Reston officials continued development of the New Town and for more than ten
years encouraged a diversity in housing sizes, styles, and prices. The company actively
sought businesses and organizations that would establish themselves in Reston and
thus provide opportunities for residents to work near the places where they lived.
Civic, cultural, sports, and religious organizations were formed and flourished.
A citizens’ effort of major significance was the building of the Reston Community
Center at Hunters Woods Village. It required seven years of planning and design
to provide space for programming which would appeal to a wide range of community
interests. Close cooperation with Fairfax County officials was needed to establish
an administrative board and a special taxing district to fund the ambitious plan.
When the Mobil Corporation bought the remaining undeveloped land from Gulf Reston
in 1978, Reston Land Corporation was formed as a subsidiary. The new developer also
followed Simon’s master plan for the development of the New Town. Long-planned projects
came into being; additional schools and parks, a regional county branch library
building, the Reston Hospital Center, a shelter for the homeless, a county magisterial
district office building, and the Cameron Glen nursing center for the elderly. High
technology firms found campus-like office
or R&D park designs desirable and the location close to Washington a strong factor
in the decision to build or lease facilities in Reston. The business community banded
together in 1984 and established the Reston Board of Commerce, now consisting of
some eight hundred members working to strengthen effectiveness and ties between
business and the community.
By the end of 1988, over 1,400 companies had established themselves in Reston, employing
31,000 people, more than an average of one and one-half jobs per household. High
technology firms like Sperry were followed
by others, especially after the Dulles Toll Road opened in 1984, shortening the
driving time to Tysons Corner and Washington. Time and again, company officials
spoke of the community design, housing, amenities, and the talented work force as
being major factors in their decisions to settle their businesses in Reston. The
overwhelming commitment of numerous businesses to Reston, starting in the early
years with USGS, has provided the broad employment base so vital to the new town
Another key component in Bob Simon’s original master plan for Reston was the heart
of this urban landscape in a rural setting. The 20 acre first phase of Reston Town
Center was dedicated in October 1990, developed by a new corporation, Reston Town
Center Phase I Associates, in cooperation with Boston based Himmel/MKDG. This first
unit of a larger plan included 220,000 square feet of retail space, 290,000 square
feet of office buildings and professional space, the 514 room Hyatt Regency Hotel
and an 11 screen movie theater. A large fountain topped with a distinctive statue
of Mercury became the Center’s focal point.
Across Market Street from the Mercury Fountain, a barrel-vaulted glass roofed Pavilion
was built in 1993 over an ice skating rink used during winter months. For the rest
of the year it is a large, open air building for concerts, festivals, seasonal celebrations,
and children’s events.
The planning and development of Reston have surpassed all expectations as has the
phenomenally successful Reston Town Center. In 1996, the total number of visits
to the Town Center for all purposes during the year was more than 5 million. It
has become the “downtown” for western Fairfax County and eastern Loudoun County.
Nineteen ninety-seven was a year of change for Reston. In addition to new leadership
for Reston Community Center, Reston Interfaith and Reston Community Hospital, Mobil
Land Development Corporation sold its real estate holdings in Reston. Westbrook
Partners purchased all undeveloped land in Reston, including Reston Town Center.
Equity Office purchased Reston Town Center, and Blackstone obtained the Hyatt Regency
Reston. Speculative office buildings are again on the horizon and more than 1,000
townhomes and condos are being developed in Reston Town Center.
Reston will continue to attract national and worldwide recognition and awards as
it has from the beginning. The outpouring of creative energy which has resulted
in its singular success is combined with the rich legacy of its past, the vitality
of its people and the success of its business community to make the promise of its
future a bright one.
Courtesy of the Reston