On December 23, 1938, the Grunwell brothers filed the first section of a plat for the 120-acre subdivision named Bellevue Forest after their family home. John Grunwell played a leading role in the development, bringing to bare his skills as an architect and surveyor.
Bellevue Forest was platted in eighteen sections over a period of twenty years. Similar to many post-Depression, pre-World War II subdivisions, it was planned with broad, curvilinear streets. T-intersections and cul-de-sacs were carefully planned. Lot sizes were also large, generally between one-third and one-half acre at a time when most construction was built on 5,000 square foot lots. It was designed around its natural setting, with irregularly shaped lots and relatively few sidewalks. Large, mature trees were left standing to insure the feel of “a suburban haven set amidst peaceful natural surroundings”.
As was common in Virginia during at least the late 1930’s onward, covenants were put in place to “protect” and insure “homogeneity” for the first platted section. There were twenty-one in all (See Appendix IV), and although clear reproductions can no longer be made, they included some of the following prohibitions. There were to be no “use of any temporary structure as a habitation, lot-line fences, noxious things, nuisance to the neighborhood, farm animals, signs and disturbing noise”. There were other restrictions against “businesses and manufacturing establishments, public entertainment, schools, dance halls, resorts, and other public facilities.” Two covenants prohibited apartments. Another sought to control the appearance of the streetscape. ‘No structure shall be built upon or moved onto any lot unless it shall conform to and be in harmony with existing structures in the immediate locality.’ The construction or alteration of any structure was likewise regulated.
No building shall be constructed or erected on the above described land and no alteration of any building shall be made unless the specification and plans therefore and the lot plan showing the proposed location of the dwelling and driveways shall be first submitted to the owners of the subdivision aforesaid and approved by them, and no changes shall be made by them without the written consent of said owners, and copies of said lot plan and plans and specifications shall have been lodged permanently with them.
The seventh and 15th covenants set minimum lot sizes, initially of 6,000 square feet and later of 8,000 square feet. The approval of other property owners was required before a lot could be subdivided.
Final mention goes to a covenant typical of the time period, one that “followed national convention by reinforcing racial and ethnic homogeneity and clearly set aside Bellevue Forest for mainstream, middle-class families:”
No lot or lots hereby conveyed, or any interest in it or them, shall ever be used, occupied by, sold, demised, transferred, conveyed unto, or in trust for, leased, rented, or given, to negros [sic], or any person or persons of Negro blood or extraction, or to any person of the semetic [sic] race, blood, or origin, which racial description shall be deemed to include Armenians, Jews, Hebrews, Persians and Syrians, except that, this paragraph shall not be held to exclude occupancy of the premises by domestic servants of the owner or owners of said lot or lots, his or their heirs or assigns.
Part of our history, part of our past, the covenants on the original section of Bellevue Forest expired in 1965.
It is thought that the Grunwells made it a policy to file an additional section of the plat only after the majority of lots in the previous section sold. Two more sections were filed close on the heels of the first; Section Two was filed in 1940 and Section Three in 1941. Altogether, these comprised the first 146 lots in Bellevue Forest. A total of 28 houses were completed before the shortages brought by World War II ground residential construction to a halt.
After the war, the Grunwells formed Bellevue Forest Corporation and hired real estate broker George Mason Green, “a very prominent older gentleman and very well received and liked”, as corporation president and exclusive agent. Post-war construction grew gradually. One house was built in 1946; three in 1947; eight in 1948; nine in 1949; nineteen in 1950. Construction accelerated rapidly in the 1950’s, with 70 houses being built between 1951 and 1953. The plats for Section Four were filed in 1947 and for Section Five, in 1951 for a total of 199 lots. Covenants for those and all other sections platted after the war were amended to allow “Armenians, Jews, Persians and Syrians” to purchase land. Bellevue Forest Corporation was given decision-making powers previously granted property owners.
The earliest homes built in Bellevue Forest reflected a number of the styles that enjoyed national popularity at that time: English Tudor, English Cottage and Colonial Revival.
Also incorporated into the neighborhood was the relatively rare International Style.
The Art Moderne home of 1940 is another of the interesting styles in Bellevue Forest.
The majority of the homes erected in Bellevue Forest before the war were either story and a-half Minimal Traditional, as shown in this 1940 home, or Basic or Middle Ranch houses.
This Contemporary style Ranch Rambler drew influence from the International style.
Beginning in 1954, development patterns changed in Bellevue Forest. Trees were stripped from the lots, and houses with similar facades and plans were built side by side. Nearly 150 of these houses were built between 1954 and 1958. Although they were similar in appearance, they offered the luxuries of the time. Mr. Gene May was the principal builder of many of the homes in Bellevue Forest during the 1950’s. It was during this period that Bellevue Forest experienced one of the few documented inconveniences during its development — the blasting of the area between it and the Potomac River to make way for the completion of the George Washington Parkway.
Not all, however, were of the same style. Both high-style Contemporary or Split-level plans were incorporated into Bellevue Forest.
By 1958, little open land remained in Bellevue Forest. Thirteen houses were constructed between 1959 and 1993. Few vacant lots remain.
Bellevue Forest has changed little over the years. Houses have been enlarged. Homes have been passed down from generation to generation. New families have arrived. A few new styles have been added to the rich architectural panorama. Efforts to depart from single-family homes or to reduce lot size requirements have met with fierce resistance.
Bellevue Forest is rich in history and takes great pride and thrives on its natural setting. In many respects, Bellevue Forest has changed little over the millions of years since its natural foundation was laid. It is still hilly, with steep ravines into meandering streams. It is still a forest, and in most cases, houses seem to have been carefully planted among the trees. While many residents of Arlington report seeing deer, foxes, raccoons, opossums, pileated woodpeckers, mice, snakes, and other wildlife during their walks in our county parks, Bellevue Forest residents routinely see all of these in their own backyards. It is a neighborhood in which people truly seem to enjoy living.