The University Libraries Acquires the Hollin Hills Archives

March 13, 2013

By Mark Schwartz, Communications & Marketing Officer, University Libraries

Hollin Hills was developed as one of the first post-WWII planned communities in the Washington, D.C. region and one of the few consisting entirely of modern architecture with landscaping as an intrinsic part of the design. This historic neighborhood was once part of The Hollin Hall Plantation, originally owned by George Mason IV, the namesake of the university. Now, George Mason University Libraries is entrusted with materials that have been collected over the last sixty years documenting the history of Hollin Hills. Hollin Hills, as a community of innovative architecture and design working with nature, has returned to the idea of Mason. The Hollin Hills Archives contains materials on the development of Hollin Hills, preserved through articles, newsletters, brochures, photographs, fliers, advertisements, blueprints, plats and other printed and audiovisual materials. Before securing the archives, the University Libraries had only a few resources on the  community. One resource was its semicentennial history (1949—1999) Hollin Hills: Community of Vision, published by its civic association. On its introductory  pages, passages from the two “creators of Hollin Hills”  record their impressions.

One creator was modernist architect Charles M. Goodman, summarizing, “Through the years, Hollin Hills has flowered into a community of home with its natural beauty intact and enhanced through the efforts of a colony of people who have been, and are, sensitive, educated, industrious, and loving of the life within it.” The other creator was developer Robert C. Davenport, stating his initial impulse: “The natural beauty of the land had to be retained. I was an idealist who wanted to build a community I would be proud of.”

Hollin Hills was developed during the apex of the “New Town” era, an epoch of planned civil engineering and development in the United States. The Washington Metropolitan area was at the height of this national movement: the federally sponsored Works Progress Administration developed neighborhoods in Greenbelt, MD, during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The other major new town developments occurred locally in Reston, Virginia, in the 1960s and Columbia, MD, in the 1970s. Throughout the United States, more than 38 planned communities have been created, with one third of these communities sponsored by the Federal New Communities Program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Hollin Hills resident Scott Wilson says, “Innovation has many faces in Hollin Hills, from protection of the heavy tree cover, sinuous street pattern and house siting that fit houses into the landscape, modern “glass box” house design with large windows allowing the outdoors inside, affordability and variability for homeowners, to a strong self-governance ethic among community residents to protect the integrity of the community’s unique design.”

Judy Riggin, another resident, shares that the residents of Hollin Hills have always valued documenting the social interactions fostered by its innovative design and setting, producing a monthly news letter that has run continuously for over 50 years. Judy states the community has kept all kinds of records: “Everything from videotapes of party skits in the 1950s to logs of those driving Neighborhood Watch shifts in the 1990s.” The decades of files on the House and Garden Tours show the appeal of the architecture and landscape and that the community has continued to work together for its benefit.

“The Hollin Hills Archives will offer insights into how an exemplary community has evolved over the past 63 years,” states Yvonne Carignan, head of Special Collections & Archives (SC&A) at the George Mason University Libraries. “In addition, the materials in this collection complement the Libraries Special Collections & Archives’ strengths in planned community archives.”

George Mason University Libraries has 34 distinct archives and manuscript collections related to planned communities and livable communities. For example, the Planned Community Archives, 1960- 2009, with a digital collection funded by the Libraries Advisory Board Chair Catherine Baum, ’81, consists of a variety of materials relating to planned communities across the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, with a particular emphasis on the planned community of Reston, Virginia. All the materials in this collection were preserved by the Planned Community Archives, Inc., before being placed with and eventually gifted to the University Libraries.

Another collection, the Partners for Livable Communities (Partners) Collection, 1962-1994, has been enhanced by a recently acquired additional collection, from 1972 to 2012, of the records of Partners.  Both Partners collections represent over five decades of research and documented experience in solving community problems by providing leadership that help communities help themselves.

“The Hollin Hills Archives demonstrate the vitality of this planned community and its dedication to sustainability and livability, documenting architectural and civic design modes of the time to its progression to today,” states University Librarian John Zenelis. “The new collection represents yet another example of the broader and additional planned community materials available through University Libraries with regional and national significance for scholars and researchers across the United States and internationally.”

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