Bradee and I live in Annandale, VA. Annandale is a suburb of Washington DC, about 15 minutes west of DC. It’s nice because it’s still inside the beltway — close to DC and Arlington — but it’s still fairly diverse and middle-class, and it’s still affordable. Annandale is the last inside-the-beltway town west of the city where we could afford a house.

We bought two years ago, in a neighborhood that was built in the 50’s. It’s a quiet neighborhood, save for the sound of the beltway (“ah, the sound of the ocean”, we like to say). It has nice wide streets that are perfect for skateboarding or biking or walking around the block.

The original houses were small 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom starter homes with asbestos siding. Tiny, but cute. Here’s an original model that belongs to a neighbor:

original model

And now, the metamorphosis. Last year, this house was built up the street:

mcmansion 1

That house is about 4200 square feet. It sold for around $800,000. Shortly after that, this one went up, one street over:

mcmansion 2

On the way to work a few months later, I noticed that the asbestos shingles had been taken off of a house up the street. The next day that house was flattened. Four months later:

mcmansion 3

That house also sold for about $800k. The owner next door also sold to a builder, but that builder didn’t demolish the house; she built up a second floor and put an extension and garage in back. She sold the place for about $700k.
mcmansion 4

A few houses down, I guess this one is next:

next to go

And finally, on a walk around the block last week we were surprised to find another one down.


I know this stuff happens but it’s amazing to see how fast it’s happening, and how eager people are to move into these giant, expensive, identical houses. I want to leave a copy of The Not So Big House on each of their doorsteps as a housewarming gift.

I figure I’ll make a photo study out of this whole thing… I’ll shoot as many befores and afters as I can. More to come.

13 Comments so far

  1. Daddy, make a picture May 10th, 2004 6:44 pm

    little houses made of ticky tacky

    I figured the ‘tear down a charming but small home and put a McMansion up in its stead’ phenom was pretty much a New York metro area thing, but Antisleep has noted it going on in his suburban DC neighborhood….

  2. Coffeehouse at the End-Of-Days May 29th, 2004 11:58 am

    McMansion Invasion

    They are taking over this formerly modest area in Annandale, VA. Could your neighborhood be next? Or have you already been subjugated by the ideal post-modern marriage of aesthetic ugliness and materialist idolatry? (Hey, give me credit for spinning…

  3. I Love Everything July 12th, 2005 12:47 am

    “The Great Room” WTF?

    Meanwhile, in my beloved Annandale:

  4. Debbie Galant April 2nd, 2007 3:10 pm

    I grew up with an Annandale mailing address, and lived in a regular-sized split-level near Northern Virginia Community College.
    What ever happened to taste?
    Anyway, along with The Not So Big House, leave a copy of my book, “Rattled,” a satire about the McMansionization of the New Jersey countryside.

  5. Robyn July 15th, 2007 12:55 pm

    I grew up in both Arlington and Springfield during the late 60s and 70s. I recall with fondness the beautiful mid-century neighborhoods, how clean they were and how nice the design of the homes were. In revisiting some of the neighborhoods I am appalled by the disfigurement/destruction of the houses and developments. If the teardowns/McMansions aren’t doing the “deed” then they are being renovating/added on in ways that are just about as ugly. What seems to be so sad is that in the DC Metro area there is no historical value put on the wonderful designs of our mid-century past, and thus no preservation of them as you find in places out west. Although a Chesterfield Rambler in Crestwoods of Springfield may not be as high end looking as a California Eichler home, they still reflect a very special and memorable time for our area, and it’s terrible that the rampant changes are quickly ruining that architectural style. I have felt so strongly about these homes and preservation of them, that I have been doing some research/collecting of the original ads, articles and photos of them from the archives of The Washington Post Real Estate Section. There I have found, my beloved Northern VA houses preserved at least on paper in thier original form, and with all the proud and happy expressions of what they have to offer. Not that it does any good against the onslaught of destruction around here, but I am now even finding online articles about the need to preserve & restore even the steel casement windows that came in the majority of these homes because of them having a part in the historic fabric and appearence of the original design/beauty. Even the US Park Service has written about how it’s better to restore and utilize new ways of making the originals more energy efficient than ripping them out and putting in the heavy looking, design killing replacement windows. It’s all a matter of taste, I grant you, but as I drive around seeing fewer & fewer original examples of the creative works of our post WW2 builders and developers, I fear that in another 10 years, there won’t be one neighborhood left that holds the charm that I, and so many others grew up with.
    Also, what ever happened to architectural guidelines in neighborhood covenants???? When we lived in Edsall Park in the late 70s, you couldn’t just change the looks of the neighborhood by doing whatever you damn well pleased to your house/property. The rules were there to keep some uniformity and keep eyesores out. I drove through there last week and got the distinct impression that the Edsall Park Community no longer knows the meaning of a covenant. “Persian Palaces” and homes that look better suited to Saddam Hussein’s taste than 1950s America are everywhere. A good deal of the additions looked like they were mapped out by a drunk, in a bar about 2 AM on a cocktail napkin, than by a designer who took into account how the changes would fit in with the surrounding area. Of course the negative impact on the folks who bought those houses back in the day with taxes and having the views ruined is bad enough, but whatever happened to recognizing historical significance in places other than buildings put up prior to 1900??? I’d sure love to be able to afford to grab up a bunch of these houses intended for teardown and simply move them somewhere so that the can be loved and preserved by those of us who care.

  6. chris moseley August 30th, 2007 7:42 pm

    why does it bother you so much? Didn’t your property value skyrocket? Do you hate improvement?

  7. Roy Mustang March 7th, 2008 6:36 pm

    Scott, I assume you typed this post from your Tandy 486DX2.
    Get over it. Nobody wants to raise their family in a 1000sqft 2 bedroom 50 year old starter home.

  8. Ann August 19th, 2008 2:00 pm

    i don’t see what’s wrong with it. i live in Sugar Land, Texas and almost all the homes are that size. up north, they have ugly condos with lack of taste, and very expansive. here, you have lots of land, big master bed rooms, more than two rooms(rare up north), three garages, and walk in closets in every room. with olympic size pools in each community. i love it, and it’s cheap.

  9. CM November 17th, 2008 11:34 am

    Looks like my neighborhood. Unfortunately as long as people are buying them, companies will keep building them.

  10. Tad February 19th, 2010 1:33 pm

    ‘nobody wants to raise their family in a 1000 sqft 2 bedroom 50 year old starter home’
    – well if you can only afford a 1000 sqft 2 bedroom 50 year old starter home, then get over it and deal with it. buying up space you really can’t afford without compromising quality and architectural integrity is not the way to go.

  11. Raleigh Girl March 25th, 2010 6:05 pm

    When I first moved to my neighborhood in the early ’90s, Raleigh, NC had just made the Money “Best Places to Live” list. My roommate and I felt lucky to rent a duplex in a safe neighborhood for a mere $600. I laugh when I think about that small amount, but we were right out of college and in our first low-paying jobs. I still live in this neighborhood, but it’s changed significantly. All the little duplexes (for people starting out, just like my roomie and I are gone. They were replaced by these stucco/vinyl sided starter mansions with about a foot of grass on each side. This is supposedly the City of Oaks too.

    It’s not just a matter of landfills being overloaded with teardowns. Where do people go for affordable housing? And while property values may go up, so do taxes. There are older folks in our neighborhood (one couple has been here since 1946) who can’t afford to live in their little 2 bd/1 ba 1,200 sq ft home.

    The mentality of the people who live in these McMansions bothers me too. We introduced ourselves to our new neighbors when they were building their house. It was on the lot across the street from us where a neat brick ranch once stood. The lady who lived there had a wonderful garden and could tell you every plant that was in it, where the plant came from, how to tend to it, etc. She always waved and was friendly and cordial. After the newbies figured out we lived in the tiny house across from them, they haven’t spoken to us since. As a matter of fact, the brother of the owner backed into a friend’s car that was parked on the street. There was no apology. The first words out of his ligitation-driven mouth were,”I knew this was going to happen. People park here all the time. I’m surprised it wasn’t me.” First of all, hardly anyone visits so no one every parks there and, if they did park there “all the time” wouldn’t you be aware of that fact when backing out? Especially when your entire yard is paved for your Yukon and Expedition?

    The point I guess I’m trying to make, in a rambling way, is that people have been conditioned to think only of themselves, their castles, their cars. There are no communities anymore, which is a tragedy as well.

  12. Linda May 24th, 2010 5:18 am

    It always amazes me that whenever one (allegedly) negatively comments on something, there’s always others to judge those comments as “envious”. As if. Secondly, Ray’s (2007) comment re ‘property values skyrocketing as a result of McMansion influx’ is IMO, patently, economically ridiculously skewed. If my home is assessed at, say $200,000, it’s done so based on it’s size and condition as well as the size of the lot. Period. It matters not if a 7,000 sq.ft McMansion on 1/3acre sits next door. IOW, my home value isn’t based on what crap (judgmental on my part now) is nearby.

    Currently on my tall-oak-lined lane (yes, we still have actual “lanes”) in New Jersey – and it’s a dead end one too – where for well over 50 years only smaller bungalo-style or modest ranch homes have stood, an 8,000 sqft ginormously and obscenly unnecessarily high field-stone faced, hip-roofed McMansion is going up blocking out the sky next to my modest 1,350sq.ft. lovely little ranch of 25 years.

    Even my neighbors (all 12 of us on the lane) are stunned and disgusted and it won’t immediately or directly impact them as much as it will me. There cumulative comments are: “Why didn’t they build a monstrosity like that in a neighborhood where homes like that are more common? Surely they don’t intend to try and ‘fit in’ with this modest-struggling economically community?”

    AhHah! Lightbulb moment on my part. That, I reasoned, is EXACTLY why they decided to build here: If you live in a $1.5mil. house that’s flanked by other $1ml or $900K houses …’s anyone to know that yours is the most expensive? You just blend in, so to speak. It’s not about wanting your style of architecture to stand out because all those homes are practically identically designed anyway. So how do you project the materialistic wealth of your home and (more importantly: YOU) to your neighbors and anyone else driving by? ANSWER: You build in a neighborhood where – by comparison to your home – the rest of the houses are mere hovels/shacks/shantys, etc. and (obviously in your opinion and in the opinion of your frequent other materialistic guests who’ll use drive into your circular driveway in their Porches)…obviously the people who inhabit said ‘shantys’ are low-class and to be avoided at all costs.

    Eh, voila! Class distinction and projection of wealth and (in their opinion) importance imparted all at once and without saying a word or lifting a finger any more than it took to sign the ginormous check for all that environmentally-unfriendly crap used in your homes construction. Not to mention all those 50-100-year old oaks that were felled to make room for it and for the obligatory massive deck and pool which will surely follow, along with the chemical pesticide/herbicide toxic lawn treatments to come as well.

    Sorry for the rant. Guess I should start my own blog about this because I sense I’ll have much more to say as this progresses. Matter of fact…….

  13. Linda May 24th, 2010 6:52 am

    sorry, left the wrong website addy for above. will correct.