Remarks about Forest Hills history
April 23, 2015
Thank you Marlene, for asking me to say a few words about our Forest Hills history project which began little more than a decade ago with a History Day in 2004 and culminated in a book published by Arcadia Press in 2006.
Washington is presumed to be a city of transients, people who come, work for the government and go home. This is one of those ingrained beliefs which is far from the truth. Washington is a city of neighborhoods, undoubtedly more livable than most urban environments. These neighborhoods have historical boundaries, not political ones.
The small group of amateur historians who worked hard to make History Day a tremendous success wanted to have some more permanent reminder of our history and the idea for a book originated in that desire. When we decided to publish a book, we were lucky to find all of us were committed to preserve the experiences of residents who came before us.
Among our contributors who gave their time were Ann Kessler, who had already written a history of Murch School and the Forest Hills Citizens Association, Anne Rollins, a talented and indefatigable photo researcher, Barbara Bates, a knowledgeable architectural historian and Rebecca and Gary Stevens who spearheaded the notion of History Day and the book by founding the Forest Hills Neighborhood Alliance.
Ours is a classic story of good emerging from a negative situation. A neighborhood polarized by a controversy of a private school replacing a historic house which had fallen into disrepair came together to save the house and along the way began to preserve its history and the history of the Forest Hills neighborhood. Anyone who has seen the Owls Nest on its beautifully landscaped site will appreciate the result of this consensus. It found an owner, Chis Donatelli, a lover of history, who restored the property with an integrity that has received the admiration of architects throughout the area.
Researching our story took us to many archives including the NIST, the University of Maryland which houses the photos of the local ABC television studios in a collection of programs which were filmed in our neighborhood, the Historical Society of Washington, then barren of any significant reference along with letters and memories provided to us by neighbors. We want to encourage that kind of discovery with current residents by means of oral history and house histories to learn more about the beginnings of a neighborhood in which we have all chosen to live. As we continue to evolve, I would wish for another exciting History Day.
The now landmarked Owls Nest and the stories and personalities we have uncovered in our book have contributed to a sense of community in Forest Hills that have characterized it as a welcoming neighborhood. Denise Warner, a Forest Hills resident and real estate agent, has made it a habit to present each new owner of a home she has sold here with a copy of the book. When one realizes that this was a team effort by dedicated volunteers, it reinforces the American faith in grassroots accomplishment. The Forest Hills Connection continues to build community, responding to changes as time passes and supporting creative new additions to the neighborhood. Remember that each day we are making history. Preserve it!