An­swer Man Un­earths Ar­chi­tec­tural Nos­tal­gia

The Washington Post Sunday - - Metro Week - JOHN KELLY’S WASH­ING­TON

T oday, An­swer Man dips into his mail­bag to pluck out reader com­ments on some of his re­cent col­umns.

The March 4 col­umn about John­ston Auto Body, a gew­gaw-en­crusted build­ing in Mer­ri­field, prompted a me­mory from Oak­ton’s Ken Klo­man. In the early 1960s, when Ken was 16, he bought his first car, a “not too dam­aged” 1955 Chevy sedan.

Ken fixed up the car him­self, and when it was ready for body work and paint, he searched for the least ex­pen­sive place he could find. He de­cided on the orig­i­nal John­ston Auto Body, which sat on a small piece of land at Routes 123 and 7, near where the Hechinger at Tysons Cor­ner used to be.

Larger paint jobs, Ken re­mem­bered, were done out­side. “You had to sched­ule your paint job based on the weather,” he said. “Since [Mr. John­ston] sprayed in an open field next to a build­ing, he had to wait if it was too windy, since grass and other de­bris would stick to the wet paint!”

On March 11, An­swer Man wrote about the bub­ble houses that ar­chi­tect Wal­lace Neff built dur­ing World War II in Falls Church. Many read­ers re­call the dis­tinc­tive, igloo-like struc­tures.

Dick Bolt grew up not far away from one. “My par­ents passed that domed house — I thought it was a ge­o­desic dome! — many times, and it was one of few mem­o­ries that stuck in my mind,” wrote Dick, who lives in Bowie.

Sis­ters Kathy Miles and Mary May­hew grew up in one of the dou­ble igloos. Mary said what she re­mem­bers most isn’t the house but the woods around the house. She and Kathy would spend hours scam­per­ing around them.

As for the house, “it was dif­fer­ent,” Mary said. The curved walls meant that pic­tures couldn’t be hung. In­stead, they were propped against the walls. The house was of­ten damp and moldy, like an un­fin­ished base­ment.

She said, “I re­mem­ber in school be­ing asked to draw a pic­ture of a house, draw­ing the curves and be­ing told, ‘No honey, you’re sup­posed to draw your house.’ ”

The fam­ily moved when she was 13, an age when she was glad to live in a “nor­mal” house. “I think I wanted to be or­di­nary at that point,” she said. Hans Schultz wrote about an­other dis­tinc­tive con­crete build­ing in North­ern Vir­ginia. In 1967, he was in charge of con­struc­tion for Robert E. Si­mon, the founder of Re­ston and a man al­ways in­ter­ested in in­no­va­tive de­sign.

When he learned of a tech­nique in­vented by Ital­ian ar­chi­tect Dante Bini, Robert de­cided to build some­thing called a “Bin­ishell” in Re­ston. Neff’s igloo houses were con­structed by spray­ing con­crete over a huge in­flated bal­loon, and Bini’s tech­nique in­volved cast­ing con­crete at ground level and in­flat­ing the struc­ture to form the bub­ble-shaped build­ing.

“We ac­tu­ally poured con­crete flat on the ground, then in­flated the neo­prene skin af­ter the con­crete was down,” Hans said.

Fair­fax County of­fi­cials and HUD dig­ni­taries at­tended. “I have pho­to­graphs and even a Su­per 8 home movie some­where in my ‘archives,’ ” Hans wrote. It was up for two or three months be­fore it was de­mol­ished.

Lee Hooks of Pur­cel­lville was no stranger to the World War I-era tank that An­swer Man wrote about last Sun­day. It once sat in front of Alexan­dria’s rail­road sta­tion.

“It was al­ways known just as The Tank,” Lee wrote. “I grew up there and spent count­less hours crawl­ing all over The Tank. My 10-year-old imag­i­na­tion would take me all over the world with that fight­ing ma­chine.”

COPY­RIGHT BY HAR­RIS AND EWING

“It was dif­fer­ent,” says a wo­man who lived in one of the World War II-era bub­ble houses in Falls Church de­signed by Wal­lace Neff.

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