News and notes from Reston (tm).

Monday, August 6, 2012

Flashback Monday: The South Lakes Village Center That Almost Was

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You'd be excused for thinking this is an extremely optimistic rendering of the old, zombie-infested Hunters Woods Village Center, or maybe what planners in Old Blighty thought their own dystopian "new town" might have looked like if it wasn't in a country where it rains 340 days a year. But this is actually the first whack at what planners envisioned for South Lakes Village center, way back in 1977. We had no idea!

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Note the smaller separate parking lots divided by the then-in-vogue pedestrian mall. Maybe in the midst of the energy crisis, planners thought people might be willing to walk to stores (at least on odd or even days). We know how that idea turned out, and so did planners, who ultimately went for the more traditional awesome strip mall style we all know and tolerate love.

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The connection to the lake is the one element that remained in the final design. And for good reason.

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The actual plastic fantastic plan. Save for the lake access, it's pretty much your generic strip mall, made slightly more Reston-y by adding a bunch of trees in the drawring -- the classic architect apology for designing something he or she knows is going to be ugly.

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And here's the final product, photographed sometime in the 1980s.

We get that the strip mall design is what's been proven to work, even in fancy New Urbanist Reston, where even the strip mall that isn't visible from the road has suffered. But we still would have enjoyed walking around Plan A a lot more, at least while there were actual viable businesses there.


  1. South Lakes used to have attractions for which we would brave the bumper-cars layout of the parking lot.

    There was Marie's, the best Greek buffet in town, the fish store, a mom-and-pop video rental. Sad fates to all. Marie's and the video closed because the landlord found an empty store to pay more rent than a thriving business. I miss the video, although I couldn't rent a racy movie there. Braces and freckles behind the counter had always been to SLHS with my kids. "Oh Mr. Scubadiver, renting Caligula? I didn't know you were a pervert!"

  2. Unfortunately, the small-town "walkable" shopping experience never had a chance of surviving. People have long since been sold on "MORE". No one wants to choose from one or two brands of Corn Flakes, they want to see an entire aisle of Corn Flakes. No one wants to "settle" for what's available, they want exactly what they want -- at the cheapest price. So, for all the "quaintness" of local small businesses, people go to the Big Box (or online) to buy. The world has moved on since 1965, and people have become "consumers" instead of customers -- and I don't think they're coming back. You have to be a very special small business to attract customers these days, and that's a tall order in todays economy.

  3. Its funny with all the talk of aversion to walking to a store or restaurant, yet the masses will put up with driving around a parking tower for 10 minutes and then parking on the top level, waiting for an elevator, then waddling over to [insert your favorite moderatly upscale corporate restaurant] at the fake downtown. But they won't park more than 100 yards away from a place like Lake Anne, Hunter's Woods, or the proposed version of South Lakes Shopping center.

  4. I'll bet that if someone was going to redevelop one of the town centers today, what we'd get would be something that looks a lot like this, only with midrise condos above the stores. That may be what's in store for Tall Oaks, and it would definitely be an improvement.

  5. Anon 3:02, it's a hoot to watch people fight to get that spot closest to the doors at the YMCA. Maybe if they spent more time walking from the far end of the parking lot, they wouldn't have to spend so much time inside on the treadmill AND -- bonus -- they might not have as many dings in their car doors either.

  6. "And here's the final product, photographed sometime in the 1980s."

    Yes, the old restaurants like Marie's are gone, but fortunately much of what makes South Lakes Shopping Center such a unique cultural experience remains. For example, back in the 80s a younger generation of full time pre-alcoholic working government wonks would hang out in the evening at Lakeside Inn, watching sports on the tv and delaying as much as possible the inevitable passage home to their depressed wives. Well, those fellas, now in retirement, can still be found every evening at Lakeside Inn soaking up the suds and totally at peace that they long ago 12-stepped right past the con of AA. Where do their 2nd and 3rd botox-subsidized ex-wives eat? Cafesano. Praise be to 21st century shopping center redevelopment. Everybody knows everybody...and has slept with everybody...down here at South Lakes Shopping Center.

  7. Mean Daddy, speak no evil of Cafesano!

  8. Rose By Any Other NameAugust 8, 2012 at 5:27 PM

    Why bother kncking South Lakes Center? It works, whereas, Tall Oaks and Lake Anne plaza certainly do not.
    Planners had all sorts of warm and fuzzy ideas back in the 6o's and 70's about what retail development should look like-- something about democratizing the shopping experience, or building "community" (whatever that truly is)--pleasant, idealistic notions that proved by be MONEY LOSERS in the real world of retail. (Just ask Columbia, Maryland about its own failings with community-centerd shopping clusters). Places like South Lakes and Plaza of the Americas work because they are visible to the passing (automotive, NOT pedestrian) market, and because of a retail/service mix that works, even if navigating the parking lots in both of these places can be an exciting experience during the peak hours of the day. South Lakes does get its share of pedestrian traffic from the immediate neighborhood, so it sort of works as originally thought out, right? Far better than the grad-school level schematics (above) that were the original concept, which would have underestimated parking and retail requirements and ultimately restricting our market choices.
    Note that South Lakes has been designated by the powers-that-be in the county planning office as a site for potentially even more intensive redevelopment in the future.Hmmmm.

    BTW, hats off to our friend Zinky at Reston Runners, who has been at South Lakes for just about forever it seems. Whatever happened to the clothing store with the giant-sized teddy bear that used to be located between the auto parts store and the video rental shop?


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