Wartime Construction

The location for Hillwood Square was chosen for its proximity to downtown Washington D.C., as well as its proximity to the amenities offered in the City of Falls Church, such as schools, shops and theaters. The name Hillwood Square was given to the project because of its location in the greater Hillwood subdivision. Both Fairfax County officials and the City of Falls Church mayor were consulted and gave approval to the project prior to the Federal Government acquiring the land from Mr. W. R. Kelley at an agreed price of $30,000. At that time only one structure was on the property, a wood frame house that was later demolished.

The federal government approved the construction of Hillwood Square (then known only as project VA-44137) on July 1, 1941. The offer of sale was signed and recorded on July 12, 1941. Preliminary site planning and building design was begun in July and continued through August and September. Final plans were approved in October 1941.

Construction for Hillwood Square began on November 5, 1941, by C.B. Ross Company who won the construction award at a bid of $607,000. Completed total costs for the project were estimated at $706,392.7 Hillwood Square was completed at a cost of over $3,800 per unit, above the existing limit imposed by the United States Congress of $3,500 per unit for housing for moderate income workers and their families. By February of 1942, construction was 55% complete, and three months later, on May 30, 1942, a completed Hillwood Square was opened and dedicated.

Hillwood Square was designed and constructed during a unique period of time for defense housing. Prior to mid-1941 there was a lot of criticism over completed defense housing projects for their unattractive design and site planning, and long construction times. At the time, projects were often overseen by the Public Works Authority whose architects were more familiar with post-offices than housing. USHA and other federal agencies, keenly aware of the criticism, began a program in the summer of 1941 of selecting local architects who understood housing requirements as well as local architectural styles to design and oversee the construction of defense housing projects.

USHA initiated a public campaign to promote its new housing program, noting that housing units were being designed to provide “attractive interiors, as well as exteriors, plenty of light and air” and followed the “prevailing architectural style of the community.”8 A USHA official press release noted that “over 160 individual architects in all sections of the country… have joined in the effort to meet an emergency, and at the same time make defense homes set a pattern for the future development of housing in America.”9

USHA also noted that most new defense housing projects were suburban and averaging 8 dwelling units per acre in contrast to prior projects which were 10-15 dwelling units per acre and were mostly urban. The goal of the USHA in lowering density was to simplify site planning, allow children’s play areas, provide fields or courts for adult recreation, accommodate garden areas and individual yards, and allow traffic to be laid out to avoid hazards. This initiative lasted until the summer of 1942, when housing shortages reached a critical point. Due to the expanding war efforts and the need to house more workers, more quickly, the focus shifted to housing that was temporary or demountable in nature, with less site planning and fewer community amenities.

A History of Hillwood Square

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