Monday, January 7, 2013

An exciting sighting.... Robert E Simon

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the opening of Reston's Used Book Store, an early investor in this "planned community". As we are about to see the demise of our lovely big Barnes and Noble after already losing Borders, Books A Million and Brentanos, it will once again become Reston's only bookstore. (What's left to say about our collective angst in the face of this terminal bookshop disease? I've joined the petition, much good may it do.)

Anyway, at the pleasant little in-store celebration complete with dulcimer player, tasteful looking snacks and discount on all purchases, who should show up but Robert E Simon, the Res in Reston. Local hero, the father of our fair town. I was ready and waiting, camera in hand, hoping he would come. The last time I spotted him he was walking with assistance and deep in conversation, so bounding over to shake his hand seemed inappropriate.

Looking good for 98 years old! I read somewhere he attributes longevity to a gin martini every day. I only wish wine would have such a good effect on me.

Born in 1914, Robert E Simon used proceeds from his family's sale of Carnegie Hall in NY to purchase land 18 miles from Washington DC in Northern Virginia. He had a somewhat utopian ideal for the community that would eventually emerge. Such vision and commitment! But also it had to be a financially viable venture. He intended it to be a place that would be diverse in terms of race and income level, somewhere everyone could live, work and play without commuting. Plenty of open space had to be conserved. Artists would come. These were radical ideas for suburban New Town planning in 1961. No strictly middle class enclave of cookie cutter houses, Reston.

It's worked out pretty well, considering the choppy waters that have flowed under the bridge since then.  More on that maybe another time. Back to Mr Simon. Here he sits cast in bronze and wearing his trademark hat outside the bookstore at Lake Anne, the area deemed "historic Reston" to our amusement as Europeans, and where his plans first began to take shape. He lives here now in the end years of his life in the high rise apartment building on the right, overlooking the lake and with a birds-eye-view of his legacy..... the eclectic mix of concerts, organic markets, ukulele festivals and the like that we enjoy throughout the year thanks to him.

Robert E Simon at Lake Anne in the '60s.


  1. 98! Wow! And to have done such good things with his time and money. Your planned community sounds intriguing.... I, too, mourn the demise of so many bookstores. Perhaps the small locally owned bookstore will re-emerge some day. I certainly hope so. They're such fun to wander around in.

    1. Politics and Prose in here in DC is an amazingly successful locally owned bookstore, often plugged by NPR because of readings. I do think that more independent bookstores and used bookstores have got to be a positive spin off. But doesn't it feel awfully 1984ish?! I feel like a prole so often now, trawling through junk shops and used bookstores when most people are downloading books from itunes. (Thinking about your post about being in love with a book.... what a contrast!) The Barnes and Noble here is always busy but apparently we're there because it's a nice atmosphere and there's a Starbucks..... Restonians buy their books from Amazon or download them. I despair!