RIP, Robert E. Simon Jr.

Published:September 23, 2015 by Brendan Wolfe


Robert E. Simon Jr., the founder of Reston—a city that takes its name from his initials—died this week at the age of 101. Our entry notes that Reston, established in 1964, was a planned community and intended as “a kind of urban utopia—a place with swimming pools, community centers, and tennis courts in every neighborhood and no restrictions based on race.”

Emphasis on kind of. As our entry and Simon’s New York Times obituary both note, there were some rough years at first.

But by 1967, Reston had run short on money, and the idealism that had drawn many of its original residents had begun to fade. The Gulf Oil Company, a major financial backer, took over. Mr. Simon was forced out, and many of his ideas were dropped.

“This country’s most closely watched new community changed from one man’s dream to a corporate subsidiary,” a dismayed Ms. [Ada Louise] Huxtable [the Times architecture critic] wrote. “What has been accomplished in Reston has been done in a society hostile to planning and public development, ignorant of urban design, unsympathetic to architectural quality, suspicious of housing innovation as investment, long on words and short on funds.”

“The planners of Reston were neither arrogant nor presumptuous enough to conceive of their task as the building of a utopia,” Simon said, and the city worked through its problems. Simon returned to Reston as a resident in 1993 and died there on Monday.

IMAGE: Simon with plans of Reston, 1960 (New York Times / The Reston Historic Trust and Archives)