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A Brief History of Reston Virginia 

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Robert (Bob) Edward Simon Jr. was born April 10, 1914, to Robert Edward and Elsa Weil Simon. He grew up in an upper-middle-class Manhattan family with three sisters. Simon and his family traveled extensively throughout his youth, which would later influence his design of Reston. In 1935, after Simon graduated Harvard, his father died and the 23-year-old inherited his real estate investment business, which included Carnegie Hall. 


In 1961, Robert E. Simon Jr. was approached by a broker who was selling land in Fairfax County Virginia. Simon visited the property and was taken with the beauty of the largely wooded farmland. He was convinced that, with the development of Dulles Airport, including a newly added access road, the area was well situated for a new town. Simon purchased 6,750 acres for $1,500 per acre. He planned to create a new community, later to be named Reston (after his initials).


During Reston's early development, Simon made regular trips between Reston and New York. After Gulf Oil took the lead in 1967, Simon resided in New York. Simon would return to reside in Reston beginning in 1993, where he lived until his passing in 2015 at age 101.

- Robert E. Simon, Jr. 
Reston's Founder
  1. Reston would have housing for all

  2. Reston would allow residents to “Live, Work & Play” in the same community

  3. Reston would put the importance and dignity of each individual as the focal point of planning

  4. Reston would be beautiful - nature would be fostered

  5. Reston would accommodate leisure time

  6. Reston would have amenities from the outset including a library, golf courses, art, and more

  7. Reston would be financially successful

Photo by Arvil Daniels 

Reston's Founding Principles

Simon hired Whittlesey & Conklin (later Conklin Rossant) to create a Master Plan. He wanted to build a new town different from the suburban sprawl that characterized post-WWII development. Walkability, accessible amenities, and the idea of living and working in the same area were important to him. Simon wanted Reston to be open to everyone of all ages, incomes, and ethnicities; it became the first open community in Virginia. To achieve Simon’s vision, Reston required a Residential Planned Community (RPC) zoning that would allow for mixed-use, mixed-density flexible development. Housing would be constructed in tightly knit groupings called clusters, which allowed for woodland conservation and recreational areas. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved RPC zoning and the Reston Master Plan on July 18, 1962. Read the Reston Story to see how Reston was first promoted. 

Drawing from the Reston Master Plan, 1962

A Master Plan Created 1962

Lake Anne Village Center was the first phase of development and embodied Simon’s principles, with its public plaza and mixed-use development. The first family moved to Reston in December 1964 and all commercial spaces were leased by February 1965. The plaza included a grocery store, pharmacy, and library. The official dedication took place on December 4, 1965.  Reston was an open community at a time when much of Virginia was resisting desegregation. Learn more in our online exhibit.

Reston's Beginning-Lake Anne Village Center 1964 

In September 1967, Gulf Reston, one of the major early investors, took on a larger role, creating a subsidiary company called Gulf Reston Inc. Tension quickly developed between Gulf and Simon, and Simon was eventually fired. Despite his leaving, Gulf continued to follow the Master Plan. They brought in outside builders and took a more traditional, market-driven approach to development. In 1973, Reston was operating in the black. In 1977, Gulf Oil decided to divest itself of all real estate investments and sold holdings in Reston.

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The Gulf Oil Years 1967-1977

On July 23, 1978, Mobil Oil Corporation purchased 3,700 acres of undeveloped land in Reston for $31 million and formed a subsidiary company, Reston Land Corporation (RLC). RLC’s strategy was to sell finished lots and commercial land, bringing in builders to develop. RLC also continued to be committed to Simon’s Master Plan. Post-1970s, Reston became a self-sustaining project. There was an increase in Reston’s population, more housing options became available, and the first phase of Reston Town Center would open in 1990.

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The Mobil Oil Years 1978-1996
  • An unincorporated community in Fairfax County

  • Population: 58,404 (2010 Census)

  • Area: 15.7 Square Miles

  • One high school, one middle school, and five elementary schools provide a high-quality education for Reston’s children

  • 16 tennis courts, 15 swimming pools, and over 55 miles of biking and jogging paths and numerous athletic fields provide recreational opportunities

  • 2002 Reston received the American Institute of Certified Planners Landmark Award (See the award at the museum!)

  • Reston Town Center, with restaurants, shopping, offices, and residences opened in 1990.

  • In 2014, Metro Silver Line came to Wiehle Avenue in Reston with another station to open at Reston Town Center in 2020.

  • Ranked 29th Best Place to Live in America by Money Magazine, 2017

  • Reston is an official Biophilic “City,” 2017

  • Lake Anne Village Center listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017

Reston Today

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  • What the area was like before Reston was Reston including why streets in Reston have names like Wiehle, Baron Cameron, Bowman, and Sunset Hills

  • The development of Reston Town Center

  • How Carnegie Hall connects to Reston’s history

  • How Restonians have impacted Reston's development

  • And much much more!

Read books about Reston’s History:

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