The Brookdale community started with several developers’ dreams, but the land had many uses before that. Brookdale is part of a large 1713 land grant called “Friendship.” Echoes of the land grant are in local place names: the Friendship Post Office Station on Wisconsin Avenue, NW; Friendship Boulevard to the east of Brookdale; and the Village of Friendship Heights just north of Willard Avenue. The area was primarily farmland with a scattering of homes in the 1800s through the 1920s. And indigenous people are thought to have lived nearby.
Fort Bayard, Fort Simmons, and Battery Bailey were the outposts of Union soldiers used to protect the city of Washington during the Civil War.
Cooper Lightbown was a builder in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1918 who rose to prominence primarily for his part in building Mar-a-Lago, the 117-room estate owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post. In 1938, Lightbown began to divide farmland on both sides of River Road into plots. Lightbown and his successor firm, Lightbown and Associates, created several house types for Brookdale, identified by roof form, number of stories, and number of bays on the house’s main block. As head of Cooper Lightbown and Sons, he built eighty percent or 126 of the 157 homes within the survey area. In the late 1930s, and continuing after Mr. Lightbown’s death in 1941, houses were designed by Mr. Lightbown’s nephew, Charles Stanley Lightbown (known as Stanley).
Today, Brookdale straddles historic River Road, extending from Western Avenue (the District of Columbia line) north and west into Montgomery County, Maryland. It includes Wohlshire homes, the red brick Orchardale section, homes along and near Willard Avenue, plus several farmhouses that preceded these developments. The area remains shaded by a great variety of trees, large and small, brightened by azaleas, dogwood, and cherry trees in the spring.
In 1958 the Brookdale Citizens Association was incorporated. In November 1971, the Orchardale (Tri-Community) Association merged with the Brookdale Association. The Newport area was added in 2017, creating the Brookdale community of today.