Reston @ 50: Gulf and Mobil
Come the beginning of 1964, Robert Simon’s company, now called Reston, Virginia Inc., was experiencing financial difficulties. Rising building costs, slow initial sales, and Simon’s unwillingness to compromise on building designs and materials for the sake of profits obliged him to look for additional financing. In March 1964, the Gulf Oil Company offered a loan of $15,000,000. The loan helped Simon pay off earlier creditors, but it left very little for ongoing projects. Gulf advanced additional funds to Reston, Virginia Inc. during the next few years. By 1967, however, Gulf had taken over the management of Reston, forming Gulf Reston, Inc. and driving Robert Simon out of the operation altogether.
After taking over management Gulf Reston, Inc. retained many of Simon’s former employees, continued many of Simon’s initial projects, and made a conscious effort to retain the spirit of his vision on several later initiatives. Gulf attracted more tenants to the Industrial Center, and built the Reston International Center, a hotel and conference center on Reston’s western end, creating more employment and business opportunities within Reston. Gulf added several low to moderate-income housing projects in Reston, including the Cedar Ridge, Laurel Glade, and Fox Mill apartment complexes, and housing for the employees of the USGS headquarters on Sunrise Valley Drive. During the 1970s Gulf Reston also preserved the town’s open space and pedestrian-friendly character by transferring clear title to the Reston Homeowners Association for many Reston recreational facilities such as land, parks, lakes, and structures. Gulf Reston was a cheerful sponsor of many cultural and charitable activities in Reston.
In 1977, however, Gulf decided to get out of the real estate business in order to focus on the energy business. By 1978 Gulf began to offer its real estate properties, including Reston’s remaining undeveloped land, for sale. Reston’s developed properties, such as the completed village centers, the International Center, and Issac Newton Square, went to an investment firm for $40,000,000. Gulf waited to sell the undeveloped land, however, for a developer who would be committed to the ideals behind Reston. Gulf found just such an investor by the summer of 1978; another oil company looking to go into the real estate business.
In July of 1978 the Mobil Oil Corporation bought the 3,700 remaining undeveloped acres in Reston for $31,000,000. Initially Mobil was interested in land belonging to the California new town of Irvine Ranch, but its attempts to acquire Irvine Ranch failed. Reston had been one of several other properties on Mobile’s radar because of its proximity to Washington, D.C., and development opportunities promised by the coming Dulles Toll Road. Mobil formed a subsidiary, Reston Land Corporation, to manage its holdings in Reston. Just as Gulf Reston had done a decade before, Reston Land hired several key people who were employed by the previous developer and many of whom were living in Reston.
Reston Land had a distinct advantage over its predecessor in that it only had to focus on developing land, not with management of already-developed properties. In addition, having come to Reston at just the right time, on the heels of the Virginia legislature’s approval of the Dulles Toll road and at a time when high-tech firms began to show interest in relocating to the area, the new developer was in a fine position to implement its marketing plan. Reston Land continued developing Reston as a place to live and work, just as Robert Simon had envisioned. Beginning in 1980 several firms, starting with Sperry Systems Management, bought land for offices in Reston’s Industrial Center near the coming Dulles Toll Road. Tandem Computers, GTE, COMSAT, MCI, Satellite Business Systems and others followed. By 1983 there were more jobs located in Reston than households.
Having sold a large quantity of industrial land to large technology firms, Reston Land turned its attention to housing and other issues in Reston. The developer brought in builders who offered more housing choices, such as smaller “starter” homes, low- and moderate-income apartments, and townhomes than previously available in Reston. Some of these homes would be part of Reston’s final two villages, North Point, just north of Lake Anne, and South Lakes on Reston’s southeastern side. In 1985 Reston Land developed the North County Government Center on Reston Parkway. Then center houses a police station, county library, homeless shelter and other Fairfax Government offices. In 1987 the Reston Hospital Center opened near the Government Center.
Perhaps Reston Land’s most visible project in Reston was the 460-acre Reston Town Center, originally part of Robert Simon’s 1962 master plan. The Center is a mixed-use retail, entertainment, hospitality, and office complex located in the same exact spot articulated in Simon’s plan, on the west side of Reston Parkway between Sunset Hills Road and Baron Cameron Avenue. A multi-phase project, the Center’s first phase was opened in 1990, and build-out was complete by 2007.
Mobil began its exit from Reston in 1996 with the selling of its major interests in Reston to Westbrook Partners of New York for $324,000.000. Mobil cited the need to return to “core interests” of chemicals, oil, and natural gas exploration and refining.