According to the Washington Post, Residents of 16th Street Heights might disagree over the boundaries of the neighborhood, but they overwhelmingly agree that it is interesting, quiet and safe.
The Northwest Washington neighborhood was built in the 1920s and ’30s as a streetcar community at the end of the trolley line. Its row houses, semidetached and detached houses are overwhelmingly owner-occupied.
Now, several bus lines serve the neighborhood, and the old streetcar station has become the Metro “bus barn” at 14th and Buchanan streets NW.
Presidents of two local community groups — the 16th Street Heights Neighborhood Association and the 16th Street Heights Civic Association — disagree (politely) on exact boundary lines, although the D.C. government defines the neighborhood as between Georgia Avenue and 16th Street NW, south of Missouri Avenue and north of Arkansas Avenue.
“Neighbors and real estate agents will draw and define their own boundaries,” said Lewis Wassel, president of the 16th Street Heights Neighborhood Association.
“There is no real neighborhood name. Maybe ‘Noark’ would be appropriate,” he said. Wassel, 42, particularly likes this idea because he has recovered copies of a 1940s-era neighborhood newsletter called the Arkansas Traveler.
Essentially, the neighborhood is entering its third generation of residents. The first generation of owners, who were predominantly white and Jewish, lived in the community from about 1920 to 1960. The second generation was made up largely of African Americans who moved in from about 1960 to 2000 and became a majority.
Now, as newer residents of varied races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages and life stages move in, the neighborhood’s makeup is more diverse than ever.
Over the past two decades or so, activists have pushed to clean up intermittent crime and neglect.
“We have come a long way. In the 14 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen abandoned vehicles and trash,” Wassel said. “It’s a lot better now. People care about the quality of life here and are helping improve it.”
Since moving into the neighborhood in 1987, Jeannie Carter has witnessed a general revival.
The singer and voice teacher bought her rowhouse with the intention of flipping it, but when the market fell in the late 1980s, she held onto her house and ultimately decided to stay long-term. “I’m happy about the changes,” Carter said. “This has become a desirable place to live. I didn’t realize it would grow so much.”
In recent years, many residents have modernized the interiors of their homes. “You would not be able to notice from the outside,” Carter said, “but folk are really renovating.”
“People want a brand-new, 100-year-old house, if that makes sense,” said Gene Delgado, a resident who has designed and managed renovations for several of his neighbors. “They try to bring houses into the present without sacrificing the charm.”
Most residents who have remodeled keep their house’s old features, such as the formality of the foyers, but install central air conditioning, bigger closets and first-floor powder rooms, Delgado said.
Delgado and his partner bought their rowhouse 13 years ago and have enjoyed its location near Rock Creek Park and downtown, its green space, ample parking and quiet atmosphere.
Many residents find the two-block commercial district on 14th Street inadequate: It includes a hair salon, convenience stores, takeout restaurants, a Latino grocery store, a new dry-cleaning business, a liquor store and a consignment shop. They say that, much like suburbanites, they drive to other neighborhoods in the District and Maryland to take care of their grocery shopping and errands.
Despite that inconvenience, Delgado said, he thinks life in 16th Street Heights has more personality and allure than life in the suburbs.
As he watches bumper-to-bumper traffic on 16th Street every morning and evening, Delgado imagines the drivers are suburbanites who don’t know their neighbors. “They don’t have front porches — while I’m just chatting with neighbors and not sitting in traffic.”
He said, “People say hi, are walking dogs, pushing kids in strollers and sitting on their porches. In that sense, it feels more like a small town than it does a city.”
Longtime resident Eleanore Gardner, who moved into her red-brick, single-family house in 1945 after she married into the family that owned it, said the location was the neighborhood’s greatest asset.
“It’s the most convenient place if you’re a worker. You can be downtown in 20 minutes. It’s convenient to Silver Spring, Chevy Chase and Bethesda. You can get anyplace in a short order because the bus service is very good,” said Gardner, 95, who commuted to work at an educational foundation for many years.
Even though some neighbors say they need cars to get places, Fard and Hannah Bell have no problem living without one. They rely on the bus and rented Zipcars. The young couple have rented a three-bedroom rowhouse since August.
“I love it because it’s a well-kept community, and it’s clean. It’s a ‘we care’ community,” said Fard Bell, 28.
This matters to Bell because he and his wife work from their home.
“To be able to look out the window and be inspired, versus the opposite, is important,” he said.
In fact, after thinking about it, Delgado said the confusion over exactly where 16th Street Heights begins and ends helps preserve that friendly, quiet atmosphere.
“The upside of the convoluted name and ill-defined boundaries is that people streaming down 14th Street, 16th Street or Arkansas don’t realize there’s a wonderful neighborhood here,” Delgado said. “It’s pretty much off everybody’s radar.”
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