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Park View Neighborhood Sizzles; Residents Enjoy Georgia Avenue’s New Eateries and Other Amenities

Accompanying images can be viewed in the April 2016 issue PDF

By Larry Ray*

Where can you find a spicy Panamanian restaurant? Where can you find a new, social bookstore? What about a vegan restaurant? What about a Thai restaurant from an “American dude”?

All of this on Georgia Avenue, NW — in Park View.

What a mixture of the old and new! Park View is replete with contrasts from the York Theater (now a church) built in 1919 to the 2010 new CVS building, to hipster condos.

Have you heard of Park View? Many people in the District of Columbia have not. There is lots of confusion over the boundaries of Columbia Heights, Park View and Petworth. Park View United Neighborhood Coalition describes it this way: “Park View is a leafy enclave of row houses on the heights of Northwest, Washington, D.C. Two historic transportation routes border it on the west and the south, with green spaces on the east and south. The name Park View reflects the neighborhood’s location adjacent to the Soldiers’ Home grounds and McMillan Reservoir.”

Many say the neighborhood boundaries are Columbia Road to the south; Rock Creek Church Road to the north, Georgia Avenue on the west and Soldiers’ Home on the east. The Home’s park-like grounds, just three miles north of the White House, have been open to the public for decades. The population hovers around 5,000 with 58 percent African-American, 24 percent Latino/Hispanic, 15 percent white, and 2 percent Asian/Pacific Islanders. The population has grown by about 10 percent during the past decade.

It is noteworthy that the Soldiers’ Home, formally named the U.S. Armed Forces Retirement Home (an independent federal agency), is also where President Abraham Lincoln’s Summer Cottage is located. The cottage was the Civil War’s version of Camp David. The Cottage, a national historic landmark site, is now leased from the federal government by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and operated by a non-profit agency. Approximately 30,000 people visited the Cottage in 2015.

It was businessman Benjamin H. Warder who purchased this 43-acre site that in 1908 became known as Park View for residential development. Warder was one of nine Quaker children from Springfield, Ohio, and moved to Washington  in 1886 following his retirement. The neighborhood was desegregated in the late 1040s, and with the opening of the Georgia Avenue/Petworth Metro station it became multi-cultural.

Pleasant Plains is another neighborhood designation that some say would incorporate Park View and Columbia Heights, but others designate Pleasant Plains as the area surrounding Howard University.

In this broad area, there has been intense development in Columbia Heights, especially along the 14th Street corridor, first with the opening of the DC-USA shopping mall as the highlight eight years ago following nine years of planning, design and zoning reviews, and construction. [Editor’s note: For a comprehensive report on that project, see “Major Retail Center Finally Opens in Columbia Heights; Great Excitement Generated in Neighborhood and Citywide,” InTowner, March 2008 issue pdf, page 1.]

Developers then moved on to Petworth, northeast of Columbia Heights; and, now, many developers have zeroed in on Park View, south of Petworth. Effective in 2017, residential property  assessments will increase by 9 percent and 10 percent for commercial properties.

At the northern tip of Park View, where Sherman, Georgia, and New Hampshire Avenues intersect, is the newly built CVS store. The grand opening was July, 2010. Across Georgia Avenue is an undeveloped block highlighted by a check cashing store, small grocery and a closed hardware store. This block is ripe for development.

Heading south, one spies the beautiful former York theater built in 1919 (now a church) at the corner of Quebec and Georgia Avenue. Architect Reginald W. Geare designed this movie house. Tin fascia covered the façade, although now replaced by foam and stucco. Initially, this theater screened six different films per week. Regrettably, York hosted only white people until 1951. In 1957, the National Evangelistic Center bought purchased theater and transformed it into a church, and in 1991 the property was purchased by the Fisherman of Men Church. Recently, a dispute erupted between the church and the neighborhood’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) following the vote by the ANC to seek an historic landmark designation for the building. Fearing restrictions that would adversely affect future uses and value, the church vigorously opposed the ANC’s action and prevailed.

Across New Hampshire Avenue from the CVS is the old Engine Company #24. Local architects Luther Leisenring and Charles Gregg designed this engine house in 1911, and in 1954 it was one of the first to integrate.

Restaurant owner Bill White, in recognition of the neighborhood’s progress, changed the name of his long-time establishment to Fish in the Neighborhood. He wanted to emphasize “neighbor.” This no frills eatery features catfish, tilapia, mango sauce, collard greens and cabbage. Snuggled among new condos and hipster bars at 3601 Georgia Avenue, this is eating on a “shoestring” with a rating of four out of five stars.

On the corner of Otis Place and Georgia Avenue is the E.L. Haynes co-educational public charter school where children can attend from Pre-K to 12th grade. Founded in 2004 in Columbia Heights, Haynes built a new building on Georgia Avenue and took over the old Clark Elementary School at 4501 Kansas Avenue, NW. Its 1,200 student body is 54 percent African-American and 43 percent  Hispanic/Latino. Neighbors are welcome to use the school’s playground.

By way of contrast, on Georgia Avenue, between Newton and Otis Places, The House Nightclub, an adult entertainment establishment, may be a symbol of the changing neighborhood. Owner Darrell Allen, who had  inherited this African-American, 400-capacity female strip club from his parents who operated it for 36 years, last year partnered with former Ward 1 city council member Jim Graham (his 2014 re-election bid had failed) to feature male strippers for women patrons on Saturday evenings and for men — which he emcees — on Sunday evenings. Sixty-nine year old Graham was looking for a business venture, and has indicated his desire for the club to also serve food in the near future.

Progressing south is the former Bruce Monroe School which is now the highly popular Bruce Monroe Park which includes a playground and community gardens. The city does have a controversial housing/park plan for this spot.

Esencias Panamenas Restaurant & Catering, opened in July of 2015, to the delight of the neighbors. Owner and chef Yadira Stamp, who attained her culinary degree from the Art Institute of Washington in 2010 and returned to Panama where she learned the art of making authentic Panamanian dishes, had dreamed of opening such a restaurant. Here she highlights the unique experience of the traditional flavors of Panama and makes all of her dishes from scratch — meaning no flour and gluten-free. Recent lunch customer Jim Crawford said that his meal had been “expertly prepared and presented beautifully — what a welcoming environment!”

Her most sought after appetizer is the Carimanola, which is fresh ground yuca, stuffed with ground beef, ground turkey, or ground soy, and served with a Tamarind dipping sauce. Her signature entrées are Arroz con Pollo (saffron rice with chicken, olives, capers, peas and  carrots), Ensalada de Toldo (potato salad with beets), Tamal (fresh ground corn with chicken or gluten protein and other veggies, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed), sweet plantains and a house salad. Her most popular drink is “Hibiscus Flower with Ginger.” Finally, her decadent dessert, which is called “Cocada,” is caramelized shredded coconut served in a pastry shell.

After lunch or dinner, neighbors wander over to Walls of Books DC at 3325 Georgia Avenue. This 2,400-square-foot used bookstore stockingover 30,000 affordable books of all subjects (mostly between $5 and $10) includes a book trade-in program for store credit and a wide selection of Melissa & Doug® children’s toys.

Owner Pablo Sierra said, “We’re excited to join the Park View, Petworth, and surrounding neighborhoods. The support from the community has already been great — people coming in with kids for Story-Time or just browsing all the books we have and finding bestsellers, as well as, books they weren’t even looking for.”

“We want to support the local reading and writing community by providing a family-friendly environment where people can attend culturally diverse events, participate in community centered programs, and buy and trade our affordable books,” said Pablo. “I’ve always loved reading and writing and the value it added to my own life –- self-confidence, exposure to other’s ideas, and the need to explore our outer and inner worlds further . . . and now I have the opportunity to bring those same things, and hopefully more, to my community.”

Recently, they hosted the Free Minds Book Club. This nonprofit uses books, creative writing and peer support to awaken DC youth incarcerated as adults to their own potential.

Nearby on Georgia Avenue three entrepreneurs from the Kangaroo Boxing Club eatery in Columbia Heights — Trent Allen, Robin Webb, Peyton Sherwood — have rented space for their planned, soon-to-open restaurant and outsoor beer garden to be called Midlands chef-created sandwiches, wine and a couple dozen beers on tap

South of this bookstore is Max Zuckerman’s Colony Club. Named after his grandparents’ flower shop, which was also on Georgia Avenue from the 1940s through the ’60s,       Zuckerman strives to create a welcoming environment that serves artisan coffees and simple, high-quality light breakfast offerings; after dark it becomes a relaxing beer and wine bar and provides a great experience for all kinds of people. They want to be accessible to all kinds of people to enjoy as a neighborhood meeting place.

Nearby neighbor and graduating American University international studies masters degree student Marianell Aguiree loves the neighborhood but also reminds us that as a neighborhood in transition and sometimes new business ventures may be ahead of their time.

One example was chef Stephan Boillon’s Mothership restaurant which he had transformed from his El Floridano food truck into a bricks-and-mortar place at  3301 Georgia Avenue. Boillon had been the executive chef at Dino in Cleveland Park. Tim Carman of the Washington Post bubbled about the easy menu and the place: “I cannot imagine Park View neighborhood without Mothership, as if Boillon’s restaurant is actually a docking station where locals can seek refuge and refueling. Bouillon purposely hired staff with marginal experience-bonus: many live right in Park View.”

But that was May 3, 2013. Transition to January 28, 2015, the “Young and Hungry” website blog reported that Mothership would be closing and the El Floridano truck would be back. Boillon reported that business was not what he needed financially to remain open. “Mothership was one of the first DC restaurants to use Kickstarter to raise funds for the build out,” he also said. Neighbors responded sadly since they loved the food and the location.

Going farther south, Morgan’s Seafood at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Kenyon Street serves as the final example of transition. This historic structure began as a grocery store 80 years ago, transitioned into a pool hall operated by the Morgans, and finally into a seafood restaurant carryout. Oddly, four car accidents shuttered the building for 10 years, but to the delight of the Park View neighbors, Romeo Morgan re-opened.

“Park View and Pleasant Plains are getting some well-deserved attention,” said Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau, who represents the area on the Council. “Both neighborhoods have a rich history and strong community ties. Ward 1 is the most diverse ward in the District, and one of my top priorities on the Council is making sure its neighborhoods remain an affordable place for long-time residents as well as new residents.”

So, the neighborhood is sizzling but still risky.

*Larry Ray, a resident of Columbia Heights, is a Senior Lecturer at The George Washington University School of Law and Senior Trainer with the American Management Association.  He is a former four-term Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and has served as President of the North Columbia Heights Civic Association (NCHCA).

Copyright © 2016 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Larry Ray. All rights reserved.

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William Tecumseh Sherman & Brother John Sherman Owned the Land Where the DC-USA Mall Now Stands

Recently, DC-USA clued me in to to some cool old maps they have on their  that show the intersection of 14th and Irving Street (then called Kennesaw Avenue) in 1868, 1869 and 1887. The area was then called John Sherman’s Subdivision, as he owned the land.

Sherman was a U.S. senator at the time he bought and subdivided the land and was the brother of Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, who led Union Army’s famous Civil War “March to the Sea,” is it was widely called. John Sherman later served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Rutherford B. Hayes and then as Secretary of State under President William McKinley.
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The 1868 map is interesting for the street names: Park Road west of 14th is “Road to Pierce’s Mill” — which still stands inside Rock Creek Park, while east of 14th it’s Rock Creek Church Road, which exists today but ends farther east.

An 1869 map shows the purchase of the area northwest of the intersection, but also includes a note about the lot on the northwest corner 14th and Irving that reads, “Lieut. Gen. W.T. Sherman,” and the lot to the north reads “Hon. John Sherman.” Pretty cool, a famous general and his brother, the Secretary of State, owned what is today the site of DC-USA.

Showing on the map just below “Georgetown and Rock Creek Church Road,” which went at an angle to the southeast, iks a notation for “Columbia College Property.” Later on, Columbia College relocated to Foggy Bottom and became George Washington University.

By the time of the 1887 map, the area had become noticeably developed, with many more houses being shown. By that time it appears that somebody else owned the land at the corner of 14th and Kennesaw (now Irving; though by then the road to Pierce’s Mill is called Park, though east of 14th it is shown as Whitney Road).