City Paper is not for tourists
Over the past several weeks, the stretch of Belmont Road NW between Massachusetts Avenue and Kalorama Circle has seen an unusual flurry of busy contractors and black SUVs. The sylvan street, which faces a sliver of Rock Creek Park, features the Tudor-style residence that will soon be the post-White House home of Barack and Michelle Obama while daughter Sasha finishes high school at Sidwell Friends. A security booth already stands next to the front steps of the nine-bedroom house, and plans are in the works to install gates on both ends of the block for added protection.
If the First Family’s relocation weren’t enough to put the stately Kalorama neighborhood on the global map, there’s the fact that incoming First Daughter Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner are now settling there too. Along with their three children, Trump and Kushner will reside in a six-bedroom home on Tracy Place NW, around the corner from the Obamas and amid embassies of nations the world over as they advise daddy Donald on running the country. And they’ll be among yet more influential company in the coming months: Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos has purchased D.C.’s former Textile Museum a few blocks southeast, on S Street NW near 23rd Street, and is converting the 27,000-square-foot property into what will eventually be the District’s largest private home—not to mention one of its most expensive. Bezos bought the site in October for $23 million, in cash.
Kalorama is no stranger to distinguished residents. Five U.S. presidents—including Franklin D. Roosevelt, who rented a house on R Street when he was in the Navy, and Woodrow Wilson, whose house now operates as a museum next to Bezos’ new pied-à-terre—lived in the historic neighborhood. So did ex-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who sold a seven-bedroom house on Kalorama Road in 2015, and Ted Kennedy, whose Tracy Place mansion sold in 2011. The old-money, quiet-type inhabitants of the area have long been called “cave dwellers.” Its proximity to downtown coupled with its enclave-y feel has attracted the powerful.
“It has this quiet dignity hidden away from the hustle and bustle,” explains Ellen L. Goldstein, a neighborhood commissioner for Kalorama who’s lived there since the 1980s and notes the many foreign languages that can be heard on its streets. “Georgetown is a wonderful village, but it has a huge commercial part. Tourists don’t really come to Kalorama, at least not until recently.”
Storied though the neighborhood may be, Kalorama’s latest wave of inbound denizens will surely boost its cultural cachet. Whether that significantly affects its real estate, or those of adjacent neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle, remains to be seen. Homes in Kalorama sell for millions as it is, requiring deep pockets to access the neighborhood.
“This is going to bring some notoriety where people will want to spend their money to say they’re in the same neighborhood as these high-profile people,” says Tom Gordon, a broker who works in the Logan Circle office of local firm Compass. “There’s some manner of herd effect. A buyer is saying something about themselves and that they can afford to live there.” The Obama, Trump, and Bezos properties now have stronger historic value as part of “Washington history,” he adds.
So, why Kalorama and not the far reaches of Northwest? Or Bethesda? “I don’t think they want to be cast as living in the suburbs,” Gordon says. “They’re urban people in their heart and soul.”
Considerations about conspicuous consumption and urban bona fides aside, current Kalorama residents says they don’t know much about how the expected security will change their goings-about. “We’re still in the dark,” Goldstein notes, adding that some of her constituents are wondering whether the neighborhood’s street parking will be further limited (spots are already reserved for diplomats). But she’s excited to welcome the newbies as neighbors, and hopes they’ll feel comfortable walking through Mitchell Park, a central meeting space for the community between S Street and Bancroft Place that hosts popular movie nights in the summer.
“I just hope that my dog would be as friendly as possible and not embarrass me,” Goldstein quips. “He would go to the President or the First Lady in a heartbeat and look for a treat.” Ted Kennedy and Caspar Weinberger , Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Defense, were regulars at the park. It was normal, except that security guards would follow them.
Goldstein isn’t alone in her enthusiasm, particularly for having the Obamas as neighbors. (“There are many of us in the neighborhood who love them.”) Freddy Mancilla, a 26-year-old who has lived in a Kalorama apartment building east of Connecticut Avenue for the past nine months, says the neighborhood has a “chill, nuclear-family sort of schedule to it” and gets quiet after the sun sets. He doesn’t expect that to change much but thinks the newcomers could saunter out more in the area.
“There has been a local surge in made-in-D.C. products and homegrown vendors,” Mancilla says. “It would not surprise me to see the Obamas going out to support a business or local brand or local entrepreneur. And if they want anyone to join them as they go out to a happy hour or something, I will gladly volunteer. I will be their neighborhood ambassador. You can print that.”
While paparazzi may arrive in Kalorama, residents themselves insist they won’t turn into busybodies.
“People are very respectful of people’s privacy,” says Holly Sukenik, a Kalorama resident since 1981 who raised her kids there and co-founded the Friends of Mitchell Park group in the 1990s. “In the end, they’re just friendly people. Nobody goes over and says, ‘Can I have your autograph?’”