There’s no point in moving to Brookland and then complaining there’s nothing to do. The point of Brookland is that it’s a quiet community—move here and you have a yard, a favorite greasy spoon, a tiki bar and tavern, your house and garden, your neighbors, and your 15-minute Metro ride downtown. If you come out here intending to keep up your Adams Morgan lifestyle, well, wait another 10 or 15 years for the planned big apartment complexes to fill up and you might get it.
For now, sit back and marvel at the godliness of the place. Right off the Brookland Metro stop, behold Catholic University of America (CUA), with its manicured campus and beautiful buildings, not to mention its tasty cafeteria and eclectic bookstore, where you can read tracts on hell and pamphlets describing the Pope’s antipathy toward the Freemasons. The nearby impressive Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception—another of the 60-odd religious institutions in Brookland—has an intricate roof that makes the skyline awfully pretty.
A mile or so from CUA is the Franciscan Monastery, and its gardens, and its crypts, and its collection of religious replicas which includes a replica crown of thorns. Franciscans, as a brown-robe-clad friar on the monastery’s grounds will explain, are charged with preserving Catholic sites and relics, as well as working up interest in visits to the Holy Land. Brookland’s monastery was built in 1899 so that people who couldn’t make the journey to the Holy Land could at least see what they were missing, the friar explains.
The monastery’s gardeners will claim that the monastery’s rose garden is the largest rose garden in D.C., but the friar will disagree, claiming the National Arboretum’s is bigger. Whoever’s right, the garden is wonderful to walk through, as are the Stations of the Cross, replica tombs, and the replica grotto out back. You can take a tour of the monastery—along with hundreds of eighth-graders on school trips—and of the catacombs, which are modeled after the catacombs of Rome. Also, you can enjoy the monastery’s bookstore/gift shop, where plastic statues of saints can be had for a dollar.
Between the university and the shrine is a neighborhood of old houses—bungalows, Victorians, some large, some small, some round-shaped and painted green (no, really)—and families who have lived in these houses for generations. There are oddball religious bookstores tucked into houses, a massage joint that is done up like a tropical getaway, a home-based art gallery, and an acclaimed dance studio. There is the main commercial drag—12th Street—which feels run down but promising, with a hardware store, a Yes! Natural Market, a CVS, a coffee shop, an immigration-themed restaurant, a dive bar with an open-mic night, and some guys selling T-shirts and incense off a folding table.
Jo Moore and her husband moved to Brookland 30 years ago because they wanted a yard—not a postage-stamp city yard, a real yard—and they got one, which Moore has been gardening in ever since.
Moore says that the neighborhood is wonderful for its community, the kind of place where gossip gets passed around both on Listservs and in backyards, and where people will shovel their neighbors’ driveways.
And despite all the city’s changes, Moore says this neighborhood hasn’t changed a whole lot since she and her husband arrived. “We sort of thought when the Metro opened that 12th Street would change,” she says. “That didn’t happen.”
The neighborhood, Moore says, is still diverse and welcomes its smattering of newcomers—including gay couples with kids who’ve bought houses in Brookland, as well as single people buying their own bungalows. “Mostly what brings people together is they love the trees, love the gardening,” she says. “It’s just a very accepting area. People don’t get into your business. They look out for each other, but they don’t care what color you paint your house. It’s nice. It’s not fancy, but it’s just a nice place to live.”
The nabe is a nice place to live with a great local pub, Colonel Brooks Tavern, named after the neighborhood’s founder, Col. Jehiel Brooks, who built a huge mansion on a huge plot of land in the 1830s, then sold off large portions of the plot to CUA for developments beginning in 1887.
Every Tuesday night, a New Orleans-style band plays at the tavern, and every Tuesday night a big group of locals and others comes to the tavern to listen and dance, drink the good beer, and eat the fried food. Attached to the tavern is the neighborhood tiki bar, Island Jim’s, which serves a mean zombie and has a man-made beach with sand, deck chairs, and umbrellas. But get there quick if you want to sit in the sand. Island Jim’s has been sold to condo developers.
• Dance Place moved to Brookland in 1986, forced out by the high rents of Adams Morgan. Its performances, resident companies, and classes for kids and adults are expanding. New space is planned for Brookland in 2009.
• Col. Jehiel Brooks was a gentleman farmer on the 200-some acres of land his house is built on. But he was more than a mere raiser of tomatoes—Brooks also negotiated treaties and land sales with Native Americans in Louisiana (and was sued over these same dealings), wrote a treaty on laws dealing with fugitive labor, and—perhaps most scandalously—was a Confederate sympathizer who objected to the Union Army’s activities at nearby Fort Bunker Hill during the Civil War. His house, which fell into disrepair for many years and was the object of a massive neighborhood preservation effort, is now used as the headquarters for public access station DCTV.
• The monastery’s Rosary Walk, one of the city’s nicest places for prayer or meditation, includes stops that represent each important bead of the rosary. But non-rosary types can enjoy the fine artwork, instructive signs, and proximity to the lovely rose garden.