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In the canon of D.C. neighborhoods, Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, and Forest Hills are among those that time forgot to wreck. To see what could have happened to all of Connecticut, D.C., is to behold the glass-and-steel Intelsat building in North Cleveland Park.
Although it’s a building only Office Space could love, Intelsat does employ some 700 workers engaged in the “world’s most extensive and secure satellite communications network.” Which just about clinches it for these neighborhoods shot through by Connecticut Avenue—they have it all: retro space-age architecture, solid housing stock, exemplary schools, the National Zoo, good and even wonderful restaurants, accessible public transportation, friendly neighbors, movies at the Uptown, and a library not housed (temporarily, of course) in a construction trailer.
It’s an area of the city that is, in a word, ideal. Unless, of course, you care about Klingle Road and reopening it as a crosstown shortcut is your life’s ambition. But let’s leave this 12-year controversy to rot like so much mulch on the lush, green Klingle Valley floor until the D.C. Council decides otherwise and move on…
…To the Blue Room. Few neighborhoods claim a place so famous, so Jackie O as this spot in the basement of the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Woodley Park. It’s where Jackie—as a Bouvier—danced off dinner with Jack on their early dates and where Judy Garland and, later, her daughter, fresh-faced Liza Minnelli, belted it out before everything went so wrong. The Blue Room is still there, although these days it’s more likely to host weddings and Realtor conferences—its bold-faced names reduced to, say, keynote speaker Dana Milbank.
Both the grand Omni Shoreham, finished in 1930, and the even more grand Marriott Wardman Park—billed in the ’20s as a “city within itself”—have come to define Woodley Park. Nearly all of the restaurants here cater to the hotels’ clientele with inflated prices, conference-friendly hours, and forgettable food. Two years ago, that changed to a degree, when restaurateur Constantine Stavropoulos took what he learned from Tryst and the Diner, the neighborhood darlings of Adams Morgan, and opened Open City on the other side of the Duke Ellington Bridge. Its promise of good food and good coffee at decent prices and served late was almost instantly embraced by the locals. Finally, it seemed, someone got it: People actually live in Woodley Park.
Living in Woodley, as well in most of Connecticut, D.C., involves a segregation not unlike cholesterol: There are the low-density stand-alone homes with roomy front porches, built during the housing boom of the early 20th century, and the high-density large apartment and condo buildings not exactly lacking for amenities. The neighborhoods are home to diplomats, lawyers, aging hippies who’ve made money or got into a nice house early, young couples, families with children, and a fair amount of age-in-placers—most of them white.
The schools, both public and private, are the most coveted in the city, or so those trying to sell pricey real estate attest. Shopping and eating options are solid, as well.
The young, the old, the middle- and upper-classes all patronize the restaurants of the Connecticut Avenue commercial corridor—including Palena, named by Washington City Paper as the best restaurant for 2008, and lower-end joints like Nam Viet Pho 79. The “strip” includes the mother of all malls; the Park ‘n’ Shop is the first shopping center in the country designed for the convenience of the automobile. It’s fallen on hard times as of late, though: The bagel shop, the coffee shop, a camera store, they’ve all closed. Nearby, Radio Shack, a McDonald’s, a Blockbuster, and an old-school Chinese restaurant have all moved out. The neighborhood remains at an impasse as to what should take their places, if anything. Battles over the “zoning overlay” rage on the popular Cleveland Park Listserv, where they intermingle with messages about nanny shares, shady characters trying to sell magazines, and stolen bikes.
Life is a touch less NIMBY to the north and west of the strip, in tucked-away Forest Hills between Connecticut Avenue and Rock Creek Park. The houses here represent every style of every house of every decade, pretty much, since houses were built. You’ve got your ramblers, you’ve got your split-levels, your colonials, your semi-detacheds. Notably, you’ve got your architects totally digging midcentury modern, with boxy glassed-in numbers overlooking Soapstone Valley, one of the city’s most beautiful spots.
Forest Hills’ most famous house is a museum: the Hillwood Estate. If you believe its motto, it’s “where fabulous lives,” but before fabulous moved in, it was the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, art collector and heir to the Post cereal fortune.
Back on Connecticut Avenue is North Cleveland Park, the neighborhood almost everyone calls Van Ness (which, technically, is just three blocks). NCP is home to UDC (University of the District of Columbia, Van Ness campus) and P&P (Politics & Prose). It’s also home to a fair amount of ’50s-style houses, a slew of so-so restaurants, a miserable basement Giant grocery, and, typically, a long snarl of traffic. Oh, and Intelsat. Let us not forget Intelsat.
• Roi Barnard of Salon Roi got a call in 2001 informing him that the Marilyn—the iconic mural he’d had painted 20 years earlier on the salon’s outside wall—was looking tired. The then president of the Woodley Park Citizens Association told him some local businesses were starting to complain. Barnard called up the artist who originally painted it, John Bailey, and asked if he’d like to refurbish it. Bailey agreed, for $5,000. “Let me call you back,” Barnard said, and got on the phone instead to the citizens’ president. If the local businesses thought Marilyn Monroe was losing her luster, Barnard thought the local business could help touch her up. They agreed. Chipotle installed professional lighting and offered to pay the electric bill. The other places ponied up, too, donating enough to get Bailey back on Ms. Monroe. This time, Bailey even added crushed glass and mirrors to her eyes to catch the morning light. More recently, someone came into the salon with another request: Take Marilyn down and put up Lena Horne. Barnard, who likes Lena Horne, had a solution for him, too: “Get your own wall.”
• Connecticut, D.C., has a glut of the District’s grand-old-dame apartment buildings. Among them, it’s the art deco Kennedy-Warren at 3133 Connecticut Ave. NW that stands out. Conceived in the early ’30s, the luxe nine-story complex wasn’t finished until the early aughts; the planned second wing finally opened in 2004 to a new class of renters, some of whom pay up to $8,000 a month to live there. What’s not open to new renters is the old wing, the one that’s rent-controlled, and it’s gotten rather sticky. The ’30s half of the K-W has electricity and plumbing dating back to when it was built and the owners want to bring everything up to modern codes and, it must be said, market rents. To do that, they were hoping the tenants of about 100 still-occupied apartments would leave or, perhaps, relocate. Deals have been worked out and fallen through. There are “holdouts” (the management’s term. The residents prefer something along the lines of “informed tenants”). Several have entered a rent strike. Even more have protested two rent surcharges added for improvements like new windows and elevator rehabilitation. Through all of it, one resident of the historic part of the building still loves it. “I’d like to have a dishwasher,” he says, “but I love the charm of the old wing and would hate to see that sacrificed.”