Marion Barry’s mayoral house is for sale

February 19, 2013

Marion Barry’s old family home on at 3607 Suitland Road SE. (MRIS)

Live in a piece of Washington history: The house at 3607 Suitland Road SE, where Marion Barry lived and raised his family during his first three terms as mayor, is on the market for the first time since 1993.

It could be yours for $469,000. That’s a drop from the original listing price of $489,900 but still a heck of a lot more than the $125,000 that Marion and Effi Barry paid for the Hillcrest home in 1979.

Barry experienced the highest peaks and deepest valleys of his political and personal life while living in the 3,000-square-foot, four-bed, four-bath home. It was an early source of controversy for Barry as mayor, when it was disclosed that he had received a discounted mortgage from a bank on whose board of directors his wife sat. He gave up the discount and went on to spend 14 years in the home, raising his son Christopher there.

Effi Barry never allowed reporters inside the family home, but she described the home to The Washington Post in 1979: “It has, she said, four bedrooms, a large living room with a fireplace, an ample dining room, a large kitchen (which she said seats 15), a lower-level family room with a fireplace, two full baths, a patio and offstreet parking for two cars — their Volvo and Seville — in the rear.”

The recent property listing offers a little more detail: “This Hill Crest stunner has it all! Boasting over 3000 finished sq feet. 4 bedrooms, 2 full/2 half baths, updated kitchen with granite & stainless steel appliances, updated bathrooms, 2 fireplaces, finished basement with rec space, gym and tons of storage. A large fenced in yard with basketball court and off street parking. Minutes to Capitol Hill and Metro. Don’t miss out!!!”

Effi and Christopher moved out of the house in November 1990, shortly after Marion Barry was sentenced to six months in prison for a cocaine possession misdemeanor. After he left prison in 1992, Barry relocated to a Ward 8 apartment and launched a successful D.C. Council run to represent that ward. The next year, Marion and Effi would officially divorce and sell the Suitland Road house.

Barry, in an interview last week, didn’t express a whole lot of sentimentality about the home, though he recalled building the basketball hoop in the back yard for Christopher.

But the home’s listing price prompted a soliloquy on affordable housing in the city: “From a personal point of view, I think increasingly African Americans, particularly, are being frozen out; they’re pricing a lot of black folks out of the moment,” he said. “It’s all over Capitol Hill. It happened all over the Shaw, U Street area. … That’s the larger problem.”

Then again, a four-bedroom home in a quiet residential neighborhood for well under $500,000 looks like a steal compared to some of the prices in the neighborhoods Barry mentioned. And just as in 1979, it’s a wonderful perch for an aspiring politician — located in the heart of high-voting Ward 7, across the street from one of the city’s largest voting precincts, at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, and steps from key civic gathering spots at Anne Beers Elementary School and the newly rebuilt Francis A. Gregory Community Library.

Asked if it was a good house, Barry replied: “I wouldn’t have bought it unless it was a good house. … You think I’m crazy?”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis | February 19, 2013