Special to The Washington Post
Editor’s Note: This piece is written in response to an earlier blog post about the disappearing historic mansions in Columbia Heights.
Recently, the Where We Live blog featured an old six-bedroom mansion that is being converted to condominiums as a sign of mansions disappearing in Columbia Heights.
I am the former owner of the featured home, 1300 Euclid Street NW. The writer of the original post, Brandon Green, a former neighbor of ours, is certainly correct when he says these old Victorian houses are a lot of work — especially if you don't have deep pockets.
People who are recent arrivals here may not know the long history behind many of these houses — much of it sad. I originally moved into the neighborhood in 1987 because the rowhouse I found here was the best thing I could afford close to downtown on my reporter's salary. At that time, it was said that our neighborhood was the most murderous census tract in the country. An open-air drug market stayed busy across the street 24/7, and we witnessed several (yes, several) shootings. Things finally started to look up when they emptied out the notorious Clifton Terrace apartments a block away and re-purposed those buildings.
Readers should know that "grand" only applies to the façade of 1300 Euclid Street NW. There was not a single vestige of the original "grand" interior left in this building when we bought it in foreclosure in 1997. I wasn't deterred, since the first rowhouse I renovated 10 years earlier was only habitable in the basement.
The house on the corner was built in 1900, and, like many others, had suffered neglect dating back to the years of “white flight” in the 1950s. It was "renovated" at some point, meaning everything original was removed and replaced with a nightmare of botched plumbing, heating systems and tacky cosmetics. All those fabulous wooden fireplace mantels? They were long gone.
Many people in the area and even commuters from Maryland came to love the vegetable garden we built in the front yard (a few neighbors weren't so thrilled).
We re-did the roof, replaced the heating and cooling systems, installed new windows and painted the exterior. Still, our "mansion" was a nightmare of leaks and drafts — the proverbial money pit. We finally embraced the idea that the best way to bring it into the 21st century was to sell it to a developer last year.
The subsequent conversion to condos has stirred intense interest and a little controversy among some of the local residents. But they are not aware of the sorry condition this house was in. My wife and I bought the house at a time when we wanted more space and before anyone ever imagined a real estate boom taking place in Columbia Heights. At one point we had considered turning it into a modern bed and breakfast — complete with solar panels.
But the scope of the work required was simply beyond our means, nor did our family really need anything that big. We think the modern use for this building is to make room for several more inhabitants and encourage a greater population density. That can only be good for local commerce and the quality of life in our part of Columbia Heights.
Sadly, the District continues not only to encourage but require parking for automobiles on such properties. As a result, much of the yard where we had maintained our thriving kitchen garden has been dug out and paved over.
Neighborhood guide: Columbia Heights