“We love our trees,” said Warner, an agent with Long & Foster and president of the Forest Hills Neighborhood Alliance/Citizens Association. “If you buy a lot here, you can’t cut down the trees, level the lot and build something bigger. People who want to be here understand and appreciate that.”
In addition to the natural beauty and recreation opportunities that come from essentially living in a forest, residents of Forest Hills prize their proximity to Metro and Connecticut Avenue, the diverse housing stock, and the inclusive nature.
That inclusive nature is rooted in Forest Hills’ beginning as one of the very few D.C. neighborhoods that had no restrictive covenants, earning it the nickname “Hanukkah Heights,” according to longtime residents.
Warner said that diversity is still alive today, thanks in part to a wide variety of housing options, from palatial mansions to apartment complexes.
“You have everything from large estate houses from the early 1900s to contemporary houses from well-known architects to small, 1920s houses that are fixer-uppers,” said Warner, who bought her 1926 cedar-shake-shingle home facing Rock Creek Park 10 years ago. “You can walk around the neighborhood and see a huge variety of styles from several different decades, and with different price points, too. You can buy a single-family home in the $700s [thousands]. You can also pay $3 million for a home.”
Former Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative David Bardin, 79, moved to Forest Hills in 1997, when he and his wife downsized to a condo after spending 19 years in a house in Chevy Chase. He says the neighborhood’s varied housing stock and diverse population are among its greatest assets.
“It’s pretty fun to see people of [various] ages, colors, citizenships and ethnicities mingling together here,” Bardin said.
Residents have also included multiple presidents, including Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, according to “Forest Hills,” a history of the neighborhood written by Margery L. Elfin and Paul K. Williams.
The neighborhood is also home to several embassies, Bardin said, and to many employment centers, including the University of the District of Columbia, Howard University School of Law, and businesses in and around Van Ness Square. Bardin said a survey conducted while he was on the ANC several years ago revealed that roughly 15,000 people lived in Forest Hills and roughly 15,000 people worked there, with a “substantial overlap” between the two groups.
Bardin said he also enjoys the neighborhood’s annual events, such as the Halloween parade, and weekly events such as the farmers market.
Marlene Berlin, who leads Connecticut Avenue Pedestrian Action and has lived in Forest Hills since 1989, said the neighborhood also galvanizes around its public schools, which include Murch Elementary.
“The fact that kids have access to those schools is a very positive aspect of neighborhood, and really lends to its cohesiveness,” said Berlin, 61, a social worker and longtime community activist.
Berlin said downsides to living in Forest Hills include high home prices that make it tough for some young families to buy single-family houses there.
She said many residents also would also like to see more nightlife options, though she noted that most were grateful to have the businesses on Connecticut Avenue, including the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria and Politics and Prose Bookstore, within walking distance.
“I think a lot of people would like to see more restaurants and other nightlife around Van Ness Square,” Berlin said. “It used to be a hopping place, with a bowling alley and an ice-skating rink. We don’t have any kind of public meeting place for people to gather now.”
A few years ago, Berlin founded the Forest Hills Connection, an e-magazine that aims to share news and other items of interest about the neighborhood and its residents. It also aims to spotlight the many entertainment opportunities in the neighborhood thanks to its embassies and universities, such as jazz concerts at UDC and the embassy concert series, Berlin said.
Then, of course, there are the recreation and entertainment options available through Rock Creek Park. Berlin, an avid walker, said she’s one of many people to regularly hike, run or bike there.
“It’s just beautiful to have it so close by,” she said. “It gives the neighborhood a sense of calmness that’s really incredible for a place that’s so close to Connecticut Avenue.”
Amy Reinink is a freelance writer.