Neighborhod profile: Takoma

April 26, 2013

When Ellen McBarnette moved to Washington several years ago, she settled in an apartment on Capitol Hill to be near her job as a legislative assistant for a congressman.

Soon, she started looking for a house there. But she says the neighborhood didn’t quite fit her desire for a picturesque place to carry out her active lifestyle of hiking, distance bike riding and walking her large dog.

Then she discovered the Districts’s Takoma neighborhood, which she says was “walking distance to Rock Creek Park” and “an easy bike ride to Sligo Creek.”

Moreover, she says, she found a collegial community. “I know a huge proportion of my neighbors,” McBarnette says, “which is crazy for a girl who grew up in New York City. I know by face — and often by name — everybody on my block.” Now McBarnette is the president of the Takoma DC Neighborhood Association and enjoys the same hobby as many other residents: gardening.

Flower power: The historic Takoma Horticultural Club, which also draws members from adjacent Takoma Park, Md., organizes plant swaps, bulb sales and lectures and encourages imaginatively tended yards in the neighborhood’s stock of bungalows and four-squares. Local Coolidge High School has a greenhouse garden, which includes shrub beds and a rain garden.

Many streets are named for trees or flowers: Walnut Street, Cedar Street, Juniper Street, Geranium Street and Flora Street. (The streets become avenues on the Maryland side.)

Connecting with neighbors: Takoma started as part of a neighborhood that was founded in 1883 that at the time encompassed Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and the District. “We don’t think of it as one area,” McBarnette says. “But it’s not a negative thing. It’s a loving sister relationship.”

Wide front porches and pedestrian-friendly tree-lined streets encourage neighbors to talk. The neighborhood’s electonic mailing list is lively and has spawned subsidiary groups that discuss raising children and swapping goods and services.

“Other Listservs I’ve been on, people shut down a side conversation, and I just feel like we have a really nice conversation going,” says Catherine Stratton Treadway, who has lived there for 10 years. “These days, people are discussing FiOS, and there was something on whether Hollywood makes enough movies actually in D.C. or not.”

“People will also just post random musings,” Treadway adds. “It’s really allowed to be a free-flowing conversation. I find that to typify the way that the neighborhood people interact with each other.”

Shopping and dining: A busy commercial strip on Georgia Avenue features some unique shops, including Modern Mobler Vintage Furnishings, which specializes in mid-century modern and Danish modern furniture. Strolling down quieter Fourth Street takes you past many options for a bite to eat.

Cedar Crossing Tavern and Wine Bar serves a wide variety of food as well as beverages, and SiTea: The Spice Boutique sells and serves tea and spices. “You can’t not enter into a conversation there,” says McBarnette, “and the smells are fabulous.”

A haven for bookworms: The Takoma public library was built in 1911 as the first branch library in the District. The Renaissance Revival-style building is one of four Carnegie libraries — funded with donations from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie — in Washington. (The Historical Society of Washington, D.C., is housed in another.) Today the Takoma branch hosts programs for children and adults, from story time to visits by local authors and computer classes.

Public transportation: The Takoma Metro station is a big hub for the neighborhood, and many residents use it to get to work. Driving to the station can be a problem, because parking is limited to seven hours. But many residents find they don’t even need a vehicle. “I sold my car two years ago,” says McBarnette.

Boundaries: Roughly, Eastern Avenue to the north and east, Underwood Street to the south, and Georgia Avenue to the west.

Schools: A new principal has re-energized the pre-K-through-eighth-grade Takoma Education Center, parents say. Many families also choose charter schools, including Latin American Montessori Bilingual. High-schoolers attend Coolidge.

Living there: In the past 12 months, says real estate agent Hank Prensky of TakomaHomes, there have been 62 sales, at prices ranging from $154,000 to $700,000. Eleven single-family residences are on the market, with prices ranging from $180,000 to $699,000. Prensky says that average rent for the area is around $2,200 a month.

Eliza McGraw is a freelance writer.

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