In fact, most of the neighborhood’s homes are located on or directly off the area’s spine, the hilly Fort Totten Drive. Apartment complexes line the road, while single-family homes lie on the few east-west streets just off of it.
That’s arguably the heart of the neighborhood: peaceful streets such as Crittenden, Buchanan and Allison containing long strings of duplexes and rowhouses made of brick or stone and shaded by tall willow oaks. With their network of back alleys and quaintly cluttered front yards, the streets have a well-tended, comfortable atmosphere, the kind you get when people have lived in their homes for decades.
According to residents, that’s very much been the case. “It’s a nice neighborhood. No crime, none of that,” said Juanita Jackson, who’s lived in the area for more than 35 years. The community was particularly tightknit in the past, she said, with residents banding together to hold block parties and other activities. “It was one big happy family when my kids were little.”
But over time, the original residents grew older. And while some had children who moved into nearby homes to raise their own kids, the neighborhood gradually became quieter. Outdoor life — on porches, in alleys — decreased, and Fort Totten turned into a place where neighbors peeked through their blinds to see what was going on outside, but wouldn’t actually venture out.
“Most of the people here are elderly,” said Dave Motley, 50, who has lived in the neighborhood for seven years but says he’s still viewed as a newcomer. While the longtime neighbors all know one another, he doesn’t socialize with them much. “A lot of people don’t even use their front doors; they drive in the back alley and right into their back yards.”
That’s what the area was like when Joe Finley, who runs the Totten Life blog, bought his home nine years ago. “When I moved in, it was still very close-knit. Most people had been there a while,” said Finley, 31. But that began to change a few years ago. Now, he said, “you’re starting to see some of the older residents recognizing that they want to retire; maybe they bought their house in the 1960s and are seeing the value and moving. And there’s definitely a larger amount of young professionals coming in.”
That latter change might be the function of the District’s reheated housing market, as first-time homeowners venture farther and farther from Northwest in search of low-cost houses. It might also be a spillover from nearby Brookland, with its robust stock of single-family homes and small but burgeoning commercial strip.