Rosalyn Coates has lived in the community since 2000 and is the president of the Shepherd Park Citizens Association. She says she was attracted there “by the diversity of the neighborhood residents.”
Josh Gorman, who has lived in Shepherd Park for two years, also appreciates heterogeneity, especially when he sees worshipers on their way to synagogue. “The presence of the Jewish congregations means that weekends open with lots of people walking around, avoiding vehicular travel, which drives encounters and conversations with lots of people.” He says he enjoys the diversity of ages, too. Gorman’s block has neighbors who have moved into their homes in every decade since the 1950s.
Other neighbors grew up in Shepherd Park and have moved back to raise their own families. “Shepherd Park is not a transient neighborhood. While there is enough activity to keep the area vibrant, people love it so much they move here and stay,” said Bonnie Randolph, a real estate agent at Weichert who sells houses and lives there.
Shepherd Park is located in upper Northwest, in an area some call “Silver Spring, D.C.” for its proximity to its Maryland neighbor.
It borders Rock Creek Park and is named for Alexander “Boss” Shepherd, who was “the most powerful member of the Board of Public Works (1871-1873)” and governor of the District in 1873-74, according to an essay by Marvin Caplan and Ralph Blessing in the 2010 edition of Kathryn Schneider Smith’s compendium “Washington at Home.” Shepherd maintained a summer home in the area, which he had named Bleak House after the Charles Dickens novel he and his wife enjoyed. That estate was razed in 1916, and the surrounding neighborhood became a D.C. suburb.
Today, the community consists of three sections, including Colonial Village and North Portal Estates; the census tract lists all three neighborhoods as parts of Shepherd Park. “Since almost two-thirds of the homes were built from 1912 to 1939 and the majority of the rest built from 1940 to 1960, Shepherd Park homes exude considerable charm and character,” Randolph said. The majority of homes are detached on sizable lots. There are Tudor-style houses; brick, stucco and frame Colonials; bungalows, farmhouses; split-levels; and ramblers.
The Shepherd Park Citizens Association, which publishes a quarterly newsletter, provides common ground for all three segments of the neighborhood, Coates says. The annual yard sale is Beth Allaben’s “favorite event.” Allaben has lived in Shepherd Park since 1989 and has served on the association. Residents set up tables outside their homes, or they can take sale goods to Shepherd Park Elementary. “I like [that] people are spending all day in their yards,” she said. “When my children were younger, they would have a lemonade stand.”
Other events include a post-holiday potluck dinner, which is generally attended by more than 200 people, a community picnic and a garden tour. “In addition to these activities, many residents hold block parties and other smaller activities that foster mutual support and community spirit,” Coates said. The community park, adjacent to the elementary school, has a new turf field, playground and running track, which Gorman says brings many people out “to meet and play.”
That mutual support helped draw Gorman to Shepherd Park; he said he liked the “feeling of an established residential neighborhood,” including “the interesting and dignified homes and the location.” He and his wife wanted to remain in the city but require access to the Beltway and transit for work. Because they live less than a mile’s walk to downtown Silver Spring, they have dining and retail options.
Also, Shepherd Park prices often compare favorably with those in other parts of Northwest. “Similar housing stock west of the park draws a premium that we just didn’t think was worth it,” he said.
Recent challenges for Shepherd Park include the 2011 closing of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which borders the neighborhood along 16th Street NW. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Walter Reed’s neighborhood entrances have been closed off, says Allaben, but with the uncertain future of the campus, neighbors are further concerned about potential traffic problems.
Gorman shares some other concerns. He said the neighborhood “has a lack of smaller housing options that make it difficult for some of our older residents to remain in the neighborhood when they no longer need to remain in their three-to-five-bedroom homes. Some worry that “rising home prices could lessen the diversity of a neighborhood that, for a long time, has been home to D.C.’s vibrant middle class,” he added.
Others maintain confidence that Shepherd Park will maintain its strong identity. As Coates says, “the abundance of trees, flowers and diversity of architectural styles of the homes in Shepherd Park make it unique. Another aspect of its uniqueness is the strong sense of community.”
Eliza McGraw is a freelance writer.