Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast becomes a magnet for young professionals


From left: Donnell Ford, 6, Dontre Hancock, 9, and Romel Kelley, 11, race each other on the turf field in front of Wheatley Recreation Center in the Trinidad neighborhood of Washington, D.C. (Maddie Meyer/The Washington Post)
August 30, 2013

Hands full with leashes, Thalia Wiggins herded a few local dogs past rowhouses and crape myrtles in Northeast Washington’s Trinidad community one drizzly summer morning. The 30-year-old professional dog walker exchanged hellos with many neighbors headed to work.

A lifelong resident, Wiggins says she’s seeing Trinidad slowly transform from a troubled area into a magnet for transient young professionals looking to settle down.

While that is likely to mean more business for her dog-walking company, Wiggins has a greater hope: that the changes will erase the stain of Trinidad’s violent past.

“It’s still up and coming but still in transition,” said Wiggins, a former Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative.

Montello Avenue, where Wiggins walked the dogs, once was considered one of the more dicey places in the District. In 2008, a string of slayings in the area led police to block off streets with military-style checkpoints for a time.


(Gene Thorp/The Washington Post)

Since then, the D.C. government, ANCs, the Trinidad Neighborhood Association and local churches have taken steps to revive the community with vibrant murals, a new dog park, a recreation center and increased security.

“I really wanted to own something, and it seemed inevitable to me that Trinidad would take off,” said Holly Malone, an administrative assistant at a private-equity firm who bought a rowhouse last year.

Progress against crime: There are a few accounts of how Trinidad got its name. Some say it was named in recognition of land speculator James Barry, who spent time in the Caribbean. Others say the name is in honor of a slave from Trinidad and Tobago who wanted to come to the United States but died before he was able to do so.

The Washington Machine Brick Co. purchased the 65 clay-rich acres on July 18, 1888, for $38,888 to use the soil to make bricks. The company sold land for housing. That’s when the original rowhouses sprang up, according to Cultural Tourism DC. After the brick company shut down, the American Baseball League built a ballpark on its site from 1901 to 1902.

The rioting that followed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968 spawned decades of decline. Crime picked up in the 1980s with a crack cocaine epidemic.

But in recent years, the area has turned a corner. Residents have created an online mailing list to keep one another updated, and Trinidad Neighborhood Association meetings often discuss crime prevention. Crime has declined since the 2008 incidents, according to D.C. police records. But during the past 12 months, 21 assaults, 15 robberies and 80 property crimes were reported.

Friendliness: The neighborhood association plans numerous events throughout the year to foster a stronger sense of community.

Other organizations and residents sponsor art exhibits, movie nights, block parties, yard tours, and youth football and cheerleading. Two popular blogs, Titan of Trinidad and Frozen Tropics, aim to keep everyone connected.

“When I walked down the street, people were saying, ‘Hello, hello, hello.’ I was so shocked at first, I didn’t think they were speaking to me,” said Bernadine Okorl, a science teacher who moved into the neighborhood in 2009. She is producing a documentary on the neighborhood’s history.

Hanging out and shopping: There is no shortage of nightlife for residents of Trinidad, most of which can be found along the H Street corridor, just south of the neighborhood. Popular spots include Taylor Gourmet, an Italian deli, and its Taylor Charles Steak & Ice offshoot; Toki Underground, for ramen and dumplings; Granville Moore’s, which serves Belgian cuisine; and H &Pizza.

The Atlas Performing Arts Center and Industry Gallery are popular attractions for people interested in the arts.

The closest supermarkets, easily walkable from the southeastern corner of Trinidad, are the Aldi on 17th Street and the Safeway just south of it on Maryland Avenue. Two new stores, the Harris Teeter at Constitution Square in NoMa and the Giant Food at Third and H, are a short drive away. Also newly opened is Union Market, a warehouse full of specialty food vendors across Gallaudet University from Trinidad. On summer weekends, the market doubles as a drive-in movie theater.

Living there: Trapezoid-shaped Trinidad is bordered by Mount Olivet Road to the north, Bladensburg Road to the east, Florida Avenue to the south and West Virginia Avenue to the west, It’s in the center of the 20002 Zip code.

From July 1, 2012, to July 1, 2013, 67 homes sold in Trinidad, at prices ranging from $160,000 to $568,000. Fifteen homes are now under contract, ranging from an 850-square-foot house for $154,900 to a 1,400-square-foot three-bedroom home that may need some work for $410,000. In April, a six-bedroom house on Florida Avenue sold for nearly $1 million.

“Every month that goes by, you see prices rising 1 to 2 percent a month, said Mark Mlakar, principal broker at M Squared Real Estate. “Where it’s going to end, no one knows.”

Residents often get postcards from investors looking to buy their homes with cash.

While the neighborhood is scattered with vacant houses, renovation activity has picked up. Renovation tours are common, offering residents an opportunity to ogle their neighbors’ new kitchens or basements.

Schools: The neighborhood’s schools include Wheatley Education Campus (pre-kindergarten to eighth grade) and Center City Public Charter School Trinidad Campus. KIPP, a charter-school group, took over the Webb Elementary School, which closed in 2009.

Transportation: The NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station is a 15-minute walk away. A number of bus routes serve the area, including D4, D8, D3, X2, X3 and X8.

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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