“That’s a tricky combination,” said Ruman Skinner, 41.
She found both qualities in Crestwood, a neighborhood of single-family houses nestled between the west side of 16th Street NW and Rock Creek Park. The neighborhood is about a 15-minute commute from downtown Washington, where Ruman Skinner works as managing director of development at the American Enterprise Institute, yet it offers the serenity and sense of community she recalls from her youth.
“With the single-family houses with yards and driveways, it just had such a different feel from a lot of other neighborhoods in D.C., where the houses are lovely, but more compact and close together,” Ruman Skinner said.
Crestwood was first surveyed as a single estate in 1720, and the neighborhood is still roughly defined by the boundaries of that 300-acre parcel, according to a history of the neighborhood written by Crestwood resident David Swerdloff. The neighborhood was developed in bits and pieces until the early 1900s, when an electric-streetcar line along 14th Street connected the neighborhood to downtown Washington, spurring the construction of hundreds of houses, according to Swerdloff.
Some consider Crestwood part of the “Gold Coast,” an enclave of neighborhoods along 16th Street NW known as a haven for the District’s black elite. By 1970, almost two-thirds of Crestwood’s residents were black, according to Swerdloff.
Residents said they still prize Crestwood’s diversity, which comprises a wide variety of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.
“We loved that the neighborhood is not only diverse, but that it seemed to celebrate that diversity,” said Doug Barker, 52, who moved to the neighborhood in 1992 with his partner, Sam Kilpatrick.
A host of well-known D.C. residents call or have called Crestwood home, including Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).
Barker, who heads the Crestwood Citizens Association’s Green Team on environmental issues, said residents gather frequently for tree plantings, potluck dinners and annual events such as the Fourth of July parade. But he said the community’s cohesive ness goes far deeper than potlucks and block parties.
When Barker and Kilpatrick announced plans to marry in September, neighbors offered to host a big engagement party downtown.
“The fact that they hosted a big party for us and the fact that we had a dozen-plus other neighbors at the party is just indicative of the genuine connections you make here and the genuine fondness people have for their neighbors,” said Barker, who owns a management consulting firm, Barker & Scott.
Ruman Skinner said the close-knit atmosphere can be partly attributed to the fact that “people make a point to interact with each other, rather than just going to work, coming home and holing up in their houses.”
“Especially when the weather’s nice, there are tons of people outside walking, running or just talking to each other,” she said.
Residents also enjoy easy access to running and hiking trails in Rock Creek Park, which borders the neighborhood on three sides.
“On a hot summer day, the temperature on my car thermometer drops five to seven degrees from when I turn into the neighborhood to when I get to my house,” Barker said. “That’s the difference a mature tree canopy can make.”
The quiet, leafy streets and sense of cohesiveness make Crestwood a great place to raise a family, said Ruman Skinner, who heads the Citizens Association’s Kids Team, which organizes events and activities for neighborhood children. But many residents named the neighborhood’s assigned elementary school, Powell, as a downside to living in Crestwood, though they had high praise for Alice Deal Middle and Woodrow Wilson High schools.
“A survey we did showed that Crestwood residents send their kids to about 30 different schools,” said Gale Black, 60, a civil rights lawyer and president of the Citizens Association. “Access to quality education is a top issue here.”
John T. Mahshie, vice president of TTR Sotheby’s International, said the neighborhood’s widely varied houses, which range from brick ramblers to Tudor mansions, are well-preserved, thanks to a low turnover rate.
“People who respect fine home building know they can come here to find beautiful homes with original details — homes in which every piece of plaster, every doorknob, every window is untouched,” said Mahshie, 50, who moved to a 1926 Spanish Colonial revival in Crestwood with his partner, Michael Faubion, 13 years ago. “Many of them are almost house-museum quality.”
Although it’s a short drive to downtown, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, Columbia Heights and other neighborhoods, there are no restaurants or shops within walking distance of Crestwood. The closest Metro stations, Van Ness-UDC and Georgia Avenue-Petworth, are 20-minute walks away, though the neighborhood is served by several bus lines along 16th Street.
But Mahshie and other residents said that isn’t necessarily a drawback.
“Crestwood is a place you go because it doesn’t have retail or commercial development,” Mahshie said. “Everything’s a short drive away, but many people move here from those busier neighborhoods because they want a different, older-fashioned living experience.”