Breathing New Rhythm Into Tired Streets

Laurie Comings instructs students at Yoga House, on Georgia Avenue in the Petworth area, in the vinyasa yoga style. The studio opened in October.
Laurie Comings instructs students at Yoga House, on Georgia Avenue in the Petworth area, in the vinyasa yoga style. The studio opened in October. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 12, 2006

To track the economic transformation of Washington, here's a simple rule: Follow the yoga mats.

The march of yoga studios from west to east across the District dovetails with the development frenzy that began five years ago and is remaking long-stagnant neighborhoods.

And it's not by accident. Owners of yoga studios are drawn to the cheap rents of transitional neighborhoods, naturally, but some developers actively recruit them. They see the studios as symbols of safety for women and amenities for their target demographic.

"Yoga tends to be an activity done by well-educated people -- it's a quiet, subtle sign that things are changing," said John K. McIlwain, a senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute. "It doesn't mean upper-income people necessarily, because students do it, but they are much more highly educated people. These tend to be the gentrifiers."

The city does not count its yoga studios, but an informal survey turned up 25. The oldest are clustered around affluent Georgetown, Tenleytown, Cleveland Park and Dupont Circle -- with six on Wisconsin Avenue alone -- while the newest have set up shop on steadily gentrifying U Street, Logan Circle and beyond.

The most recent arrival is Yoga House, which opened on Georgia Avenue in the Petworth neighborhood in October. On a hunch that the working-class community just north of Howard University was about to take off, developers Josh Adler and Robb LaKritz had purchased a building that had been vacant for a decade. "It's the next stop up the Green Line from Columbia Heights," Adler said. "It just made sense that this was really going to change soon."

On the ground floor, they created a sit-down restaurant named Temperance Hall, the only one in the immediate vicinity. Then they built the yoga studio above it.

A yoga studio would bring people to the building, maybe increasing customers at the restaurant, Adler said. But it would also send a message: "Women tend to practice yoga more than men, and when you see a woman walking down the sidewalk with a yoga mat under her arm, it says she feels safe enough to do that," he said.

Adler and LaKritz installed bamboo floors, created oversize windows to make the studio light and airy, and then on a community listserv found a yogi who had been teaching in Tenleytown and Adams Morgan and longed to own a studio. They leased the 6,000-square-foot studio to Elizabeth Greathouse for $3,300 a month, a third of the rent she would pay in Dupont Circle.

This month, a yoga studio will open on H Street in Northeast, a strip that is poised for a comeback. The studio will replace a 40-year-old laundromat that had been losing business as rising rents forced out its customers. A few blocks away, developer Jim Abdo is spending $250 million to convert the old Capital Children's Museum building into condominiums.

Studio owner Elizabeth Glover is paying $4,000 a month for 3,000 square feet, half of what she would pay on the other side of Capitol Hill along Pennsylvania Avenue SE.

"I like the idea of helping rebuild an area that was the site of riots" after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, said Glover, 31, who is opening Bikram Capitol Hill after teaching for years at studios in Dupont Circle, Falls Church and Rockville.

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