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Gardened and Glowing in Trinidad

Freddie Stewart, Tony Golden, Elise Bernard, Yamilee Dambreville and Mabel Blocker show a tree box. Ivy City is a next-door neighborhood.
Freddie Stewart, Tony Golden, Elise Bernard, Yamilee Dambreville and Mabel Blocker show a tree box. Ivy City is a next-door neighborhood. (By Marianne Kyriakos For The Washington Post)

Four years ago, Tony Golden, 30, moved into the house that his "great-granddaddy Hawkins" once owned. The house had been vacant for years. "It was completely dilapidated. There were three holes in the roof and old furniture piled up inside. No flowers, no trees. There was nothing in nobody's yards."

An artist and hairstylist, Golden has created a showcase house with two kitchens, antique claw-foot tubs in the bathrooms, and two bay windows in his bedroom.

For years, housing prices in Trinidad were rock bottom by D.C. standards. "It is gradually changing," said Ralph Lee, an agent with Murrell Realtors. "The property values in the past two years have tripled. But two friends coming out of school can still buy a house in Trinidad for $275,000 or $300,000, and that's far less than what they can get a downtown condo for."

Some residents were shocked when the neighborhood's percentage change in tax assessment value for 2004-2005 -- at 33 percent -- ranked the highest in the city, according to the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue.

Blocker's brick home on Morse Street is typical of the area's 1920s porch-front row houses. The historic housing stock in lower Trinidad is similar to that of greater Capitol Hill: Three-story 1880s Victorian row houses with asymmetrical fronts, full-length windows and crown detailing at the roof peaks. Canopies of towering trees shade some of the streets.

"Trinidad" was banker William W. Corcoran's country estate, according to Patsy M. Fletcher, community liaison for the Historic Preservation Office of the D.C. Office of Planning. The land was sold in 1888 to the Washington Machine Brick Co., which held onto 65 clay-rich acres for brick making. The other 100 acres were subdivided. "The natural grade of Trinidad is very beautiful," an 1888 advertisement proclaimed, "in the centre is a high knoll."

Today, that "high knoll" is Holbrooke Terrace, not far from Alex Hastings's house. The 25-year-old physicist grew up in McLean and left the Washington area for college at the University of San Diego. He was offered a job with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and knew he wanted to be a D.C. homeowner, "even though my parents didn't want me to live in the city."

"I was looking around on Capitol Hill," Hastings said, where list prices were sky high. Last August, he saw a $330,000, three-bedroom house on a corner lot in Trinidad and grabbed it. As for his parents, "I visit them more than they visit me."

He finds his new community "kind of exciting. It's real cool, what's going on."

"We doin' it over here," Golden said. In front of his detached garage, some elderly men congregate in the evenings. "They're contractors. They're all friends," Golden said. "I'm thinking about putting a table and umbrella out there; serve them some coffee. I like to see old dudes talking."

Golden has transformed his garden into an "outdoor room" with fish pond, a huge L-shaped cinderblock banquette and a marble-and-granite patio. The marble and granite were throwaway pieces, courtesy of a neighbor who makes countertops.

"This area, four years ago, I used to see people sell drugs on the corner," Golden said. From his sidewalk on Montello Avenue, it appears the drug dealers are gone.

"I think it was the flowers that did it. I like to say that beauty calmed the beast."

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