Where We Live

Where the Deer Outnumber Delivery Drivers

By Karen Tanner Allen
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, May 19, 2007

When you live near Rock Creek Park and its abundance of deer, you forgo some rites of spring, such as coaxing tulip blooms. (Deer treat them as munchies.) But for residents of Northwest Washington's Hawthorne neighborhood, the natural setting and convenience outweigh such gardening challenges.

"I love those woods," said Marianne Becton, a director of strategic alliances at Verizon and a fitness instructor. "I love the tranquillity. I love the mature trees. I love that every house is different."

Hawthorne is a wedge-shaped subdivision of about 250 houses off Western Avenue. It is a newer part of the larger Chevy Chase neighborhood, yet set apart by woods, more contemporary houses and a more racially integrated population than in many parts of the District.

Although Colonial-style houses dot the hilly, sidewalk-free streets, so do ramblers and split-levels, plus some new styles that are harder to define. Households vary almost as much as the architecture. Residents take pride in the racial balance -- the 2000 Census showed that the neighborhood is about half white and half other races, mostly black.

Peter Range, a journalist, and his wife, Linda Harris, moved to Hawthorne from another Northwest Washington neighborhood more than five years ago, choosing their house before realizing how much they liked the neighborhood.

"One of the main things we like is that it is biracial," Range said. "We had no clue about that when we came in."

When the neighborhood was developed in the late 1940s and early '50s, property deeds contained covenants that forbade sale to African Americans and Jews, according to Charles Fewell, a New York lawyer, whose parents were among the original homeowners and stayed for much of their lives. But the ripple effect of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the Supreme Court's school desegregation ruling, brought down those covenants and also brought about integration of the nearby, formerly all-white public schools.

African American professionals began moving to Hawthorne in the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially after the 1968 inner-city riots and civil unrest that tore through some of the District's traditionally black neighborhoods. They included LaVerne Canady's parents, who left Michigan Park in Northeast in 1976 for a larger house in Hawthorne and better schools nearby.

Her father used to enjoy driving around the neighborhood to point out the homes of other successful blacks -- doctors, a police officer, entrepreneurs. "Hawthorne has been home to a number of African Americans who, like my parents, came from the South, attended Howard or other historically black colleges or universities and built careers in government, education and medicine," said Canady, who works for a strategic communications firm.

Canady, who was 9, was enrolled at Lafayette Elementary -- still considered a bright spot in D.C.'s beleaguered public school system. She remembers that large groups of children from the neighborhood would ride the public bus the few blocks to school. After school, there were vast neighborhood-wide hide-and-seek games. "We had a lot of freedom. We were outside alone all the time."

Two years ago, Canady moved from Los Angeles back to her childhood house with her husband, David, and two daughters, now 5 and 7. Some of her old neighbors are still there. Her children go to Lafayette. Her husband, a freelance filmmaker and film editor, has grown to appreciate living there, too.

"Among the things I missed about the East Coast were trees and greenery," David Canady said. "Being here, so close to Rock Creek Park, you get that."

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