Where We Live

Hazy on Borders, Residents Are Sure of 16th Street Heights

By Sara Gebhardt
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, February 2, 2008

Residents of 16th Street Heights might disagree over the boundaries of the neighborhood, but they overwhelmingly agree that it is interesting, quiet and safe.

The Northwest Washington neighborhood was built in the 1920s and '30s as a streetcar community at the end of the trolley line. Its rowhouses, semidetached and detached houses are overwhelmingly owner-occupied.

Now, several bus lines serve the neighborhood, and the old streetcar station has become the Metro "bus barn" at 14th and Buchanan streets NW.

Presidents of two local community groups -- the 16th Street Heights Neighborhood Association and the 16th Street Heights Civic Association -- disagree (politely) on exact boundary lines, although the D.C. government defines the neighborhood as between Georgia Avenue and 16th Street NW, south of Missouri Avenue and north of Arkansas Avenue.

"Neighbors and real estate agents will draw and define their own boundaries," said Lewis Wassel, president of the 16th Street Heights Neighborhood Association.

"There is no real neighborhood name. Maybe 'Noark' would be appropriate," he said. Wassel, 42, particularly likes this idea because he has recovered copies of a 1940s-era neighborhood newsletter called the Arkansas Traveler.

Essentially, the neighborhood is entering its third generation of residents. The first generation of owners, who were predominantly white and Jewish, lived in the community from about 1920 to 1960. The second generation was made up largely of African Americans who moved in from about 1960 to 2000 and became a majority.

Now, as newer residents of varied races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages and life stages move in, the neighborhood's makeup is more diverse than ever.

Over the past two decades or so, activists have pushed to clean up intermittent crime and neglect.

"We have come a long way. In the 14 years I've been here, I've seen abandoned vehicles and trash," Wassel said. "It's a lot better now. People care about the quality of life here and are helping improve it."

Since moving into the neighborhood in 1987, Jeannie Carter has witnessed a general revival.

The singer and voice teacher bought her rowhouse with the intention of flipping it, but when the market fell in the late 1980s, she held onto her house and ultimately decided to stay long-term. "I'm happy about the changes," Carter said. "This has become a desirable place to live. I didn't realize it would grow so much."

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