Correction to This Article
The profile mistakenly identified Taylor Street and Varnum Street in the District as avenues.
Where We Live

Preserving Petworth's Porch Culture

By Mara Lee
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, September 20, 2008

It seems everyone in Petworth agrees that the neighborhood is changing rapidly.

But what that means for the Northwest Washington community depends on your perspective.

Gentrification has followed the 1999 opening of the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro station. "I was just telling my friend here, there's a big difference in the neighborhood now," said Valerie Taylor, 50, who still lives in her childhood home on Taylor Avenue. Her family moved in during the mid-1960s, and by the late '60s, things were going downhill, she said.

"It was terrible. A lot of shooting out in the open," she said. About two years ago, she started to see a major improvement. "My favorite thing about this neighborhood is: It's changing for the better."

Arthurene Foxx lives on Grant Circle, and her front porch looks out on majestic evergreens in the small park in the circle's center.

Foxx arrived in 1958 -- "I married into this house," she said -- and a lot of the neighbors haven't changed.

But she said she can't enjoy the breezes on her porch because the rowhouse next door has been vacant for almost 20 years and its musty smell drifts her way.

While many new to Petworth choose the neighborhood for its Metro access, the train line's arrival made no difference to Foxx. "I have never gone on the Metro. I don't want to go underground if I can help it," she said.

When you're on Georgia Avenue, Petworth looks like it's nothing but change. Mid-rise condos are under construction. A yoga studio and a bar that serves microbrews are barely a block from a long-established bar advertising "Girls! Girls!"

But as soon as you stroll into the residential streets -- which are lined with rowhouses or bungalows, depending on the spot -- it's clear that stability is the larger story.

Take Mary Walker, who has been living on Varnum Avenue since 1972. She and her husband bought their rowhouse for $22,500, or about $110,000 in today's dollars. They raised their two children there, as Walker worked in human resources and her husband worked for the city as a mechanic.

Six of her eight neighbors have lived on the block longer than she has. "I'll be here till the end of time," she said, and laughed.

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