Where We Live

Trendy now, but not by accident

By Mark Wellborn
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mark Milibrand is a rare breed among District home buyers. Before buying a two-bedroom condo in a renovated Victorian rowhouse in Logan Circle at the end of October, he lived in a 4,000-square-foot home in Fairfax. His decision to reverse the traditional migration from city to suburb was driven by a desire to live where neighbors, restaurants and everyday conveniences could be found within walking distance.

"I moved to Logan Circle for a lifestyle change," said Milibrand, a vice president of software development at a health-care company. "At my old house, you couldn't walk anywhere. It was a three-mile drive just to get coffee. I wanted a neighborhood where I could just call up my friends on a moment's notice to come over and have some dinner."

While the move drastically reduced his square footage (the new home is about 1,500 square feet), the opportunity to live in one of the District's more popular neighborhoods far outweighed the space that he was giving up.

"This area is going to be the next Dupont Circle," Milibrand said.

Twenty years ago, that idea would've seemed far-fetched. Longtime residents remember when this neighborhood -- sandwiched between Shaw and Dupont Circle -- was rife with prostitution and other crime, a far cry from the cosmopolitan neighborhood that it is today. In fact, a casual stroll down a main thoroughfare that now teems with luxury retailers such as home-furnishings store Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, chocolatier ACKC, and expensive wine bars was not even an option then.

"When I walked to work at 20th and L in the late 1980s, I would go straight across Corcoran Street and then down Connecticut," Tim Christensen, member-at-large of the Logan Circle Community Association, recalls. "You didn't walk down 14th Street."

In 1989, Christensen and his partner, Walter Ochinko, bought a rowhouse at 13th and Corcoran streets for $250,000. A similar property today would go for $650,000 to $700,000, according to Bill Hounshell of Hounshell Real Estate.

While Christensen has witnessed the changing face of the neighborhood firsthand, for years he attributed it to just good fortune.

"The first 10 years that I lived here, I thought all the new development was happening through pure serendipity," he explains. "It wasn't until I got involved that I realized nothing happens without a good deal of community action."

That action was led by the community association. Its mission in the late 1980s and early 1990s was to rid Logan Circle of prostitution and drug dealing. The association set up neighborhood watch groups that roamed the community taking photos of criminal behavior and sending them to the police, Christensen said. Police presence subsequently increased, crime dropped and developers started taking notice.

By the mid-1990s, young professionals and Dupont Circle residents fed up with escalating rents had discovered bargains in Logan Circle, and developers like Jim Abdo and Monte Hoffman were beginning to make a name for themselves by transforming the area's single-family rowhouses into boutique condo developments.

However, it wasn't until the arrival of Whole Foods on P Street in 2000 that the resurgence really kicked into high gear.

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