Where We Live

District's Rosedale feels the beginnings of revival

By Amy Reinink
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, April 3, 2010

From the outside, there's little to distinguish the Langston Bar and Grille from the takeout joints and convenience stores around it.

But the interior of the upscale Benning Road soul-food restaurant, with exposed-brick walls and modern furnishings that make it look like any hip downtown happy-hour spot, hints at a sea change -- both for the building, formerly home to a low-profile cobbler, and the Northeast Washington neighborhood it calls home.

Residents of Rosedale, located just east of Eastern Market and Capitol Hill, say the neighborhood is in the midst of a revival that will make businesses such as the Langston Bar and Grille the rule rather than the exception.

"Rosedale is definitely on an upswing," said Rosedale Citizens' Alliance President Necothia "Nikki" Bowens, 44, a medical office manager and fourth-generation Rosedale resident. "The streets are looking better, and we're getting more residents coming out to volunteer to improve the neighborhood even more. There's a lot of hope in the neighborhood right now."

Rosedale has recently started to see signs of the kind of revival the nearby H Street corridor has enjoyed for years, with an influx of bars and restaurants and a host of young professionals buying the large, affordably priced rowhouses that characterize the neighborhood's housing stock.

Bob Coomber, 31, a staff attorney for the Office of Compliance, a nonpartisan agency created by Congress, moved to Rosedale with his wife last year after realizing they could get "twice the house for half the price" compared with nearby neighborhoods such as Eastern Market.

"Even six or seven blocks away, we were looking at teeny places, condos, without yards or parking spaces, in the mid-$600s," Coomber said.

In addition to home prices, Coomber said he enjoys being close to Capitol Hill and running on trails along the Anacostia River and Langston Golf Course, not to mention using amenities such as the community garden, of which he unofficially serves as overseer.

That's not to say the neighborhood doesn't have its drawbacks. Coomber said that though he hasn't experienced any violent crime, "there have been [shell] casings found in the past several months."

Longtime residents say it's a vast improvement from the state of the neighborhood a decade ago. Then, Rosedale was "a notorious drug area," said Emory Washington, who moved to the neighborhood about 10 years ago and whose family has owned property in the neighborhood for decades.

"Rosedale is in a period of transition now, but 10 years ago, it was off the hook -- drugs, homicides, you name it," said Washington, 66, who is retired. "But it's different now. We have a great relationship with [D.C. Police] Chief [Cathy L.] Lanier, and things are changing."

The crime rate and availability of restaurants aren't the only things improving. Residents say the civic involvement spurred by the rough times has served the neighborhood well as it moves forward. Residents successfully lobbied for a new community center to be built on the site of the old Rosedale Recreation Center, and many say they hope the center will provide a central meeting place the neighborhood is lacking.

"We hope to see even more businesses come into the neighborhood as a result of the community center: a bookstore, a bakery, a coffee shop, or any number of other stores that we had at one point but that have disappeared," said Brit Wyckoff, a writer who gave his age as "older than I ever expected to be," and who lives in the neighborhood with his daughter. "Now, you see people really schlepping a long distance to get to a supermarket. It would be superb to have amenities like that closer by."

Until then, residents say they will continue to relish the positive attributes that have defined the neighborhood all along, including annual events, such as the free Stone Soul Picnic music festival at nearby RFK Stadium each August, and historical resources. Many of Rosedale's brick rowhouses date to the late 1800s, Bowens said, and many residents have lived in the neighborhood for decades.

"There are all sorts of hidden treasures in the neighborhood that people are just now rediscovering," Bowens says.

Antonio Roberson, owner of the Langston Bar and Grille, said he shares his patrons' hopes that his restaurant and other recent Rosedale additions will lead to "other folks opening cafes, boutiques and other businesses that will give the neighborhood a new burst of life."

But Roberson, who opened the restaurant about a year ago, said he mostly wants people to know about the "hidden treasures" touted by Bowens, such as the neighborhood's proximity to the National Arboretum and the Anacostia River.

"I was intimidated when I first bought the space, because of Rosedale's old reputation as being rough around the edges," said Roberson, who lives in Capitol Hill. "But there's a lot of opportunity and hope in this corridor. It's a great neighborhood that I hope people will start to look at in a different light."

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