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Where We Live: D.C.'s Foggy Bottom, immersed in culture

By Amy Reinink
Friday, February 4, 2011; 10:16 AM

When Foggy Bottom residents walk down the street for some evening entertainment, there's a good chance they're not just stopping by the neighborhood coffee or ice cream shop.

With the Kennedy Center, George Washington University, several embassies, Georgetown, the Mall and other classic Washington destinations a short walk away, even a simple evening stroll around the neighborhood can be a cultural experience.

"The Kennedy Center has free concerts every night, and the embassies often host events," said longtime resident Susan Trinter, a consultant in her 50s and editor of Foggy Bottom News. "There's so much going on here. You feel close to the central pulse of the world." So close, indeed, that "Foggy Bottom" is often used as a synonym for the U.S. State Department, another neighborhood fixture.

Proximity to some of the city's most cherished amenities is only part of what draws residents to Foggy Bottom.

Trinter moved to the neighborhood seeking "access to both Virginia and Maryland, and the ability to get out of town without any hassles." Foggy Bottom, just across the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge from Virginia and Interstate 66, and a short drive away from Reagan National Airport or Bethesda, filled that need.

Trinter also liked that Foggy Bottom has the feel of a real city, not a bedroom community that happens to be in the District.

"It's a true urban environment," she said. "It feels much more urban and dense than even neighborhoods like Georgetown and Dupont."

But Trinter said George Washington University's repeated expansions and the relations between full-time residents and students are points of tension in Foggy Bottom.

"There seem to be many more students living off-campus now," Trinter said. "That, and the fact that it seems that GW is always pushing beyond its boundaries, has been a perennial issue for residents here."

The neighborhood's density allows for easy access to goods and services, said Gigi Winston, a real estate agent who has lived there for more than a decade. "The Watergate is a nice thing, because it's sort of a city within a city, with hair salons, groceries and pretty much everything else you could need," Winston said. "You've also got Georgetown waterfront, more restaurants than we've ever had here, two health clubs and the river within walking distance."

The neighborhood also boasts some open space, especially in the historic district and around the university.

"It's a contradiction, because it's very urban, and yet you've got a huge campus here, so you get open space and great views," Trinter said. "No matter which part of my building you live in, you don't feel like you're penned in."

Trinter said residents also value the neighborhood's history, which dates to its industrial beginnings in the 1760s.

In the 1800s, residents described the neighborhood as being low and swampy, with fog and smog from nearby factories settling over the river, according to "Washington, DC: A Guide to the Historic Neighborhoods and Monuments of Our Nation's Capital," published by the National Park Service.

The neighborhood's historic district along 25th and 26th streets is made up mostly of brick rowhouses built in the late 1800s to house German and Irish settlers working at local factories, according to the NPS.

"There's some really charming architecture, and that's a draw for many people," Winston said.

Residents also tout the neighborhood's modern architecture, characterized most prominently by the Watergate and the Kennedy Center.

Foggy Bottom also hosts several annual festivals and parties. In the springtime, dozens of brightly decorated 45-foot-long boats, each filled with 20 paddlers, take to the Potomac for the traditional Chinese Dragon Boat Festival. This year's event is tentatively scheduled for May 21 and 22.

The Foggy Bottom Association also hosts the annual Arts in Foggy Bottom Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit for six months starting in May. Last year, roughly 9,000 visitors toured the curated exhibit of sculptures set up in the front yards of homes in the historic district, according to Jill Nevius, co-director for the exhibit and secretary of the Foggy Bottom Association.

"It brings an incredible energy to the neighborhood," Nevius said. "It's very much a neighborhood, community effort, which is exciting."

Nevius, who is in her 60s and has lived in the neighborhood for 21 years, said Foggy Bottom could still use more service-oriented retail establishments and restaurants.

"There isn't one area here where there's a concentration of restaurants, as is the case in Penn Quarter or Dupont or Bethesda," Nevius said. "Restaurants are one thing we could use more of."

Residents also named scant parking as among the few downsides to living in Foggy Bottom. But residents also said that downside is an easy one to combat.

"People pretty much walk everywhere, because it's just so easy to do that," Trinter said. "And public transportation is terrific. There's a good bus stop on Pennsylvania Avenue, and most everybody in Foggy Bottom is within a five-minute walk of Metro."

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