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Barney Circle:
Fostering a Sense of Community

By Nell Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 21, 1992

Lucy Mae Brown, a retired postal worker, dons her orange cap twice a week to join her Barney Circle neighbors in the District as they walk their streets in the evening to discourage crime.

Brown, who has lived with her husband on the 1600 block of G Street SE for 22 years, believes the nightly anti-crime patrol has succeeded in driving away the drug dealers who had been operating openly in the street three years ago.

The patrol also is one of several ties that bind the small Barney Circle neighborhood, a community of singles, families and retirees who say they moved to the area for the relatively low housing prices and convenient location, and stayed because of the community they found there.

“It’s a pretty stable neighborhood,” Brown said of the row houses clustered northwest of the circle, which lies at the foot of the Sousa Bridge on the west bank of the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington.

“Many of the people on the block have been here since when I came,” Brown said. “When we get a new neighbor, I try to make myself known, tell them about the neighborhood watch, invite them in.”

Barney Circle once was the spot where the Pennsylvania Avenue trolleys turned around until service ended in the early 1960s. Today, the Barney Circle neighborhood watch association patrols an area roughly bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue SE on the south, Potomac Avenue SE on the north, 17th Street SE on the east and 15th Street SE on the west. The neighborhood lies just next to the Potomac Avenue Metro station on the Blue and Orange lines, and within walking distance of Eastern Market.

But definitions of the community boundaries vary: Some residents who live south of Pennsylvania Avenue, to K Street SE, said they consider themselves Barney Circle residents; the most expansive view defines the neighborhood as the southeast corner of a larger neighborhood bounded by 17th Street on the east, 11th Street on the west, East Capitol Street on the north and K Street on the south, and anchored by Lincoln Park on the northwest corner.

The heart of Barney Circle, the area patrolled by Lucy Mae Brown and her orange-capped neighbors, is roughly four blocks of brick row houses, most built from around the turn of the century to the 1930s. Some have two stories, some have three.

Most brick facades are painted, but some sport siding or a stucco finish. One home is mock Tudor while another has a facade of simulated brick. Most have awnings or porches and many windows and doors are protected by bars.

Houses in the area range in price from $95,000 to about $140,000, said Jan Mosher, an agent with Prudential Properties on Capitol Hill.

John Capozzi, a consultant and political activist, said he bought his three-bedroom house in the 1600 block of G Street SE for $110,000 in 1988.

Capozzi said he had been renting on Capitol Hill and had looked at houses in Northeast Washington, near Union Station, but found that area too expensive.

Barney Circle, by comparison, is “an inexpensive, quiet part of the Hill,” Capozzi said. “It’s safer, more affordable than Northeast.”

Although initially attracted by the prices, Capozzi is like many residents who have stayed in the neighborhood because of the people he met there.

“Barney Circle is a real neighborhood,” he said. “People live there a long time. It’s not a transient area.

“I have neighbors who are friends. We’ve developed a sense of community together. We work together to get things solved,” said Capozzi, who has joined with other neighbors to oppose the District’s plan to extend the Southeast-Southwest Freeway through the circle.

The 2.5-mile interstate hookup will link the Southeast-Southwest Freeway (Interstate 395), which now ends under the circle, to the Anacostia Freeway (Interstate 295). District transportation planners argue that the project will divert commuter traffic from clogged Capitol Hill streets, but local opponents fear the transportation plan will do the opposite.

Not everyone loves the Barney Circle neighborhood. Raymond Hammond, who has lived for 10 years on K Street SE overlooking the circle, said he doesn’t like it anymore.

Hammond, a retired telephone company worker who works part-time as a carpenter, said he no longer likes Washington because of the District’s crime rate. He said the area was quiet when he and his wife moved in, but more recently vandals have broken the windows of his car and truck and stolen his tools.

“The only reason I stay is because my wife doesn’t want to move,” Hammond said.

Capozzi said that without the orange-hat patrols, “my street would be an open-air drug market. No doubt.”

On a walking tour of the neighborhood, he can point out the suspected crack houses.

“There is an element of the community involved in the drug world who have this grip that is just hard to shake,” Capozzi said. “They’re not going anywhere. They’re really ingrained in the community.”

Wilbert Hill, who has lived for 20 years in his four-bedroom house at 14th and G streets SE, said Barney Circle is relatively safe and that the problems of “crime and drugs are the same as other neighborhoods.”

What Hill likes most is the diversity of the community. “I like the people here,” he said. “We have yuppies, we have families, we have singles, blacks, whites, [Asians] and everyone speaks to each other... . It’s very friendly.”

Evelyn Washington, a school counselor and mother of three, said the sense of community stems from more than the anti-crime efforts. Washington, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, spent Veterans Day talking to constituents about the area and, she said, “the consensus was how much they really love it. One woman said, ‘Crime is old hat. Let’s talk about getting together and pushing us forward.’ “

Washington, who grew up on Capitol Hill and has lived the past 27 years at 16th and D streets SE, is like many residents who praised the advantages of Barney Circle’s location. Her house is within 10 blocks of three Metro stations (Potomac Avenue, Eastern Market and Stadium-Armory), close to several major bus routes, five minutes from Interstate 95 and close to one of the District’s largest supermarkets at 14th and Kentucky Avenues SE.

“You can’t beat it, it’s so convenient,” Washington said. “If you have children, put them in the Capitol hill cluster schools ... shop at Safeway, pick your church because there’s one on every corner, leave your car on the street ... take major [public] transportation and have a good time.”

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