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Burleith:
Moving to the City's Beat

By Heather Salerno
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 23, 1995

"The scissors are 10 cents each. John, what's your price for this?" Joan Burroughs asked her son, John Hanle, 9, as she pointed to a children's game for sale to a customer.

The scene is in Burleith, the Northwest Washington "village within the city," at its annual neighborhood flea market, which took place Sept. 16. The market, which was set up in the alleys of 36th, 37th, S and T streets, was an opportunity for Burroughs to give a quick business lesson to her son before he headed off to his morning soccer game. It also was a chance for neighbors to mingle and hunt for bargains, despite the foreboding rain clouds overhead.

"At one time, this flea market was a very big event. Now it's a bit smaller, mostly because of the large flea market that is held every Sunday at the Rosario Center," said six-year resident Peter Pulsifer, referring to the nearby Carlos Rosario Adult Education Center. Pulsifer, 40, a research physicist, is president of the Burleith Citizens Association. "But people still enjoy coming to Burleith. It's like a garage sale for the whole neighborhood."

"People ask why we still do this," said David Conner, 54, a stockbroker and former president of the association. "The community feeling of getting together is worth it."

The community, sandwiched between Georgetown and Glover Park, is made up of 16 blocks and about 1,300 residents. The ar\ea's borders are roughly formed by 35th Street to the east, 39th Street to the west, Whitehaven Parkway to the north and Reservoir Road to the south.

Local real estate agents list the average monthly rent for a three-bedroom house as $1,500 to $1,900. Home prices range from $200,000 to $350,000.

Although the development of modern-day Burleith did not begin until the 1920s, the ar\ea's unusual name dates back much farther. According to a 1973 publication, "A Short History of Burleith" by historian Edgar Farr Russell, the nearby Georgetown Visitation convent now stands on the former site of Berlieth, the estate of Henry Threlkeld, which was built about 1716. The pecan trees in the convent garden were a gift from Thomas Jefferson, a Threlkeld family friend.

Burleith has a small-town feel, as evidenced by the flea market and the annual summer picnic. This year's picnic included a pet show, potluck dinner and a brass quintet from the local Levine School of Music. At the flea market, homemade banners draped on fences announced the event, while hand-painted signs pointed the way. Some people pushed baby strollers and walked dogs, while a young girl rode a unicycle, eyes scanning the treasure-filled tables.

These activities alone might characterize Burleith as a provincial town, though it exists within an interesting blend of city confusion and suburban serenity. The traffic of Wisconsin Avenue and the activity of nearby Georgetown University and Georgetown University Hospital serve as reminders of its metropolitan surroundings. Student parties and screaming sirens are as commonplace in Burleith as walking through nearby Glover Archibald Park and lounging on back porches.

As one might imagine, urban activity and village life sometimes conflict.

"Georgetown students are not always good neighbors," said Janice Hopper, 77, a retired social scientist. "I've been lucky for a while now, but there was a period where a Georgetown dropout two doors down did drugs and alcohol. There have been many good students, but many we could do without."

Linda Greenan, assistant to Georgetown's president for community relations, said about 1,600 Georgetown University undergraduates live off campus, with about 1,300 residing in either Burleith or Georgetown. Most complaints about the students are related to noise or lack of general upkeep, such as unkempt lawns or not putting the trash out on the correct collection day.

In recent years, however, the university has tried to smooth relations with its Burleith neighbors. There is a weekend hot line in operation that allows people to call in complaints about students, who are then brought in for possible disciplinary action by the school. Greenan's job is another new addition -- her role is to ensure that problems within the community are addressed.

"There was a breakdown in the effectiveness of the hotline this past year, and the people in Burleith were not happy at all," Greenan said. "But that is a problem with the process, not the students. Ninety-five percent of the time, when students are called in, they don't come back" because of further complaints.

Georgetown University students are now required to live on campus for their first two years as undergraduates, instead of one year. Starting this semester students who live off campus must attend an orientation seminar to discuss their rights, as well as responsibilities, as tenants.

Maya O'Connor, a junior at the university, moved into a basement apartment in a town house on 37th Street NW this past summer. O'Connor, 20, whose monthly rent of $675 includes utilities, disputes the stereotyping of Georgetown students as noisy troublemakers.

"A lot of people who live here are obnoxious to students," she said. "People do have parties and stay up late, but I don't do that personally. I don't think all students should be lumped together as irresponsible and a nuisance."

Although there are occasional disagreements, the variety of residents' lifestyles and backgrounds contributes to Burleith's charm. Open doors display a hodgepodge of home decor. One resident, for example, displays early American landscapes while another uses an American flag as a curtain. Carefully tended back yards are juxtaposed against wild vegetation. Graduate students majoring in German live near retired foreign service officials and a former assistant secretary of state.

"It's a neighborhood where there's a lot of intellectual stimulation," Hopper said.

"It's interesting to talk to your neighbors here," said Hopper, who has lived in her R Street home since 1973 and has three cats. "They've done interesting things, traveled to interesting places, held interesting jobs."

Pulsifer offered a feline analogy about the neighborhood. "One thing about Burleith is cats. You can meet a cat here and it will come to you. But if you go to Georgetown, the cats there will run from you," Pulsifer said. "I don't know what the cause is, but it always seemed symbolic to me."

© 1996 The Washington Post Co.

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