By Martha M. Hamilton
Community Boasts of Beauty
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 26, 1993
It’s a rolling, green, tree-filled 54-acre island just off one of Anacostia’s busiest arteries, Pennsylvania Avenue SE. On a gorgeous spring evening, small children are chasing a ball across a lawn, and neighbors are coming home to Fairfax Village.
The condominium community is made up of 660 apartments and 166 town houses, divided into nine clusters, or villages. Built in 1941, in its early years Fairfax Village was home to members of Congress and others who worked on Capitol Hill. The complex of Georgian-style brick buildings was converted to condominiums in May 1976.
Residents said what drew them there was the physical attractiveness of the community—its visual balm. “It’s a very pretty area—that’s the thing that you notice,” said Sharon Witherspoon, president of the Fairfax Village Community Association Inc.
Witherspoon moved to Fairfax Village 13 years ago after she completed law school and moved to Washington to work. Her two-level apartment with three bedrooms, two baths, a fireplace and a skylight is one of the larger units in the village, where prices range from about $60,000 for apartments to about $85,000 for town houses.
Janet Keith and her husband, Raymond, have lived in Fairfax Village for 18 years. “The way the land rolls, it’s visually gorgeous,” said Keith, a vice president of Ferris Baker Watts Inc. “It’s open, green, quiet, and compared to anyplace in D.C., it’s safe.”
That doesn’t mean that residents are unconcerned about the crime and violence that have become one of the city’s more unfortunate hallmarks. After the recent fatal shooting of a nonresident in an alley, some of the villages put up wrought iron fences or replaced wooden fencing with wrought iron to help reduce traffic through the area.
Fairfax Village also has organized an “orange hat” neighborhood patrol, as have many communities. Residents of Fairfax Village and other neighborhoods nearby also hope to persuade the police to put a substation in the Fairfax Village shopping center.
Still, the community provides a relatively safe haven for the children who play there and the older residents. Some of the community’s retirees have a walking club that takes advantage of the network of walks that crisscross the property for exercise.
The majority of residents are single women, several residents said. No one has exact demographics on Fairfax Village. Because the units generally are small, there are relatively few children and they tend to be younger children. The age of homeowners ranges from young couples buying a starter home to retirees, residents said. The complex’s residents are about 95 percent black and they have a range of incomes and vocations, including cab drivers, teachers, lawyers, police officers and real estate professionals.
In addition to the looks of the community, with its rolling lawns edged with shade trees and small gardens, residents said they were attracted by its convenience. Buses headed for downtown Washington from Maryland come by with such frequency that residents said they don’t have to plan which one to catch—they just step out the door.
Although there are some garages for rent, most of the parking is on the street and can be hard to find, residents said. There is a communal playground, a tennis court and a basketball court. Pets are allowed, but a weight limit puts large dogs—those weighing more than 30 pounds—off limits.
Although there is shopping nearby, residents of Fairfax Village and the adjacent neighborhood of Hillcrest said much of their shopping is done across the D.C. line in Prince George’s County, where there is greater variety.
“Millions of dollars flee from this neighborhood to Maryland unnecessarily because the city historically has not had enough moxie or economic sense to look at this area and make sure we have shopping commensurate with the income,” said Paul Savage, head of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association. D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) said he hopes to see the trend of dollars being spent across the District line reversed.
Chavous, whose ward includes Fairfax Village, lived in the complex from 1981 to 1982 and then again from 1984 to 1988, when he moved to a larger house.
One change in recent years is that the community increasingly is inhabited by renters, rather than owners.
Preston Leigh, a real estate agent with Weichert Shannon&Luchs, is a resident of Fairfax Village and an advisory neighborhood commissioner. Leigh said the complex is trying to arrange mortgage insurance that will allow buyers to pay 5 percent of the purchase price as a down payment rather than 20 percent. That will help first-time home buyers who may not have access to as much cash as a homeowner selling one house and seeking another, he said.
“The community is not as cohesive as it used to be,” said Shirley Whetstone, who has lived in Fairfax Village since 1967. But she and Janet Keith said the sense of community appears to be reviving.
Whetstone, an order analyst with the Library of Congress, said she believes she was the second purchaser of a condominium after the 1976 conversion. Despite some change since then, “it is still a very quiet community, a very quiet city within a city.”
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