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Forest Hills:
Unabashedly Exclusive

By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 23, 1993

The view from many residences in the neighborhood is of rolling hills and stately trees. Most people say they can't remember the last time a violent crime occurred here. The major political battle is over the local Texaco service station, the expansion of which has brought more traffic to a cul-de-sac.

Parents of children in the neighborhood elementary school, meanwhile, already are gearing up for the annual fund-raising auction, scheduled for April 24. The garden club is reviewing spring planting details and a door-to-door solicitation for money to buy playground equipment is underway.

This is not a bucolic suburb in the outer reaches of the metropolitan area, but a District neighborhood that is a seven-minute subway ride from the heart of downtown. Forest Hills, bisected by Connecticut Avenue and located about a mile north of the National Zoo, also offers within walking distance restaurants, theaters and a variety of the services desired in an urban area.

It offers the best of city and suburb, said Marlene Berlin, who moved to 30th Street NW from Dupont Circle several years ago.

"I no longer have to schedule play dates and drive half an hour to pick up my children," Berlin said. Instead, "my kids go out the door for informal playing, running from house to house, eating dinner at our home one night and somewhere else another."

Yet to get that neighborhood feeling for her children, Berlin did not have to give up her own desire to "be in the middle of things, to have the convenience and stimulation of being able to walk to almost everything."

Amy Goldson, a lawyer who lives two blocks south of Berlin, also values the neighborhood's central location.

"I can get anywhere I want to be in 15 minutes," Goldson said. "My office is in my home, and Howard Law School's library is practically in my back yard. ... I could probably pay the same amount of money in, say, Potomac and get a lot more land and room. But I love it here and am willing to make that sacrifice to live in the city."

Forest Hills is unabashedly and exclusively middle and upper class. Yet there is diversity of a sort, with the area offering a mix of residential and commercial use, with row houses near estates, bungalows in view of massive embassies, condominiums abutting virtual mansions. A short walk along Upton Street, near the neighborhood's southern border with Cleveland Park, is typical of the contrasts.

Upton Street begins at Connecticut Avenue, just across the way from the Intelsat complex—a huge, futuristic-looking glass building that covers an entire city block. Intelsat is an international cooperative that owns and operates a global satellite system.

The first block of homes on Upton Street are older town houses. Then come two-story brick duplexes in the style of hundreds of others built in the metropolitan area after World War II.

Suddenly one comes upon a series of stately older homes that boast gorgeous views of a leg of Rock Creek Park and such features as outdoor sculptures—the brass and twisted steel kind, never of the pink flamingo ilk.

The street ends at Linnean Avenue, where Hillwood Museum, the former estate of Marjorie Merriwether Post, welcomes visitors seven days a week. To the left is Lenore Lane, which is a virtual catalogue of House Beautiful architectural styles of the 1980s.

Every home on the block is thought to be worth more than $1 million, but how much more is unknown because the homes, all occupied by original owners, have not been on the open market. Shari Barton, a real estate agent with Prudential Preferred Properties, said the best of the homes on Lenore Lane would probably cost more than $2 million if someone decided to sell.

The mix occasionally causes some tension. For example, in the mid-1970s, when the Hungarian Embassy was built close to one of the old homes near Rock Creek Park, the home's longtime resident made his discomfort known by prominently flying a giant American flag and by erecting a public address system that blasted out tunes by John Philip Sousa.

Another battle is raging over a Texaco service station just two blocks north of Upton on Connecticut Avenue where Koo Yuen, a recent immigrant from Hong Kong, has expanded what had been a small gasoline station. The new owner has maximized every inch of the lot to include a repair shop, a trailer from which used cars are sold, a mini-mart, a fax machine service, a carwash, a miniature bakery with fresh goods delivered daily, fresh fruit, Jamaican beef patties and—most recently—hot pizza by the slice. A picnic table for alfresco dining was removed as a concession to complaining neighbors.

Although no one seems poor in Forest Hills, the range of incomes is broad. One-bedroom apartments can occasionally be rented for as little as $500 a month. One-bedroom condominium units in the less prestigious buildings begin at about $60,000. Units in older buildings with grand architectural styles cost at least $150,000, Barton said.

One-bedroom apartments in one of the largest buildings, Van Ness North on Veazey Terrace, generally sell for about $110,000, while a five-bedroom apartment in the cooperative recently sold for $550,000. Houses now on the market range from $325,000 to $2.2 million.

The area is predominately white, with black residents making up less than 10 percent of the population.

The daytime population mix is significantly different, as the percentage of minorities swells with workers and students at Howard University Law School and the University of the District of Columbia.

But several blacks who live in the neighborhood are well known. They include Robert L. Johnson, head of Black Entertainment Television, who bought a large home on Broad Branch Road. Syndicated columnist Carl Rowan Sr. lives on Fessenden Street, where he made news in 1988 by shooting a teenager who was taking an unauthorized late-night dip in his backyard pool. Rowan's son, Carl Rowan Jr., lived in Van Ness North before buying a home in Forest Hills. Samuel Pierce, Former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, also lives in Van Ness North.

Other black residents include Goldson and her husband, Al Goldson. A Howard University Medical School professor, Al Goldson has had his own brush with fame as inventor of the "baby bonder." His wife calls the invention a "jealous father's answer to breast-feeding."

The invention is a fleece and terry cloth bib-like device into which the user can insert a bottle and feed a baby. The Goldsons sell the baby bonder by mail order from their home on 28th Street.

Pat Belcher, treasurer of the Forest Hills Citizens Association and a prominent community organizer, said the community has "less cachet" than Cleveland Park. Yet at the same time, the average house in the neighborhood is assessed much higher than in Cleveland Park—about $406,000 compared with more than $674,000.

That figure is fourth highest of any District neighborhood, after Massachusetts Avenue Heights, Kalorama and Spring Valley.

The neighborhood is not the type for talking over the back fence or visiting on the front stoop. Belcher is only half joking when he calls his own association "moribund." Barton, a former president of the group, calls it "sleepy."

But both agree that the community rises to the occasion when necessary, and they add that much of the neighborhood spirit and togetherness is found in smaller units—block parties, for example, are not uncommon. Little League games bring people together, as do the former "Victory Garden" plots still farmed off Tilden Street.

Murch Elementary, considered one of the District's best public schools, boasts a high volunteer rate and has, according to Berlin, "a warmth and community feeling." The parent organization is now raising funds for the school playground. Most of the $35,000 already raised has been collected from door-to-door solicitations.

But one of the neighborhood's proudest achievements is what Belcher calls "the miracle on 32nd Street." It is a city park turned by local activists into one of the District's best playgrounds and ball fields.

When Berlin moved into the neighborhood several years ago, she was disappointed in the playground with its rotted equipment. She began organizing, and she and other parents eventually raised $40,000, most of through door-to-door canvasing. Parents also helped plan the playground and assembled equipment made to their specifications.

"You should have seen those mommies put down their briefcases and pick up power tools," Belcher said. With a touch a of pride, he added, "When something needs to be done the group pulls together."

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