By Julia Angwin
Maintaining Old World Charm
Special To The Washington Post
February 26, 1994
Turning off Calvert Street NW onto Biltmore Street is like entering an earlier era, one with old-fashioned street lights and turn-of-the-century row houses. The neighbors know one another and they know the mailman.
Although it abuts the commercial strip of Adams-Morgan and Woodley Park, the area known as Kalorama Triangle maintains a quiet Old World charm. The triangle-shaped neighborhood is bounded by Connecticut Avenue, Calvert Street and Columbia Road.
"I love it," said Ned Schwartz, who runs a pharmacy in the Valley Vista apartment building. "I feel it's like living on the East Side of New York, where you walk out of your apartment and are in the middle of a busy area."
Kalorama Triangle is a stone's throw from shopping and numerous and diverse restaurants, but itself is almost exclusively residential and engenders many of the qualities of a village.
John Benson moved to the neighborhood from Potomac 11 years ago, and was pleasantly surprised the first Halloween.
"The first thing I noticed was there are all these kids," he said. "The doorbell didn't stop ringing all night." That hadn't happened in Maryland, he said.
It's the kind of place where young people gather every Sunday morning in Kalorama Park for spontaneous street hockey games. "I was just running by and I heard people shouting and things slapping. I thought, that sounds like street hockey," said Don Clein, who lives on Clydesdale Place. Now he's a regular player.
The neighborhood's coziness and nearby activities also have attracted suburban builders. Kettler Brothers Inc., best known for creating Montgomery Village in Maryland, is building 123 condominium town houses in Kalorama Triangle, due for completion in 2 1/2 years. They will be in the center of the small neighborhood.
Kalorama Place, as the complex will be called, is designed to echo the early 19th century architectural themes of the surrounding row houses. It takes the place of the now-demolished Rock Creek Hotel, a relic of wartime Washington.
Coming to grips with the project was "a fairly major decision for the neighborhood," said Marilou Righini, former president of the Kalorama Citizens Association. "There were ups and downs and there were holdouts of tenants in the [hotel] building. It was a long, drawn-out process."
Replacing the hotel with condominiums was a final step in the neighborhood's transition from a somewhat run-down place after World War II, when many large single-family homes were converted into rooming houses.
"I've seen the area being rejuvenated, restored," said Fred Mascioli, who has lived there since 1955. "The rooming houses, they're all gone. They've been completely restored."
Now almost all of the estimated 350 houses in the Triangle have been refurbished by their owners to resemble the splendor of when they were built in the 1890s. The houses, with Mediterranean influences and Georgian revival touches, led to the neighborhood's designation as a historic district.
"It's a very defined period of architecture which has in it a lot of diversity, but also a lot of cohesiveness," said Emily Eig, an architectural historian at Traceries in Chevy Chase, who put together the Triangle's application to be a historic district.
The restoration was a factor for Brin Lewis when he chose to move to the neighborhood from Virginia.
"All the houses on that block [Biltmore Street] are all renovated, so there's not like a couple of nice renovated places and a couple of trashy ones," said Lewis, who will move there in April.
The row houses cost about $450,000 to $600,000, according to Brooke Myers, a real estate agent for City Houses who lives in the neighborhood. To help finance their homes, many owners rent out their English basements.
The Triangle also is home to a number of grand old apartment buildings, built at the turn of the century, when trolley cars brought people to Columbia Road. The neoclassical Wyoming Apartments, the two Connecticut Avenue monoliths, and other Triangle buildings are featured in "Best Addresses," a book compiling Washington's greatest apartment buildings.
The buildings' residents are an eclectic lot who have changed over the years.
"When we moved here, housing segregation was complete within apartment buildings. Buildings were either white or black," said Grace Malakoff, who has lived in Kalorama Triangle since 1960. "Today our apartment buildings are integrated. That, I think, is just a tremendous step forward."
Mascioli said the neighborhood "attracts people who are oriented toward the city. It's a way of life, a way of thinking. They want to be in the thick of things."
And these city-lovers tend to stay.
"I once did a calculation of length of residence, and the median was 10 years," said Bill Scheirer, current president of the Kalorama Citizens Association.
Scheirer leads the neighborhood in its many battles against what some call attempts to "Georgetownize" the neighborhood.
Currently, his group is fighting against a proposed parking lot in Adams-Morgan that it says would bring more traffic to their already over-parked streets, rather than taking cars off the streets. Some say this battle echoes one from the past when Triangle residents fought over barriers on the Duke Ellington and William Howard Taft Bridges, designed to prevent suicides.
Ten years ago, the city tried to deter suicides by putting up eight-foot metal spiked barriers on the Ellington Bridge along Calvert Street. But the residents argued that the barriers were an ugly remedy that wouldn't stop determined jumpers.
"We catalogued one time, a New Year's Eve, where it took 37 pieces of emergency equipment to get a person back up over those barriers. It became this incredible Hollywood production," said Jim Morrison, who has led the fruitless fight to have the barriers removed.
Morrison had proposed a different solution—namely, changing the image of the bridge by capitalizing on Duke Ellington's jazz career. He envisioned piping Ellington's music onto the bridge, and setting up an annual jazz festival there, as well as subtle changes such as raising the stone wall and widening the sidewalks.
But his only success was convincing the city to spare the Taft Bridge on Connecticut Avenue from barriers and instead install suicide hot line phones there.
Small victories and defeats haven't deterred residents of the small community. They haven't stopped fighting for the best of both worlds: an area where children can play in the neighborhood park, and parents can stroll to their favorite Adams-Morgan restaurant.
As longtime resident Grace Malakoff put it: "We are a distinctive area and we'd like to remain that way."
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