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Summer Retreat Is Now
A Year-round Haven

By Kate Moore
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 09, 1994

Evan and Shelia Rotner bought their home in Palisades 17 years ago. Evan Rotner, who is an urban projects specialist at the World Bank, rides his bike to work whenever possible.

"It's a great ride because you have the whole Potomac River and C&O Canal in front of you," he said. "It's like living in a rural area, yet you're living in the middle of the city."

One reason the Rotners bought their Northwest Washington home was the "classic neighborhood feel, instead of the modern neighborhood, where the cars are heavily used. Unlike a lot of neighborhoods, most people are out walking and you get to meet each other," he said.

The 89-year-old community of Palisades originally was a summer retreat for wealthy Washingtonians seeking a riverside escape to cooler breezes and fewer mosquitoes. Today, the residents are a mix of government employees, business executives and professionals. Two fairly distinct communities, above and below MacArthur Boulevard, comprise Palisades.

The lower neighborhood, between MacArthur Boulevard and the Potomac River, is mostly bungalows and small brick houses. For 70 years, until 1961, the trolley line from Georgetown to Glen Echo Park ran through the neighborhood. "An actual coal train ran from Georgetown along the canal," said resident Stuart Ross, "over Arizona Avenue, through the Palisades and out into Bethesda and Silver Spring." The train's last run was in March 1985. The rail bed now is part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park and has been turned into a bicycle trail. Uphill from MacArthur Boulevard, in the triangle bounded by Loughboro Road, MacArthur Boulevard and Battery Kemble Park, there are massive brick colonials, similar to those in neighboring Spring Valley. The Palisades community has more than 5,000 residents, among them Washington restaurateur Roberto Donna, Republican political consultant Roger Stone and Bill Danoff, a former member of the Starland Vocal Band, which is probably best known for the hit song "Afternoon Delight."

Rotner said the neighborhood "used to be a classic Northwest ... neighborhood," where people of varying means could afford to live. Now, he said, it is upper middle class, "mainly because the taxes increased." The market value of the Rotners' house, which is one of the oldest and largest homes in the neighborhood below MacArthur Boulevard, is more than $400,000. The Rotners paid $108,000 for it in 1977.

The average sale price for a Palisades home is $294,200, said Dan Hynes of the Prudential Preferred Properties' M Street office. Some larger homes near Battery Kemble Park sell for $600,000 to $1 million. One downside of living in the Palisades, some homeowners said, is the airplane noise from nearby National Airport. "It's a drag when you're on your porch," Rotner said. A group called Citizens Against Airport Noise, which enjoys widespread support in Palisades, worked with other affected neighborhoods and in 1992 won a Supreme Court decision that overturned legislation creating the regional airport authority.

"This decision diminished congressional control and, many feel, will ultimately make the authority more responsive to local interests," said Ross, who lives with his wife, Betsy, and their 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Christy, in their 1923 boarding house, which has a newly remodeled carriage house.

Over the years, Rotner said, the Palisades Neighborhood Association has tried unsuccessfully to get the District to help with traffic management, especially near MacArthur Boulevard, a main artery.

"Unfortunately, the neighborhood wasn't designed to handle the amount of daily traffic it now receives on the busy roads," Rotner said. "On one hand, it's good business for the neighborhood because of the variety of restaurants, but sometimes the traffic can impinge on the neighborhood."

It will be three years in January since Kit Krickenberger, her husband, Mike Kosakowski, and their son, Zachary, moved into their home on Potomac Avenue. "We always loved the view of the cliffs across the Potomac," Krickenberger said. She described the neighborhood as "eclectic, with all different kinds of people who are always out walking and talking to each other." The houses, too, are eclectic. "There are several Sears houses," Krickenberger said. "Most of the homes started as modest cottages, but over the years people have done substantial renovating."

Krickenberger and Kosakowski bought their house for $375,000 and have since expanded it 18 feet out the back and added a new kitchen, dining room and recreation room. Upstairs, they added two bedrooms and a full bathroom. Kosakowski has enjoyed riding his bike to his office at the Environmental Protection Agency. The couple takes their Dalmatian, Quincy, to run at Battery Kemble Park, which has tennis courts and a playground.

"You're right on the cuff of the District, Maryland and Virginia border, and you can go shopping in Georgetown, at the Mazza Gallerie or Tysons Corner," Krickenberger said.

Although airplane noise bothers some residents, Krickenberger said she does not mind the proximity of the airport. "When I fly {home}," she said, "I can see my house."

Krickenberger said the only inconvenience of Palisades is its lack of a Metro stop. Palisades is a great place to live, she said. "The people are very easygoing. There's no pressure to compete. Once you move into the neighborhood, you don't move out of it." On Monday Palisades residents held an annual Fourth of July parade, which included children on bicycles and politicians and other people riding in antique cars, followed by a picnic and games.

"It's one of the city's oldest parades," Ross said. "And it's also a very unifying experience for the neighborhood." Rotner said there is a trend toward "tear-down" building in the neighborhood.

"People are buying the lots and building the maximum the District building code will allow," he said. "For example, people will buy two adjacent lots that are about 2,500 square feet each, and tear down the houses to build a single home with 5,000 square feet." Because the Palisades is not in an official historic district restricting different types of development, Rotner said, some of the newer homes are uncharacteristic of the older style of the neighborhood.

There are some historic sites scattered around, including Civil War batteries. Indian arrowheads can sometimes be found and a few victory gardens from World War II still bloom.

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