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Mixed Degrees of Satisfaction For Foggy Bottom Neighbors

By Deirdre Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 7, 1996; Page E01

It was George Washington University that first introduced Maria Tyler to Foggy Bottom. Tyler moved into the neighborhood in 1961 to attend the university's graduate school.

But such is the attraction of the Foggy Bottom neighborhood in which Tyler has lived on and off since then. She left in 1963 and returned to the area in 1967 with her husband, Geoffrey. In 1975 they bought their home, which was then three separate apartments, and remodeled it into a four-floor, single-family residence.

But Tyler said she now is worried about the effect students and the university's development are having on the quiet residential streets of Foggy Bottom. She wants to preserve the Old World charm of the restored neighborhood.

Tyler lives on 25th Street NW in the heart of the Foggy Bottom Historic District. The district, which forms the center of the community, has been on the National Registry since 1987 for the architecture of its row houses.

Foggy Bottom is nestled between the Potomac River and the White House, bordering on Georgetown and the Mall. The area's boundaries extend from Constitution Avenue on the south, the Potomac River and Rock Creek Park on the west and 17th Street on the east to Pennsylvania Avenue on the north. Although the neighborhood technically ends at Pennsylvania, some think of it as including M Street residents as well.

The historic district has some of the oldest houses in Foggy Bottom. Many were built as homes for German and Irish settlers working in the local gas works, glass factory and brewery. All three factories and many of the homes were demolished in the 1950s and 1960s to bring in new apartment buildings, condominiums and other developments, such as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Watergate complex.

Tyler, who has been a member of the Ad\visory Neighborhood Commission 2A since 1980, said that Foggy Bottom "is very walkable. It is our soul, I don't know how else to describe it. The neighborhood is a unique asset to us because you can walk to work in the morning and to the theater at night."

Tyler strolled through the historic district one recent afternoon, pointing out the older homes, many of which were restored when residents brought Foggy Bottom out of the slum-like conditions it had deteriorated to during the 1950s.

The houses are old, narrow brick row houses that have been painted in bright colors -- brilliant jewel blues or pristine whites offset with bold yellows and sparkling green shutters.

One of Foggy Bottom's unique aspects is alleyway living, such as that on Snows Court. Instead of facing onto neighborhood streets, houses were built in the center of city blocks, along quiet alleyways. Although some of the houses in Foggy Bottom tend to be narrow, some residents have converted two adjoining houses into larger single-family residences.

The smaller houses on streets such as Snows Court tend to cost the least, said Doda de Wolf, a real estate agent with Begg Long & Foster. She said that six houses were sold last year at prices ranging from $129,000 to $385,000, with an average sales price of $220,000. A total of 92 condominium units were sold in the year ended last Sunday, ranging from $32,000 for an efficiency at the Claridge to a $595,000 apartment at the Watergate.

The neighborhood's house and condo owners are concerned about the university's presence in the neighborhood and the amount of development, some of it universityrelated. The population in the community has decreased to fewer than 10,000 today from 14,500 residents 20 years ago.

Only a few blocks from Tyler's home, blue and gold banners adorn the university buildings sprawled over 20 blocks, welcoming new and returning students. On the streets in recent days, parents were helping sons and daughters move back into Foggy Bottom, to residence halls and rented houses or apartments in the neighborhood.

Polk Smartt, Scott Showstead and Joe Dunn were sitting on the front steps of their row house on 21st Street. Six students live in the house, which rents for $3,000 a month. Smartt, Showstead and Dunn, all seniors, have lived off campus since their sophomore year.

Showstead said the relationship with their permanent neighbors has varied in the years they have lived in the area. The two houses on either side of them are vacant this year, so they don't foresee many problems.

"One of the problems is that professional and elderly people don't even make an effort to have a relationship," Showstead said. Many residents, however, feel the same way about some of the students.

"One student or two can move in and have loud parties," Tyler said. "There is certain behavior that is obstructive and objectionable that pushes out the neighbors."

Another resident, Charles Puffenbarger, who teaches at George Washington and lives on I Street, said the main problem is absentee landlords who don't care for their properties.

While student behavior is sometimes a problem, Tyler said, the larger issue is development and construction by the university, local businesses and the city.

Tyler said the local 7-Eleven is an example of a business that has conformed with Foggy Bottom's character.

The local convenience store is almost unrecognizable from the street. The trademark sign is missing from the building, which is an old brick row house. The name is spelled out instead in small, plain white letters stretching across the first floor. Peering through windows that look as if they open onto a living room instead reveals a cashier ringing up purchases.

"Our experience has been that the city takes us for granted and we have to fight tooth and nail to preserve the quality of our life," Tyler said.

What makes the area attractive to development -- downtown location and Metro accessibility -- also is what brings residents to the neighborhood.

"We always joke that the neighborhood has everything but a hardware store," said Puffenbarger, who has lived in Foggy Bottom with his wife, Susan, for eight years. Puffenbarger can walk home from work in the afternoon to eat lunch in his own kitchen.

He said he has mixed feelings about the students in Foggy Bottom, but said what he would like to see is a middle ground between the university students and older, longtime residents.

"I'd like to see more young people," Puffenbarger said. "One thing you don't see are children."

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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