November 9, 2017 at 10:16 AM
The quiet residential streets in the District's Michigan Park neighborhood are lined with brick semidetached duplexes — "what my Mom calls 'half-a-double,' " said David Conrad, president of the Michigan Park Citizens Association.
Built mostly in the 1920s and '30s, they are framed by porches and front yards and in the summer are shaded by old oaks and elms.
This Northeast neighborhood in Ward 5 is crisscrossed by two major traffic corridors — South Dakota and Michigan avenues — and blessed with some sprawling private institutions in or near the neighborhood that provide open green space, as well as facilities such as Turkey Thicket Recreation Center.
These include Providence Hospital, St. Joseph's Seminary, St. Anselm's Abbey Benedictine Monastery and St. Anselm's Abbey School, Whitefriars Hall, and the Howard University School of Divinity, once the Franciscans' Holy Name College. "The community is a jewel because of these large properties that are amenities to the residents," said John J. Feeley Jr., one of four Michigan Park advisory neighborhood commissioners.
The neighborhood seems like a throwback to earlier times because it does not have the preponderance of new construction, development and pop-ups common in nearby Brookland, Bloomingdale and Petworth.
Lavinia Wohlfarth, one of the old-timers, has lived there her whole life. "My grandfather built my house in 1935," she said. "The neighborhood always had a lot of stability and has always been family-based."
"Gentrification helped us because it brought back people who wanted to have families. That's what we had in the past, and now we have them again. There was a big exodus after the riots [in the late 1960s] when the city government didn't redo what needed to be redone," said Wohlfarth.
"Today, there's a friendly energy. People here speak to one another on the street. It'd be odd if someone doesn't," she said.
Loss of open space: But there is development, and mixed feelings about it.
St Joseph's wants to develop the north end of its property with townhouses. It has sold the property to EYA, a real estate developer. Besides upheaval across the land, a line of statuesque evergreens would be cut down.
The grassy eight-acre site has been a neighborhood asset for a long time. The city's comprehensive plan calls it the "lungs of the neighborhood," said Conrad. "That's why it'll be a big loss. This is where my son, Simon, and I played ball, ran the dog and met a lot of friends," he recalled. Simon, 25, has since flown the nest.
In its place, the seminary proposes a permanent public easement on its south end that it would maintain as open space in addition to building a playground and conferring historic landmark status on the building.
The Divinity School is also considering developing part of its property, and development of the hospital site is under discussion. "It has been kind of quiet here, but now the pace of development has found us," said Conrad, an architect and resident since 1994.
Feeley, born and raised there, said he sees increasing concern about development, "something we never had to worry about."
"The proposed development at St. Joseph's is huge and contested," he said. "Some citizens hired a lawyer to argue that the development isn't in keeping with the neighborhood. They're considering a lawsuit. A case brought against the zoning commission was successful two years ago in D.C. Appellate Court and overturned a planned unit development in Brookland."
"The people I meet are some of the young families who bought here in the past 10 years in part because of the open space. People are beginning to wake up to the fact that these institutions are considering development and the city isn't making any moves to take over the property and protect it as open space," said Feeley.
"I believe the city should make a commitment to work with the institutions to set aside some space for parks. If nothing is preserved by the city, we'll be in a very bad way because open parkland in Ward 5 doesn't exist. I believe that if intensive development is shoved down people's throats, we'll see more lawsuits," he said.
What's nearby: Conrad and his wife, Kaye Brubaker, a University of Maryland professor, shop in Brentwood, often at Giant and Yes! Organic Market. Adjacent Brookland has galleries, shops and restaurants.
Wohlfarth founded Wohlfarth Galleries 29 years ago. She is showing the landscapes of a local oil painter, Lisa Farrell, in November.
Living there: Michigan Park, Zip code 20017, sits between Fort Totten and North Michigan Park. It is bounded by Gallatin Street NE on the north, South Dakota Avenue on the east, Taylor Street NE to the south and Puerto Rico Avenue to the west. Housing includes duplexes, triplexes and single-family dwellings.
Four properties are for sale, according to Larry Bivins, a sales associate for Long & Foster, ranging from a four-bedroom, four-bathroom single-family home for $639,997 to a three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit in a building zoned for mixed use for $729,900.
Six properties are under contract, ranging from a four-bedroom, four-bathroom single-family short sale for $375,000 to a four-bedroom, four-bathroom single-family home for $674,900.
In the past year, 21 homes sold, ranging from a three-bedroom, two-bathroom single-family house for $425,000 to a five-bedroom, five-bathroom single-family home for $869,000.
Schools: Bunker Hill Elementary, Brookland Middle, Theodore Roosevelt High.
Transit: The Brookland-CUA Station on the Red Line is the closest Metro stop. Several bus lines — the 80, E and R — run through the community. Residential streets offer parking spaces.
Crime: According to the D.C. police, there were six burglaries, eight assaults with a dangerous weapon and nine robberies in the neighborhood in the past year.