People familiar with Hillcrest, the community in far Southeast Washington where Mayor Marion Barry recently bought his home, compare it to the affluent Gold Coast just off 16th Street in Upper Northwest Washington.
Like the Gold Coast, this area -- which Council member Willie Hardy (D-Ward 7) fondly calls the Silver Coast -- is home, generally, to middle and upper-level government workers, doctors, lawyers and teachers. Racially, it is slightly more black than white, although, according to neighbors, the mayor's block of Suitland Road, is almost exclusively black.
Because of Effi Barry's strong feelings that the inside of the Barry home is outside the public domain, reporters have been barred. Neighbors say the house has had workmen constantly in and out, and the mayor's aides say the refurbishing has not been completed even though the Barrys have moved in.
While Mrs. Barry would not permit reporters in the home, she provided a sketchy description. It has, she said, four bedrooms, a large living room with a fireplace, an ample dining room, a large kitchen (which she said seats 15), a lower-level family room with a fireplace, two full baths, a patio and offstreet parking for two cars -- their Volvo and Seville -- in the rear.
Purchased for $125,000, the mayor's home became the center of controversy recently when it was learned that the mayor received a discount on his mortgage financing from Independence Federal Savings and Loan, where his wife, Effi, sits on the board of directors.
In the face of what Barry termed "intense press speculation and false innuendos," he later gave up the special financing arrangement that discounted his mortgage rate 3.25 percentage points and would have saved him $242 a month in loan payments.
The Barrys' new neighborhood is in one striking way the opposite of the Capitol Hill community where the Barrys rented the top two floors of a three-story house at 1236 E St. NE. The old neighborhood was changing from lower-class black to middle-income white and black; the new neighborhood is slowing going from middle-class white to middle-class black.
The Barrys' new neighbors indicate the area is private; there is not much socializing. It is a settled community full of retired persons whose children have grown up and moved on. The Barrys' immediate neighbors can only remember two houses being sold in the surrounding neighborhood during the past 10 years.
When homes in Hillcrest are sold (Barry actually lives on the periphery), they average just under $100,000.
Residents' salaries average between $25,000 and $40,000 a year. Yards are landscaped, neatly trimmed and pruned, fronting colonial and Tudor homes.
The mayor chose Hillcrest, which is only a few blocks away from the Prince George's County line, in part because of its potential to build voter support. The area, which has many young families moving into condos and townhouses in nearby Fairfax Village and Fairfax Village Park, is a cherished political plum because it has the third largest number of registered Democrats in the city.
In the Democratic primary last year, Barry ran second in the Hillcrest precinct, behind former City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker.
Barry has already done some small scale canvassing on his block. One recent Sunday, just after he moved in, he went around and introduced himself to at least 10 neighbors, and asked them about the community.
His home, at 3607 Suitland Rd. SE, a stone's throw from St. Timothy Episcopal Church, is within the politically important Precinct 110, one of the most influential precincts in Ward 7. Voter turnout there, according to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, is "unusually high" for the ward.
Some well-known residents in the area include, Johnny Barns, legislative assistant to Del. Walter Fauntroy; Henry Brock, president of the Building Laborers Union; Geraldine P. Boykin, executive director of Council 20 of the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees; H.R. Crawford, property manager and former undersecretary to the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Jeanus B. Parks, Howard University law professor; Nathaniel Bush, newly elected school board member, and Washington Post city hall reporter Milton Coleman.
Neighbors say the community has only mobilized twice in recent memory. Once unsuccessfully to block construction of several townhouses now nearing completion in the Fairfax Village Park development, about a block east of the mayor's home.
The second effort was more successful. Residents stopped St. Timothy's from holding disco dances on Friday nights by complaining to church officials about the noise and traffic congestion.
The most significant issue stirring up dust in the Hillcrest area these days is a dump site behind the Skyline Shopping Center, less than a mile west from the mayor's home.
Since most neighbors' children are grown and out of the home, when the mayor's wife, gives birth to their child next June, he or she will find few playmates nearbly.
However, Anne Beers Elementary School, one of the District public school system's better school's, is only about a block away. Anacostia and H.D. Woodson are the high schools in the area. Barry's block is in Woodson's district.
The mayor's move into the community has improved city services, residents say. Old street lights on Suitland Road have recently been replaced, they said, trash collection in alleys has been more regular and more thorough, leaving less strewn paper. At St. Timothy's, a city trash collector has made special arrangements to upgrade the church's trash collection system. Now the church uses chicken wire to prevent dogs from dumping garbage on the sidewalk across the street from the mayor's home.
Robert Walker, 61, a retired guard for the General Services Administration, lives two doors away from the mayor. His attitude seems to typify that of other residents in the area about the mayor's move to the community. "It is the best thing that ever happened," he says. "Now I know the prices will go up."
Walker, a retired security guard who has lived in the neighborhood 10 years, said he chose the Hillcrest neighborhood because it perfectly met his specifications. "I wanted to move up on a hill and own a Cadillac -- and that is what I did."
Ernest Taylor, Barry's next door neighbor, a 56-year-old retired postal worker, said there was no "big deal" about the mayor moving into the neighborhood. "He is like any other man. He needs a place to sit down and rest his feet."
A few doors away from the mayor's home, Jacqueline Hamlin and her family have a Tudor home she bought 14 years ago because "it was cheaper than homes in Upper Northwest."
A librarian whose husband is assistant general counsel for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Hamlin said she still gets chided by her friends in Upper Northwest who say she lives too far from downtown Washington. "My friends are always telling me I live too far away, but it only takes me 15 minutes to get to Capitol Hill and there are several shopping centers close by. The only thing I am far away from are my affluent friends in Upper Northwest."
Hamlin, who lives in a large four-bedroom brick home on a terraced hill, said the mayor's home was one of three constructed nine years ago next to each other. She said the home with its white wooden pillars and aluminum siding is nothing like most of the other 12 to 14 homes on the long, curving graded block, which were built about 35 years ago.
Walker, who was also quick to point out the difference in construction, said: "If the mayor paid $125,000 for his home, I know I can get $150,000 for mine."