Dupont Circle, the Washington neighborhood long known as the home of artists and hippies, is going the way of Georgetown and Capitol Hill, as high-priced houses and rising rents are forcing the young people and the artists out.
At least four of the art galleries that line P Street NW to the west of the circle have moved or plan to move soon because, in the words of one of the gallery owners, "P Street is just high rent for bad space."
More and more apartments in the Dupont Circle area have been converted to condominiums over the years, forcing tenants out. Since 1974, 2,764 apartments in the area have been converted to condominiums, and applications are pending for another 470, according to the D.C. Housing Department. In the meantime, the cost of housing around the circle has tripled over the past 10 years, with row houses now selling for upwards of $200,000, and one-bedroom apartments renting for $500 a month.
Painter Mark Clark moved from his loft above Ellen's Irish Pub on Connecticut Avenue near R Street when the building was sold and the bar closed. Clark, who lived near the circle for 13 years, moved to Adams-Morgan, just north of his old neighborhood. "The circle is just too expensive and they keep tearing down the town houses. It's too chic there now," he said.
Doug Lang, a writer, moved from a building at 18th and Q streets NW last year when it was converted to condominiums. He now lives nearby at 17th and S streets. At the old place, he said, "I had a spacious, one-bedroom apartment for $250 a month. Here I have a smaller place for $350 plus utilities. And the rent is going up. I will probably move next to Silver Spring."
Ten years ago, the park in the middle of Dupont Circle was known as the place in town to buy marijuana, make instant friends, strum a guitar, listen to bongo drums, wave a banner to protest the Vietnam war or sleep on the grass. If you were young and new to the city, you could count on a friendly reception from the "circle people."
Some of the hippies, musicians and artists stayed on in the area, moving into the three-story, stone-and-brick Victorian row houses that typify the area, from M Street on the south, 15th Street on the east, U Street and Florida Avenue on the north and 22nd Street on the west.
But downtown Washington was moving, too. In the last 10 years, new stell-and-glass office buildings have edged up Connecticut Avenue and around the circle itself. When Metro opened its first subway line, Dupont Circle was the last stop to the north, making the neighborhood even more attractive to commuters and developers.
The result: more old town houses are being torn down for new office buildings; many of the old, inexpensive apartment buildings are being converted to condominiums with big price tags, and Victorian row houses are being renovated to meet the demands of high-income buyers.
"In [Dupont Circle] housing, there is essentially only one level -- expensive," said Louise Nicholls, a real estate agent and resident of the circle for 18 years. "This is the first residential spot from downtown on the subway and it will continue to be very valuable property. What we have is a middle-class preserve; middle class as defined by living habits and not income."
"Rentals are high, very high," said Verne Calvert, sales manager for C. Millicent Chatel Real Estate in the Dupont Circle area. "In the arts, income hasn't kept up with these [Dupont Circle] prices and those are the people who have to leave the area when they lose an apartment," she said.
Calvert has lived in the neighborhood for five years and has watched the rental market dwindle. "When someone calls and asks for a two-bedroom apartment for $350, I don't laugh anymore, I get sick. That means to me that the middle class is getting moved out of the circle."
Steve Szabo, an art photographer and teacher at the Corcoran Art Gallery, moved this month from a two-bedroom apartment at 1623 O St. NW, where he has lived for 12 years, to a farm in rural Maryland.
"I'm being forced out of my own neighborhood," said the 39-year-old photographer. "This is my home, this is my city and Dupont Circle is where I want to live."
Szabo fought off the demolition of his two-story, 40-year-old apartment building for more than two years. But the American Trucking Co., which plans to put up an office and high-rise apartment building on the site, won.
For two months, Szabo tried to find an apartment in the neighborhood that he could afford. "My rent for two bedrooms is $225 [a month], which is all I can pay. I couldn't find anything comparable for less than $700."
Down the street from Mark Clark's new apartment in Adams-Morgan is the Middendorf-Lane Gallery, which moved from 2014 P St. NW last year. Owner Chris Middendorf moved to Columbia Road from Dupont Circle because the "P Street galleries are all small and ramshackle and we found the ideal building here."
Three other P Street galleries are summer. Ramon Osuna, who owns the planning to leave the circle area this Osuna Gallery at 2121 P St. NW, is leaving after 11 years because he wants to be near the national museums and "it will be cheaper downtown."
Nancy McIntosh will move her gallery, Protetch-McIntosh, from 2151 P St. NW because she needs larger exhibition space. "It is very expensive here on P Street and I have only 1,000 feet of useful space and no storage area. No structure on P Street is adequate for my large-scale work," she said.
Across the street, Diane Brown of Diane Brown Gallery has already opened a sculpture gallery 20 blocks away. Rather than pay a new rent increase, she will leave P Street at the end of July. "I'm not sure where I will go," she said. "Since Chris [Middendorf] left, this area is less and less attractive."
A fifth gallery owner, Jim Cramer of Cramer Gallery at 2035 P St., is considering a move from P Street after only one year. "I pay $12 plus per square foot [a month] and that's a hell of a lot of money," he said. "The question is when to make the plunge and move."
Galleries, though, aren't the only casualties of the changing neighborhoods.
The tiny lunch counter at Schwartz's Drug Store at Connecticut and R Street for more than 40 years closed two years ago. It was known for its real milkshakes, cheap lunches, erratic service and loyal friends -- something that made the neighborhood special. A year ago the Rogue and Jar jazz club on N Street just off Connecticut Avenue closed, as did Ellen's Irish Pub (also known as the Ben Bow).
Sculptor Ted Wanveer, who has lived in the neighborhood for three years, thinks even the people aren't the same anymore. "It's the look on their faces that is different. When you're thinking about something you're writing or about a piece of work, there is a kind of intensity and that has a different look than someone who is thinking about computer programming or problems at the office. It's a different energy level and it shows on the face," he said.
This summer Wanveer will pack up his furniture and tools and leave Dupont Circle. "The rents are going up and everything is turning condo. I want to leave now before someone tells me that I have to leave." CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, Copyright (c) Allen & Hatley 1980, The Washington Post