Many Washington residents probably do not know there is a community in their own backyard where entertainer Pearl Bailey, former Sen. Edward Brooke and the late Dr. Ralph J. Bunche once lived.
Nor do they know that the neighborhood began as a streetcar suburb called "little Rome" because so many priests and nuns could be seen there.
This community, Brookland, is often referred to by residents as the "village" because of its semirural character. It is nestled behind the Catholic University in Northeast Washington and is the subject of a recently published report by George Washington University students.
Those students, enrolled in the university's historic preservation program, charted the life of Brookland from the days when the area was held by Algonquin-speaking Indians through a surge in neighborhood growth in the 1880s to the present by describing its social, developmental and architectural history.
Using the oral recollections of more than 50 residents during a three-month period, and examining local architecture and District records, the students produced a report that has community residents begging for more copies.
George McDaniel, who last semester taught a class as part of the historic preservation program and helped publish the 180-page report said: "We wanted to study the neighborhood homes in the context of the people who live in the area."
McDaniel said the students tried to produce a report that was easy to read and focused on issues of special interest to Brookland residents.
Brookland, named after the Jehiel Brooks family, which had both a large mansion and landholdings in the area, developed primarily because of the streetcar rail system that extended from downtown Washington to the community in the late 1880s, the report states.
The increase in population and the development of the commercial section of town were enhanced by the opening of the former B & O railroad station where Bunker Hill Road crosses the railroad tracks.
It was during World War II that the community changed from predominately middle-class white to predominately middle-class black. This integration dramatically affected community institutions such as schools and churches. "It led to the closing of some and the creation of others and the integration of most," the report states.
A key issue, which became a milestone in Brookland history, was a battle in the 1960s against the North Central Freeway. Plans for this freeway, which would have leveled 200 homes in the community, were dropped in the early 1970s in favor of a subway station.
The community was also plagued at that time by an increase in crime and a decrease in retail sales along the tiny business district on 12th Street NE. d
Present community concerns include improving the business section, providing facilities for youth, preventing additional rental property growth and reducing parking problems brought on by the establishment of a Metro station in the area.
The student project has been accepted with open arms by longtime Brookland residents like Helen Brosnan, 79. After reading the report she said: "I liked it. It gave a very good picture and a lot of work went into it."
Douglass Diass, chairperson of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5-A, which includes Brookland, said his only problem with the study is that he can't get more copies of the report.
McDaniel said additional copies may soon be available from George Washington University at a cost of $15 apiece. He said the class originally printed 65 copies and many of them were given to community residents and officials who helped assemble the report.