"Everybody" came to the springfest last Sunday at the Potomac Avenue Metro station. A six-piece band, "Tomorrow's Dream," brought mellow jazz. The Capitol Hill Arts Workshop provided acrobatics, with leader Steve Johnson putting his nine 7-to-11-year-olds through their paces.
The folks in the 1400 block of G Street SE had spent days on spring cleaning, arranging the ambience -- and maybe even the magnificent weather.
Throw in some volleyball, horseshoes, bicycle riding, dice rolling and pot-smoking, and "everybody had a relaxing day. It brought the neighborhood together," said springfest chairman O'Neill Smalls.
It wasn't always thus.
"When I first moved here (in December 1972), it was much different," Katherine McAuliffe remembered. "There were bootleggers living down the block, and I had winos hanging all around my house. They'd be laughing and singing all night . . . When they moved out, it improved considerably."
It also improved considerably when Metro moved in. From January 1973 to July 1976, boards and boardwalks and fences were where front and back yards and sidewalks should have been. The place was messy, dirty and smelly, but the smart money was betting it was worth the price.
The price was next to nothing. McAuliffe's house cost $18,000 -- that is the whole amount, not the first month's principal and interest.
Wilbert Hill, her neighbor, moved in one month later and had to part with an additional $1,000 for his house. He bought the one next door as well.
Suddenly, people began to get the idea. Renovation was just the next Metro damage payment away.
"People started moving in because it was cheap," McAuliffe said. "The best time to buy was just before Metro, because no one wanted to leave once it started. They paid us for damages for four years, and everybody took that money and renovated."
Not everybody. Some people -- mostly black -- took the money being offered by others -- mostly whites -- for their homes and left. The composition changed gradually and subtly, with little racial animosity or polarization.A new esprit de corps developed as the groups mixed and mingled.
Many black families resisted the lure of the big money and fast buck and stayed in the homes where they'd lived for years, lending a needed sense of stability to the transition.
Another change was that many families were replaced with singles or young marrieds. Some of whom rent; some buy.
Gone, of course, are the days of $18,000 houses. Thanks to Metro, it now takes seven times that. A mere $90,000, though, can get a shell, ripe for renovation.
"This is unlike other Capitol Hill neighborhoods, because it hasn't turned all-white and ritzy," McAuliffe said Sunday, surveying the fun. "There's a terrific economic, age, racial and sexual preference mix. I like it for that reason. I hope it doesn't change."
Hill, the unofficial mayor of the community, is of the same mind. "People really take care of their property," he said. "You can go to a family and tell them one of their kids has done something, and they thank you for it. They appreciate your interest.
"People here look out for each other. When something has to get done, people pitch in and do it. It doens't matter who needs it."
Everyone pitched in last Sunday. Everyone needed it.