After sipping iced tea on the front porch of his Woodley Park row house, Charles Warr can stroll a few minutes down the street to feast on Afghani lamb kebob, Indian tandoori chicken or spicy Thai noodles, saunter over to the Shoreham or Sheraton hotels for an after-dinner drink or cross the street to catch the Metro to a late movie.
The quiet, Northwest neighborhood, nestled between Rock Creek Park and the Washington Cathedral, is about two miles from downtown, minutes from the subway's Red Line and a short walk away from some of the city's most popular ethnic restaurants. But Woodley Park residents say their tranquil streets lined by row houses -- many with lush gardens, wide verandas and porch swings -- make them feel more like they are living in a small Midwestern town.
"It's cosmopolitan and at the same time it has a very 'Elm Street, USA' feeling," said Warr, president of the Woodley Park Community Association and a nuclear physicist at the Food and Drug Administration.
The cost of a Woodley Park home, however, bears no resemblance to those in most small towns. "It would be very surprising to find something under $200,000," said Sheila Mooney, a real estate agent with Begg Inc. who lives on Woodley Place. "If you do, it will really need a lot of work."
House prices, especially for the restored row houses, have risen sharply in the community during recent years. One Woodley Park resident said his town house was appraised at about $165,000 two years ago; a similar town house across the street sold for $240,000 this year.
Although the average town house costs from $200,000 to $250,000, the price tag on a home in the 2600 block of Woodley Place ranges from $350,000 to as high as $400,000 and along Cathedral Avenue prices climb as high as $1 million. A newly renovated stucco home with a moorish facade on Woodley Road across from the Sheraton Hotel, is listed for $895,000.
"People who own houses in Woodley Park are well-off now, even if they weren't before," said Warr, chuckling. "Our houses have made us rich, but they keep us poor. Old houses require a lot of love and care."
Woodley Park is also filled with many large rental apartment buildings, including the vintage Art Deco Kennedy-Warren at 3133 Connecticut Ave., the Calvert-Woodley Apartments at 2601 Woodley Place, the Hampton-Stratford House at 2700 Connecticut, Cathedral Mansions South at 2900 Connecticut and the Calvert House at 2401 Calvert St.
Samuel Friedman, a real estate agent with Shannon & Luchs Co., said efficiencies rent for between $515 and $625 a month, while one-bedroom units go for $575 to $900. Two-bedroom apartments, which Friedman said rarely are available, rent for about $1,200. Woodley Park condominiums generally sell for between $55,000 and $190,000, Mooney said.
The 25-square-block community of 6,000 residents is bounded by Calvert Street on the south, Cleveland Avenue and 32nd Street on the west, and Klingle Road on the north; it spills across Connecticut Avenue to Rock Creek Park on the east. It is within walking distance of the Woodley Park-Zoo Metro stop, which residents say is both a blessing and a curse.
Every weekend, hundreds of people step out of Metro at Woodley Park on their way to the National Zoo at 3001 Connecticut Ave. During one Saturday in March, the population of the neighborhood jumped sharply when about 25,000 people visited the zoo -- almost double the number during the same time last year.
The population of the neighborhood soars another 20,000 in minutes when a small army of conventioneers arrives at the Shoreham Hotel on Calvert Street or the Sheraton Hotel on Woodley Road. The area's proximity to the hotels presents a serious parking problem for residents.
A parking dispute erupted into a bitter battle against the owners of the Sheraton seven years ago when residents complained that the hotel provided inadequate parking for the increased number of visitors to the hotel's enlarged convention facilities, and the spillover of cars inundated the neighborhood, clogging narrow streets and blocking driveways and alleys.
The parking problem is further aggravated by scores of people who drive to the area to dine at a string of popular restaurants near Connecticut Avenue, including the Thai Taste, Khyber-Pass, Petitos, New Heights and Rajaji Curry House.
After pressure from residents, the city banned large tour buses from some residential blocks and made several streets one-way to keep out traffic generated by the restaurants and hotels.
Some residents, however, are quick to note the benefits of living near two popular hotels. "It's handy to be able to go to the end of the street and get a taxi or a shuttle directly to National and Dulles," Warr said.
"The Sheraton pool has changed my life," said Irwin Arieff, a reporter for Reuters, who is frequently seen there with his wife, Debby Baldwin, and their daughter, Alexis. Arieff, who lives on Woodley Place, joined the Sheraton pool club after an unbearable summer day three years ago when his family "cruised every single summer pool" only to find them filled "elbow to elbow."
The neighborhood boasts energetic activism that has staved off developers, fought the Benin Embassy over its large antenna, and even created an elm association to save dying elm trees on one Woodley Park block.
The community association last year fought a developer's plan to convert two dilipidated old houses across from the Sheraton on Woodley Road into office buildings and eventually the properties were renovated into homes.
Woodley Park was not developed until 1908 when the Taft Bridge over Rock Creek Park was completed, according to Cynthia Field, an architectural historian with the Smithsonian, who has lived in the neighborhood for eight years. The homes were built in the early 19th century Adams style, which Field said is similiar to the rows of homes one might see in a London suburb.
Field, who is compiling a a historic survey of the area, said, "While one sees a wide variety of house styles in Kalorama and Cleveland Park, the early period of Woodley houses moves away from that and is a very consistent style of delicate detail and a great deal of brick, mostly red."
Woodley Park derives its name from the Woodley mansion, which is now the Maret School at 3000 Cathedral Ave. Before the turn of the century, the Georgian manor, which is surrounded by tall oaks, was the summer home of presidents Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James Buchanan and Grover Cleveland, who wanted to escape the heat and humidity of downtown Washington.
The grand 18-acre estate that was built about 1803 by Judge Philip Barton Key, the uncle of Francis Scott Key, was also the home of Henry L. Stimson, secretary of State under Herbert Hoover. The rambling Wardman Towers Hotel, where the Sheraton stands now, was built in 1918 by Harry Wardman, who developed much of the surrounding neighborhood.
Woodley Park's calling card is convenience. It draws young professionals, who are seen jogging down to Rock Creek Park or shopping at the pricey Washington Park Gourmet on Calvert Street. A high percentage of elderly have chosen the neighborhood because of its rent-controlled apartments and proximity to shops and the Metro. Some families, however, have moved out of the community because of their disenchantment with the idea of having their children attend the Oyster Bilingual School or the difficulty of getting them admitted to John Eaton Elementary. Other parents said they have been attracted to the neighborhood by such private schools as Maret, St. Albans, National Cathedral and Sidwell Friends.
"It's a really wonderful place for children," Mooney said. "And where else can you be as close in to the city and still buy something, if you are lucky, in the mid-$200,000s?"