Hillcrest, in the words of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry's press secretary, John White, "may just be the best-kept real estate secret in Washington."

The neighborhood of spacious, neatly trimmed yards, mature hardwood trees and brick colonial houses is in a quiet section of far-Southeast Washington, bounded roughly on the west by Branch Avenue, on the north by Alabama Avenue and Suitland Road and on the south by the Prince George's County line.

White said he moved to Hillcrest after looking at similar homes in Northeast and Northwest Washington that were priced at least $30,000 to $50,000 more than the three-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath house he recently purchased for just under $110,000. So far, White said, the neighbors are "extremely friendly," and his commute is well under control.

"You can get to Capitol Hill in 10 to 15 minutes even in rush hour, and that's with the traffic on the Sousa Bridge," White said. "I can leave my house at 8 in the morning and be at my office {in the District Building at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW} by 8:30."

The neighborhood is brimming with other city officials, such as Donald G. Murray, director of the consumer and regulatory affairs department; John E. Touchstone, director of the public works department, and William B. Johnson, director of the recreation department.

But the best-known Hillcrest resident is Barry, who lives in a 17-year-old brickfront colonial on Suitland Road.

Barry purchased the home in 1979 for $125,000. Now, it's worth at least $150,000, according to Cammie Hatcher, a real estate agent who specializes in the neighborhood.

Hatcher said the Barrys were among a wave of younger professionals who started moving into the neighborhood about 10 years ago.

She said the area now "has a nice mix of people who have lived there 20 or 30 years and others who have moved in with their families."

According to Hatcher, about 1,700 people live in Hillcrest.

The area is particularly attractive, Hatcher said, "to people who have looked along 16th Street in Northwest and find they can have the same house in the same kind of neighborhood in Hillcrest for much less money."

Barry's home is one of three nearly identical houses built on Suitland Road that sit high on a hill above the street with deep back yards that border on an alley.

Eric Adams, one of Barry's neighbors, said the large back yard sold him on the house three years ago.

Barry is "an excellent neighbor," said Adams, who owns a Pizza Hut restaurant on Rhode Island Avenue. "He's been over several times, and he's frequently checking on me to see how I'm doing."

From Adams' kitchen window, one can see evidence that Barry is not your average neighbor. The mayor's house is the only one in the neighborhood with a secured perimeter -- a police officer stands watch in a guard house around the clock, monitoring Barry's house and yard with the help of several closed-circuit security cameras.

Most of the 600 homes in Hillcrest date back to the 1940s and 1950s and were built on the site of what was once one of the largest plantations in Anacostia.

In her book, "The Anacostia Story: 1608-1930," historian Louise Daniel Hutchinson wrote that George Washington Young, owner of the largest number of slaves in the District, inherited the 150-acre Nonesuch plantation in 1826 and purchased another 624 acres that stretched from the site of St. Elizabeths Hospital to the Prince George's line.

The Nonesuch plantation mansion still stands, on Bangor Street, around the corner from Barry's house. Its current owners, Herbert and Yvonne Williams, purchased the home two years ago and are working on a major restoration of it.

"We'd like to restore it to its original condition," Herbert Williams said, as he showed a visitor around the first floor with the large center entrance hall and the nine-foot ceilings. "It's tough, though, because a lot of the plumbing is old galvanized pipes that are external and tend to freeze. They need to be replaced. The wiring is old, too."

Looking out the Williams' front door, one can see much of the Hillcrest neighborhood framed between two huge trees, an oak and a poplar, that Herbert Williams said are at least 130 years old.

"You can't help but look out here and think about the way things were and how much everything's changed," he said.

"I think this neighborhood is tremendous."