Brightwood in Northwest Washington has been a well-kept secret even though it offers ample recreational amenities and affordable housing to a diverse set of residents. But the Ward 4 neighborhood north of Columbia Heights and south of downtown Silver Spring has a suburban character that could be on the verge of change with the development of the Walter Reed campus.

“I kind of don’t want the secret to get out,” said Brightwood resident and Re/Max real estate agent Cornelius Henderson. “Brightwood was the neighborhood that was above 16th Street Heights and below Shepherd Park. It was nice. But now, since being discovered, people are like, ‘Wow, okay.’ "

Since at least 2012, the transformation of Walter Reed campus on the north side of Brightwood has been in the works, but finally it’s happening. The 3.1 million square-foot mixed-use development will have condos, apartments and affordable housing for seniors and veterans as well as restaurants and shops, including a Whole Foods. The State Department will build a chancery center, and Children’s National Hospital will have a facility as well.

The development has already driven up housing prices, according to Henderson. He first noticed the market impact of the development two years ago. Since 2019, the median home price has increased from $610,000 to $689,000.

“It’s hard pressed to have a bad sale in [Brightwood] and that’s directly a result of the development,” Henderson said. “Values are really picking up.”

Homes now sell for more than $1 million regularly. In 2019, only one home sold for more than $1 million. In 2021, 14 homes sold for more than $1 million.

Henderson and his family moved to Brightwood in 2012. For the kids it was “perfection,” Henderson said. “We’re literally in between two playgrounds.”

In addition to Rock Creek Park, which Henderson calls his backyard, Brightwood has other green spaces such as Fort Stevens Recreation Center. The park has tennis and basketball courts and a multipurpose field. The refurbished playground is styled after the historic Fort Stevens, the site of the only battle to be fought in D.C. during the Civil War. Part of the fort is still standing farther south in Brightwood.

Henderson misses the walkability of living downtown, but he anticipates that the increased population density from the Walter Reed development will bring more amenities, especially restaurants. The section of Georgia Avenue in the neighborhood has several eateries catering to diverse tastes, but most are takeouts. Residents wanting a sit-down dinner are forced to drive outside the neighborhood or — when the weather is nice — walk to the nearby Takoma neighborhood.

Some worry the Walter Reed development will make Brightwood too expensive.

“For me, that’s going to be an issue,” Tesfaye Lencho said. “I’m not young. I’m 68. I’m on Social Security now.”

The Ethiopian immigrant moved to a rent-controlled building in the neighborhood in 2004. Affordability is an important part of why he stays there, but he also likes Brightwood for the community of Amharic speakers he’s found there and the easy access to Rock Creek as well as downtown D.C. and Silver Spring.

“Who doesn’t want to live here?” Lencho said. “It’s an ideal place to be honest with you.”

Brightwood is more diverse than nearby Manor Park or Shepherd Park. Amharic and Spanish can often be heard. Brightwood Community Association president Monica Goletiani attributes the diversity to the neighborhood’s broad housing options.

“Because there is a housing type that you can afford,” Goletiani said, “anyone could live here.”

The neighborhood has also long been home to a prominent Black community. The Military Road School — now Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School — was the first school for free Blacks in D.C. Brightwood was home to notable residents such as Jesse Jackson who moved to the neighborhood in 1989.

Goletiani, who has lived in Brightwood for 20 years, understands the concerns about the Walter Reed development but trusts Brightwood can stand up for itself.

“Small pieces of preservation have made a big difference,” Goletiani said.

She cites the role residents played in preserving a triangle park, a tree-lined patch of grass that D.C.'s Department of Energy and the Environment almost cleared in 2019 to make a bioretention pond. Nearly 20 residents attended the DOEE meetings in person. Other residents petitioned the DOEE online or Goletiani relayed their messages in meetings. Residents were successful in getting the bioretention pond moved elsewhere.

“We managed to preserve this for so many,” Goletiani said. “Little kids, elderly people, everybody uses the triangle.”

The plot proved a boon when city parks, like the adjacent Fort Stevens, closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

But homes selling for more than $1 million can change the character of a neighborhood. Henderson, like others, hopes they can meet Brightwood on its own terms.

“It’ll be interesting to see how we transition once everything is completely walkable,” he said. “You want people who want to integrate into a neighborhood and be there, and not be there waiting for it to change.”

Living there: According to the Brightwood Community Association, the neighborhood is bounded by Aspen Street to the north, Georgia Avenue to the east, Missouri Avenue and Military Road to the south, and Rock Creek Park to the west.

Etienne Eaton of Keller Williams said 129 homes have sold in Brightwood in the past nine months — 30 detached single-family houses, 73 semidetached houses and rowhouses, and 26 condos. Single-family home sales ranged from a five-bedroom, four-bathroom house for $1.4 million to a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house for $500,000. Townhouse and semidetached house prices ranged from $455,000 for a three-bedroom, one-bathroom home to $1.365 million for a five-bedroom, four-bathroom home. Condos ranged from a three-bedroom, one-bathroom home for $455,000 to a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo for $540,000. Three properties are for sale: a four-bedroom, two-bathroom detached house for $749,000; and two one-bedroom, one-bathroom condos for $149,000 and $120,000.

Schools: Brightwood Elementary; Ida B. Wells Middle; Coolidge High.

Transit: Closest Metro station is Takoma (Red Line), a 20-minute walk from Fort Stevens Recreation Center. Metrobus has extensive service in the area along Georgia Avenue, 14th Street and 16th Street. Capital Bikeshare has three stations in the area, including one by Fort Stevens Recreation Center. Residents tend to be car dependent, although there is ample bus service along 16th Street and Georgia Avenue.