Sheila Bunn's last name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. It is Bunn not Dunn.
Sheila Bunn moved to Bellevue as a child in 1980. She says there was a fair bit of crime and substance abuse problems in those early days. She recalls her father and other concerned citizens in the community banding together to protect the streets by forming an “orange hats” coalition. The volunteer group, whose members wore hard-to-miss orange hats, had an organic conception. In areas where drug dealers had set up shop on street corners, the members of the neighborhood watch, armed with video cameras, recorded the activity and mingled with the dealers. The drug activity moved farther away block by block until it was eventually driven out.
“They were fed up with these people endangering their kids. They virtually made this neighborhood what it is now,” Bunn says. “Growing up, I had a very safe childhood. We played outside, and there was no fear.”
In the same way that the “orange hats” were community advocates, that spirit of camaraderie trickled down to individual residents. Bunn says parents could feel safe letting their kids play together outside because there was always a set of eyes on them, even if it wasn’t the parents themselves.
“Neighbors knew each other and watched out for each other’s kids, too. If Mrs. Brown across the street saw you doing something you weren’t supposed to do, you best believe she’d say something to you, and then when you got home, your parents would get at you, too, because Mrs. Brown already told them what’s going on. That’s the kind of place Bellevue was and is.”
Monique Diop is an ANC commissioner for Bellevue. She had lived in the Fort Totten neighborhood before moving to Bellevue in 2014 because of rising rents in Northwest Washington. She says when she told people she was moving to Bellevue, they asked her why she’d ever move to Ward 8.
“I’m not a native Washingtonian, so for me, it was like, well, D.C. is D.C. It didn’t matter to me at all,” Diop says. “There are bad apples everywhere. My friends tell me about all the crime and other stuff happening in upper Northwest. When it comes down to it, this is a safe, nice place to live. There are a lot of people here working to make sure good things happen for this area.”
And good things are happening. The William O. Lockridge/Bellevue Neighborhood Library, an architectural centerpiece in the neighborhood, reopened in 2012 after a complete renovation. More recently, a Good Food Market opened in the center of Bellevue’s developing business corridor on South Capitol Street. The 225,000-square-foot development includes a Community of Hope primary-care clinic and 190 affordable and permanent supportive housing units.
“Good Food Markets was just the beginning of potential development opportunities in Ward 8 that will create more jobs for Washingtonians and improve food access. We want to continue to provide affordable housing that allows families to grow in place and complements the architecture and history of an already vibrant community,” John Falcicchio, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, wrote in an email.
According to the mayor’s office, two new housing complexes are in the works — the Flats at South Cap at 3836-3840 South Capitol St. and South Place Apartments at 3812 South Capitol St. Both buildings are in the underwriting phase, so a timeline for completion is not yet available.
Diop says residents have been waiting several years for much-needed renovations to the recreation center within Fort Greble Park. Located at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Elmira Street SE, the Fort Greble Recreation Center includes a community garden, three basketball courts, a multisport court, a multipurpose athletic field, a playground and a splash pad. The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) says that it has set aside $2 million in funding to modernize the existing center and that it is actively working with a design-build team on the project. Because the Department of General Services is in negotiations with the contractor, no timeline for completion is available. Additionally, in response to community demand for a dog park east of the river, $750,000 will fund the first dog park in Ward 8, at Oxon Run Park. Planning and design will begin after October this year.
Bald Eagle Recreation Center, also within Bellevue, offers a bevy of programs such as summer camps, boxing, cheer and dance, and activities for seniors. The DPR is in the planning stages of a $500,000 investment to improve the existing athletic field at Bald Eagle. The renovation will begin in November.
Living there: Bellevue is bound by Second and Xenia Street SW to the west, the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE and South Capitol Street to the north, First Street SE to the east and Joliet Street to the south. Two large green spaces, Fort Greble Park and Oxon Run Park, sit on the west and east sides of the neighborhood, respectively.
According to Chris Chambers, a real estate agent with the One Street Company, 20 homes have sold in Bellevue in the past six months. These range from a one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo for $42,000 to a five-bedroom, four-bathroom renovated rowhouse for $540,000. Four properties are for sale, which include a three-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse offered at $479,900 and a two-bedroom, two-bathroom detached house offered at $579,500. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,200 per month.
Schools: Patterson and Leckie Elementary, Hart Middle, Ballou High.
Transportation: The closest Metro stations are Congress Heights, which is about two miles away, and Southern Avenue, which is also about two miles away. Both stations are on the Green Line. Several Metro bus lines serve the neighborhood.