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Barnaby Woods is the best of both worlds

The Northwest Washington community has ‘all the advantages of living in the city, with all the advantages of living in the suburbs’

In the Barnaby Woods neighborhood of Northwest Washington, Unicorn Lane is a little looped road off Oregon Avenue NW that is notable for its fanciful name and the pair of white unicorn statues that guard the entrance. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Nebraska Avenue NW as Nebraska Street NW and incorrectly stated that Barnaby Woods' northern boundary is Rock Creek Park. It is Pinehurst Parkway Park. The article has been corrected.

Barnaby Woods, the Northwest Washington neighborhood west of Rock Creek Park and adjacent to the Chevy Chase enclave, is often overlooked by the popular D.C. blogs and news sites. But when they do write about the green hideaway, they mention Unicorn Lane.

The little looped road off Oregon Avenue NW is notable for its fanciful name and the pair of white unicorn statues that guard the entrance to townhouses. As the Hill Is Home blog wrote in 2017, the developer of the land parcel in 1972 picked the unicorn as “a mark of uniqueness, which characterizes the community.”

To the residents who love it, Barnaby Woods feels like a unicorn: a neighborhood with easy access to the heart of the District, but also one safe and secluded enough that parents feel comfortable letting their children ride bicycles in the streets and walk by themselves to school.

“It’s all the advantages of living in the city, with all the advantages of living in the suburbs,” said Sandra Cihlar, 77.

While Cihlar’s home on Nebraska Avenue NW is just outside the boundaries of Barnaby Woods and within the larger Chevy Chase neighborhood, she has lived in the area since 1971 and grew up playing in the neighborhood. She remembers biking down Barnaby Street to the edge of the park, where the residential side was still largely undeveloped. She and her friends would climb a huge mound of sand, then ride to play in the Pinehurst Branch Stream.

“You know, one of those Norman Rockwell-like kinds of things,” she said.

While the 23-acre neighborhood has more houses than it did when Cihlar was a child, she finds it amazing how unchanged it remains from the place where she made her happiest early memories.

According to the Ward 4 Heritage Guide by the D.C. Office of Planning, the neighborhood dates to the 1920s. Some of the earliest homes were frame houses designed by architect Louis Justement, who also designed the historic E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse at Judiciary Square.

The neighborhood is now dominated by red-brick Colonials, with a smattering of Sears bungalows and modern mansions. Kimberly Cestari, a real estate agent with Long and Foster who lived in Barnaby Woods for 23 years before moving just outside its boundaries three years ago, said the neighborhood sees less turnover than the D.C. average. Residents tend to build additions onto their homes if they need more space rather than move.

“It’s a little Mayberry,” Cestari said. “There are block parties. … There’s an annual Halloween parade that starts at Worthington and 32nd [Street] and goes down 32nd Place and ends at a potluck. Those are things that you can’t put a price tag on; it just speaks to the other people who live there and their sense of community that they create.”

Barnaby Woods has no dedicated neighborhood association. Instead, residents often take the initiative to meet their neighbors and organize events. The lush green spaces and the community that forms around the area’s well-regarded public schools can break down barriers.

Michael and Lauren Zelin, who moved to the neighborhood eight years ago with their three children, said the park at Lafayette Elementary School is a popular gathering place. Michael, 43, said he and other men in the neighborhood joined an informal running group called the Coywolves — after a small coyote-wolf hybrid found in Rock Creek Park — that regularly hits the trails.

“We can cover miles and miles and not be on concrete,” he said.

Those who care for the neighborhood are working to make sure it retains its quiet, pastoral charm. Lisa Gore, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who lives in neighboring Hawthorne and represents Barnaby Woods, said she has been working with the D.C. Department of Transportation to improve safety with traffic-calming measures, such as speed bumps.

“This area has a tendency to be a cut-through for traffic,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of traffic infrastructure issues going on to try to make the streets less of a speedway.”

Another focus is preserving the look of the neighborhood. True to its name, Barnaby Woods is dominated by massive, old-growth trees. They grow through sidewalks and tower over front doors — respected neighborhood residents in their own right.

“A lot of these 100-year-old oaks are at their life expectancy; they’re being taken down because they’re either diseased or dying, and it is changing the look of the neighborhood,” Cestari said. “But you know, it’s easy to remedy [that] by planting new trees and then letting them grow for future generations.”

Living there: Bounded by Pinehurst Parkway Park to the north, Rock Creek Park to the east, Tennyson Street NW to the south and Western Avenue and the Maryland state line to the west, Barnaby Woods is entirely residential and made up of single-family homes, apart from the townhouses on Unicorn Lane.

In the past 12 months, 32 homes have sold in Barnaby Woods, Cestari said, with sale prices ranging from $903,103 for a two-bedroom ranch in need of updates to $2.75 million for a five-bedroom, six-bathroom 1921 Tudor, fully updated and remodeled last year. The average sale price in that period was $1.46 million. No homes are on the market.

Schools: Lafayette Elementary; Deal Middle; Jackson-Reed High.

Transportation: The M4 Metrobus stops along Western and Utah avenues, running between Sibley Memorial Hospital and the Tenleytown station. The closest Metro station is Friendship Heights on the Red Line, about two miles southwest of Barnaby Woods.