Damiana Astudillo used to go to Columbia Heights to pick up her prescriptions and dry cleaning. Even though she lives one Metro stop north in Petworth near Georgia Avenue NW, she had few shopping options there until two years ago. A CVS pharmacy, organic dry cleaner and other new businesses now dot the busy thoroughfare.
“If you think about it, not many people get excited about a pharmacy,” said Astudillo, who works in international development. “But I was excited.”
Originally from Ecuador, Astudillo moved to Petworth with her husband in 2009. She remembered walking past so many stores with boarded windows when she first arrived that she said she had no sense the neighborhood was changing.
But easy access to downtown Washington and a feeling of safety while walking around led her to buy a house there. She found she could get more space for the money than other Metro-connected neighborhoods in the District.
In the predominantly black and Latino neighborhood, both of Astudillo’s neighbors are African-American, with students or graduates of Howard University residing in each. She said one neighbor has owned her house for more than 20 years, while the multi-generational family on the other side has lived there for nearly 50 years.
She, too, plans to stay in her Petworth home for at least the next five to 10 years, she said.
“It’s a very grounded neighborhood,” Astudillo said.
A community that once housed President Lincoln’s summer cottage, Petworth has long been viewed as a suburb in the city.
Petworth’s recent commercial development is an added perk for Astudillo. She enjoys eating at D.C chain restaurant Sala Thai, which opened there in 2010. Last summer, the neighborhood hosted free jazz in the park and a Friday afternoon farmer’s market.
One of Astudillo’s favorite changes is the Petworth Neighborhood Library, which reopened last year after $12 million in renovations. She said the library “wasn’t worth it” when she first moved in. Now it’s become a community hub, marked by a floor-length neighborhood map on the second level.
The library launched a free program of popular Saturday-morning yoga classes last August and was the only place to practice for several months. When Petworth’s only yoga studio closed in 2010, Astudillo, who practices yoga regularly, planned to take classes at the YMCA in Dupont Circle.
Instead, she waited to enroll at Golden Heart Yoga studio, which opened in January 2012 in the heart of Petworth.
Studio co-owner Julie Eisenberg lives around the corner from her business. She said her student profile — about two-thirds of her students are white — isn’t representative of the neighborhood. She plans to start a donation-based class to draw in more of the community, because she believes yoga shouldn’t be exclusive.
After 12 years of living in Adams Morgan, Eisenberg grew tired of its nightlife and bought a renovated house in Petworth next door to a four-generation family. Of the 22 houses on her street block, white and Latino families bought about half and arrived within the last decade. Black families own the remainder of the houses, and many of them have lived there for half a century, raising grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Neighbors like Eisenberg’s are common in Petworth. Homeownership rates exceeded 60 percent in 2009, according to Neighborhood Info DC, a project of economic think tank The Urban Institute . The District’s average homeownership rate is 45 percent.
Similarly, the percentage of Petworth residents living in the same house for five or more years held steady at about 60 percent from 1990 to 2000. Across the city, the average is about 50 percent.
Shanel Anthony is one of those long timers.
Brought to Petworth by his parents, Anthony attended Petworth’s private St. Gabriel School for elementary and middle school. He now lives in his childhood home with his family and volunteers as an advisory neighborhood commissioner, or ANC, for Ward 4C, which includes Petworth.
Anthony said when he was growing up, Petworth was a working class neighborhood -- his parents probably couldn’t afford to buy the same house at today’s prices. He said for a time it seemed like families were leaving the area, but he has noticed more children and expectant mothers living there recently.
“We lost the original fabric of the neighborhood, but are seeing a return again,” Anthony said.
Anthony said one of the reasons a local public elementary school closed was because of underenrollment. In 2004, year-round charter school E.L. Haynes replaced it. He said the new school’s population is more ethnically diverse.
“It’s like Rip Van Winkle woke up and saw the school’s still there, only the kids look different,” Anthony said, referring to the fictional character who slept for 20 years.
Anthony said he can’t imagine what the neighborhood will be like in five, 10 or even 20 years because it has already undergone so many unexpected changes.
“Before, Petworth was a joke,” Anthony said. “Now businesses are competing to get there.”
Joseph Vaughan, who moved to Petworth 13 years ago, said he expects the area to eventually mirror Dupont Circle or H Street’s thriving dining and entertainment corridors.
Vaughan, also an ANC commissioner for Petworth, said seven restaurants have applied for new sidewalk café permits, symbolizing an effort to redefine the neighborhood’s identity.
“I’m looking forward to the day when we don’t have a liquor store on every block,” Vaughan said. “And that’s what happening.”
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