The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In Georgetown, residents of a historic neighborhood work hard to preserve it.

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Where We Live | Georgetown in Northwest Washington

WASHINGTON D.C. - JANUARY 11: A pedestrian crosses through traffic on M St. NW in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2020. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

For many, Georgetown is an idyllic centerpiece of the District’s charm. The community in Northwest has cobblestone streets, trendy boutiques and an alluring waterfront that have made it a neighborhood unlike any other in the city. It has been a D.C. tourism mainstay for years.

Founded four decades before the nation’s capital, Georgetown is in the National Register of Historic Places, becoming the first historic district in the city in 1950. Georgetown’s history is so revered that the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts has jurisdiction over the design of buildings within the neighborhood. Any building within the boundaries of the historic district is subject to review by the Old Georgetown Board, which must approve any alterations visible from a public space.

Residents’ heavy involvement in the community is long-standing. Georgetown has many organized groups dedicated to preserving and bolstering the area’s interests. Groups range from nonprofits such as Georgetown Main Street, which supports the neighborhood’s small businesses through events and promotion, to publications including the Georgetown Dish and the Georgetowner as well as several resident-run blogs.

Marilyn Butler is one of the residents committed to cataloguing the area’s happenings. She’s divided her time between Cleveland and Georgetown for the past 15 years. Though her husband prefers quieter Cleveland, she loves Georgetown so much that she’s maintained a home in both places for years.

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“Without a doubt, hands down, what I like most about Georgetown is the people,” Butler says. “They are friendly, personable, fun and a study in variety and backgrounds. Everyone I’ve met has led me to someone else and the experience of it has been magical.”

Butler’s dedication to the friends she’s met led her to a personal project, Mapping Georgetown, in which she collects stories of people’s experiences within the neighborhood. The stories will be archived in the Peabody Room of the Georgetown branch of the D.C. Public Library.

It’s no surprise that Georgetown’s residents are invested in their neighborhood given the number of community-building activities that take place each year. The Citizens Association of Georgetown is extremely active, planning such events as an annual gala and free concerts in local parks. Each month, residents meet for discussions ranging from politics to author talks to business happenings. Jennifer Romm is a former CAG president who spearheaded many events.

“These are terrific opportunities to meet your neighbors and learn more about the neighborhood,” she says. “There is a farmers market where I always run into neighbors. There is a young families Facebook page where people with kids can meet and greet and set up outings and exchange information. The Georgetown Library has lots of activities too.”

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Residents say another Georgetown perk is its bountiful commercial offerings.

“Georgetown is a village within a city. It has everything you need,” Romm says. “You can walk to shops, restaurants, grocery stores, parks, bowling and the Kennedy Center.”

Nancy Carpenter is the current CAG president and a 16-year Georgetown resident. She likes the neighborhood’s old-world charm.

“We love the walkability of Georgetown and the fact that there is so much history — it almost feels like a village in Europe,” she says. “Everything is so convenient here and we have some wonderful shops that appeal to a wide audience. We also have top-notch restaurants that will satisfy a true foodie.”

Restaurant lovers have plenty to choose from. Brasserie Liberte opened in November 2019, taking over the 6,000-square-foot Morton’s The Steakhouse space. The French menu features classics such as French onion soup, steak frites and macaroni au gratin.

Other spots are neighborhood institutions. Martin’s Tavern — where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953 — has been serving American classics for almost nine decades. Cafe Milano is equally known for its Italian food as it is for its frequent famous clientele, which includes movie stars, athletes and foreign heads of state.

Though options are abundant and commercial storefronts continue to evolve, there is occasional pushback. Over the past six months, the popular Georgia Avenue bagel shop Call Your Mother Deli had been embroiled in a conflict with residents as it tried to open a second location at the intersection of 35th and O streets. Co-owner Andrew Dana signed the lease last summer but zoning laws prevent a business operating in a residential zone. Opponents of the bagel shop cited concerns over parking, long lines and sanitation. On Wednesday, the Board of Zoning Adjustment approved the necessary variance.

Living there: Georgetown is bounded by the Potomac River on the south, Rock Creek to the east, Burleith and Observatory Circle to the north, and Georgetown University on the west.

According to Compass real estate agent David Shotwell, 110 properties have sold in Georgetown in the past six months, ranging from a studio apartment for $207,500 to a six-bedroom townhouse for $9 million. There are 42 properties for sale, including a studio for $280,000 and a six-bedroom, six-bathroom house for $7.3 million. Housing types range from condominiums and attached rowhouses to grand estates, many in the Federal and Georgian architectural styles.

Transportation: The Foggy Bottom-GWU Station on the Blue and Orange lines is the closest Metro station. The Circulator bus and several Metrobus lines run through the neighborhood. Georgetown University offers transportation via its free GUTS shuttles, connecting to the Dupont Circle Station (Red Line)and the Rosslyn Station (Blue, Orange and Silver lines). Wisconsin Avenue and M Street NW are the main thoroughfares. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal bike path runs along the north bank of the Potomac River.

Schools: Hyde-Addison Elementary, Hardy Middle, Wilson High.