On a chilly but clear and bright December morning in the Northwest Washington neighborhood of Brightwood, people waited at bus stops on Georgia Avenue; Sandra Serrano and Joan Johnson walked their dogs, Romeo and Blu; and Leo Contreras hosted customers at his shop, Wapa Cafe Boutique.
Just a few years ago, the streets in this modest residential neighborhood between 16th Street Heights and Takoma were nothing to write home about.
“There were drugs that you could visibly see and leaking gasoline drums on the streets. People didn’t take walks on Georgia Avenue,” said Alfreda-Chi Mauuso, a former two-term advisory neighborhood commissioner. “Now it’s wonderful here. We have stores. We have many restaurants. We have a good relationship with the local police department. We have friendly people who care about the community.”
Today streets are quiet, clean and welcoming to people who want an urban environment with suburban flair. Several commercial corridors crisscross streets with sidewalks. There are tall oaks, elegant elms and gingkoes, as well as parks with benches, swings and ball courts.
Like a gated community: The housing stock is a mix of well-kept duplexes and rowhouses and large single-family bungalows and Colonials. Many are built with red brick, some have slate roofs, and a few have single-car garages. Wide alleys run behind the houses. Interspersed among the houses are some apartment buildings and condos. Porches are common, topped with striped metal awnings or roof overhangs. There’s a feeling of spaciousness because the houses aren’t close to one another. A few are recently renovated in a way that fits with the neighborhood aesthetic.
“I would say Brightwood is one of D.C.’s more stable neighborhoods,” said Larry Bivins, a real estate agent with Long & Foster Real Estate. “It is residential with a capital R. It almost has the feel of a private community minus a gate.”
Brightwood’s connective tissue is a web of community engagement.
Ron Austin, chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4B, which covers Brightwood, established issue-specific committees of residents and professionals to make neighborhood improvement recommendations and “to get citizens involved with their ANC,” he said. “We take their recommendations along with those by other citizens who weren’t committee members and develop a joint recommendation to act on.”
Contreras, the Wapa Cafe owner, said he initially opened only on weekdays. But the people at Emory Beacon of Light down the street — an outgrowth of the first black church in the District after segregation, now in the midst of a big renovation and development project — offered a proposal a few years ago: Let’s try to attract more people to the avenue. You open for Sunday brunch and we’ll cover your expenses if you don’t get the business.
“We didn’t get the traffic right away, but eventually we did, and now we’re full on weekends,” Contreras said.
D.C. Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) holds office hours one Saturday per month at Wapa, now beneath an array of colorful abstract paintings by Khalid Thompson. Contreras rotates local artists and sells the artwork.
Mauuso, the former ANC commissioner, works with the Women’s Federation for World Peace International, which among other local projects teaches children character. She’s on the board of the Beacon Brightwood Business Alliance, which assists local businesses with “whatever they need to be successful,” she said.
The 18-stop Brightwood Heritage Trail commemorates early American and Civil War history and inspires pride in the neighborhood.
Shopping and dining: Walmart is a big draw. Safeway on Piney Branch Road and Giant in Silver Spring are the main grocery stores. Neighborhood eateries include El Dorado Bread Restaurant, the Deset Ethiopian restaurant, Simple Bar & Grill, Turntable Restaurant & Disco, La Villa pizzeria and Haydee’s.
Living there: Brightwood, Zip code 20011, is shaped like the state of Utah. It’s roughly bordered on the north by Aspen Street; on the east by Georgia Avenue, Tuckerman Street and Fourth Street; on the south by Missouri Avenue and Military Road; and on the west by 16th Street and Rock Creek Park.
According to Bivins, the Long & Foster agent, 10 properties are for sale, ranging from a three-bedroom, two-bathroom detached Colonial for $304,900 to a five-bedroom, six-bathroom semidetached Colonial for $1,089,000.
Fifteen properties are under contract, ranging from a one-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op for $125,000 to a five-bedroom, four-bathroom semidetached stucco and brick Tudor for $775,000.
In the past year, 99 properties have sold, ranging from a one-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op for $120,000 to a five-bedroom, four-bathroom detached Colonial for $875,000.
Schools: Brightwood Education Campus (pre-K to 8), Coolidge High.
Transit: Georgia Avenue, 16th Street, Piney Branch Road and Missouri Avenue offer quick vehicular access to other parts of the city and are served by many bus routes, including the 52, 53, 54, S2, S4 and S9.
“We’re only five minutes from downtown Silver Spring,” Johnson said.
The Silver Spring Metro station on the Red Line and the Georgia Avenue-Petworth and Columbia Heights stations on the Green and Yellow lines are the closest, but a bit too far for a quick walk before or after work.
There’s abundant street parking, with meters along Georgia Avenue and residential permit parking along some feeder side streets.
Crime: According to crimemap.dc.gov , there have been 10 burglaries, 12 assaults and 28 robberies in the past year.