When Julia Mirabella’s husband, Kyle Thomson, told her he’d found a house for them on Craigslist in the central part of the District’s Shaw neighborhood, she said she didn’t think it was “legitimate.”
But it was: a three-level attached rowhouse dating to 1875, with a back yard. It was a home they could live in, at least for a while, and it had a space they could rent out in the basement.
“Our first reaction was, it was too good to be true,” said Mirabella, 32, an attorney with a D.C. law firm. “I like walking to work downtown and like living in an urban environment.” Thomson, who is an attorney with the Food and Drug Administration, commutes to White Oak, Md.
The couple, who just celebrated their second anniversary, closed on their house in February and have been getting to know their environment and neighbors since then.
“There’s a lot of diversity here,” Mirabella said. “I really enjoy that. I feel like we’re part of a community in the best way.”
The couple bought their house from their neighbors, whose residence is very similar to theirs. When they first moved in, the previous owners gave a party in their honor.
Mirabella and Thomson are at work renovating their home. “We have no regrets about the neighborhood, about the house,” she said. Yet they face challenges. “The house needs a lot of work. It’s our very first house, the only thing we’ve owned.”
Neighborhood concerns: Relative newcomers to central Shaw enjoy the conveniences of the neighborhood — the O Street Market, including a Giant Food, as well as access to two Metro stations, an easy walk to work, wine bars and restaurants. Yet they are aware of issues that have become a focus of some of the Central Shaw Neighborhood Association’s meetings. Shaw is broken up into several associations representing various geographic areas of the neighborhood.
Central Shaw has undergone change throughout much of its history. For example, some of the buildings that have been boarded up since being burned during the 1968 riots are beginning to be developed. The wine bars and new restaurants have sprung up in the past seven years or so.
Lesly Weber McNitt and her husband, Dave, are among those newcomers who arrived in central Shaw in 2010 and have watched the changes unfold. “We knew that there was planned development and this neighborhood was to have revitalization,” said Lesly McNitt, 34, president of the Central Shaw Neighborhood Association. “We didn’t know the timeline.”
What they didn’t necessarily anticipate was the sound of gunshots they heard after moving into their rowhouse. “We’re been on this crazy journey together,” she said.
There have been other neighborhood associations in the area, but this one was formed about seven years ago to grapple with change with a “collective voice,” she said.
Both she and Dave, 35, had been renting in Dupont Circle when he found the rowhouse, and he moved first. The couple, both from the Philadelphia area, met in the District.
Of their decision to move to Shaw, she says she was uncertain but decided to make the move. Initially, she said friends wondered why they would move to Shaw. Now, those same people think the McNitts made a smart decision. “We definitely took a risk,” she said.
Central Shaw includes part of the Shaw Historic District, established in 1999 by the D.C. Historic Preservation Office’s Office of Planning.
“Initially an ethnically and economically diverse neighborhood,” according to the brochure developed by the preservation office, “Shaw was home to European immigrants and free African Americans, and, during and after the Civil War, increasing numbers of southern Freedmen flooding to cities in search of work.”
The brochure says that the name Shaw was first used in the mid-20th century to describe the area surrounding Shaw Junior High School, which was named for Col. Robert Gould Shaw (1837-1863), white leader of the all-black 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.
Individuals rather than developers built the original frame and brick houses in Shaw in the 1870s and 1880s, and later, developers built small rows of speculative houses, according to the Shaw Historic District brochure.
One of the issues the neighborhood association is grappling with is rats, according to Lesly McNitt and some longtime central Shaw residents.
Jackie Hart, who bought her house in central Shaw in 1989, said she believes in working with everyone in the neighborhood to solve problems. From the first, said Hart, now 72, she “became friendly to everyone.”
She recalls a time when she knew everybody and remembers the block parties between the 1500 and 1600 blocks of Eighth Street NW. “Change is inevitable,” she said. “How you grow with it or your attitude about it is optional. The neighborhood is not as cohesive as it used to be. There are some really nice people who have moved in.”
Some of the older people in the neighborhood have died or sold their homes for considerable sums, and moved to Prince George’s County, according to Alexander Padro, a 6E Advisory Neighborhood Commission member. He described it as a way to create a “college fund” for their grandchildren.
Living there: Central Shaw is bounded roughly by P Street NW to the south, Ninth Street NW to the west, Rhode Island Avenue NW to the north and Seventh Street NW to the east.
In the past 12 months, according to Suzanne DesMarais, a real estate agent with Compass, seven residential properties have sold in the neighborhood, including five houses and two condominiums. They range from a two-bedroom, one-bath condo in a rowhouse for $580,000 to a three-bedroom, three-bath 1912 house for $1.325 million.
The only residential property on the market is a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium in a building dating to 1898, listed for $625,000.
Schools: Seaton Elementary, Cardozo Education Campus (middle and high schools).
Transit: Central Shaw is roughly equidistant from two Metro stops: Mount Vernon Square/Seventh Street-Convention Center and Shaw-Howard University, both on the Green and Yellow lines.
Crime: In the past 12 months, according to D.C. police, four burglaries, three aggravated assaults and five robberies were reported within the neighborhood’s boundaries.