Daniel Schramm was riding his bike along the Metropolitan Branch Trail when he passed through what he thought was a “little small town, a village center” that called out to him.
“It was a place to check out,” said Schramm, 35, an environmental lawyer.
Three years later, when he and his wife, Amanda Frayer, were looking to buy their first home, they found it in Brookland, the very same neighborhood in Northeast Washington. “I’m always attracted to the village feel, the small-town feel,” said Schramm, who graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota and Vermont Law School. He’s always preferred places where you can “live more at a human scale,” he said.
Schramm and Frayer, a graphic designer, found their single-family house, built in 1919, with the help of a friend who is a real estate agent, and kept within their budget of under $400,000, back in 2012. “It was one of the first houses we looked at,” said Schramm, who last year became president of the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association.
The couple wanted something that allowed them “projects,” and they have found plenty of those from the stone wall they built in the back yard to their garden, a Certified Wildlife Habitat, a designation of the National Wildlife Federation.
Their house is along 12th Street NE, the same road that appealed to Schramm while riding his bike.
These days, he is concerned about noise from nearby traffic and numerous developer projects that keep sprouting in a once-sleepy neighborhood.
Charm and affordability: Situated on Metro’s Red Line with its own stop — Brookland-Catholic University of America — Brookland has grown and changed since its original development from farmland owned by Col. Jehiel Brooks and his wife, Ann Queen. After his death, the family sold off portions of the land.
Bounded roughly by South Dakota Avenue NE to the east, Rhode Island Avenue NE to the south, the Metro tracks to the west, and Michigan Avenue NE to the north and west, the neighborhood continues to be in flux.
When Caroline Petti moved to Brookland with her husband in 1991, it was “a very sleepy, quiet neighborhood,” she said. At the time, they were renting in Mount Pleasant in Northwest but wanted to buy. “We had four criteria: charm, near the Metro, safety and affordability,” Petti said, “in no particular order.”
When she saw the 1934 house in Brookland, she knew it was what she wanted, and it met all the criteria. “It has woodwork, good sturdy bones, was not completely renovated, and still had glass door knobs.”
And they stayed. “I really like it here,” said Petti, who grew up in Bethesda, Md.
Much of the change within the past five years has been the result of development near the Brookland Metro stop. Other development has occurred close to the Rhode Island Avenue- Brentwood stop. Mixed-use development has transformed the outer edges of Brookland more than the original downtown area with 12th Street NE as its major artery.
Where to eat, shop and go: New restaurants and established ones, as well as a CVS and a Yes! Organic Market, dot 12th Street NE between Rhode Island Avenue NE and Michigan Avenue NE.
Among the local restaurants where neighbors gather are Brookland’s Finest, which opened three years ago at 3126 12th St. NE, Menomale Pizza at 2711 12th St. NE and the Steel Plate saloon at 3523 12th St. NE and longtime establishment Murry and Paul’s at 3513 12th St. NE.
Residents are likely to shop at the Giant at 1050 Brentwood Rd. NE near Rhode Island Avenue on the edge of the neighborhood or beyond the neighborhood boundaries.
The appeal of Brookland is its walkability and proximity to downtown via Metro as well as to the Metropolitan Branch Trail that will, when finished, stretch eight miles from the Silver Spring Metro Station to the Union Station Metro Station for biking, inline skating, and walking. Among those living within a half mile of the original downtown, the median age is 33.7, according to a report from the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership. Of that population, 21 percent don’t own a vehicle, while 52 percent have one vehicle and 27 percent have two to three vehicles.
Brookland has a variety of community activities, including the 10th annual garage sale scheduled for Saturday; the Brookland House and Garden Tour, sponsored by the Greater Brookland Garden Club and scheduled for June 4; and the Rhode Island Avenue Fall Fest to be held Sept. 30. The Studios in the Arts Walk at the Monroe Street Market is open to the public the third Thursday of each month from 6 to 9 p.m. Free music, dance and arts and crafts take place at Dance Place from May to September.
What has precipitated the most recent change in Brookland? According to Petti, who was the civic association president for four years beginning in 2009, the improving economy and the 2014 opening of the Monroe Street Market, a mixed-use development near the Brookland Metro Station and Catholic University on the opposite side from the original downtown, “unleashed the deluge.”
As with any change, different reactions abound.
“There’s a lot of trepidation about all the development that’s going on in the neighborhood,” said Petti, who leads history tours in Brookland. “At the same time, it’s not necessarily all unwelcome.”
Petti, who retired from the federal government in 2007, said that “seeing every square inch being developed” can be anxiety-provoking. But so far, she said, “I’m quite happy with what’s been proposed, what’s being built and what’s in the pipeline.” She described herself as “cautiously optimistic” about the future of Brookland. “Part of the trepidation is: In the process are we going to lose our soul, Brookland’s soul?”
Living there: From its beginnings, Brookland has had a history of activism, especially when it comes to preserving the character of a neighborhood dominated by single-family houses as well as religious institutions and the original downtown. The area is home, for example, to Catholic University as well as the Franciscan Monastery. The Howard University School of Divinity is another site that faces potential redevelopment.
Schramm said he is ambivalent about the development and wants to preserve green space, tame traffic and abate noise in the neighborhood he and his wife have grown to love. “What kind of community are we wanting here?” he said. As real estate prices rise, he wonders if Brookland might become a neighborhood that only well-to-do people can afford.
According to Adrian Dungan, an agent with Re/Max Metropolitan Realty, in the past year, 138 residential properties sold in Brookland, ranging from a one-bedroom, one-bath condominium for $219,000 to an eight-bedroom, six-bath detached single-family house for $1.48 million. There are 10 properties on the market, ranging from a four-bedroom, four-bath detached single-family house for $559,000 to a four-bedroom, five-bath detached single-family house for $1.45 million.
Schools: Noyes Elementary, Brookland Middle, Dunbar High.
Transit: The Brookland-CUA Metro stop on the Red Line is close to the center of the neighborhood, and the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood Station is at the southern end of it. Metro buses serving the neighborhood include the H6, H8 and H9.
Crime: In the past year, according to the DC Crime Map, one homicide, 55 robberies, 45 burglaries and 25 aggravated assaults were reported in the neighborhood.