Michigan Park in Northeast Washington looks like the suburbs — for better and worse
By Amanda Abrams,
Northwest Washington is well known for its many “suburbs in the city”: peaceful, family-oriented neighborhoods with wide lawns and ample green space.
But Northeast has a surprising number of them as well, including a pair at the District’s eastern border, Michigan Park and North Michigan Park, that feel a million miles away from downtown or even the gritty concrete boulevards that run through the quadrant.
Initially planned as actual suburbs to the original federal city, Michigan Park and North Michigan Park have long been quiet, almost wholly residential neighborhoods serving as home to many of the city’s professionals, including professors at nearby Catholic, Trinity and Howard universities. In fact, in a city that has been rapidly changing over the past decade, the area’s most prominent feature is probably its consistency over time.
The boundaries defining Michigan Park and North Michigan Park are difficult to untangle. As a whole, the two lie between Eastern Avenue and the Metro tracks to the east and west, and between Gallatin Street to the north and Taylor Street and Michigan Avenue to the south. Determining exactly where the respective neighborhoods sit, though, is tricky. Online sources split the area vertically, with some identifying the eastern neighborhood as North Michigan Park. But members of the two civic associations dispute that; they divide the region horizontally, with a line that extends east past Buchanan Street to Eastern Avenue.
Either way, the area’s architecture feels remarkably consistent. There’s real variety in the styles — from rowhouses and duplexes to Colonials, Cape Cods and even the odd mid-century modern ranch-type house — but most homes are fairly modest in size and just about everything is built out of brick. Small, neat yards and tall hardwood trees line the streets.
“It’s quiet; I like it so much here,” said Edward Gordon, 72, who has lived in his brick duplex for almost 40 years. He pointed out that although the area has a timeless feel to it, there has been change; it’s just been very gradual. “When I came here, it was all white,” said Gordon, who is African American and remembers his next-door neighbor’s initial resistance to his overtures. “But this is one place where the white people didn’t leave; they eventually died in their homes.”
The result became a remarkably diverse middle-class neighborhood where residents were cordial to one another but rarely visited with one another or became close friends, according to Gordon. Families often remained for decades, giving the area a sense of stability and turning it into one of Ward 5’s voting strongholds.
As in many other nearby neighborhoods, the average age of homeowners increased throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, as younger residents chose to raise families in the suburbs rather than remain in the District. But over the past few years, the city’s population growth and a renewed interest in city living have finally touched Michigan Park and North Michigan Park.
“When we moved 20 years ago, all our neighbors were retired professors,” said Paul Wood, the former president of the Michigan Park Citizens Association. “Now we’re starting to see families again, and the schools are getting better.”
That’s occurring slowly, though, and a big reason is the whole suburban thing. Sure, Michigan Park and North Michigan Park are within the city limits, but it would be a stretch to call them walkable. There’s really nowhere to go. The neighborhood contains virtually zero commercial options, with the exception of one small Latin grocery store. Many residents confess to heading into Maryland for groceries and other amenities.
It’s not an utter desert: To the southwest, Brookland holds a smattering of sit-down restaurants and an organic market, and the funky restaurants of Hyattsville are a couple of miles to the northeast. But it means that for the majority of residents, driving is a must.
“Eating? It’s a disaster,” said Adam Gluckman, 49, a stay-at-home dad who has been in his 13th Street house for four years. “I go to Silver Spring to shop and have to coordinate my shopping. There’s not much around here.”
But other than that big downside, new residents say there’s a lot to like about the area. The open space, for example. Sure, Michigan Park and North Michigan Park contain small parks and a recreation center like many other neighborhoods, but they’re also home to a remarkable number of large, quiet institutions situated on big swaths of green.
Across the street from Gluckman’s house, for example, is St. Joseph’s Seminary, whose administrators allow Gluckman and his son to frolic on its lawns. There’s also St. Anselm’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery and school; Whitefriars Hall, a community of Carmelites; and the HSC Pediatric Center, which includes a small garden and arbor. Not all of the sites are open to the public, but the vast acreage they take up gives the neighborhood a sense of peace and a slower pace.
The other big bonus is the quality of the housing stock. True, the neighborhood’s homes are fairly modest — but their prices are correspondingly so. And because many of the former owners lived there for years, most of the houses are in relatively good condition. They may need some updating, but few require massive renovations to be habitable.
Will Michigan Park and North Michigan Park ever become the District’s next “it” neighborhoods? Hard to say, but they do seem to be growing in popularity.
Necola Shaw, one of the area’s neighborhood representatives, is all for it. “I find that we have more families moving in, more professionals moving in, and I think it makes the neighborhood much more livable — in terms of learning about our differences in background and our diversity,” Shaw said. “I think that’s a good thing.”
Amanda Abrams is a freelance writer.
ZIP CODE: 20017 BOUNDARIES: Michigan Park and North Michigan Park lie between Eastern Avenue and the Metro tracks to the east and west, and between Gallatin Street to the north and Taylor Street and Michigan Avenue to the south. SCHOOLS: Brookland Education Campus at Bunker Hill and LaSalle-Backus Education Campus (elementary and middle school), Roosevelt High School. HOME SALES: According to Wendy Gadson, a real estate agent in Long & Foster’s Brookland office who grew up in Michigan Park, the average sales price in the neighborhood over the past 12 months has been slowly inching up and is currently $350,670. In that time, 30 homes — mostly three-bedrooms built in the late 1930s — sold. Six more are on sale now. WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Providence Hospital, St. Anselm’s Abbey and school, the Franciscan Monastery Garden, Howard University’s School of Divinity. WITHIN 15 MINUTES BY CAR: Washington Hospital Center, Catholic University, Trinity Washington University, Howard University, Columbia Heights, Hyattsville, Silver Spring, the National Arboretum. TRANSIT: Metro’s Fort Totten station, on the Green and Red lines is in the area’s northwest corner, and the Brookland station on the Red line is about a half a mile from the southwest boundary. Buses run along South Dakota Avenue and Michigan Avenue.