Pupuserías, bodegas and beauty shops, interspersed with fitness studios, hip eateries and local dives, line the length of the neighborhood’s commercial corridor on Mount Pleasant Street.
But longtime residents, like ANC Commissioner Jack McKay, worry that skyrocketing housing prices are stripping the neighborhood of its diversity.
“The consequences of high housing costs for Mount Pleasant’s famed diversity are severe,” said McKay. “The Black and Latino populations are gradually moving out, much to my dismay.”
McKay, 78, bought his rowhouse in the 1970s for $20,000 and estimates that the current value hovers around $1.2 million.
When A. Daniel Bouchard, a broker with Keller Williams Capital Properties, moved into the area 25 years ago, it still had its bohemian charm. “It was a little bit more grungy and less trendy than it is today,” he said.
But the neighborhood’s once affordable housing stock has transformed into a hypercompetitive battleground for the well-heeled. When houses go on the market, Bouchard said, they rarely stay there for long.
“It’s a very high-demand neighborhood,” he said, citing Mount Pleasant’s leafy streets, public library and proximity to the National Zoo. “It’s kind of like the oasis in the city that’s really just a hop, skip and a jump down from Dupont and U Street and 14th Street, Columbia Heights, or over to Cleveland Park.”
Resident Kelly DiNardo, owner of Past Tense, a neighborhood yoga studio, said she was outbid numerous times before a real estate agent helped her purchase a home off-market. She was drawn to Mount Pleasant’s location, small businesses and hippie vibe — but it was also important, she said, that her school-age son attend Bancroft Elementary, which conducts classes in English and Spanish.
Mount Pleasant, once just outside the old city limits, became known as the Village of Mount Pleasant around 1850. By 1900, the electric streetcar had ushered in an era of rapid expansion into the city’s suburbs, and Mount Pleasant’s crooked country roads became densely developed city streets.
Although rowhouses dominate the neighborhood’s sloping topography, Mount Pleasant contains a veritable hodgepodge of architectural styles. Victorian estates, Colonial Revival mansions and Italianate apartment buildings all exist here — physical reminders of how the neighborhood has changed over time.
The oldest house in Mount Pleasant, the Ingleside estate, now a nursing home, was built in the 1850s by Thomas Ustick Walter, who served as the fourth architect of the U.S. Capitol. The neighborhood is listed in both the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places.
The area was once home to singer and sausage salesman Jimmy Dean, who moved in during its brief time as a hub for country and bluegrass music in the years after World War II. According to the neighborhood’s Heritage Trail, residents knew Dean, who would later become a national recording and TV star, simply as a “hillbilly” musician whose band performed at a local restaurant.
Mount Pleasant was a predominantly White suburb until around 1950, when restrictive covenants barring African Americans from renting or purchasing homes here were struck down by the Supreme Court. But when Black families began to move in, many White residents fled, causing housing prices to slump.
“The population was 30 percent Black and 70 percent White in 1960. And it was the reverse in 1970,” said Mara Cherkasky, a historian and author of a book about the neighborhood.
By the 1980s, a large Hispanic population, including many Salvadorans fleeing civil war, flocked to Mount Pleasant, transforming the neighborhood into a vibrant barrio.
“You’d walk down Mount Pleasant street at the time and it was like being in Central America,” said Cherkasky, who lived in Mount Pleasant until 2007. “There were vendors on the street and you’d hear Spanish — and from car radios. It was kind of gritty, and I just loved that.”
Residents like McKay are doing what they can to keep housing affordable and preserve the neighborhood’s diversity, but some of the beloved grit is being replaced by shiny new development.
A new mixed-use building from the Arlington-based architect Kasa was recently approved to replace an old laundromat on Mount Pleasant Street. The four-story development, slated to break ground this summer, will squeeze between Taqueria Nacional and the former Heller’s Bakery building and include two units of affordable housing, at the neighborhood’s request.
While many lament gentrification’s grip on the neighborhood, residents say Mount Pleasant is still an open, amiable community. Yard signs proclaim that all are welcome, and neighbors stay connected through email groups, block parties and annual events like Halloween parades.
“It’s a really friendly neighborhood,” said DiNardo. “I can’t walk up the hill to the main drag without running into someone I know. . . . I’ve got to build in an extra 10 minutes any time I go out.”
Living there: There are 15 homes for sale in Mount Pleasant. The highest-priced home is a four-bedroom, four-bathroom rowhouse listed for $1.6 million. The lowest-priced is a studio condo listed for $249,900. Last year, 124 homes sold in Mount Pleasant. The highest-priced was a five-bedroom, four-bathroom rowhouse that sold for just under $1.7 million. The lowest-priced was a studio condo that sold for $270,000. The average sale price in Mount Pleasant in 2020 was $908,235.
Boundaries: Mount Pleasant is roughly bounded by 16th Street NW on the east, Harvard Street on the south, Rock Creek Park on the west and Piney Branch Park on the north.
Schools: Bancroft Elementary, Deal Middle and Wilson High.
Transportation: Mount Pleasant is a 10-minute walk from the Columbia Heights Metro station on the Green and Yellow lines and is served by the Circulator and multiple Metrobus lines. The neighborhood is easily accessible to Rock Creek Parkway.