In the 1800s, during the Industrial Age, Foggy Bottom in Northwest Washington was regarded as the low-lying area over which smog hovered — hence the name.
These days, the breweries, glass works, gas works and other factories have given way to such hallowed institutions as the State Department, the International Monetary Fund and the Kennedy Center. The community is dominated by two populations occupying opposite ends of the age spectrum: empty-nesters and other older residents, and students attending George Washington University.
Some young families live there, but many move away when their children reach school age, said Marina Streznewski, president of the Foggy Bottom Association. The small rowhouses that make up much of the area’s housing stock is a limiting factor.
“We’re old,” Streznewski said, demographically speaking. “We have people who move back into this neighborhood from the suburbs after their kids leave home, and can age in place here,” she added.
Life in an infamous building: Those narrow rowhouses fill the main streets of the historic district, and even narrower homes make up Snows Court, an alley community within Foggy Bottom.
Snows Court’s 28 two-story brick alley dwellings, tucked between K, I, 24th and 25th streets NW, are about 480 square feet, often with a single bedroom upstairs.
Filling out the housing options are condominium and co-op buildings.
Past the historic district and across Virginia Avenue lies a Washington landmark: the Watergate, the scene of the infamous break-in at the Democratic National Committee office that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. Of the six buildings that make up the Watergate complex, three are residential, totaling approximately 650 residences.
The curvilinear Watergate was designed in the modern style by Italian architect Luigi Moretti. The window-heavy exterior provides views of the Potomac River and the city, but the interiors of the units can feel cramped by American standards, with small rooms and narrow hallways (though square footage is often generous, in some cases exceeding 3,000 square feet.)
Gayley Knight and her husband bought their apartment in 2006 but spent two years gutting and rebuilding before they moved in.
The nearby Kennedy Center provides daily entertainment — Knight said some Watergate residents attend the free Millennium Stage show every afternoon — and the D.C. Department of Aging provides services to seniors there., including a supermarket shuttle.
Watergate residents run into one another in the ground-floor coffee shop and eateries and venture into historic Foggy Bottom or Georgetown when they want to experience some city bustle.
Besides the architecture, the location and the Potomac views, there’s one more feature that Knight cites as a perk of living there: “Residents are very protective and respectful of people’s privacy.”
An unspoken closed-mouth agreement seems to exist, said Knight. When reporters have called to ask about famous guests — Monica Lewinksy once lived there, as did Clare Boothe Luce until her death, and Condoleezza Rice is said to have an apartment there — the residents tend to refrain from comment. “It’s an oasis” for important people, said Knight. “It’s one of those nebulous things that keeps people here.”
In stable communities, demographics move in waves: People move in, they age, and when they pass away, their homes are sold to a younger generation. “We are on the cusp of that wave,” said Knight. “We had three newborns last year and have probably 12 to 14 children under the age of 15,” she added.
Dominating presence: George Washington University’s 43 acres and roughly 10,000 undergraduates have a massive presence in the neighborhood, and the institution colors daily life. For many years, the campus seemed capable of growing unbounded, and residents were protective of their neighborhood.
“The Foggy Bottom Association used to have the tag line ‘Saving Foggy Bottom’ — from GW,” Streznewski said, though things are better now, she quickly adds.
In 2007, a campus plan officially limited the physical footprint to the current status for 20 more years and tensions eased, Streznewski said. Now discussions mainly surround the noise and trash that some students bring with them.
Streznewski said she regularly stops to get coffee from the Starbucks in the university hospital’s cafeteria and sometimes finds a plate of cookies on her doorstep, dropped off by the five sorority sisters living next door.
Besides the hospital cafeteria, Whole Foods, which opened a location at 2201 I St. NW in 2011, is another community meeting place, said Walter Woods, who owns an alley home in Snows Court. “They have wine tastings and space to have a meal,” Woods said. “They helped increase the sense of community.”
Living there: Foggy Bottom is bordered by Pennsylvania Avenue to the north, 17th Street NW to the east, Constitution Avenue to the south and Rock Creek Parkway to the west.
Currently, 27 properties are on the market, including eight at the Watergate complex, said Suzanne Desmarais of Keller Williams Capital Properties. They include a four-bedroom co-op at the Watergate listed at $3 million and a townhouse at just under $1.5 million. Eight units, all studios or one-bedrooms, are listed at prices under $300,000.
Transit: The Foggy Bottom Metro station at 23rd and I streets NW offers access to the Orange, Blue and Silver lines. Residents can also jump on a number of buses, including the Circulator, which has stops just north of Washington Circle Park and offers easy access to Georgetown and Dupont Circle.
Schools: Children are zoned for the School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens for elementary and middle school and Wilson High School.
Crime: According to the D.C. police crime map, there were 586 reports of property crime and four reports of crimes involving the use of a gun from November 2013 to November 2014.
Shilpi Malinowski is a freelance writer.