It’s one of Washington’s most distinctive neighborhoods. Dotted with quirky freestanding homes in a variety of styles, originally designed as a gated suburb and later the place to be for the District’s African American intelligentsia, LeDroit Park has always been unusual.
And now the Northwest neighborhood is finally getting its due — in more ways than one. Most obviously, the community (together with Bloomingdale next door) is the subject of a new Heritage Trail, one of the city’s self-guided walking tours developed by Cultural Tourism DC. History buffs can now wander the area’s streets and learn about its rich past from recently erected signs.
But in a broader sense, LeDroit Park is prominent these days in a way that it wasn’t even five years ago. After years of crime and stagnation, homes have been renovated, businesses have sprung up along the neighborhood’s edges and crime seems to have diminished.
“I think things have continually gotten better,” said Eric Fidler, president of the LeDroit Park Civic Association and a resident since 2009. “Houses here have become more desirable,” he said. Many sell within a week.
Recent turnaround: The original developers of LeDroit Park wouldn’t be surprised to see the area doing well. When they created the community in 1873, they had something very exclusive in mind. Washington architect James McGill designed LeDroit Park’s houses in a wide range of Victorian styles and a fence was installed “to keep out African Americans who lived nearby,” according to the new Heritage Trail’s narrative.
The fence was finally removed in 1891, and black Washingtonians began moving in a couple of years later. By 1920, the community was predominantly African American, home to professors working at nearby Howard University as well as renowned judges, politicians, artists and others.
The cachet gradually faded, and by the 1980s the neighborhood was suffering from the decline and neglect facing much of the city. “It was a really rough period,” said Shakeya Mundey, 38; she was born at Howard University Hospital and still lives in LeDroit Park, in one of the original McGill houses. “We had a huge crack problem, a lot of shootings.”
But eventually things started to change; Mundey says she remembers waves of newcomers who came and improved the neighborhood’s houses. And the area’s biggest landlord, Howard University, finally fixed up its properties and sold them, paving the way for LeDroit Park’s current incarnation as one of the city’s hottest communities.
Center of everything: But part of that new identity has nothing to do with LeDroit Park’s history — and everything to do with its location. Its streets feel almost bucolic, but the neighborhood is actually enviably sited: Shaw’s grocery stores and Metro station are close by, the bars and music halls of U Street are a 10-minute walk away, and Bloomingdale and its restaurants are next door.
Moreover, a new movie theater recently opened a few blocks west, and a Whole Foods store is slated to be built nearby. And after years of almost no commercial offerings, LeDroit Park now has a handful of restaurants on its Florida Avenue border.
“There are so many places to go now,” says Becky Reina, a stay-at-home mother of two who’s been in the community for four years. “It’s changed so much since we moved here.”
Which makes the new Heritage Trail, with its focus on the area’s long history, perfectly timed. Though the walking tour was facilitated by Cultural Tourism DC, its development was a community-led effort organized by a shifting group of residents that took, by Fidler’s estimation, seven or eight years.
Now important neighborhood details — such as the day Eleanor Roosevelt visited the neighborhood, or Duke Ellington’s childhood home — are up on LeDroit Park’s sidewalks for everyone to see.
Living there: LeDroit Park, Zip code 20001, is bordered by Florida and Rhode Island avenues to the south, Second Street NW to the east, W Street NW to the north and Howard University Hospital to the east.
According to Emilio J. Rouco, an agent with DCRE Residential, one property is currently on the market in LeDroit Park: a four-bedroom, three-bath detached home listed at $750,000. Four houses are under contract, ranging from a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo listed at $549,000 to a four-bedroom, two-bath rowhouse selling for $849,000. Over the past 12 months, 31 homes have sold, from a one-bedroom, one-bath condo that went for $319,900 to a five-bedroom, four-bathroom rowhouse that sold for $1.25 million.
Schools: Cleveland Elementary and Cardozo Education Campus (middle and high school).
Transit: LeDroit Park is an eight-minute walk from the Shaw-Howard University station on Metro’s Green and Yellow lines, and the neighborhood is well served by buses along Florida Avenue, Rhode Island Avenue and Seventh Street. It’s also near Interstate 395 and Route 50.
Crime: According to D.C. police, approximately 15 assaults, 18 robberies, 12 burglaries and 116 incidents of theft occurred in LeDroit Park over the past 12 months.
Amanda Abrams is a freelance writer.