As you cross into Woodland Normanstone in upper Northwest Washington, you’ll notice the neighborhood has a different feel from much of the rest of the city.
Two dozen of the 160 homes in the neighborhood are residences for embassies. And nature — picturesque woods, squirrels and deer — is a major focal point.
Woodland Normanstone “is like a village in the countryside,” says Anne Vasara, deputy chief of mission — the deputy ambassador — of the Embassy of Finland.
“You are close to the Capitol and White House, and you have the vice president passing always when he drives home on Cleveland Avenue and the sirens,” Vasara says. “And then you go to the other side, where you have this creek. That is something which impresses me every day; that it is so natural, in the middle of a city which is in the United States, the biggest power in the world. Its capital — you would expect skyscrapers, but actually it is very humane and very natural.”
The Finnish Embassy found Woodland Normanstone close to 20 years ago. “Finland had looked for a new location for its embassy for three years,” Emilia Honkasaari, the communications coordinator at the embassy, says in an e-mail. “When the right piece of real estate became available, no time was wasted.” The embassy sits inside a 1950s-era mansion, the former home of the late Democratic congressman Clark W. Thompson of Texas and his wife.
Part of what accounts for the neighborhood’s uniqueness is how it was laid out.
In 1910, Congress exempted the neighborhood from the McMillan Commission grid plan. Today, woods and roads following the natural contours of the neighborhood set Woodland Normanstone apart from more conventional neighborhoods.
Living there: This neighborhood is bounded roughly by Garfield to the north, Cleveland Avenue and Calvert Street to the northeast, 28th Street to the east, Rock Creek Park to the southeast, Massachusetts Avenue to the southwest, and 34th Street to the west.
In the late 19th century, says Larry Aurbach, the president of the Woodland Normanstone Neighborhood Association, who has written about the community’s history, the area consisted of two farms, woods and trees. People traveled to town on Rockville Pike, now Wisconsin Avenue.
In 1901, a Massachusetts Avenue bridge across Rock Creek opened. Massachusetts Avenue then split the U.S. Naval Observatory land and the Normanstone estate, which became the British Embassy property and the U.S. Naval Observatory Circle to the southwest of Massachusetts Avenue and Normanstone Park and embassies to the northeast.
Homes tend toward the grand; even the private houses often have the august look of embassies. Styles are mixed. Colonial or Georgian homes rest on large lots, and more modern houses also appear. Like the storybook surroundings, housing prices in Woodland Normanstone tend toward the fantastic.
The lowest-priced single family home is $2.5 million; it has been on the market since July 2012. Carolyn Schafer, a Coley Reed Group real estate agent, describes it as suitable for an art collector. According to Schafer, in the past year, nine single-family homes sold, with a price range of $2.7 million to $6.95 million. There are five active listings of single-family homes ranging from $3.725 million to $12 million.
Community events: Vasara says that neighbors come together periodically for functions. These include children’s events, planting trees and celebrating Woodland Normanstone’s 100th anniversary.
Additionally, embassies organize tours and events throughout the year. Some take part in the Embassy Adoption Program, which adds global education in the classrooms of D.C. fifth- and sixth-grade students. Honkasaari says that EU Open House Day (typically in May) is the embassy’s single biggest event. Close to 3,000 Washingtonians visit the embassy.
“These folks are good participants,” Aurbach says.
Schools: Woodland-Normanstone students are zoned for the highly sought-after Oyster-Adams Bilingual School, Deal Middle School and Wilson High School.
Public transportation: Metrobus runs down Massachusetts Avenue, and residents can walk to the Woodley Park Metro station.
Eliza McGraw is a freelance writer.