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The Little Town Within: Mt. Pleasant's Amalgam

By Dana Hull
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 1, 1996; Page F04

Mount Pleasant is best enjoyed in the springtime. Warm weather brings the neighbors out onto stoops and porches, and irises and other flowers transform the front yards of many row houses. Everyone, it seems, has a garden.

"The Pleasant," as it is known, continues to be one of the most culturally diverse and funky quarters of Northwest Washington to live in.

The community is bounded on the north by Rock Creek Park, on the south by Harvard Street, on the west by Adams Mill Road and on the east by 16th Street NW. Off the beaten path, Mount Pleasant is overwhelmingly residential, and the lack of a major traffic artery gives the neighborhood an almost small-town feel.

The main thoroughfare in Mount Pleasant is Mount Pleasant Street, which runs somewhat parallel to 16th Street NW from Harvard Street to Park Road. A commercial and business district that usually is teeming with residents, the strip is similar to Columbia Road NW, but with a distinctly local flavor.

Young people and families alike do laundry in the always-busy Bubblez. Longtime residents catch up on gossip over drinks at the Raven Grill, which has been around since the 1930s. Salvadoran and Mexican food are available from a number of mom-and-pop restaurants, and most groceries are easily purchased at the Super Save. And for breakfast there's always a long line at Heller's, a bakery known for its chocolate croissants.

Long considered the seat of the District's Latino community, Mount Pleasant also is home to many white and black families, newly arrived African and Vietnamese immigrants, and young people.

Residents are not only culturally diverse but economically integrated as well. Though most homes in the neighborhood are owner-occupied, its roomy row houses traditionally have been home to recent college graduates or young professionals who realistically can't afford to live alone on entry-level salaries. Many of the houses have been group homes for years and are known in the neighborhood by their nicknames -- and for the keg parties their residents have a propensity to host.

Summer interns and newcomers to Washington are often advised to look for housing in Mount Pleasant. Ads for housing to share often read like this one from the City Paper:

"Peaceful vegetarian home awaits conscious, nonsmoking responsible person. Near Rock Creek Park in West Mount Pleasant. Metro accessible. West Mount Pleasant. $350/month plus utilities."

D.C. Council Chairman David Clarke lives in Mount Pleasant, as does the District's chief financial officer, Anthony Williams. The neighborhood was designated a historic district in 1987, largely because of the big and beautiful old houses that have been preserved through the years.

"Architecturally, the neighborhood evolved over a short period of time, in the 1920s," said Linda Low, a resident for 26 years. "There were very few architectural intrusions, and it has kept a certain style and look to it. It's also unique in that it's built on a hillside."

Historical status gives the neighborhood more say in what developers can and cannot do. A variety of active neighborhood associations, such as Historic Mount Pleasant, are helping residents pay for the restoration of aging front porches in need of repair.

The housing available encompasses a wide range of styles. There are condominiums, homes that have been divided into separate apartments, apartment buildings, early-20th-century row houses known for their columned front porches, detached homes and Victorians. Maple and elm trees line most of the streets, and new trees have recently been planted.

"I have a couple of homes for sale at the entrance of Rock Creek Park, priced in the mid-two hundreds," said Richard Kendall of Weichert Realtors. "They are detached houses, in the treetops. Because of the proximity to Rock Creek, you almost feel like you're in the country."

Besides the abundance of trees, convenience to bus lines is another advantage. The Woodley Park Metro stop is within walking distance and Metro is constructing an addition to its Green Line, which will have a stop at 14th and Irving streets NW, in nearby Columbia Heights. Two bus lines provide easy access to downtown.

Habitat Real Estate Inc. has been based in Mount Pleasant since 1984, and handles a lot of properties in the neighborhood.

"Prices have fallen somewhat since 1989 peaks, but the houses are still very desirable," said Roselyn Abitbol of Habitat. "Business is definitely going on. People like the mixture of people, the trees, the closeness to downtown."

Mount Pleasant was the subject of intense media coverage in May 1991, when a resident was shot by a D.C. police officer during an arrest. Three days of looting and protests followed, and the disturbances were characterized as "riots." The city's relationship with the Latino community was severely strained.

Attention was refocused on the community two years later, when the so-called "shotgun stalker" terrorized Mount Pleasant and neighboring Columbia Heights. An unknown assailant committed 12 indiscriminate shootings that left four dead and five wounded. A suspect eventually was arrested, but then found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Many residents consider those two events to be aberrations in a very close-knit community.

A good opportunity to experience the neighborhood will be at the Mount Pleasant Day Festival on June 9. The annual neighborhood event includes collections of paintings, live music and food from area restaurants. Mount Pleasant Street will be closed to traffic.

Kent Minichello, who has been a Mount Pleasant resident since 1967, said, "It's been a very comfortable neighborhood to live in. It has a cosmopolitan feel with probably the greatest ethnic diversity in the city. Our next-door neighbors are Basques from Spain. And because of that, the neighborhood is a really interesting place to live."

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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