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Bloomingdale: Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name

  • December 9, 2011

by Shilpi Paul

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Big Bear Cafe

It is no secret that within the past several years, Bloomingdale has seen its potential realized. In the neighborhood adjacent to LeDroit Park, fixer-uppers have been renovated, basement apartments rented and the neighborhood now meets the “five minute rule”: residents can find almost everything they need within a five minute walk.

Unlike Logan Circle or Columbia Heights, where residents have dozens of restaurant, bar, coffee and shopping options, Bloomingdale has one neighborhood square (at R and 1st Street NW), a couple taverns (Boundary Stone and Rustik), and two coffee shops/cafes (Big Bear Cafe and Windows Cafe). These limited options mean that residents bump into each other frequently, which creates a familiarity not seen in busier DC enclaves. And outsiders are noticeable.

“How do you like our park?” shouted a dog walker at the hidden Crispus Attucks Park soon after this writer walked through the archway on a recent Sunday.

The Evolution of a Community

Bloomingdale is roughly bounded by Michigan Avenue to the north, Florida Avenue to the south, 2nd Street to the west, and North Capitol Street to the east.

For much of its history, it was a rural neighborhood with a handful of large estates located just outside the old District boundary line. At the turn of the 20th century, developers Harry Wardman and S.H. Meyers filled it with row houses for government workers. When David Lippe moved in 18 years ago, some families had been there for generations, but the neighborhood had fallen on hard times. 

Lippe and his partner bought a seven-bedroom home on Seaton Place in 1993, but found themselves surrounded by a sea of prostitution, drugs and gang activity. Abandoned homes were inhabited by squatters who had hooked up illegal electric and gas lines and the area had a generally unsavory feel. “I would not do it again,” Lippe told UrbanTurf. “We were young and had no insight.”

Despite the criminal underbelly, the neighborhood had a strong sense of community. Lippe remembers going on vacation for a few days and returning to a scolding from his neighbor, Rose. “She said ‘I am your black mama, and you should never go out of town without telling me! I was worried sick about you!’”

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Seaton and 1st Street NW

Lippe, along with with the Bloomingdale neighborhood association and North Capitol Main Street, worked for many years to physically clean up the area, planting trees and scrubbing public areas. While the neighborhood is not crime free, the biggest complaints these days are more scatological than life and death; neighborhood message boards are full of polemics about dog poop.

The demographic shift in Bloomingdale over the past decade has been pretty drastic. In 2000, 90 percent of residents were African-American; in 2010 that percentage had dropped to 59, according to U.S. Census data. Other population changes weren’t detected by the census; Lippe and his partner were one of several gay couples to move into the neighborhood early in its transformation.

As Bloomingdale changed, artists and hipsters were drawn to a neighborhood that was affordable but still felt edgy. Just a couple years ago, the streets in front of Big Bear Cafe were lined with pit bulls, mohawked punks and fixed-gear bikes. These days, you’re just as likely to see a young professional with a baby strapped to his chest, checking out the arugula at the farmer’s market.

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The intersection of 1st and W Street NW.

Businesses Translate to a Neighborly Feel

In 2007, Big Bear Cafe opened and the Bloomingdale Farmer’s Market began operations, creating a couple places that cemented the new community.

Besides setting the stage for informal run-ins, Big Bear has become the community’s unofficial gathering place, serving family-style dinners on Sunday nights (often with local ingredients) and hosting spoken word and improv events; the Washington Area Bike Association will even have its holiday party there. Similarly, neighbors engage in a weekly reconnect on Sundays at the farmer’s market.

Following in Big Bear’s footsteps, a handful of new businesses have opened up in the last couple years: Boundary Stone, a tavern on 1st and Rhode Island NW, offers drinks, fried pickles and music from a free juke box, Rustik, at 1st and T, and Bacio, at 1st and Seaton, serve hot meals, and Timor bodega was reborn as FieldtoCity, an organic market at 2nd and Rhode Island.

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Boundary Stone

These additions have been cheered by many, but when talk started that older residents were feeling a little pushed out, some steps were taken. For example, when Big Bear was first drawing hordes of MacBook-wielding young people to a neighborhood where some neighbors couldn’t afford internet, ANC commissioners and Big Bear owner Stu Davenport figured out how to bring free wireless to the surrounding blocks to alleviate tension.

Teacher and former community organizer Laura Gill moved to Bloomingdale this summer from Mount Pleasant. She and her boyfriend Matt were drawn to the neighborhood’s relative proximity to Union Station (Matt travels to Baltimore regularly) and the “young, liberal people vibe.” Gill is still adjusting to her role in the mixed community. “I feel very aware of my transplanted-ness,” she told UrbanTurf. “I don’t feel like the space is mine, and I feel uncomfortable running around like it is mine or that I have the same relationship to the space as those who have lived there longer. Most people that go to Boundary Stone and Big Bear are not necessarily those who have been in the area for decades.”

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Crispus Attucks Park

Housing and Transportation Options

Large all-brick Victorian row houses with wide front porches fill Bloomingdale. Some have been converted into condos, and many have rent-able basement units. Larger condo buildings exist, like the Parker Flats at Gage School, a 92-unit project in a former elementary school, but are few.

The secret has long been out regarding Bloomingdale’s housing inventory, and even fixer-uppers usually get multiple offers these days. Resident Tim Crowley and his business partner beat out a dozen other offers to buy a vacant, dilapidated row house on 1st Street NW a couple years ago, which he has since been renovating. The house is next door to his condo. “When we bought [the house], it was a wreck,” Crowley told UrbanTurf. “I felt like I was improving my own property value.”

For-sale listings in the neighborhood have dwindled to the lowest number in a decade, according to real estate agent Suzanne Des Marais. (As of a week or so ago, there were 14 single-family home listings and six condo listings.) The average sales price on a house in 2011 is $510,890, with prices ranging from $234,000 to $850,000; condos fetched $303,662, on average. “The first house I sold in Bloomingdale in 2001 was for less than $200,000,” remembers Des Marais. “Prior to 2001, there was one property of condominium ownership in the neighborhood.”

The transportation options for residents include the New York Avenue or Shaw Metro stations, a Capital Bikeshare station at R and Florida Avenue NW, and a number of bus lines that run down North Capitol Street, Florida Avenue and Rhode Island Avenue.

Schools

Though the number of children in the neighborhood has dropped since 2000, sightings of strollers and baby bjorns are still fairly common. Bloomingdale is served by four public elementary schools (Garrison, Seaton, Emery and Shaed), Shaw Middle School and Dunbar Senior High School. Hyde Leadership Academy and Howard University Public Charter Middle School of Math and Science offer a few charter school options.

The Bottom Line

In April 2010, UrbanTurf wrote that Bloomingdale was a neighborhood quietly making a name for itself. Now, most residents would probably say that the area has gone ahead and made that name. Still, born as a suburb, its holding onto its familiar neighborhood feel. As new and old residents get used to each other and new businesses pop up to serve them, the community is tentatively finding a way to be everything to everyone.


 

See other articles related to: neighborhood profile, hoods, dclofts, bloomingdale

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/bloomingdale_where_almost_everyone_knows_your_name/4650

24 Comments

  1. ben said at 11:22 am on Friday December 9, 2011:

    Very accurate look at a neighborhood that has changed a lot over the past 10 years.

  1. Devoe said at 12:04 pm on Friday December 9, 2011:

    Interesting that your map cuts off Bloomingdale at Bryant Street while the text identifies the border as Channing Street.  Is this because the map was pulled directly from Harry Thomas’s wrong-headed redistricting submission to the DC Council?

    As is currently being hotly debated, Bloomingdale also historically includes the McMillan Sand Filtration site.

    Please adjust your map so as not to aid Harry Thomas’s campaign of cartographic agression against Bloomingdale.

    Oh and yes Bloomingdale is a fantastic place to live!

  1. BloomiGuy said at 12:18 pm on Friday December 9, 2011:

    I like how you added the following:

    “How do you like our park?” shouted a dog walker at the hidden Crispus Attucks Park soon after this writer walked through the archway on a recent Sunday.

    This is not a community park but a park belonging to the homes that surround it. The general consensus is “come help us clean up our park, but don’t think about using it.”

  1. Hugh Youngblood said at 1:07 pm on Friday December 9, 2011:

    Please update this article to reflect the actual boundaries of Bloomingdale per the following official map held by the Bloomingdale Civic Association. http://www.bloomingdalecivic.org/map

    The northern border of Bloomingdale is Michigan Ave NW.

    Thank you,

    Hugh Youngblood
    ANC, SMD 5C03 (southern Bloomingdale)
    240.925.1079

  1. Shilpi Paul said at 1:30 pm on Friday December 9, 2011:

    Hugh,

    Thanks for the comment and the map. The change has been made.

    Shilpi

  1. mona said at 1:59 pm on Friday December 9, 2011:

    I have lived here for 2yrs now after buying my home. Love it Love it Love it! Use to live just north of columbia in 16th st heights. Never felt safe running in that neighborhood, now I can run to my hearts content in bloomingdale.

  1. tico said at 5:38 pm on Friday December 9, 2011:

    Love the positive spin on the lack of restaurants, entertainment and transportation options in the neighborhood! Unlike other neighborhood descriptions, there are no stats on crime and other issues in the Bloomingdale area. Nothing against the neighborhood, Bloomingdale is really beautiful, but compared to that of other neighborhoods, I find this description a bit skewed.

  1. Parkside Pres said at 6:48 pm on Friday December 9, 2011:

    We are most impressed with your article. And by we, I mean the “royal We” (which means…me). Bloomingdale is a wonderful place to live—and I am unanimous in that. I moved park-side on Crispus Attucks three years ago. I don’t know if that still qualifies me as an outsider, but its was good enough to get me elected as park president. Contrary to the negative comment, Crispus attucks is indeed a community park and everyone is welcome to enjoy it and be part of the fellowship that helps care for it. When we ask “how do you like our park”, we mean the collective Our…as in yours and mine together.

  1. DC Joe said at 3:15 am on Sunday December 11, 2011:

    This article reads like a commercial and does not provide a complete picture. Bloomingdale is nice but there are annoyances like robberies, broken car windows, parking sucks, it’s nice to have local bars but unless you abhor variety you’ll end up going to U St., Columbia Heights, etc for entertainment. Anyways, Bloomingdale is good but not the paradise this article tries to suggest; seems like this article is an advertisement for the real estate agent listed at the bottom.

    -Signed, Bloomingdale Resident

  1. Dc Joe said at 3:33 am on Sunday December 11, 2011:

    @Parkside Pres; Please don’t flatter yourself. I wager that over 60% of Bloomingdale residents are not even aware of your “park”. You have to go through an alley-way to enter that “park” which is surrounded garages/car ports. The “park” has not been well advertised; I stumbled upon it when looking for off-street parking. All and all it’s really a waste as it does not have play equipment for children, a functional basketball or tennis court, outdoor exercise items, or other things humans use at parks. It would make more sense to turn that whole thing into a big parking lot(call Crispus Attucks Parks) and alleviate the on-street parking fiasco.

  1. mona said at 11:47 am on Sunday December 11, 2011:

    @DC Joe…you think parking is tight in bloomingdale? You have obviously lived here a while and not known the reality of other places in this city. Try living on Capitol Hill and hiking no less the 5 or more blocks to get parking. Try any place west of the park and you will consider giving up your car for lack of parking. Try Columbia Hgts any where within 1 mile of the Target and you will need to take the bus to get back to your car. As for crime in Bloomingdale…all the crimes you mentioned are opputunistic crimes where the neighbors need to take seriously that this is a major city and crimes do occur. Being in Bloomingdale can give you the feeling of serenity with neighbors chatting on the street, runners abound, baby carriages and dog walkers strolling through. Makes you fell your in the suburbs and sometimes people get caught up in that and forget. I personally am glad we don’t have a bunch of bars and stuff every where. It keeps the neighborhood residential and not commercial and gives the few commercial places a chance of surviving because they have dedicated patrons. You don’t seem to like this neighborhood much and if your a home owner you should realize that these homes are selling like hotcakes. If your unhappy consider that because the inventory for homes in this neighborhood is very low and you could get your place snapped up by someone who actually wants to be here

  1. firstish said at 1:01 pm on Sunday December 11, 2011:

    @dc joe,

    yes, you are correct. parking has increasingly become an issue in the neighborhood.  And, yes, it will continue to get worse. And yes, crime is a constant issues in our neighborhood. some say it has gotten better, but for many, especially for law abiding neighbors people minding their own business it has gotten worse. Thankfully gunfights, prostitution and drug dealing has become more infrequent.

    I also agree that most people don’t know about crispus attucks park. in fact the only time the park is ever “advertised” is during the annual yardsale.  that does not mean that people are not welcome and that many don’t enjoy the park.

    And you are right about the diversity of our business. We do have to leave the neighborhood for variety, and even basic needs.


    Also, yes, this reads like a real estate ad. on a real estate site. go figure.

    Other than paving over the only park in bloomingdale, what other changes would you like to make? also, why do you put park in quotes? just because it’s in an alley?

  1. DC Joe said at 2:14 pm on Sunday December 11, 2011:

    @Mona, I actually like Bloomingdale but I feel this article paints a Disneyland picture that is inaccurate. But my view might be colored because someone tried, unsuccessfully, to rob me on Flagler Place last year.

    @firstish,
    Changes I would make: 1. I would turn the intersection of First and Rhode Island into a round-about like they have in the UK(there is always traffic backed up on first after work with people trying to get on Rhode Island), 2. It would be nice to have a police precinct here, 3. Brighter street lights…..I could continue with the wish list.

    I put park in quotes as a comparison to the newly constructed park at Ledriot which also has a connected community garden(which pre-dates the construction); IMO that’s what a park should be, it should have something for everyone.

  1. Petworthy said at 11:22 pm on Sunday December 11, 2011:

    I lived in Bloomingdale for eight years before moving last year.  Honestly I never found my neighbors to be particularly friendly.  Some of the older residents went out of their way to be welcoming, but most of my fellow newcomers didn’t even say hello in passing.  That’s pretty typical for DC… Bloomingdale isn’t any worse than any other part of town, but it isn’t any better either.

  1. Matt said at 8:54 am on Monday December 12, 2011:

    I’m confused as to why Bloomingdale residents wouldn’t know about Crispus Attucks park. It’s constantly in Scott’s listserv, there is a website devoted to it, it’s on the neighborhood website. When I researched the neighborhood before moving here a few years ago it was one of the first amenities that I ran across. Anyway, I just wanted to say that I wholeheartedly disagree with that comment.

  1. DC Joe said at 11:43 am on Monday December 12, 2011:

    @Matt, Most parks are visible from a road…...Name almost any park in DC and it can be viewed from a neighboring road (Lincoln Park, Malcolm X Park, Park at Ledroit, Park Renovated on Georgia Ave, Park on Florida and First NW, the list goes on and on. A park that is visible from the road is self-advertised. Crispus Park is not visible from any road! Let’s use a little logic here. It is a hidden park….how can you refute the fact that it is not a visibly advertised park? And the fact that you had to research it proves my point.

    FYI…...Your disagreement with my comment does not serve as an evidential basis of discrediting my statement.

  1. firstish said at 12:18 pm on Monday December 12, 2011:

    DC Joe,

    i love all 3 of your suggestions for the hood! and yes, while i like crispus attucks, the park at ledroit is really great. i certainly wouldn’t mind if you continued your list. our area still is lacking a great deal.

    @matt,
    not everyone is on the listserve, or even think to look up their neighborhoods online. some of us have lived in this neighborhood before crispus attucks was a place you’d want to go to. those people who hadn’t discovered how cool it is have no reason to suspect anything of note is there.

  1. aaron4uva said at 3:53 pm on Monday December 12, 2011:

    @DC Joe - I agree with Matt in that the park is well advertised.  Most major community events take place in the park (yard sale, seasonal gatherings, etc).  The turnouts are usually very good, which suggest that most people know about it.  Also, Crispus Attucks Park is unique because it’s not like a typical park.  Not EVERY park in EVERY neighborhood has perfect visibility and amenities that cater to every single person.  The neighborhood built a park from scratch on a vacant lot with an abandoned building that was a haven for criminals, essentially making lemonade out of lemons.

    In terms of parking, this is the CITY.  This is not the suburbs where people expect to park on the street directly in front of their house whenever they want.  If that’s what you’re looking for, maybe you’d be better off in Loudoun County.

    Finally, this is not Dupont Circle and no one moves here expecting every amenity to be at their fingertips.  There are two markets, two taverns, a pizzeria, a popular coffee shop, a pet store, two dry-cleaners, a fully stocked wine/liquor store…the list goes on.  For a neighborhood as small Bloomingdale, our options are pretty good and will only continue to improve.

  1. Bloomingdale Guy said at 9:53 am on Tuesday December 13, 2011:

    Sorry to hear that Bloomingdale isn’t working for you.  Of course, not every place suits everyone’s needs.  You should seriously consider another neighborhood, since there are many to choose from.

    I moved to Bloomingdale from VA several months ago.  I was given hugs by my neighbors welcoming me to the block, I learned almost immediately about Crispus Attucks and use it regularly, I walk my dog every night through the neighborhood and have never felt unsafe, I’ve had very little problem finding parking, and I love the quiet of my urban neighborhood and its distance from and easy access to the hustle and bustle of U street. 

    And if you’re gay or gay-friendly, you’ll like that gays seem to be everywhere and increasing in numbers. 

    Bloomingdale isn’t perfect or paradise but it has a strong sense of place and (most) residents are very proud to live there.

  1. Bloomingdale Guy said at 9:55 am on Tuesday December 13, 2011:

    My comment was intended for DCJoe.

  1. Devoe said at 11:26 am on Wednesday December 14, 2011:

    Oh man, can we please get past the parking.  There is no parking problem in Bloomingdale PERIOD.  When I work past 10 pm I may have to park a block away from my house (and there are always spots in front of the Big Bear).  Compare that to the decade that I lived in Adams Morgan and would circle for a half hour anytime after 6 pm.

    Now, if only people wouldn’t take up two spots all the time . . .

  1. DC Joe said at 5:28 pm on Friday December 16, 2011:

    @aaron4uva, Perfect visibility???????? It’s not visible at all! It can not be seen from anywhere but Google maps.

    @Devoe, Saying that parking here is better than Adams Morgan is like saying, “it’s safer than Iraq”. Adams Morgan has the worst parking situation in DC(I argue even worse than Chinatown & U St.) But as you acknowledge some of this is due to inconsiderate parking by others.

    now to address Bloomingdale Guy-
    @Bloomingdale Guy, you said, “Bloomingdale isn’t perfect….”. Thanks for agreeing with me; that’s been my point all along. This article presented a fairytale picture that was not true to form.
    Also, your experience with neighbors hugging you on the first day/week/month of moving in is atypical. And why are they welcoming you back if you are just moving in the neighborhood?

  1. Wiseguy said at 3:36 am on Sunday September 9, 2012:

    I know this comment for this profile of Bloomingdale is coming in quite a bit late; however, I think Bloomingdale is a very charming neighborhood.  I have never had any grievances with neighbors or crime.  I have met many neighbors that are all very friendly and tend to say hi to me in passing.  What I love about this neighborhood is that it’s very unique for DC.  You get the feeling of being in a suburb and getting that good community like atmosphere while at the same time you are living in the city close to other areas with a variety of things!  So what if we have only a few pubs, a few corner stores, a dry cleaners, etc. This is what keeps our neighborhood quiet and peaceful while at the same time making our neighbors feel like sense of community and making us more tight knit. As for parking, there are TONS of spaces.  I have never experienced difficulty in finding parking spots.

    All in all, I love this neighborhood for it’s small community like setting, it’s quiet tranquility and how people are tightly-knit.  It’s a unique experience for DC.  If you don’t like that type of atmosphere and like it to be more “hustle and bustle” then I would suggest moving to Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights or Chinatown… After a little while living there I am sure you will be wanting to escape and move back to Bloomingdale.

  1. A said at 4:28 pm on Friday March 1, 2013:

    I grew up in this neighborhood, on 1st and Ust. When I was a teenager you had to request your items through bullet proof glass at the local corner stores. One of my childhood friends lost 2 brothers on our corner. We regularly had to avoid used condoms and drug needles while playing on the sidewalk, My father was robbed and beaten in front of our house, the alleys were not bricked, and to see a white person walking up the street made everyone stop, stare and wonder what they were doing around there. Despite growing up during the drug epidemic in a neighborhood that had fallen on hard times I had a great childhood. There were always children outside to play with, always a neighbor watching out for you, offering all of the kids freeze pops or change to get one from the corner store where they used to cost 10cent. I watched as the neighborhood underwent the transformation, as many long time residents were seduced by the sudden pouring in of more cash than they had ever seen at one time for their homes, as long time residents were suddenly viewed as the outsiders . . . yes, Ive seen and experienced with my own eyes newbies looking upon long time residents as if they were unsavory aliens that did not belong, as if it was their neighborhood because they attend neighborhood meetings and sign petitions. Well, if you had been a resident for as long and experienced a long history of police inaction, violence, and lack of interest prior to gentrification then you would understand why the changes may have taken some time to get used to. My family has had a presence in the neighborhood for more than a century. They stories my elders tell of my great grandmother integrating the block, the hair salon she operated in the basement, the gate that segregated the neighborhood . . .  they always sounded so grand, and so unlike the neighborhood where I grew up. Now, when I drive through the area, I often find myself thinking outloud that I would love to live there, walk to the new restaurants, walk to work, it feels so brand new and I love the feel. I love how the small grassy park area outside of the dry cleaners on Rhode Island and 1st has been transformed from a collection of debris to a small piece of joy, love love love that someone had the bright idea to decorate it! Lvoe that it still has a neighborhood feel and not an overly crowded feel like Columbia heights, Dupont Circle, etc. My family still lives in the neighborhood and Ive always known that at some point I would again call it home, no matter how far prices skyrocketed I pledged to always value our history there above fortune, until now. My father is getting old, the house needs major work, and I’m in the process of tryign to decide whether I want to buy a neat home in the MD suburbs, purchase > reno > move into my family home, or purchase > reno > sell and profit from my family home. Id hate to see my family home turned into condos, but oh what a difference a couple hundred thousand dollars could make!

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