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Brookland: New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace

by Gretchen Cook

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Brookland Metro at Catholic University. Photo by Josh Howell.

It’s been dubbed “Little Rome,” but don’t confuse Brookland with the buzzing Little Italies in urban destinations like Manhattan.

The Italian moniker actually stems from the neighborhood’s some 60 Catholic institutions, like the looming gilt-and-blue dome of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the massive Catholic University (CUA) campus and the sprawling Franciscan Monastery.

Further distancing itself from the Little Italy of downtown New York is Brookland’s vibe, which is that of a small Midwest town, with its wide, leafy residential streets, expansive front yards and minimal commercial presence.

“It’s like being in the country here with all the land, grass and trees,” says Rosie Guerreiro, who owns Loulé, a hair salon in Dupont Circle. “I can breathe when I come home from work.”

That small town appeal, however, is one that may soon change.

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Rendering of Abdo’s Arts Walk

Growth and Growing Pains

If you have been following the DC development scene even casually over the last year, you are likely well aware that there are some big plans in store for Brookland.

Three mixed-use developments will be built in and around a neighborhood where many residents have opted for cheaper housing and a quiet suburban lifestyle over urban bustle and amenities like shops and restaurants.

Über-developer Jim Abdo starts construction next year on Arts Walk, which will straddle Monroe Street on Catholic University’s south campus, and have over 83,000 square feet of retail and could conceivably bring 825 condos and townhouses to the area. Ground has already been broken for the Artspace Lofts, a four-story, 57,000 square-foot arts campus to be built on 8th Street SE that will provide 41 live/work units for artists, along with galleries and a dance studio. Meanwhile, EYA has already started selling homes at Chancellor’s Row, a town home community of 237 luxury units on 10 acres surrounding the Saint Paul’s College campus.

Tyler Nelson, who runs the Brookland Avenue blog, is torn about all the change.

“It will bring a lot of new folks, which is good, as well as things we don’t have right now,” he says. “But with a small place like Brookland, it’s really going to change the dynamics, and people are worried about traffic, noise and trash.”

Location and History

For the purposes of this profile, we’ve put Brookland’s boundaries at 8th Street to the west, Franklin Street and Rhode Island Avenue to the south, South Dakota Avenue to the east and Michigan Avenue to the north.

The neighborhood was named for Colonel Jehiel Brooks, who farmed the land in the mid-19th century and built the still-standing Greek Revival mansion on his Bellair estate.

The Roman Catholic Church bought up huge swaths of land in the late 1800s, bringing a wave of white Catholics and defining the local culture with the Catholic University and other academic spheres. The 42 acres of farmland surrounding the Mount St. Sepulchre Franciscan Monastery – which still cultivates flowers and honey – give the neighborhood its rural flavor. Their spectacular gardens, complete with catacombs and a grotto, are one of the city’s unheralded treasures.

Educators, Artists, Writers Make Way For Newcomers

A “white flight” of Irish Catholics following World War II initially created a predominately African-American population, but Brookland became more racially and economically integrated during the latter half of the 20th century. Notable residents have included Marjorie Rawlings who wrote The Yearling and nobel laureate Ralph Bunche, as well as several prominent civil rights activists.

The new developments are likely to bring a good deal of newcomers, but Nelson says he already sees more recovering suburbanites moving to Brookland. Toby Millman, who heads up the Arts Walk development for Abdo, agrees.

“Young professionals have discovered it and the housing stock is similar to that of Cleveland Park. You’re close in to the city, right on the Metro and have a number of cultural amenities.”

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Marjorie Rawlings’ former home

Housing — Deals of the City

The majority of the dwellings are single-family homes, styles ranging widely from stunningly rehabbed Victorians and Arts and Crafts bungalows to more mainstream Colonials, Tudors and Federals and modest row houses.

The one thing they all have in common is affordability. According to Long and Foster’s Andi Fleming, the average price of a three-bedroom attached unrenovated home is $275,000 to $300,000 (renovated $375-400,000); four-bedroom attached homes run between $300,000 to $325,000 (renovated $400-425,000); three-bedroom detached homes $350,000 to $375,000 (renovated $400-425,000); and four-bedroom detached homes $400,000 to $425,000 (renovated $500-525,000).

Such low prices for such big spaces have reeled in people like Guerreiro, who says she wasn’t even considering buying a house – especially here. But in 2001, she lost her Silver Spring apartment and went in search of a cheap rental. She changed her mind when a realtor showed her a four-bedroom house in Brookland with a big back yard, all within her purchasing means.

“I’d never pick anywhere else,” Guerreiro says today.

Nelson was also seduced after seeing a large Victorian here in 2002. “I was kind of hesitant after living in Georgetown, and it took awhile to get used to the pace of the neighborhood,” he says, noting that today he is happy just sitting in his backyard and hanging out with neighbors.

New Housing on the Way

In terms of condos, Brookland has just a handful of garden-style buildings converted from apartments, but that is about to change.

Most of the new condos going up are more upscale than existing options, many in the half-million-dollar range, but developers are keeping some affordable. The Art Space Lofts will provide 41 units for struggling artists (households earning less than 60 percent of the area’s median). Abdo’s Arts Walk will designate eight percent of its housing units as affordable. Millman says the plans include 45 townhouses, but the precise unit mix, sizes and pricing won’t be determined until closer to next year’s start on construction, which is expected to take five to seven years.

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Rendering of Artspace Lofts in Brookland.

Home prices at Chancellor’s Row at 7th and Franklin Streets NE, currently range from $471,900 to $589,900. EYA’s Jennifer Hebert says all the new housing fills a serious gap in the market.

“Existing homes in the neighborhood are quaint, attractive and historic, but may require a significant amount of upkeep. Urban residents seeking low-maintenance lifestyles have little to no new home options in the area.”

EYA has also been selected to design a plan for 25 acres around the nearby McMillan Reservoir that will include office and retail space, a large park, a boutique hotel and some 800 residential units.

Rentals Aplenty

Fleming says the universities and hospitals have made Brookland particularly renter-friendly. Most rentals are full houses or English basements, with just a handful of small apartment buildings. Houses rent for about $700 per bedroom, so a three bedroom house in good condition would run about $2,100 a month. A one-bedroom apartment costs up to $1,100 a month, according to Fleming.

Child Friendly?

Higher education is the draw here, led by the Catholic and Trinity universities, but for kids the options are just so-so. Neighborhood parents protested that they suffered disproportionately when the city shut down a number of public schools recently, but the area still has Bunker Hill Elementary School and Luke C. Moore High School. The neighborhood also has a number of charter school options, including Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom elementary, Hope Community middle school and William E. Doer high school. Millman says that the new development on the horizon has sparked talk that the schools will continue to improve.

In addition to the monastery’s lush oasis, there are other outdoor options including the Taft Recreation Center, Bunker Hill Fort Park and Turkey Thicket Playground. Just south of Rhode Island Avenue, Langdon Park has sports fields and an outdoor swimming pool.

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Gardens at the Franciscan Monastery

Transportation – Getting More Walkable-Bikable Everyday

The Brookland-CUA Red Line Metro is at Monroe and 9th Street near Michigan Avenue and ten bus lines serve the area: 80, G8, H1, H2, H3, H6, H8, H9 and R4. WalkScore gives the area a grade of 77 out of 100 for hoofing it, which suggests that some amenities are within walking distance but living here without a car could be a challenge.

The new developments should improve walkability; Abdo plans to make its development pedestrian-friendly with small retail like cafes and bike shops on the site. The new Metropolitan Branch bike path running through Brookland is an eight-mile trail that goes from Union Station to Silver Spring. Thoroughfares like Michigan and Rhode Island Avenues make for smooth shots to downtown. Rosie Guerreiro says it takes her just 15 minutes to drive to Dupont Circle.

Safe in Most Areas

Brookland sees its share of crime, and the sensational murder of three Colonel Brooks Tavern workers in 2003 still haunts some residents. Others say they generally feel safe in the residential areas.

“I’ll water my flowers at 11:00 at night,” says Guerriero, who believes that the crime is worse around the Metro. Indeed, the DC Metropolitan Police Department’s crime map shows most muggings do occur around the Brookland-CUA station, as well as near the 12th Street commercial strip. Overall, total crime has fallen two percent over the past year, and violent crime specifically dropped nine percent. Property crime remained steady with 339 incidents. Catholic University students have complained about attacks, but a recent WUSA report shows the campus is safer than other area colleges and universities.

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Colonel Brooks Tavern

Thin But Growing Retail

All the academic activity around Brookland hasn’t spawned the rowdy pub life and Gap-style retail that campuses like Georgetown conjure. Long-time favorite Colonel Brooks Tavern, the new Cafe Sureia and the Tex-Mex San Antonio Bar and Grill are about it for serious eats in the area, which offers mostly take-out joints and a couple of greasy spoons. The two-block business district on 12th Street has a couple of art galleries, a dry cleaners, a corner grocery, a hardware store and several hair and nail outfits. Yes! Organic Grocery added some much-needed polish to the area with its goods as well as its beautifully refurbished Art Deco exterior. Yes! and the Tuesday farmer’s market at 10th and Otis Streets NE have to be supplemented with trips to the newly revamped Giant in neighboring Brentwood. However, all the new housing raises hopes for more shopping opportunities.

Hopes for some, that is. Like Nelson and many other residents, Guerreiro worries that Brookland may no longer be a low-key refuge. “I get enough city when I go downtown for work,” she says.

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Yes! Organic Market

Diverse Attractions

While shopping, eating and nightlife options are few, there’s still plenty to do. The Pope John Paul II Cultural Center is not just eye-candy for contemporary architecture lovers; inside lie fascinating interactive displays of intersection cultures and faiths. The monastery offers more than floral-filled strolls; a garden guild gives locals land to cultivate for all manner of enterprises, like beer brewer Nathan Zeender, who grows his hops there. The Dance Place, which is collaborating with the Artspace development, has been the go-to venue for some of the city’s best dance performances since 1986. Catholic University also hosts the Hartke Theatre and the Salve Regina Gallery in the Basilica exhibits works by Catholic students and faculty as well as outside artists. Tyler Nelson also loves all the random discoveries he comes across on his rambles, like a priest’s old crypt near a parking lot or the home of the neighborhood’s first interracial couple that was pointed out to him by a cab driver.

The Bottom Line

The optimism and potential of Brookland can be seen in the intense competition to develop in the area. Millman says Abdo contended with some 40 other firms for the Arts Walk site. Buyers are flocking to the area: Eleven of the Chancellor’s Row units have sold since they went on the market in May, according to Jennifer Hebert. She says real estate in Brookland outperforms other DC neighborhoods, with the number of days homes stay on market decreasing from 90 days last year to only 47 this year. Meanwhile, housing prices have remained relatively steady — within four percent year-over-year — versus an eight percent year-over-year decline in the District overall.

However, the impending growth will certainly change Brookland to a neighborhood that may no longer have the Midwest vibe that has drawn buyers for years. It will be interesting to re-examine the area in five years when much of the new development is complete.

Gretchen Cook is a Washington, DC-based journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Washingtonian Magazine.

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This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/brookland_new_development_could_shake_up_pastoral_peace/2251

12 Comments

  1. Bean said at 5:19 pm on Monday July 12, 2010:

    I can’t wait until the Artspace lofts open. I am one of those artists that hopes to qualify!

  1. Brookland Parent said at 9:41 am on Tuesday July 13, 2010:

    I thought this article was pretty good, except for the mistakes in the schools section.  Brookland Elementary is closed as is Backus.  Backus will become the site of a new UDC community college campus.  Slowe is closed as well—part of it is used by a charter, part is vacant.  The best charters in Brookland are probably Yu Ying and Elsie Stokes.  Potomac Lighthouse is terrible (might get their charter revoked), and Hope Community PCS is middling, while DC Prep is pretty good.

    Those comments aside, Brookland is very child friendly.  Super active playgroup, lots of young families, and most kids end up attending a good charter, or play the OOB lotteries around town.  Also not mentioned in article is that Brookland is home to St. Anslem’s, a private school for boys that is one of the best in the city.

  1. Mark Wellborn said at 9:47 am on Tuesday July 13, 2010:

    @Brookland Parent,

    Thanks for the note. We have made the appropriate corrections.

    Mark Wellborn
    Editor

  1. Brookland Teacher said at 11:48 am on Tuesday July 13, 2010:

    Well, while we’re at it on the schools thing, Burroughs EC (Pre-K through 8) is still at 18th and Monroe and is fully operational. It was recently named a STEM school and has been modernized. And Hyde Public Charter School is moving to the old Taft school building this upcoming school year.

  1. Jessica Hanff said at 2:20 pm on Tuesday July 13, 2010:

    Great overview but the schools section is the weakest.

    Brookland Elem MERGED with Bunker Hill Elem (both had been at half capacity and now make one full elem). The Brookland@Bunker Hill school is in the Bunker Hill school building. Also, Burrough is open along with Noyes, which won some awards last year. I beleive all three go through middle school now.

    The charters here include Stokes, Yu Ying, Hope, Lighthouse and rumors of an Appletree PreK opening at Taft.

    Luke Moore is a special program and not a mainstream school.

    And given the Catholic history, it’d be appropriate to mention the Catholic schools; St. Anthony’s and St. Anselm’s Abbey School.

    Anyhow - it’s not as bleak as this made it sound. But, as anyone covering DC would know, DC schools are in constant change.

  1. New Brookland Resident said at 9:29 pm on Tuesday July 13, 2010:

    I put a contract on a home at EYA’s development.  Exploring the site during the day, along with the walk to 12th Street is pleasant and relaxing. But the reports of crime at night to and from the Metro concern me.  A reasonable amount of self-preservation walking at night is expected, but what’s the actual local feeling on the safety of a late night walk home from Brookland Metro?

  1. Loving Brookland said at 10:06 am on Wednesday July 14, 2010:

    @New Brookland Resident 9:29
    Congrats on your contract for your place at EYA.
    I used to live around the corner renting an apartment. I lived there 1 year, and love the area so much that I bought a row home in brookland (N. of Brookland metro). I have walked from the metro as late as 3 AM (taking the last train once or twice on a friday night). I personally feel very safe in the neighborhood all the time. Of course, one must take normal precations when walking at night, but compared to other metro stations in the district, Brookland is much more comfortable. Plus, all our neighbors know us (we have been in our house now 1 year). Brookland is very community oriented, recently having events like the Home and Garden tour, and Great Brookland Yard Sale. Lastly, I think there is a lot of diversity. As mentioned in the article the housing stock is very diverse, but so are the residents - age, racial, religious, family size, sexual orientation and general stage in life- there is a lot of diversity in all of these categories.

  1. Brookland Rez said at 3:14 pm on Thursday July 15, 2010:

    I bought in Brookland a year ago, and I am very happy with my decision.  I own a rowhouse which I have been restoring and renovating over the past year.

    People in the neighborhood are very friendly, it’s close to excitement, yet retains a very quiet, small town feel.  I’ve never had any problem with crime, I walk home from the metro at all hours of the night and have never had or heard of any problems.

    My only real complaint is lack of retail. Sure, we have the basics, but it would be nice to see a few more restaurants.  With the new Costco/Target going in at Ft. Lincoln, and the new shops at RI Ave metro, this should address my only complaint.

  1. s said at 11:33 am on Sunday July 18, 2010:

    who calls it “little rome”? i’ve never heard that before.

  1. John said at 12:41 pm on Saturday July 31, 2010:

    @ s said

    I’ve been here over a half century and we heard the “little rome” name many years ago (I attended CU Campus School, which closed in the late sixties and was run by Sisters of Notre Dame - mean nuns!).  But we never used that name when referring to the area though.  It was more of a way of describing our area to others.

    Bunker Hill School is scheduled to close after the new Blookland Elementary School is completed.  It is a shame because this school is in good condition, is large, and I will miss the sounds of the children that we have heard here at my manor for many generations.  I went to kindergarten there.

  1. Greg said at 2:39 pm on Saturday August 28, 2010:

    The green space around the Brookland Metro station needs to be built up. As it is, it’s an invitation for crime during the nighttime hours. I don’t feel particularly safe walking to/from the Metro station there after dark.

  1. BJ said at 12:30 pm on Sunday October 13, 2013:

    Great article.  I own a property management company in Brookland (Real Property Management DC on 10th St. and Girard.  We really like the area, Its a great area to get in and out of busy downtown, close to Home Depot, and other home improvement stores. The improvements in the area are being noticed by a lot of people looking to move into the area. Our calls have really increased with possible tenants looking for to move. We are also starting to see a lot more landlords look to rent out their units in Brookland.  Some asking more like $1000 per bedroom for a very nice home.  The increase in rent is interesting.  Voucher programs are willing to pay about $600-$700 per room, but we are seeing a lot of activity asking $800-$1000 a room.
    The recently renovated Noyes Recreation Center has increased the foot traffic outside of the office which is a great thing. 

    My only complaint is not enough street parking.  Everything is residential on the streets around the office.  It not fun moving your car every 2 hours to avoid parking tickets.

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