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Logan Circle: A Tale of Two Eras

by Zak Salih

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Looking down on 14th Street in Logan Circle. Photo by Ted Eytan.

UrbanTurf has profiled more than 50 neighborhoods in the DC area. We are now revisiting each of those neighborhoods to update our profiles and see how they’ve changed over the years.


Though they live just a couple blocks from one another, Greg Tavormina and Tim Christensen have two very different impressions of Logan Circle.

A 34-year-old archives technician at the U.S. National Archives, Tavormina bought a two-bedroom condo on N Street in Logan Circle in April 2013, right around the corner from 14th Street, the crowded spine of the neighborhood that’s home to a swell of bars, shops, and restaurants.

Tavormina’s purchase came at the height of the neighborhood’s booming popularity, and he competed with nine other potential buyers for his new home. “I wanted to be centrally located in the city,” he said of his decision to move from a basement apartment in Columbia Heights. “In seven blocks, I’m right downtown.”

Christensen’s introduction to Logan Circle was markedly different. He bought his first home on 13th and Corcoran Street NW with his husband, Walter, back in 1989. They paid $250,000 for the rowhouse and didn’t compete with anyone.

“I remember cooking dinner one night and looking out my kitchen window watching guys in the alley shoot crack,” Christensen recalls. “I thought, oh, Lord, what have we gotten into?”

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Logan Circle. Photo by Ted Eytan.

Beginning in the early 1990s, homeowners like Christensen, taking advantage of low prices, moved into a neighborhood ravaged by the 1968 riots and rampant crime. The subsequent decades saw the arrival of rehabilitated Victorian houses, a neighborhood Whole Foods (seen by many as a key turning point), trendy new watering holes and eateries, and a new influx of younger renters and homeowners.

“I don’t think new residents are aware of just how hard people worked to make this a destination neighborhood,” Christensen said. He and his husband now live in a newer, two-bedroom/two-bathroom condo that includes garage parking and views of the neighborhood’s eponymous traffic circle.

The popularity and liveliness in the neighborhood now come with a pretty hefty price tag. Logan Circle is now synonymous with high prices for everything from housing to yoga classes, which can make settling in the neighborhood a daunting prospect for those without deep pockets.

“The neighborhood’s great, but you have to pay for it,” Tavormina said. For Christensen, the change of the last several years has come quickly.

“I’m hoping we’ll eventually slow down growth a little bit,” Christensen said. “Some people have been priced out of the neighborhood, and I’d hate to see more people displaced. Logan Circle is a beautiful place to live, and it’s just the way I love it right now.”

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Inside Doi Moi. Photo courtesy of Doi Moi.

From Wild Farmland to Urban Playground

While the exact boundaries of Logan Circle vary depending on whom you speak with, the neighborhood is commonly considered to be between Thomas Circle (to the south), S or T Street NW (to the north) and 15th and 10th Streets NW (to the west and east, respectively). The neighborhood’s high walkability and heavy saturation make it almost self-contained.

“Daily living is the best single thing about Logan Circle,” said Darrel Rippeteau, an architect who works out of the building he owns on 14th Street (and shares with an art gallery and two apartments). “You walk around, and you’ve got everything you could possibly want.”

In the mid-1800s, before the Civil War, Logan Circle was mostly farmland and was officially known as Iowa Circle (unofficially: “Blodget’s Wilderness”). During the Civil War, the circle itself was infamous as a place of public execution for deserters and spies.

In a blend of styles including Gothic and Romanesque Revival, the Victorian houses that still line the neighborhood’s streets first appeared in the closing decades of the 19th century. In the opening decades of the 20th century, the neighborhood developed its reputation as “Automobile Row” for the car garages and showrooms that lined 14th Street.

The circle officially changed its name in 1930 to Logan Circle, after the Union commander John A. Logan. Nearly 40 years later, the riots in the late 1960s tore apart much of the city, Logan Circle included; for the 25 years that followed, the neighborhood was rife with prostitution, drug abuse, and homelessness. The last twenty years have been a renaissance period driven by development.

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Homes on R Street in Logan Circle.

Paying the Price

Logan Circle is an increasingly expensive place to live.

In recent years, high-end rental buildings, like The Mission, a 51-apartment complex inside the shell of the old Central Union Mission homeless shelter, have popped up around the neighborhood with asking rents ranging from $1,900 a month for a studio to upwards of $5,500 a month for a two-bedroom.

Real estate for sale in the area is equally pricey and in high demand.

One of the neighborhood’s signature draws is the historic Victorian-style townhomes that fan out from the circle itself, as well as the smaller townhomes along the neighborhood’s quiet side streets. In 2016, the average price for a house in Logan Circle was $1.34 million (a steady increase from $1.25 million in 2014). The average sale price for a condo in the neighborhood last year came in at almost $680,000.

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An apartment at The Mission.

“I don’t think prices are going to go up exponentially in the future, but growth will remain steady,” said Daryl Judy, an associate broker with Washington Fine Properties and 15-year Logan Circle resident. “In a sense, we’re a little insulated here from larger market changes.”

New neighborhood additions in the coming months and years include a seven-story residential development in the spot once owned by Barrel House Liquors (whose iconic barrel-shaped entrance will remain a part of the new building) and a 32-unit luxury condo development along Rhode Island Avenue NW.

Five Things to Do

* Get a history lesson on the Heritage Trail. Run by the community, the Logan Circle Heritage Trail offers a 1.5 mile walking tour through the neighborhood’s storied past, including famous homes, Civil War camps, and the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church (which dates back to 1866). On pleasant days, it’s a great way to put the neighborhood’s progress into perspective.

* Have dinner at Doi Moi or Estadio. For a time, there wasn’t a month that went by without a new restaurant or bar opening in Logan Circle. While options are plentiful, our recommendations for a dinner out would be Doi Moi, a restaurant focusing on Southeast Asian cuisine, or Estadio, a Spanish eatery that screens old soccer matches at the bar.

* See a show at Studio Theatre. With so many places to have dinner in Logan Circle, Studio Theatre fills out the “show” side of the equation. Since 1980, the theatre has been putting on a diverse range of eclectic, groundbreaking productions in their current space—an old hot dog warehouse.

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P Street in Logan Circle. Photo by Ted Eytan.

* People-watch at Logan Circle. Stop by the namesake circle on a nice day and you’ll see an eclectic neighborhood picnicking, walking dogs, playing music, and suffering through fitness boot camps. It’s quieter people-watching than what you’ll get right on 14th Street.

* Find an obscure treasure at Miss Pixie’s. Packed with hidden treasures, this colorful consignment shop has been on 14th Street since 2008. New shipments arrive weekly, so just when you think you don’t need another clothes mannequin, pop-art-style painting, or old photograph, you’re always coming back for a look.

Walkable But Not Parkable

While there’s no dedicated Metro stop, Logan Circle affords walkable access to the Yellow and Green Metro lines (U Street/African American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo or Shaw/Howard University), as well as Blue and Orange lines (McPherson Square).

The 52, 53, and 54 bus lines run in a straight shot up 14th Street, through U Street and Columbia Heights, and into the neighborhoods of upper Northwest. Another bus line that carries you through Logan Circle (along P Street) is the G2.

If you have a car, you might be in trouble. Street parking is frequently a chore, especially on the weekends, when visitors snag spots normally reserved for residents. As such, you’ll likely have to fork over money for a designated parking garage, or plan on parking several extra blocks from where you need to be.

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Looking out at Church Street NW in Logan Circle. Photo by Ted Eytan.

The Bottom Line

Old and new, glossy and gritty, classy and casual, quaint and crowded; Logan Circle is a prime example of DC’s urban redevelopment surge—the same one that has spread to the neighborhoods east and north of Logan Circle, and other quadrants of the city. Once rife with prostitution, drug abuse and homelessness, the neighborhood is now home to trendy eateries, brand name shops and $2,000-a-month studio apartments.


Zak M. Salih is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in publications including Washington City Paper, the Richmond Times Dispatch, Baltimore City Paper, the Chicago Tribune, and the Christian Science Monitor.


See other articles related to: logan circle, hoods

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/logan_circle_a_tale_of_two_eras/12040

5 Comments

  1. Joseph Seriki said at 6:19 pm on Friday January 13, 2017:

    This article is right on time. I feel like I was having this same conversation with my buddy in Pearl Dive yesterday night. I’m actually very happy for Logan Circle; it’s about time they receive some glow. With that being said-please don’t waste your time driving here. There is NO parking. Uber is our best friend after the bars close lol

  1. skidrowedc@gmail.com said at 8:43 pm on Friday January 13, 2017:

    Largely glossed over is that by the time what we now call gentrification got started, almost every building in the neighborhood was run-down. Many were abandoned, a solid majority were visibly dilapidated, and virtually all had ancient kitchens, bathrooms, and electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems.  Most of the buildings were at or near the end of the life-cycle, and then as now, lower-income uses do not generate enough cashflow for major upgrades, no matter how desperately needed or deserved.  So those earlier buyers, in addition to dealing with ubiquitous crime, faced major renovations. And having done the renovations, became obvious targets, especially since such a high percentage of the early newcomers were gay.

    Another thing that’s hard to believe nowadays is that gentrification proceeded very slowly for the first couple of decades.  Not only did early buyers (like me) have no idea things would get so fancy and expensive so quickly, we had little reason for confidence that things would improve at all! For example, the original central purpose of the LCCA’s House Tour was to convince people that Logan Circle could be a good place to live and therefore buy a place and renovate—not to showcase the style and glamour of the neighborhood. In fact, due to rampant prostitution, some blocks actually suffered reverses in the gentrification process. These proved temporary, but most newer District residents can barely imagine such a thing is possible, as the gentrification machine they’ve experienced seems to be an unstoppable juggernaut!

    Another facet of this is that Logan Circle’s gentrification was not displacement-heavy, relatively speaking. This is partly because so many buildings were abandoned, and partly because almost every new building went up on a former parking lot.  (14th Street in particular used to have lots of parking lots!)  Also the affordable housing developer Manna had done dozens of projects in the area in the 1980’s which still provide stability for their lower-income residents.  But things have gone so far that the earlier gentrifiers are priced out and their houses are, if not run-down, then greatly in need of upgrades.  The cycle of life, I suppose.

    FYI, another Logan Circle thing-to-do is the walking tour that the D.C. chapter of the American Institute of Architect offers usually twice a year.  I don’t know if they’ve scheduled for 2017 yet, but I went on the tour a few years ago and learned a lot.

  1. Brett said at 10:50 pm on Friday January 13, 2017:

    @skidrowedc is overly minimizing gentrification in Logan Circle. It has been an issue for the last 30 years, and government has been the main culprit until the 2000s. Many people, especially the vulnerable like seniors and disabled people lost their homes for failing to pay small tax amounts through the aggressive tax lien system. Some even lost their homes for not paying paltry sums less than $200.

    In no place in the free world should government be allowed to steal one’s home for such a small sum.

  1. Joseph Seriki said at 4:31 pm on Sunday January 15, 2017:

    @Brett-I definitely agree; the process can get really, really ugly. Hard to imagine but a lot of the displaced people out on 14th St actually owned homes here. I think with more community involvement from the young, educated and equality driven less of this will be happening. However that doesn’t change the fact that it did. What I do appreciate about Logan Cirlce is the high level of community service that is actually performed here. Groups like N St Village standout in the front of my mind.(celebrate Logan was awesome this year) Consistently donating time and financial support to homeless and abused women. Logan Circle being the “homebase” for events like Pride is also big in my mind. One thing I can say is no matter how fancy this area gets it remains extremely diverse. No matter what you look like or who you choose to date you won’t be ostracized. I guess we have to take the good with the bad. With that being said the past shouldn’t be overlooked, but moving forward we need to do better.

  1. Brian R. said at 6:27 pm on Monday January 16, 2017:

    Good article and assessment of the neighborhood. I was never really sure of the specific formal boundaries for Logan Circle since many describe areas beyond these boundaries as Logan Circle. Even the picture used in the article showing the intersection of 14th and T doesn’t seem to actually be part of Logan Circle.

Comments are closed.

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