Takoma: Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park

by Jenny Rogers

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The Takoma Theatre.

You can say a lot of things about Takoma. You can call it “eclectic,” a catch-all for the liberal, vegan-friendly vibe that persists there; you might say it’s dead after 9 p.m., thanks to a limited bar scene; or you can call it bargain territory for a young homebuyer.

Just don’t call it Maryland.

The DC neighborhood shares a name and a border with Takoma Park just over the Maryland state line, creating a level of confusion that drives the residents a bit nuts.

“People say, ‘Oh you’re in Takoma Park?’” says Jackie Jones, a 15-year neighborhood resident. “I tell them Takoma is a neighborhood in DC; Takoma Park is a city in Maryland. They’ll rave about Roscoe’s Pizzeria, and I have to remind them that it’s on the Maryland side.”

Nominal annoyances aside, Takoma is beloved by its residents, many neighbors for decades and others part of an influx of young, first-time homebuyers. They praise the community spirit and proximity to the District’s hotspots, even if the restaurant and retail scene is moving along a bit slowly.

The “Delightful Shade” of Northwest

Takoma sits at the northeastern tip of the District, with Eastern Avenue separating it from Maryland. To the west, Georgia Avenue separates it from Rock Creek Park, and somewhere between Tuckerman and Van Buren Streets marks Takoma’s southern border.

Established in 1883, Takoma was the first railroad suburb of the city, promoted as having “no malaria,” “pure air,” and “delightful shade.” The neighborhood originally stretched across the state line, and even after the Maryland General Assembly incorporated Takoma Park in 1890, the two communities continued to share a name and a common identity. After the arrival of the Seventh Day Adventists in 1903, businesses were closed on Sundays and alcohol sales were prohibited. The teetotaling, community activism, and vegetarianism popularized by the Adventists all linger in Takoma today. (Takoma Park, Md. only lifted a ban on carry-out alcohol sales in 2010.)

A Buyer’s Market

Takoma is a green and leafy neighborhood with old homes intact, thanks to the residents who fought against a 10-mile freeway that was set to rip through the neighborhood in the 1960s. Condos and rentals exist, but the real market is for Takoma’s colonials, Cape Cod-style homes, and bungalows. These houses, built mostly between 1920 and 1950, can be had for reasonable prices by DC standards.

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A Victorian stunner on Cedar Street.

A dated but livable house can still be found in the mid-$300,000s, but bidding wars have pushed the updated homes into the $500,000 to $600,000 range, with some outliers. “The price points are generally a little bit lower than what you can get elsewhere in Northwest,” Pamela Wye of TTR Sotheby’s Realty said, noting that other selling points include the big yards (think 5,000 square-foot lots), decent space (typically 1,300 square feet for a three-bedroom, two-bath house), and garages.

Like neighborhoods across the city, new buyers in Takoma tend to be on the younger side, replacing residents who’ve lived there a lifetime. In addition to below average home prices, a below average crime rate, the proximity to parks, and the free Takoma Recreation Center (complete with pool) make the neighborhood an attractive one for young families. Sara Cherkis moved into a home in Takoma with her husband and baby two years ago.

“We wanted to have a little bit more space but still be close to the Metro,” she says. Parks and a playground have made Takoma a pleasant place for Cherkis to raise her 18-month-old, and she loves the friendly neighbors. Like many Takoma homebuyers, living in D.C. was important to Cherkis, even if it’s only a quarter-mile inside the District boundary. Takoma enjoys greater diversity than its Maryland counterpart—or, as one resident put it, Takoma Park is “probably more white.”

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A home on 5th Street that recently sold for well above its asking price.

But the Schools…

Newcomers like Cherkis have been welcomed by long-time residents, partly because they hope that the young blood will continue to invigorate specific aspects of the community. “I think it’s important that we have people with investment in the schools,” Jackie Jones said of Takoma’s influx of new folks.

The public schools that serve Takoma, particularly Takoma Elementary and Coolidge Senior High, have yet to climb into the city’s top echelon. (Shepherd Elementary, one of the most sought-after public elementary schools in the District, shares a zipcode with Takoma.) Residents seem to talk about local schools optimistically in the future tense, but pragmatically in the present.

“We don’t know what to do about the school situation,” says one young Takoma mother. “The idea of navigating the school lotteries is pretty daunting, and that’s the reality for this part of the District.” She added, “I would love to send my child to public schools.”

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Horace & Dickies arrived on 4th Street NW early in 2012.

All Dressed Up With Nowhere to Go

Perhaps the biggest knock on Takoma is the lack of amenities and restaurants compared to other neighborhoods. “We could have more, frankly,” says Jones, who likes to patronize local spots but often heads down Georgia Avenue to eat out. Cherkis struggled to name a bar before coming up with a few restaurants that have bars in them.

It’s not for lack of enthusiasm that the restaurant scene suffers in Takoma. “Every time something new opens, people really rally around it,” says Cherkis. Sharon Villines, a Takoma resident, agrees.

“We’ve worked very hard on this,” Villines says. “I moderate the TakomaDC neighborhood list[serv] where I encourage new businesses to post frequently until everyone is familiar with them and no longer needs reminders.” New business are admittedly received with wild excitement. “I am deliriously happy that Horace & Dickey’s has come to Takoma,” Jones says of the classic D.C. franchise, which opened up shop in the neighborhood earlier this year.

To be sure, some restaurants thrive around the Takoma Metro, including a few vegan and vegetarian options. Soupergirl, an upscale soup outfit that offers delivery, arrived on Carroll Street in 2011 and has plans to expand. Popular vegan spot My Little Bistro and Cedar Crossing, a tavern and wine bar, round out the options around the slowly developing downtown.

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The Takoma Park Neighborhood Library opened in 1911.

Takoma is served by a Safeway (and the beloved Takoma Park farmer’s market just over the state border, which is packed year-round), but residents want more. “Desperate for a Harris Teeter,” says Villines. “Some place that serves freshly prepared food that is good quality but not elitist.”

Many would like to see a bit of culture return to Takoma as well, specifically the re-opening of the Takoma Theatre, but that could be many years and many dollars away. Residents have fought for decades to “save” the theatre, a 1924 building that remains unused on 4th Street, and a conservancy group dedicated to its survival formed in 2007. The city awarded the group a grant in 2008 in order to study how the theatre would affect the surrounding area if re-opened, and its future remains unknown.

One big plus in the neighborhood’s amenities column is the Takoma Community Center, which is free for D.C. residents. The center features an indoor pool, fitness center, children’s pool (complete with fountains), and classes ranging from water aerobics to water polo. The pool is competition-quality and hosts several invitationals.

The Bottom Line

Takoma is a middle-class neighborhood with upper-class aspirations, and the social liberalism attracts a spirited, community-oriented set. The proximity to Rock Creek Park and more urbane offerings of the city make Takoma an attractive choice, even if you have to leave the block to get a decent meal.

Jenny Rogers is a columnist at the Washington Examiner. Her work has appeared in Slate and TBD.


 

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This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/takoma_not_to_be_confused_with_takoma_park/5908

11 Comments

  1. Scott said at 9:21 am on Friday August 17, 2012:

    An excellent look at what is one of my favorite DC neighborhoods. I hope that the Takoma Theater is able to be returned to its former glory!

  1. Lisa said at 12:13 pm on Friday August 17, 2012:

    Great piece on a lovely neighborhood. Senbeb at 3rd and Sheridan is one of our favorite places to eat.

    One quick point—My Little Bistro has some vegan options but is not a “vegan spot.”

  1. Jackie said at 12:47 pm on Friday August 17, 2012:

    great piece. Well done.

  1. dan bucher said at 2:03 pm on Friday August 17, 2012:

    The theater has been vacant since when?  Study done in 2007 and still no action.  This stinks of botched committess and pouring good money into more fruitless studies.  When are people going to let go and allow for market rate housing development on this site?  The future isn’t what it used to be for this theater.  It is passed its usful life as a theater; the dynamics of this mass transit oriented neighborhood have changed, ... and this empty theater is a drag on the economic advancement of the surrounding area.

  1. D said at 1:12 am on Sunday August 19, 2012:

    What happened to the theatre study and how much money was granted? Are the results available?

  1. Ryan said at 11:12 pm on Monday August 20, 2012:

    I had an experience with the odd Takoma DC/MD relationship a few months back.  Was on my way from the metro to Coolidge High School for a volunteer project.  I took a wrong turn and asked for directions, and the response I got was “oh that’s in DC, this is the MD side,” but it was said with this kind of attitude as if how dare I might confuse Takoma DC with MD.  Another person I asked had no idea where the school was (despite it being one of the largest in the area), and when I said it was in DC, he said, “oh this is MD - I have no idea about anything on the DC side.”  It was so weird, especially after exploring the area because there’s no visible difference between Takoma MD and DC, but apparently there’s a huge difference to the locals.

  1. nn said at 3:07 pm on Sunday August 26, 2012:

    One correction:  the school in Takoma is called Takoma Education Campus, not Takoma Elementary.  It is a PS-8 school which has recently been rebuilt into a really beautiful facility.

  1. ManorPark said at 2:36 pm on Tuesday September 4, 2012:

    @ Dan - I agree with u. Great read! The silly ANC’s in Takoma are killing the neighborhood. The ANC are OLD and out of touch of the community. I The theater should be torn down and development into something new , maybe gym or condos. I am tired of coming home late night and nothing to do…besides being hostage Takoma Station for a 20 dolla cover charge and carry outs..

  1. Len said at 6:43 pm on Thursday October 10, 2013:

    That’s what I thought.  But then I went to the Takoma Street Festival which, I truly believe is in Takoma, DC, and as I walked from the Takoma metro station to the festival along Carroll street, I am greeted by a sign (in the front of an official-looking building) that welcomes me to “City of Takoma Park.”  Am I lost?

  1. Scot said at 12:54 pm on Tuesday November 19, 2013:

    @ Dan and ManorPark… I wish I had seen this article earlier. No, we don’t need more condos, especially not on a historic site. There are too many condos sitting vacant all over DC right now. Stop with the condo silliness already. You complain about the ANC being old, but are you doing anything about it? Are you going to meetings and voicing your opinion? Are you running to be a commissioner for your ANC?

    Tearing down old buildings and building buzzword/marketing slang “transit oriented development” is not the answer to developing community. That is developers seeking to make a quick buck. What develops community is putting something in that space that promotes people coming together, being together - that is the exact definition of community. Not stacking a bunch of renters on top of each other who don’t care about a community because they think/know that it’s temporary… that they’ll be leaving once they can afford bigger or better.

    And ManorPark? If all you know is Takoma Station than you don’t know the neighborhood at all.

  1. TDC Resident said at 7:53 am on Thursday August 28, 2014:

    This article really doesn’t do the neighborhood justice- it focuses too much on the perceived lack of amenities.  We’ve lived in the neighborhood for over 5 years and have been very happy.  We can walk to 2 branch libraries, an indoor pool, two beautiful playgrounds with splash parks (Takoma Rec and Ft. Stevens is close enough), the metro and 3 bus lines that run straight downtown, a hardware store, a gelato place, a handful of eateries, a farmers market, and are a very easy and short drive to downtown Silver Spring.  Our son does in fact attend the neighborhood school, and people need to be more open to giving it a shot, we’ve been very happy with it so far.  By DC standards, the neighborhood has very little crime, and is probably the safest neighborhood east of Rock Creek Park, certainly the safest in Ward 4 (along with Shepherd Park).  Overall, it has been a wonderful place to raise a family- and loads of families with young children have figured this out.  The neighborhood doesn’t really seek to cater to people without children or who aren’t seeking a quiet place to live.  If that’s what you want, then look elsewhere.  If you’re raising a family in the city with a normal salary, then I have yet to find a better neighborhood than Takoma!

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