Tenleytown: Not Quite Like Its Neighbors

by Amanda Abrams

Fort Reno Park in Tenleytown

At first glance, Tenleytown appears to be very similar to its Red Line neighbors to the south (Cleveland Park) and to the north (Bethesda) with cute detached homes and small town retail dotting a major avenue.

But look a little closer, and some cracks appear in that image. Most glaringly, the area lacks an active citizens’ association to unite residents in proactively improving their community. In fact, the only groups that seem to thrive are anti-development ones that form in opposition to various construction plans for the neighborhood. As a result, Tenleytown’s commercial area lags behind that of its neighbors.

But that situation could be changing, and after years of representing an ultra-NIMBY crowd, the neighborhood’s ANC has become more friendly to growth, which could mean that changes are on the way.

From Wisconsin to Reno

Tenleytown lies on and east of upper Wisconsin Avenue. Its borders are Upton Street to the south, Wisconsin Avenue to the west, Garrison Street to the north, and Reno Road to the east.

While the neighborhood Metro stop is named Tenleytown-AU, most of American University’s campus is actually a half mile to the southwest of the station, though a small section of the university sits near Wisconsin Avenue.

Styles and Prices Across the Board

The homes in Tenleytown aren’t quite as similar to those in neighboring communities as they initially appear. Many houses in Cleveland Park, for example, were built as summer homes for DC’s elite at the end of the 19th century; Tenleytown didn’t serve the same purpose, and so its homes are smaller and weren’t constructed until the 1920s and ‘30s.

Architecturally, the housing stock is all over the map. The community has a few small-but-charming Victorians, particularly along Grant Road, a quiet street off of Nebraska Avenue that feels like it can’t possibly be in the middle of the city. There are also a few duplexes and row houses, a number of bungalows, “and many center-hall Colonials, the Washington cliché house,” Pat Kennedy, a real estate broker with Evers & Co, told UrbanTurf.

Homes Along Grant Road

Tenleytown homes have traditionally been slightly less expensive than those in surrounding neighborhoods, but the prices can’t be described as bargains: three-bedroom listings are currently selling for between $650,000 and $880,000, and four-bedrooms range from $635,000 to $1,255,000, according to Kennedy.

The area has a few condo developments, most notably Cityline at Tenley, which sits atop the Metro station on Wisconsin Avenue, and Tenley Hill, a few blocks farther north. Rentals are available, but not as plentiful as other parts of the city. One-bedroom apartments go for between $1,500 to $2,200 a month, and two bedrooms run from $1,900 to $2,900.

Not Exclusive to Families, But Kid Friendly

Tenleytown residents have a reputation for being typical upper Northwesters: professional couples earning two incomes who might’ve gotten started on their families a little later than average. But Kennedy said that these days she doesn’t have a typical client, selling to all kinds of folks, many of whom don’t have kids.

Still, it’s a great area for children. The public schools are some of the best in the city, and Woodrow Wilson Senior High School is currently undergoing what some would describe as a futuristic renovation. Well-known private schools like Sidwell Friends and Georgetown Day School are nearby.

There are also a bunch of high-quality public services for kids. After years of bickering and indecision, the airy, LEED-certified Tenley-Friendship Library finally opened on Wisconsin Avenue a couple of months ago and the newish Wilson Aquatic Center, a public complex attached to Wilson, includes four year-round swimming pools. Fort Reno Park, a large, hilly expanse that is also the highest point in DC, lies in the middle of the neighborhood.

Rendering of the new Wilson High School

Anti-Development Sentiment

Tenleytown hasn’t had an active citizens’ association for some time, but ad hoc groups like the Coalition to Stop Tenleytown Overdevelopment, which later morphed into the Alliance for Rational Development, seem to form whenever a new, potentially outsized project looms.

The issue of density seems to galvanize residents like no other. While smart growth theories emphasize greater development near Metro stations, many residents in Tenleytown are content with the level of growth they already have, and fear greater crowding on Metro trains or increased traffic along Wisconsin Avenue.

Sitting astride his bicycle after doing errands, resident Horst Kleuting gestured around him. “Why do I need exceptional stores?” he asked rhetorically. “You need stores for basic needs, and here, there’s almost everything.”

But Ralph White, a lawyer who’s been in the neighborhood since 1988, said he’s open to more density. “Yes, it is bucolic, but it’s also well inside the city limits,” he said, indicating that more growth would make sense.

Tenleytown’s Commercial Strip

Serviceable, But Pretty Blah

A casual observer wandering along Wisconsin Avenue in Tenleytown would probably note that the area could use a little upgrading. Near the Metro are several busy stores, including Whole Foods, Best Buy, Starbucks, and Guapo’s, a Mexican restaurant that has been a mainstay in Tenleytown for over 20 years. And on the whole, the retail strip has surprisingly few empty storefronts.

Still, the shops and restaurants are unremarkable: there are a couple of Japanese restaurants, a cigar shop, a few dry cleaners, Café of India, the French restaurant Le Chat Noir, and 4912 Thai Cuisine—all serviceable neighborhood businesses, but little that might draw outsiders to the area. Only Pete’s Apizza, a new outpost of the popular Columbia Heights pizzeria, stands out.

Greg Drury, who recently moved away but still works in the area, is hoping to establish a neighborhood business association to market Tenleytown’s strengths. He’s thinking of talking to Cleveland Park’s business association, in the hopes of copying that neighborhood’s success in drawing interesting, unique businesses to the area.

Cityline at Tenley

New Development Could Be On The Way

There are a few notable developments and improvement projects in various stages of limbo in Tenleytown. Renovations to the local Safeway were stalled for months, but the planned improvements appear to be on course to eventually happen. And Douglas Development told UrbanTurf that the plans for the former Babe’s Billiards on Wisconsin Avenue remain open-ended and the space could become anything from a one-story restaurant to a six-floor office and retail building. Also looming are changes to American University, which has proposed moving the Washington School of Law to its Tenley Campus, just south of the Metro station.

The ANC this year is as favorable to growth as it’s ever been, with just about every member having a smart growth orientation. “We’re proceeding cautiously, but I think we’re all receptive to having more density along the avenue,” said Jonathan Bender, chair of ANC 3E; his district, 3E03, covers much of the retail corridor. “But it’s more of a means than an end; the end is a more vibrant avenue, with more interesting, appealing retail and restaurants.”

Quality of Life Upsides

Ralph White said that crime-wise, he’s never heard about anything more serious than a car being broken into, and he doesn’t worry about walking the few blocks home from the Metro, even at 1am. The Metro station is within walking distance of the entire neighborhood and buses run regularly along Wisconsin Avenue, making Tenleytown a very public-transit friendly area. The Beltway is about a ten-minute drive north on Wisconsin Avenue, and northern Virginia can be accessed via MacArthur Boulevard and the Chain Bridge.

The Bottom Line

Despite the convenience offered by stores like BestBuy and Whole Foods, what Tenleytown needs — and seems to be moving toward — are restaurants and retail that will make its commercial stretch more of a destination. However, even without those improvements, Tenleytown remains a very pleasant neighborhood for those who can’t pay the premium to live in the areas that surround it.

Amanda Abrams is a Washington, DC-based journalist who has written feature stories for The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Washington City Paper.

  • Zip Code: 20016
  • Schools: Janney Elementary School, Deal Junior High School, Wilson Senior High School
  • Tenleytown real estate data from Redfin
  • Tenleytown rental listings from Craigslist

See other articles related to: tenleytown, hoods, dclofts

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/tenleytown_not_quite_like_its_neighbors/3127


  1. John said at 11:04 am on Friday March 11, 2011:

    Tenleytown holds a special place in my heart as I went to Deal JHS and Wilson HS.  I had a lot of good times there; ditching school and downing cup after cup of coffee at Steak’n'Egg. Smoking pot on Reno Hill. Getting busy on Reno Hill… 
    To me the worst part about Tenley are the radio towers and that makes them the perfect place for future smart growth too.  Relax the zoning under the towers and put 12 story office buildings there with the antennas on top.  I think a lot of Nimbys would be swayed by the fact the radio towers wouldn’t be in their line of sight marring the landscape anymore (as evidenced in the photo of Tenleys commercial strip). The location right by the metro is ideal for office/residential development. In addition the Lot the CVS sits on is ripe for a mid size condo building with ground floor retail. I think there is a lot of room for development there that would actually beautify the neighborhood, framing and maintaining the low rise main street and its charms.  I think smart growth could be brokered with the nimbys by granting a lot of the low main street historic in return for up-zoning other parcels.

  1. Robert said at 6:14 pm on Friday March 11, 2011:

    The City Paper did a great story on the anti-growth “Badgers” of Tenleytown a few years ago.  http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/articles/26637/wisconsin-badgers  True, the anti-density bent of the loudest local advocates has stunted Tenleytown’s growth as a retail and restaurant destination.  In return for their efforts, we neighbors get mattress and framing stores a-plenty, plus the blighting black shell that was Babe’s Billards for going on 6 years.  On the other hand, lack of density guarantees abundant local parking, even 1 block from the metro.  Thus, every 2 Prius household in Ward 3 can easily putter on over to other more congested (and apparently more desirable) parts of the city and MoCo to get quality meals, nightlife, shopping etc. without worrying about block-lapping for street parking late at night or for the metro the next morning.  Tenleytown offers great city living for people who hate the city.  For 3/4 of a mil, you get a walkable transit-accessible lifestyle, a yard, no upstairs neighbors, 2 grocery stores, decent schools and city services, cheap eats, abundant parking, and a crappy center hall colonial built like a bunker (seriously, mine is cinder block clad with full dimension brick and a slate roof).  If hip or chic is what you want, go elsewhere.  But if you are a hard-working, modest family of four who refuses to surrender to a life fighting traffic in the soulless burbs, Tenleytown may be the place for you.

  1. Liz said at 12:00 am on Saturday March 12, 2011:

    I’ve rarely read such a biased article.  So, Tenleytown isn’t hip, doesn’t have a ton of stores, and has a low crime rate.  And?  Not every neighborhood wants or needs to be Columbia Heights.  And anyone who thinks this area can sustain a lot of growth should try driving Wisconsin Ave. from Warren St. just south of Tenley Circle to Friendship Heights north of Western Ave. and back again on any weekend afternoon.  The traffic going up and down the hill is atrocious, which suggests that there is insufficient infrastructure to bring in a lot of additional people by car.  The area is fairly boxed in already because of the traffic pattern up the aforementioned hill.  Making road changes will be difficult since the only place to re-route major roads are through Ft. Reno park (razing the Dancing Crab in the process). 

    Yes, Tenley station is a major bus hub for Metro, but that means that commuters need to get in and out quickly—a goal that will be thwarted if a lot of additional cars make it difficult for the busses to maneuver.  And the hill itself will dissuade a lot of pedestrians from making long walks through this area, or helping businesses between Brandywine and Chesapeake become a major draw.  Sorry, Amanda, this isn’t my back yard, but I don’t see much commercial growth happening here.

  1. Ryan said at 5:49 pm on Sunday March 13, 2011:

    yeah and it’s t for tenley
    yes and it’s t for timbuktu
    yeah and it’s t for tenley
    yes and it’s t for timbuktu
    and it’s t down here in dc
    where the little girls know what to do

  1. bob said at 9:55 am on Sunday June 19, 2011:

    Tenley has such wonderful potential and yet is an area that is both ugly and uninspiring. It appears disjointed and confused and presents poor options for residents, how much framing and laundry do people do there?! If the residents want to be constructive and not obstructive, maybe they should start letting developers and the city know what they want, not just what they don’t want. Maybe then the rest of us won’t have to cringe when passing through to Chevy Chase.

  1. Samantha said at 4:55 pm on Monday November 14, 2011:

    Tenleytown seems like an IDEAL place to raise young toddlers - parks, daycare, sidewalks, not too busy, normal sized houses, subway to get towntown for the parents’ night, and a top public elementary school.
    And homes in the 2200 sq foot range in case you are just starting a family and don’t want to deal with 3200 sq feet+++ and MoCo property taxes just yet (or the Spring Valley taxes and insurance on your pool).
    Very liquid housing market, and rentable. No need to buy $50k of furniture for your McMansion either. Or worry about Lafayette elementary school and if your kid will be in a mobile classroom all 5 years….

  1. Sarah said at 10:37 pm on Friday September 5, 2014:

    I don’t think the pictures of this article show how pretty the neighborhood is. And yeah, most houses in Tenley don’t go for multimillions but that hardly makes the area a destitute eyesore. (A lot of houses are worth about 700k to about a million dollars or more, as prices have gone up). On the contrary it makes the houses and gardens seem more homey. It’s shady and comfortable with naturally manicured flowers and bushes. I would not want further development. I had to look up NIMBY but after doing so, I suppose I am one.

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