Walter Street: The Friendliest Block on the Hill

by Shilpi Paul

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Halloween on Walter Street

On Halloween night, a man in an oversized hat riding a bicycle-powered record player dodged children and reveling residents on Walter Street SE, a one-block one-way street in Capitol Hill. The street, just south of Independence Ave and between 12th and 13th Streets (map), was essentially closed to traffic and had a block-party feel, full of lights, spiderwebs, and hundreds of children.

As the night drew on, residents, mainly couples in their 30’s, gathered around an outdoor fireplace by Colette Marchesini’s house, which had a 15-foot long spider clinging to the facade. Every year, Marchesini, a long-time resident whose bumble-bee costume hints at her buzzing social energy, invites everyone on the block to hang out after the crowds die down.

Walter Street residents enjoy a sense a community rare in the District, or in any big city. “We take care of each other,” resident Dalal Aboulhosn told UrbanTurf. Aboulhosn moved to the street with her husband Myke Bybee 6 years ago and unknowingly walked into a tight-knit community. They were immediately greeted by Marchesini, who delivers a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” packet to every new resident on the 48-house street. Marchesini inputs everyone’s information on a shared spreadsheet, including pets’ names and childrens’ ages, and signs them up for the email listserv.

Aside from Halloween, residents throw a 4th of July party, complete with a dunk tank, a PA system and awards, an annual Chili Cook-Off that has attracted some attention, and monthly “Third Thursday” happy hours. Nice weather creates opportunities for interaction year-round. “Sometimes, I get here at 5pm and don’t make it home until 7pm,” said Aboulhosn, who often stops to chat with Marchesini and others at “Walter Street Bistro,” a card table sometimes set up on the sidewalk.

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Residents gather

In UrbanTurf’s most recent exploration into friendly living situations, we wrote about cohousing’s more institutionalized mechanisms to ensure community. Here on Walter Street, community developed organically. When Marchesini first moved to the street in 1995 as a grad student, crime on the street led residents to create an email list. Soon, she explained, crime wasn’t such a problem, and “everyone was inviting everyone else to whatever they were doing.”

Residents saunter through Marchesini’s home with familiarity as we speak, and Marchesini seems to be the human connector on Walter Street. “Colette is the heart and soul of the neighborhood,” explained Aboulhosn.

Physically, the street lends itself to interaction. The modestly sized row houses squeeze next to each other and the front porches line up. “When I walk in my front door, I’m about two feet from my neighbor, and I have to say ‘Hi,’ ” Bybee told us. “You can’t avoid being social.” The one-way street is also quiet, isolated from the rush on Independence Ave and rarely seeing through-traffic.

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A look down Walter Street. Courtesy of Google maps.

The warmth generated by Walter Street hasn’t gone unnoticed by neighbors, and when a house enters the market, it usually sees offers within a few days. A friend visiting Aboulhosn noticed the street while renting a few blocks away. “When we were looking to buy, we considered waiting until a house opened up on Walter Street,” said the friend, who ended up buying a home near the Potomac Ave Metro station. The street was developed in 1912, and most houses have two bedrooms and a similar facade. Some have been extended in the back, and the homes usually sell for between $550,000 and $700,000. Not surprisingly, there aren’t any current listings on the street.

As Marchesini asks, “who would have thought in a big city that you’d be able to know your neighbors?” If you know your neighbors, we’d love to know you. Send us an email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

See other articles related to: walter street, dclofts, community, capitol hill

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/walter_street_the_friendliest_block_on_the_hill/4484

6 Comments

  1. Sarah said at 1:08 pm on Tuesday November 1, 2011:

    Woot! I’m so happy to be a part of the Walter St family smile Love you guys.

  1. Mike said at 1:29 pm on Tuesday November 1, 2011:

    Our street on the Hill is like this too.  We have street happy hours, and a summer block party with pony rides and cookoffs, etc.  Last night, we had hundreds of kids come through for candy, and they were greeted by the owners of the houses sitting on benches in front of our homes. Often in the evenings, inpromptu community hours break out in front of someone’s place over wine and beer.

    It’s the best community I’ve ever lived. So glad we bought here.  We live on Duddington PL SE, between 1st and 2nd, E and F.

  1. LisaT said at 2:53 pm on Tuesday November 1, 2011:

    Wow. So jealous of you all. What a wonderful neighborhood. We’ve been in DC nearly 8 years, bought almost a year ago, and can’t wait to get out because we find it the most unfriendly and rude place we’ve ever lived. Looks like we should have bought on the Hill!

  1. 10th St NE said at 3:40 pm on Tuesday November 1, 2011:

    I love this block.  Didn’t know the history of it or the reputation, but would have looked seriously here if anything had been on the market when we bought.  The Hill is very friendly overall.  It’s a terrific neighborhood throughout—a place that takes being neighborly seriously.  Our housing stock is terrific, but our many good neighbors are what makes the place.

  1. 9th and G SE said at 6:05 pm on Tuesday November 1, 2011:

    I’m sure Walter street is terrific, but really much of Capitol Hill has the same qualities which Urban Turf should know by now. We live on the wonderful block between Tyler Elementary and the Barracks, it’s a special thing to have such a small town feel in a major city. That’s why CapHill is considered one of the best neighborhoods in the country. Love it!

  1. WSR said at 11:17 am on Wednesday November 9, 2011:

    Capitol Hill is an excellent place to live with wonderful blocks throughout.  It’s just that Walter Street is simply the best of the best! smile

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