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16th Street Heights: Taking it Slow on God’s Boulevard

by Zak Salih

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Homes along 14th Street NW.

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.


Think of 14th Street and what comes to mind is likely a Northwest strip crammed with restaurants, bars (both fancy and dive), trendy grocery stores and boutiques.

However, a couple miles north of the hip 14th Street Corridor is a different commercial corridor, one more modest but no less loved by residents of 16th Street Heights, a neighborhood where people craving space and peace come to put down roots.

Twenty years ago when searching for a larger, budget-friendly home than the one he occupied on Capitol Hill, Jack Campbell moved into the Wardman-style, end-unit rowhouse in 16th Street Heights where he now lives.

“I made the decision right then and there that if the roof wasn’t caving in, I would buy the house,” Campbell said. “Fortunately, the roof wasn’t caving in, and I’ve been a happy resident ever since.”

Greg Phillips recently had a similar experience. He arrived in 16 th Street Heights with his family in February 2016 after falling in love with a home on Buchanan Street whose deep backyard called out to his inner gardener.

“The house hadn’t been updated and needed a lot of care,” Phillips recalled. “But as soon as I saw the backyard (and the small garage), I was in.”

Drive or walk through 16 th Street Heights and you’ll see a neighborhood of single-family homes with ample yardage, along with several blocks of rowhomes, the rare apartment building, and two small commercial strips. It’s a quiet, restorative atmosphere that’s lured more and more community-oriented people over the years.

“People really seem to want to connect when they move into the neighborhood,” Campbell said. “We’re always getting together with our neighbors, and we have one or two block parties every year. It’s a different kind of city atmosphere.”

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Stores in 16th Street Heights.

And while the atmosphere here comes with the lack of a major commercial strip, most residents wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We have neither the large commercial strips of Petworth to our east nor Columbia Heights to our south,” Campbell told UrbanTurf. “Nor do we have the noise, congestion, trash, vermin, and parking issues that come with that kind of density.”

And the hope is to keep that kind of density at bay.

“Neighbors are adamant about ensuring this remains a low-density neighborhood,” Campbell said. “Through our strong community activism, we’ve challenged developers and the city on pop-up and pop-back rules to ensure this remains predominantly a single-family-home community.”

Still, two commercial developments – one nearly completed, the other mostly conjecture – are on the neighborhood’s radar.

Mooreland’s Tavern, which is replacing former restaurant Swampoodle, is set to be the latest addition to the neighborhood’s 14th Street strip. Then there’s WMATA’s “bus barn” at 4615 14th Street NW. Rumor has it that WMATA eventually plans on moving the buses out of that area and into Maryland, which could open up a new two-block long plot of land for future development.

Whatever happens there, 16th Street Heights residents will be listening.


God’s Boulevard

Generally speaking, the boundaries of 16th Street Heights are 16th Street NW (including a small wedge in the upper left-hand corner between Military Road NW and Kennedy Place NW) to the west, Military Road and Missouri Avenue NW to the north, the roving diagonal of Arkansas Avenue NW to the south and Georgia Avenue to the east.

But it’s the neighborhood’s western neighbor that gets much of the acclaim: Rock Creek Park. “It’s the major arm of the neighborhood,” said Denise Champion, a 35-year neighborhood resident and Long & Foster realtor.

The neighborhood’s history stretches back to the 19th century and Maple Grove Farm, owned by renowned landscape architect John Hennessey Saul. Over time, 16th Street Heights (along with nearby neighborhoods) grew thanks to the increasing ease with which people could move along the streetcar lines that ran up and down 14th Street and Georgia Avenue.

“God’s Boulevard” is another (yet not often-used) nickname for the neighborhood, which comes from the fact that the street which gives the neighborhood its name is lined on either side with churches and religious institutions.


Little Inventory at a Large Cost

Detached homes, each with their own unique charm, are the dominant property type in 16th Street Heights, with several blocks of row houses between Decatur Street NW and Arkansas Avenue NW. Rental apartment buildings are few and far between.

“It’s always been like that here because people come and they stay,” said Champion. “They get the large detached house with good yard space. In a lot of cases, it’s people’s last house.”

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A house along 16th Street that sold earlier this year.

What little inventory there is on the market in the neighborhood comes at something of a cost. The median home price is $850,000; a little less for a home in need of some tender love and care, but prices for new houses can go well over $1 million.

Another reason for the high home prices is the neighborhood’s access to many of the city’s public charter schools, including Washington Latin Public Charter School, Paul Public Charter School, and Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School.

“I see a lot of people from other places trying to get in here,” Champion told UrbanTurf. “It’s a sweet spot for their children to be able to take the bus one stop to school.”

Three Things to Do

  • Highlands. — This popular all-day café and eatery, open since 2007, is one of the standouts among the neighborhood’s modest collection of shops and restaurants along 14th Street.
  • Rock Creek Park. — Washington’s largest park nestles right up against 16th Street Heights, which spoils residents with easy access to the Rock Creek Park Golf Course and the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, as well as several trails.
  • Church Going — Take a stroll on 16th Street and you’ll get a fascinating tour of the neighborhood’s many different houses of worship, some of them (like Simpson Hamline United Methodist Church) with quite impressive architecture.
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    Breakfast at Highlands. Courtesy of Highlands.

Getting Around

Parking isn’t a problem in 16th Street Heights, so you’ll fare just fine if you own a car. (It might be a little tighter if you’re parking near the neighborhood’s rowhomes.)

The closest Metro stations are the Columbia Heights and Georgia-Ave/Petworth Metro stations, serving the Green and Yellow Lines. Popular bus lines taking residents to and from downtown include the S series running along 16th Street NW and the 52, 53, and 54 buses that run up and down 14th Street NW. Both bus lines also give residents access to denser commercial pockets, including Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan, without having to get in their car.


The Bottom Line

Don’t expect a roaring nightlife in 16th Street Heights anytime soon. Residents are nothing if not protective of what they’ve got here. Greg Phillips noted that a few years back neighbors banded together in a show of solidarity to fight the developer who built a pop-up on one block.

Still, change isn’t unwanted here; just rapid change.

“I’m sure in time the outside will get a little hipper,” Champion said.

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.

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See other articles related to: hoods, 16th street heights, 16th street

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/16th_street_heights_taking_it_slow_on_gods_boulevard/13235

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