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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/walter_street_the_friendliest_block_on_the_hill/4484.
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