What’s In a Name: Capitol Riverfront or Navy Yard?

by Shilpi Paul

What's In a Name: Capitol Riverfront or Navy Yard?: Figure 1
Yards Park

How much does a neighborhood name matter? What happens when the Business Improvement District and long-time residents differ on what the name should be?

While established DC neighborhoods like Georgetown have held onto their name for decades, newly popularized neighborhoods are often torn between several names before one takes root. NoMa was once called Swampoodle, and the area south of Bloomingdale is simultaneously called Truxton Circle, the Bates Area and East Shaw.

Often, those with an interest in branding a neighborhood to make it appealing to investors and developers have a different name in mind than long-time residents.

These days, one of the most rapidly developing areas in town is the section of Southeast to the south of Capitol Hill and north of the Anacostia River (map). The local Metro station is dubbed Navy Yard-Ballpark due to the notable landmarks, and Navy Yard, Ballpark and Near Southeast all seem to be used with some frequency.

But the names don’t stop there: the neighborhood Business Improvement District (BID) landed on Capitol Riverfront as a name for the district several years ago, and has been using the moniker whenever possible.

What's In a Name: Capitol Riverfront or Navy Yard?: Figure 2
The disputed area. Map courtesy of the Capital Riverfront BID.

Claire Schaefer Oleksiak, the outgoing Executive Director of the Capitol Riverfront BID, believes that it suits the area. “The name was selected to geographically locate the neighborhood—south of the Capitol Building and north of the Anacostia River,” Oleksiak told UrbanTurf.

However, residents are less-than-enthusiastic about the name. “I don’t generally use Capitol Riverfront because there are several quadrants with river frontage in DC and there seems to be confusion whether Capitol Riverfront means SE or SW or both,” said resident Meredith Henne Baker, who uses both Navy Yard and “by the Nationals Stadium” for the area. (She is also pushing for Natstown).

ANC 6D Commissioner David Garber tells us that this is true of most residents. “In Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront, all of the official branding for the neighborhood uses the Capitol Riverfront BID corporate brand, whereas — at least in my experience — most people who live and work in the neighborhood call it Navy Yard.”

With Nationals Park, Yards Park and Canal Park, the area is quickly becoming a draw for folks from throughout the District. Will Navy Yard win out as the accepted name? Resident Paul LeBlanc hopes so.

“Historically and aesthetically, I think Navy Yard suits the area best,” LeBlanc said. “Many new buildings have adopted the industrial Navy Yard look, and the Navy Yard still remains and is a very good neighbor, especially in terms of architecture.”

Garber agrees. “The Navy Yard as an institution has been around since 1799. For me, the Navy Yard is a geographical marker I’m more satisfied using to define the neighborhood than something created by committee in the last few years to help lease office space.”

Still, the BID is hoping that Capitol Riverfront sticks.

“I think that having Capitol Riverfront listed as part of the Metro name will be important to solidify the branding for the neighborhood.” Oleksiak said. “It will be an evolution and I look forward to seeing what we call the neighborhood ten and fifteen years from now.”

See other articles related to: navy yard, dclofts, capitol riverfront

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/whats_in_a_name_capitol_riverfront_or_navy_yard/7345


  1. SustainableDC said at 8:26 pm on Monday July 22, 2013:
    I don't live in this area, but I do frequent it. Personally, I like the historic implications of continuing to use Navy Yard, however, I really like Capitol Riverfront too and I think this BID in particular is a great model for the rest of the city in terms of engaging the city and community in revitalization efforts and making it a destination. Finally, I take issue with the comment "Navy Yard still remains and is a very good neighbor, especially in terms of architecture." Maybe, architecturally, but this place looks like a prison to the rest of the community and the lack of access to the waterfront trail is laughable (is it EVER open??), they are NOT a good neighbor as far as I am concerned.
  1. Judith Claire said at 9:24 pm on Monday July 22, 2013:
    You don't live in this community, "but this place looks like a prison to the rest of the community" Say what?
  1. Sarah said at 9:27 pm on Monday July 22, 2013:
    I am a big proponent of Navy Yard and as a life-long DC resident will probably call it that for the rest of my life.
  1. swdc said at 9:37 pm on Monday July 22, 2013:
    Natstown is so clever! Never heard that one before !
  1. Dno said at 9:46 pm on Monday July 22, 2013:
    C'mon, this should be no contest. Navy Yard is clearly better for the reasons described above. It augments the old school, industrial feel that helps set this neighborhood apart from others. If there was no alternative name, Capitol Riverfront would have been decent enough, but it sounds so generic and realtor invented that it adds nothing whatsoever to this neighborhood's brand. The BID has otherwise done a great job, but they need to show some flexibility on this. Seems like something that can be hashed out over a couple beers - maybe at Bluejacket once it opens, since they had the good sense to embrace the neighborhood's unique history when branding their place.
  1. Burd said at 1:58 am on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    Lots of cities have a Navy Yard, and it's just a boring name. Capitol Riverfront is better, but it's too much to say, and "capitol" is overused in this city anyway. All for Natstown or National Yards.
  1. Ur. Neighbor said at 3:23 am on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    The name Capitol Riverfront has to go because I think it is mis-used! According to Grammarist, capitol (spelled with an "o") has only two very specific definitions and they both refer to buildings. Look it up, then tell me if I'm too rules-oriented.
  1. ZZinDC said at 1:45 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    Capitol Riverfront is too vague - we have lots of riverfront in this capital city (and capitol vs. capital is not enough of a distinction in this contect, for anyone other than grammar mavens.) I am all for Navy Yard; why not use the name that has been associated with the area for almost as long as the city has existed? I am sure plenty of neighborhoods (in DC and elsewhere) would happily use a name with such historic local organic roots.
  1. Hill Rat said at 2:32 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    I like Navy Yard myself, it's historical & accurate. Not really seeing the need for a new name, but I could live with NatsTown.
  1. SustainableDC said at 2:50 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    Yeah, try and ride your bike around the actual Navy Yard....you will see what I mean by....“but this place looks like a prison to the rest of the community”. I guess if I don't live there I can't refer to the community at all? weird.
  1. Joe said at 3:15 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    If NoMa doesn't want Swampoodle, can Truxton Circle have it?
  1. Richard said at 3:22 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    Navy Yard by a mile. Capitol Waterfront is an awful name as everything in DC that is on the water could be described as such and it isn't near the Capitol building. National Harbor is just as bad.
  1. Rich said at 3:23 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    @SustainableDC I work by (not *at*) the Navy Yard, and have found the waterfront trail open everytime I've been there. What's more, the Navy itself was probably more important to the area's redevelopment than the ball park or the DOT headquarters. . . . I think if we did a survey of tenants in all the new office buildings, we'd find that a majority are defense contractors. Otherwise, I think the whole "Capitol River Front" would be a bust from the start.
  1. MStreetDenizen said at 3:46 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    The Navy has finallly gotten better about the keeping the trail open, but for a long time they kept it closed a lot. I assume the DC has pressured them. "I work by (not *at*) the Navy Yard" If the name of the neighborhood really IS "Navy Yard" than you DO work in or at Navy Yard. I think that confusion - between the whole east of S Cap and south of the freeway, and the Navy facility in particular (smaller now that the annex is definitely excluded) is why a name other than Navy Yard is needed. It made sense when the Navy was pretty much all that was here. But thats not true anymore. I suggest that Navy Yard, if its a neighborhood name at all, is s a subneighborhood east of Canal Park. The western subneighborhood is "ballpark" The whole area is either "navy yard ballpark" IE the metro station name, or its near Southeast, or its Capitol Riverfront.
  1. markus said at 3:54 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    Navy Yard. Not even close. The industrial feel of the neighborhood gives it its character and desirability, and Navy Yard matches that. Capital riverfront is generic crap that doesn't offer any identity (other then, "it's by a river and in the capital")
  1. sgrmagnolia said at 5:33 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    Navy Yard, no question. Capitol Riverfront is a mouthful - 6 syllables! - and generic. As other commenters pointed out, it's not name with any historic root or geographic specificity, and it's never a good look to have the District call the metro station one thing while the BID calls the neighborhood another. Why confuse tourists? As a resident, I'd urge the BID, which is otherwise great, to embrace Navy Yard.
  1. Justin..... said at 6:44 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    Navy Yard. </topic>
  1. Tom A. said at 8:06 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    I'm with MStDenizen. The Navy Yard is south of eastern market. Capitol Riverfront is the entire area from the navy yard west to the Stadium. It has more than metro stops. We don';t want people to think the stadium is at rthe navy Yard metro. The BID has been Cap Riverfront for a long time- it's not going to change. Just be happy you're not debating "NOMA" which is much worse than any suggestion being debated here. I agree that 6 syllables is a lot. So, in vein of NOMA, How about CapRi? They can use a pair of pants for their logo. Again- better than NOMA. 😃
  1. Dave Banick said at 10:05 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    I like Natstown. Reminds me of Wrigleyville in Chicago. And I love Swampoodle!
  1. dcdc said at 11:45 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    navy yard. no question. whenever i hear "Capitol Riverfront" i think "soulless unimaginativetown" and natstown? no thanks. i'd rather give props to the navy.
  1. dcdc said at 11:48 pm on Tuesday July 23, 2013:
    "If the name of the neighborhood really IS “Navy Yard” than you DO work in or at Navy Yard. I think that confusion ...." do you find the same confusion when using the term Eastern Market or Georgetown? i don't .
  1. DC said at 1:44 am on Wednesday July 24, 2013:
    The premise of this article is a little flawed when it refers to 'long-time' residents in opposition to the Capitol Riverfront name promoted by the BID. Most of the people living in that neighborhood have been there for five years or less including the ANC quoted. I think the BID as been around since 2007 so about the same time or a little more. Perhaps Navy Yard will take root over time, perhaps Capitol Riverfront or something else will. But the BID seems to be a great partner in many ways and has contributed greatly to the development and attraction of restaurants and retail - so I think it's safe to say they know what they're doing within the business/investment community. Perhaps they can coexist - a name used more within a business/investment context and a name used more commonly among the residential population - I mean the Downtown BID area gets referred to as the East End, with other smaller sections called Metro Center, Penn Quarter, Gallery Place etc. But framing this article as supposedly 'long time' residents in opposition to the business community is a little misleading to a reader that is not familiar with the area or its history
  1. Michael said at 3:49 am on Wednesday July 24, 2013:
    The bid is great except for its corporate name
  1. CorporateSpeakeasy said at 5:09 am on Wednesday July 24, 2013:
    When Nat's Park gets renamed to "Capitol riverfront-Walmart-Target-Cheesecake-Factory Park", I will still call it Nats Park. There IS history here, evidenced every time an unexplored ordinance gets dug up. As a 1 year resident, I enjoy reading the history, reviewing the census records of the people who lived here on my street and worked at the navy yard. I also don't get confused when my friends say they live on Capitol Hill, I don't actually go to the dome.

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