Michigan Park


A Bargain, With Many Repeat Customers: Porches, Prices Endear People To Northeast D.C. Neighborhood


By Karen Tanner Allen

Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, December 8, 2007

When she's looking for company, Roxanne Carter goes around the corner to join neighbors on their porch.

On holidays, "I'll just walk next door and plop into a seat at the table," she said.

Ties to neighbors are one reason so many people stay so long in Michigan Park, a tidy, pre-World War II neighborhood in Northeast Washington, behind Catholic University.

The neighborhood's sturdy brick houses, leafy streets and neat gardens also foster loyalty. So does location: less than five miles to the National Mall and, from the nearby Brookland-Catholic University Metro station, a three-stop ride to Union Station.

Carter, 50, is not unusual in having grown up in the neighborhood and returning as an adult. She now lives in the family rowhouse with her grown son and 4-year-old grandson. Her neighbors are the same ones her parents and grandparents knew.

She owns Roxanne's ARTiques & Gallery a few blocks away in the Brookland neighborhood. On a recent Saturday afternoon, neighbors and friends stopped by to admire new acquisitions or just to visit.

Within the District, where prices in many neighborhoods have soared beyond $650,000 for even a modest house, Michigan Park and some adjacent neighborhoods are "a bargain area," according to real estate broker John Gerrety.

Recent prices have been hovering between $350,000 and $600,000. An attached three-bedroom rowhouse with a finished basement recently listed at $360,000, and a detached four-bedroom Colonial at $459,000.

"It's a very nice, pristine area. The lawns are very well kept. The houses are always very well kept," said Gerrety, who used to live near the neighborhood and has sold properties there since 1985. "The neighbors will keep after anyone who doesn't keep up" their property.

The neighborhood straddles South Dakota and Michigan avenues, surrounding Providence Hospital and St. Anselm's Abbey, a sprawling private boys' school.

It also includes the popular new Turkey Thicket Recreation Center, which has an indoor swimming pool, indoor basketball court, outdoor ballfields and tennis courts, a children's playground and a jogging path. Residents had begged for years to replace the small, dilapidated building that had served as a recreation center since the 1940s.

Michigan Park is frequently conflated with Brookland, the larger community next door and the closest commercial corridor, but is primarily residential and comparatively newer, residents say. The neighborhood was developed mostly in the 1920s and 1930s.

Residents say the quiet neighborhood attracts students and employees of Catholic University, government workers, artists and other middle-income professionals.

Each house has a small patch of grass or garden between the sidewalk and the front steps. All the steps lead to porches, most of the porches have chairs and all are within calling distance of the sidewalk.

Paul and Ingrid Wood have lived in a brick duplex on 13th Place since 1993. They moved there when Ingrid was a student at Catholic; they liked the central location, quality of the house and reasonable price, about $150,000 at the time. They now share their house with two sons, ages 8 and 10, and all the plastic odds and ends and extra furniture that come with children.

Paul Wood is president of the small but committed Michigan Park Citizens Association with at least 130 members. The association meets monthly, produces a newsletter and advocates for the neighborhood with the city government.

The most pressing issue is a rise in crime nearby that can seep onto residential blocks. "Recently, we've had a run of more violent crimes, which is alarming," Wood said.

An assault at an ATM on 12th Street and other muggings make it into police reports and become the talk of the neighborhood, especially near the Metro station.

Michigan Park is in Ward 5, the ward with the most schools on D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee's list of proposed closings. Under the plan, nearby Brookland and Burroughs elementary schools would close first, and Bunker Hill Elementary would close later. The neighborhood's middle school, Bertie Backus, also would close.

"You're taking away three elementary schools that serve the area," said Carter, whose grandson, in pre-kindergarten at Bunker Hill, is the third generation of her family there.

The community has been considered as a location for new charter schools. The Elsie Whitlow Stokes charter school is scheduled to relocate there from Mount Pleasant, and residents have not been satisfied with city response to concerns about traffic.

Residents also are following the future of some Catholic University-owned properties and institutions near its boundaries. The school has a long-range plan to reconfigure its campus.

Residents say they have enjoyed the revitalization of the Brookland commercial area around 12th Street, Monroe Street and adjacent blocks, although that revival may correlate to the rise in crime. The corridor, a work in progress, is attracting more people to shop and eat out.

Lavinia Wohlfarth grew up in Michigan Park in the 1950s and lives in the 10-room house her grandfather built on Allison Street. She remembers her childhood as a time when, she said, "You knew everybody in the neighborhood. This was your world."

After the riots elsewhere in the city following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, she recalled, businesses closed on 12th Street, as they did in other parts of the District.

"After the riots, the city changed," she said. "People left. They didn't sell -- they just left."

Wohlfarth joined other residents in 1999 to found the Brookland Community Development Corp. to hold events and promote the culture and history of Brookland and surrounding neighborhoods, including Michigan Park.

Despite setbacks -- some businesses closed soon after they opened -- there has been success. Her own art gallery, just a few doors from Carter's on Ninth Street, helps anchor a small gallery row. There also is a popular coffeehouse, an organic supermarket, a pub and restaurant, and much more pedestrian traffic.

Once again, "there's baby strollers moving up and down the streets," Wohlfarth said. "It's what I waited for."


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