Half Circle Trying to make a Northwest neighborhood name stick

On a Saturday night in early January, nearly two dozen neighbors have crammed into the 1st Street NW row house of Matt Fineout and Scott Shappell. Many of the attendees, like their hosts, are relatively new to the neighborhood they call Truxton Circle—a gritty swath of Northwest tucked west of North Capitol Street between New York and Florida Avenues. They’ve gathered here for snacks and a champagne toast to officially launch a new Truxton Circle community group on the Internet.

Throughout the night, residents dip into fondue and discuss the signs of progress budding in the neighborhood: the restoration of long-gutted row houses, the unending rise in real-estate values, and the overall drop in crime. Many of the partygoers have even started frequenting the nearby park, a longtime hangout for the homeless, with their small army of dogs, including Fineout and Shappell’s own pooch, Feona.

The neighborhood has just about every prerequisite for revitalization—except a name. The blocks of historic houses running along the 1st Street corridor lie in something of a no man’s land—which is why Fineout latched on to “Truxton Circle,” a designation that dates back to 1900 and still persists on some maps of D.C. communities.

“A name kind of pulls everyone together and gives an identity,” says Fineout.

Especially a name that ends in “Circle.” After all, certain circles in Northwest, like Logan and Dupont, carry cachet as high-end communities. And, as with the case of Logan, it can’t hurt for new Truxtonites to set themselves apart from nearby Shaw.

“I guess it’s a way to reclaim a neighborhood identity,” says Art Slater, a New Jersey Avenue resident at the party, who’s noticed neighborhoods sprouting up within neighborhoods. “I think real estate is probably driving the phenomenon.”

Fineout and his neighbors, however, might have their work cut out for them. If a random street poll is any indication, the name “Truxton Circle” doesn’t register with many folks in the neighborhood who didn’t attend Fineout’s community-group kickoff.

“There ain’t no name for this neighborhood—just a lotta harassment from police,” says Sam Plunkett, who’s visiting the home of his brother, Jeremiah Plunkett, near the corner of 1st and O Streets, on a recent Sunday afternoon. Sam lived in the 1st Street house during the ’80s, and he insists the community’s never had a moniker of its own. He doesn’t exactly warm to the sound of “Truxton Circle,” either.

“Trucks Circle? No, no, no. Ain’t no trucks around here. No circle, either. They’re gonna need a better name than that....Got no name for this place.”

“Ain’t no name for this place,” adds Jeremiah, who’s lived here for 25 years.

Other longtime residents echo the Plunketts’ insistence on the neighborhood’s nameless identity. Asked what neighborhood they’re standing in, they invariably offer either the name of the nearest street corner or, when pressed, a technically incorrect neighborhood name, such as Shaw or Eckington. Of a dozen residents interviewed, only one has heard of the name Truxton Circle. He says he’s seen it emblazoned on the tattered “Truxton Circle” flag hanging over New York Avenue near the McDonald’s.

If so few residents have heard of Truxton Circle, it’s probably because the circle itself no longer exists. Constructed around 1900, Truxton Circle and its accompanying fountain sat at the corner of North Capitol Street and Florida Avenue. The street was named, like other D.C. circles, in honor of a fabled American military figure, Commodore Thomas Truxtun, naval captain of the Constellation near the turn of the 18th century. But the circle spawned unruly traffic and was dismantled in 1947.

Apparently, the residents who moved in after the circle’s demolition never identified their ’hood beyond its individual street corners. It seems they never cared to, either. Clarence Kearney, 58, has resided at the corner of 1st and O Streets, in the very heart of what some define as Truxton Circle, since the late ’70s. For over two decades, he ran Kearney’s Market, a beer-and-grocery store that still serves local residents at the same corner. Scrubbing a car in front of his house on a recent Saturday, Kearney looks stumped when asked what neighborhood he lives in. He bites his lower lip, then looks around at nothing in particular. He quickly defers to his car-washing companion.

“What do they call this place, Hump?”

Hump stops drying the car and gazes down the street. “First and O,” he offers.

“No—the neighborhood,” explains Kearney. “What do they call it?”

Hump thinks for a moment. “Got no name,” he concludes.

A block to the north, locals walk in and out of Steve’s Market. “Now that’s Shaw down there,” says one resident, who declines to give his name, as he gestures west down P Street with his cane. Then he turns north. “Up there, above Florida Ave., that’s Ledroit Park.” He taps his cane deliberately on the sidewalk. “But this here, this is nothing.”

On the northern tip of Truxton Circle, at 1st Street and Florida Avenue, lies the park where some of Fineout’s guests have started walking their dogs. It’s outfitted with a playground, a handful of benches, and a few lonely strips of grass. None of the signs attached to the chain-link fences offer anything along the lines of an official park name, although they do sternly warn against performing auto repairs within park boundaries.

In this nominal murkiness, Fineout saw the perfect opportunity to further his mission of fostering a neighborhood identity: He and some neighbors have started calling this place “Truxton Park.” According to Fineout, some community members plan on applying with the city to become official “friends of the park.”

The new name, however, hasn’t yet caught up with the park’s die-hard regulars. They use something with a more tropical ring. “This is Florida Park,” says Jerry Hanson, a Lincoln Road NE resident who’s been hanging out there on weekends for two years. “I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘I live in Truxton Circle,’” he adds.

Hanson’s friend Mike spends every day in the park and resides at “1st and Florida.” A tad reluctant to adopt “Truxton,” Mike sums up the new designation in a single word: “Bullshit.”

But Fineout’s renaming campaign might catch a break. As the District Department of Transportation looks into overhauling nearby New York Avenue, the city is studying the possibility of rebuilding Truxton Circle as part of the project, according to department spokesperson Bill Rice.

But until then, Fineout will have to spread the name without an actual circle behind it. “That’s one of the challenges,” he says. CP

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