Lawn and Order Randle Highlands, Twining, Penn Branch, Fort Dupont Park, Fairfax Village, Garfield Heights, Hillcrest

Darrow Montgomery

The residents of Hillcrest deserve better than Pizza Hut. They deserve better than Payless and RadioShack. And they deserve a free-standing Starbucks, not just one that’s housed inside the local Safeway.

Why? Because the residents of Hillcrest, part of Ward 7, take care of their lawns. The green spreads of this east-of-the-river neighborhood will never be confused with the Astroturf front porches found elsewhere; nor are they the overly tended lawns that you might find in, say, Wesley Heights; they are pristine and real, reflecting the handiwork of good and old and regular citizens. See them on the annual Hillcrest garden tour, an event that’s more than a decade old.

Excellent lawn care, of course, is merely an indicator of other things, like high median incomes and tightknittedness. A glimpse at Hillcrest’s Listserv shows some of the immediate concerns of its residents: an announcement for a fish fry, gripes about Internet services, a local artist showing at Artomatic, a posting for a moving sale, a flea market to raise money to send kids to camp, and links to natural treatments for cancer.

Those postings reflect a community that’s eager to consume—if only it had some decent stores.

Residents are betting on a 16-acre site nearby that is the planned location for the Skyland Town Center, an ultra-modern development that seeks to build condos, apartments, retail, parking garages, and “meeting places” at the intersection of Good Hope Road and Alabama Avenue SE, continuing a trend of bringing a touch of Tysons Corner into the heart of Southeast.

But just a touch. Neighborhoods to the north of Hillcrest—such as Randle Highlands, Penn Branch, and Fort Dupont Park—suffer a parched retail landscape alongside robust residential communities, although they appear to be on the upswing. A four-story building on Q Street SE in Randle Highlands, for instance, has been purchased by the Southeast D.C. Partners (SEDCP) for conversion into a recreation center. In Fort Dupont Park, citizens organized to save their year-round ice rink—the National Park Service was threatening to close it—in order to save programs like D.C.-Inner City Excitement (D.C.-ICE), a youth speed-skating club.

Hillcrest’s southern flank—including Garfield Heights, Buena Vista, and surrounding areas that spill into Ward 8—is revitalizing its way into the well-manicured fold. Slowly morphing since the late 1990s, this pocket of Southeast is still not exactly beckoning to young, wide-eyed interlopers with a sense of urban manifest destiny, but that’s not a bad thing. There are more services and businesses and better housing than there has been in a long time. Those improvements, however, haven’t caused the thoroughgoing displacement that typically accompanies such change.

Just a few months ago, a new Giant grocery store opened in this community as part of something called the Shops at Park Village. Of course, Park Village is not a D.C. neighborhood (yet). Exactly what existing neighborhood hosts the new Giant and the Shops at Park Village is a matter of some dispute. D.C. atlases place the retail center in Shipley Terrace, yet activists in adjacent Congress Heights claim it as their own. Says Congress Heights resident Sandra Seegars: “I can see it from my house and I can walk to it. Regardless of what neighborhood it is, it’s in my neighborhood.”

One thing everyone agrees on is that it’s the only supermarket in all of Ward 8. And speaking of groundbreaking, the Shops also includes a still-under-construction IHOP, which will become the first real sit-down restaurant in Ward 8.

The area does, however, have palm trees. Not real ones, mind you—fake ones that adorn the splash park at the Villages of Parklands, a rehabbed apartment community between Alabama and Mississippi Avenues SE. The plastic trees are now regarded as the first sign of the slow but steady revitalization of Southeast, and no self-respecting story on the neighborhood is complete without them.

Touchstones

• Allen Chapel AME Church: Called “The Cathedral of Southeast,” this church served free blacks in the Good Hope community prior to the Civil War, former slaves who became landowners in the area after the war, and many, many other people since. It’s been on Alabama Avenue SE since the street was called Hampton Road, before a 1920s name change.

• Hillcrest has been nothing but steadfast in its self-image. Hillcrest Citizens’ Association’s first Hillcrest Bulletin, an annual publication, was titled Why Not a Suburban Home in Hillcrest, D.C.?; it was published in 1928. And some things never change. From the Bulletin: “People have become so accustomed to going Northwest that they have overlooked entirely one of the best sections of Washington from every point of view. There are many reasons why Hillcrest should appeal to all good people.”

• Green spaces: Aside from the area’s healthy serving of typical city parks, it hosts the mammoth, 370-acre Fort Dupont Park. Once part of the Civil War defenses for Washington, Fort Dupont (as in the actual watch-out-they’re-shooting-at-us fort) and its surrounding foliage became a national park in the 1930s. This slice of nature isn’t merely good for soothing your inner-transcendentalist, though. With a skating rink and an athletic center, it also services your inner jock.

More Hoods and Services: Lawn and Order demographics, photos, and cartography
Plus: How does Lawn and Order stack up on the Neighborhood Rankinator?

Our Readers Say

I used to own a one bedroom condo in Fairfax Village, just on the eastern edge of Hillcrest near Southern Avenue. (I wish your article had talked about the rich history of that housing development!) When I told people about my home, I was amzed at the ignorance most had about the entire DC region east of the Anacostia River, especially if they were white (like me). I loved it there, well... minus the prostitute living next door and her addict boyfriend, and the night I got mugged. Of course, though, like every neighborhood there were issues. But for the most part though, in our neighborhood I felt really safe. Parents went to work, they came home, and they took care of their families, their community and their homes. A lot of us didn't have much money but we made do. I'll look at my time there fondly and I hope again someday to have such caring and cool neighbors.
I love your monikker for my community, even though my neighbors would say I am not upholding my responsibility in keeping my lawn to the standard. In the four years I have been on my block, I am convinced I have the best neighbors in the city. I have had neighbors offer to pick things up for me at Costco, neighbors offer other neighbors rides to the metro, we shovel each others walks, we reserve parking for eachother in front of homes, we drink beers together, we go to weddings and funerals. Part of this is because many of my neighbors in Ft. Dupont Park have lived here for 2 and 3 decades and have welcomed the newbies as well.

I have a cook-out every year and invite my friends and family. Everyone who shows up for the first time is always amazed at the tranquility and the beauty of the neighborhood.
It is quite unfair to give "Lawn and Order" a negative 2 for Arts and Culture. I did not see a negative rating given to any other District area in any category. Areas of the city that are just as lacking in Arts and Culture were given a score of zero in the category. What is the justification for a negative rating? Also, the area deserves acknowledgement for the number of large parks in the area such as Anacostia Park, which boasts jogging trails, fishing, biking, wide open fields perfect for soccer, frisbee, dog walks, ect. Fort DuPont has an amphitheater, bike trails, and a huge community garden. When I am jogging in the park, I see C-Spanistanians coming to the park to play ultimate frisbee because C-Spanistan lacks the wide open park space needed to do that.

Areas of the city should also get a bump for their proximity to areas that provide what the subject area may lack. For example, "Lawn and Order's" rating in Nightlife and Culture should be somewhat offset by the subject area's proximity to "C-Spanistan,” which received high rating in Nightlife and Culture, as well as Eats. I live in Penn-Branch and I can get to Barracks row in fewer than 10 minutes. I meet some friends, dine, drink, and then head home. When I get back to my quite neighborhood, I do not have to fight for parking-which is highly valued in this town but not at all addressed in this article-and I am not kept up by loud, drunken revelers looking for their car while vomiting (or worse) on my lawn (Liquorridor).

This effort to rank areas of the city does not take into account population density, construction, traffic, parking, or noise complaints, which should be part of the Intangibles of an area. Parking and public transportation are key issues that were not addressed at all. One question that should always be asked when ranking an area is “What are my options for getting around town?” Lawn and Order is one of the easiest places to park in DC, you just need to have an alarm or a club on your car. Bus lines are plentiful. The Naylor Road Station, while technically in Maryland, is within walking distance and it takes you right downtown. It is also just a few short stops to the Stadium at Navy Yard. When I head home from a game, my ride back home is quicker and less crowded than the people headed North and West.

Hurray for Lawn and Order!
I just purchased my first home in Hillcrest and I absolutely love it!!!!! I have 2 metro stations within walking distance and can easily get to 295, 395 and 495 within 5 minutes. While many may have negative things to say about this area it is definitely one of Washington's best kept secrets and, truthfully, I love the quiet serenity and hope to keep it that way!!!

I enjoy my rose garden in the front yard, and I have ample parking for 2 cars, a large shed, a 10x10 deck, vegetable garden, and enough room for 2 large dogs in the back all for under $300K. I am even able to see the 4th of July fireworks showering over the National Monument from my front yard every summer. Contrary to the beliefs of some, my neighborhood is filled with hard-working, socially conscious individuals. I have lived in various places, including Trinidad, Takoma Park, and NW, but never have I had such thoughtful and caring neighbors. I see a sense of pride in homeownership, and in the community, that I have not seen in other parts of the city. I am proud to say that my neighbors are accountants, entrepreneurs, retirees, lawyers, teachers, and political activists. And, yes we are African American!!

Hurray to my fellow Hillcrest residents with our garden tours, rain barrels, rain gardens, community newsletter, homeowner’s association, churches, parks, recreation centers etc.!! I am looking to purchase a larger home and will definitely be staying in the area!!!!!!!!!!!!!
much

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