Notyetworth Petworth, Brightwood, Brightwood Park, Manor Park, Crestwood

Darrow Montgomery

I bought a house in Petworth in 2002. In the time between having our contract accepted by the seller and going to settlement, I went with my wife to visit our future home. A woman who is now our beloved neighbor saw us peeking in the windows and came over to welcome us. She went over all the characters on the block and told us how very old everybody was and how quiet and stable the neighborhood had been in her 20 years here.

Then she pointed to a house somewhat in the distance, past the alley and across 7th Street NW, and with an encouraging smile and in a fabulous Caribbean accent, she announced, “And over there, there is, how you say?…white people!”

Yeah, we were the only whites on our block, she was saying, but not the whole neighborhood. We got our home from the estate of a 90-something lady who’d lived here 50-plus years, and ever since we’ve moved in, probably for all sorts of economic and sociological and psychological reasons, whenever another old, black resident has died around us, a young white person or persons has moved in.

The place now teems with “how-you-says,” which has become the new family term for fellow paleskin gentrifiers.

It’s as if Whitey has invoked some sort of right-of-return clause in Petworth.

You can’t blame him, er, us. It’s a great place to live, visit, or even look at. The location is magnificent, within minutes of downtown or out-of-town. (The New Yorker placed Petworth on the “outskirts of Washington” in a 2007 article. That magazine is known for its fact-checking, but, “outskirts” doesn’t work literally or figuratively.) Every block has the same sort of sturdy, modest, and relatively affordable row houses that were almost all built in the mid-1920s, give or take a couple years, and pretty much every home has a front porch above street level. There are two great circles named not after foreigners (Dupont) or obscure domestics (Tenley, anyone?) but after Grant and Sherman, good ol’ American war heroes every third-grader knows. And—get this!—there’s parking! After 14 years in Mount Pleasant, discovering that not everybody drove around for 25 minutes each night—35 on Sundays—just looking for a space to park was as revelatory to me as my first frozen grape.

For visitors, there’s Lincoln’s summer home, on the grounds of the Old Soldiers’ Home, and St. Luke’s Church, the oldest church in all of D.C. And perhaps the most beautiful burial ground in town, Rock Creek Cemetery, which has been accepting bodies since 1719. (Among the dead VIPs here: Alice Longworth, Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter; Gil Grosvenor, former head of the National Geographic Foundation; and Charles Corby, one of the men responsible for giving the world Wonder Bread.)

But if you live and breathe in Petworth, you can’t escape the racial dynamics or avoid thinking about what’s taken place here and the surrounding neighborhoods over the last several years, and what took place about six decades ago.

Alan Flood grew up the son of a laundry truck driver on a block that his grandfather helped build at Illinois and Allison Streets NW. Flood, now 77, remembers Petworth as both “a Catholic ghetto,” and heaven on earth.

Flood, a Catholic brother who teaches at St. John’s College High School, his alma mater, still gets together every Friday with Petworth expats to talk about things like the Easter Egg rolls on the lawn of the Old Soldier’s Home each spring and sled-riding over the same grass each winter. And ignoring the no ballplaying! signs posted in Grant and Sherman Circles so blatantly that park officials came in and planted trees.

“I guess we’re responsible for all the beautiful trees in those circles, just to stop us from playing ball,” he says.

And they remember the walks up to the Kennedy Theater and other retail shops on Kennedy Street NW in Brightwood. And riding home from downtown on the Petworth bus on V-J Day, with the driver shouting “Nobody pays tonight!” and he and his buddies and everybody else onboard singing patriotic songs.

And they remember the front porches. Do they ever.

“The porches are a big part of growing up in Petworth,” he says. “On my block there had to be 15 or 20 kids, and you’d come home from school, get on the porch, and look down the block, and you could see this long row

of porches, and you’d see everybody

coming out of their house. The porches made you get to know your neighbors, they made it

a neighborhood.”

Flood, like all of his weekly lunchmates, is white. They all moved away from Petworth decades ago. Their regular meeting place is in Wheaton.

So they also remember how segregated their neighborhood, like all the surrounding neighborhoods, was in their youth, and all the fear-mongering that inspired the sudden and massive white flight.

“The real-estate people flooded into the neighborhood, around 1950, telling everybody, ‘Hey, you see who moved into so-and-so’s house?’ meaning somebody black was moving in,” says Flood. “We called them ‘blockbusters.’”

The Realtors’ strategy worked. Integrated neighborhoods were for other cities. Flood’s family sold his boyhood home in the early 1950s, while he was attending Catholic University, and left the neighborhood that he loved as much as my current neighbor has loved it for the past 20 years. The way I love it now.

According to local historian Brian Kraft, U.S. Census data show that Petworth went from 1 percent “Negro” in 1930 to 77 percent “non-white” by 1960, and was an “exclusively African American” community by 1980.

The next census should show a cultural balance for the neighborhood that would indicate the human race is progressing. But how long will that hold up?

Touchstones

• In 1885, Henry Adams, historian and less heralded member of the Adams Family (John, John Quincy, et al.), commissioned Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who back then was memorial marker-maker to the stars, to construct a statue for the grave of his wife, Clover Hooper Adams. Somewhere along the way, the creepy statue in Rock Creek Cemetery became known as Grief. It’s been a tourist destination since it was erected. There’s also the restored and newly reopened Lincoln summer home across the street.

• America’s pretty much made its mind up about the merits of the Iraq invasion. But you’d still think the debate’s raging if you drive by Walter Reed on a Friday night and see the war protesters and cheerleaders on opposite sides both ideologically and logistically. From what I’ve seen, the two groups stay out of each other’s way and remain civil.

• Year after year, the Caribbean Festival makes for the greatest street festival in this city and maybe this time zone. The parade runs down Georgia Avenue from Missouri Avenue to Barry Place. The 2008 rendition is scheduled for June 28. Bring earplugs.

• Northern Soul prospectors, listen up: Estate sales in these neighborhoods might be the last, best place in the country to find old and obscure R&B 45s.

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

Our Readers Say

I enjoyed your article and the clever title. However, you lumped-in Crestwood, where most homes average around $1million and looks like Chevy Chase, and completely left out 16th Street Heights where they average 700,000 to 900,000 and feels more like Cleveland Park. Both of these neighborhoods are west of Georgia Ave (unlike the others you mention) and have statistics and histories very different from Petworth's. For example part (at least) of 16th St Heights was originally a Jewish neighborhood as opposed to the Catholic neighborhood you describe Petworth as having been.

There's a whole other article missing from this series.
wow! who is writting for the city paper now? Maybe find someone that actually lives in the city or even knows DC...This is maybe the worst article i've ever seen in the city paper...

Nightlife and Culture: 2

No good reason to be out on these streets at night.

But i guess 7 blocks away in columbia hieghts is just fine because it's full with you and all your friends from Arlington?

Stand up Petworth! Stand up!
Thanks Petworth Guy: I too am 7 blocks from the restaurants in Columbia Heights (and Mount Pleasant).

I think we need a re-write.
When people start blabbing about oldtime Petworth residents (they mean black) getting moved out by gentrifiers (that means educated white people with good jobs), they should read this. The old Petworth I had heard about before and after WWII was mostly Jewish. I hadn't realized there were large numbers of Irish and other whites also living here. Sure, I knew about the so-called blockbusting. So if Petworth is coming full circle, so what? No one has ever shown to me what harm is being done by white people moving into Petworth or other parts of DC, areas whites abandoned because of crime and fear decades ago. And the longtime resident argument only goes back so far.
Well I guess if Columbia Heights were in Petworth the score would be a little different, but up at Hamilton St. I'm considerably further away from the neighboring-hoods.
the problem isn't who is moving into which neighborhoods, Petworth in this instance. the problem comes when a family is driven out of its long-time home and has virtually nowhere else to go.
I'd just like to point out that there is at least one fantastic restaurant in Petworth: W Domku. Polish-Scandinavian cuisine, a dining area with couches and comfortable chairs, art on the walls... and vodka with flavors like dill and rose. It doesn't get much better than that. It is on Upshur, one block east of Georgia Ave. Deserves a mention!
My understanding is that the rankings are based on what is contained within the hood boundaries. Being close to Columbia Heights is irrelevant as CH is in the Liquorridor hood. You may not agree with the criteria but being rude and mocking the author is juvenile.
El Limeno is also a very good place to eat...good food, good prices, and a friendly owner too.
Also, no mention of Moroni and Brothers on Georgia Ave - a friendly sit-down restaurant with good food, including some pretty great pizza, and they deliver.
FourthandEye read again, much of the authors tone is mocking, rude and and in places bigotted. Overall this is the kind of tepid and slanted thing that I have come to expect from CityPaper so it's no surprise. Weakly researched, it is an out-of-date and incomplete assessment. In the heart of Petworth, I live across from basketball courts with nets and state of the art night lighting to boot. They have become a destination for ball players of all types and ages from other neighborhoods. The spray park is on every night when I get home from work and draws a wonderfully diverse group of young families. Some of the best ranked Chinese food is right around the corner and makes it to my doorstep in about 12 minutes. McKenna built the "essay" around a catchy clever (he thought) title. The term "hood" should be left in the past. When is the last time you heard someone say that in conversation where it didn't sound cliche and patronizing to those who coined it.
I’d like to review the fact checking on McKenna’s references to “crappy chinese food”, “the schools blow”, “you need a car to reach real shopping” and homes with”’70s-ize the rooms, walking into one is like walking into your grandmother’s”. An essay, while generally a personal view, normally contains analytical presentation of specific facts to support the assertions of the author. This is cutesy, flimsy journalism at best, referring to groups of people as “whitey”, “paleface gentrifiers”. To be fair, there is present in the piece some census data which is refreshing, but he follows with “The next census should show a cultural balance for the neighborhood that would indicate the human race is progressing. But how long will that hold up?”. Honestly, what in the world does he mean by that question? I have no problem doing “real shopping” via the Metro stop which is conveniently situated on Georgia and New Hampshire Avenue in the heart of Petworth. And as we progress, I hope, to a less automobile centered society I will find public transportation a very good reason to be on these streets at night. With all of his racial baggage though, McFadden may want to stay off of them.
Seriously? This article is kind of offensive. The neighborhood is only good for fried chicken, liquor and lotto? Are you kidding me?
Why can't you shop in the Safeway on Georgia? And it's walking distance to the Target Megopolis without being mobbed by the traffic. Doesn't that count for anything? And nowhere to eat? What about Domku, Looking Glass Lounge, El Torgoraz, Moroni & Brothers and Sweet Mango Cafe?
Maybe it's just the editing of the "Arbitrary Rankings"... but have you left your house in 5 years Dave McKenna? I too lived in Petworth in 2002, moved away, and came back. There have been a lot of positive changes from a development standpoint, and I don't think the gentrification is that out of control, because I'm still the only white person on the block...
Come on, a little more credit for the hood, please?
Yes, DOMKU. THe food and drinks are interesting and delicious. Good vibes, too. How could a writer conclude that apart from fried chicken there are "few reasons to partake" in Petworth when this destination restaurant is right in the heart of the neighborhood? Does Dave McKenna really live in Petworth?

I don't live in Petworth but I would eat at Domku at least once a week if I did.
hey petworthy - i'm new-ish to the neighborhood and would love to hear about your favorite chinese food! haven't tried anyplace yet and would love a rec. (that said, i adore domku, lgl, el limeno, and moroni... am possibly trying the hitching post tonight... and am looking forward to some sweet mango, abol, and beveragemania soon! just haven't explored chinese food yet.)
i've been to domku once, and it was the most disgusting meal i've had in a restaurant in a long while. i don't understand why everyone is so crazy about it.

and el togoroz? they serve their burritos with spaghetti sauce.
I am a contractor that works out of Brightwood. Thank you to the residents for making it safer for my tools. I no longer fear for my tools left alone in the van while I am working in your home.
"When people start blabbing about oldtime Petworth residents (they mean black) getting moved out by gentrifiers (that means educated white people with good jobs), they should read this. The old Petworth I had heard about before and after WWII was mostly Jewish. I hadn't realized there were large numbers of Irish and other whites also living here. Sure, I knew about the so-called blockbusting. So if Petworth is coming full circle, so what? No one has ever shown to me what harm is being done by white people moving into Petworth or other parts of DC, areas whites abandoned because of crime and fear decades ago. And the longtime resident argument only goes back so far. "

Many neighborhoods in cities up north and in the midwest were once predominantly white areas.....even south bronx NY was once mostly jews and italians......the longtime resident argument only goes so far but lets see.....the people in petworth pre-gentrification lived there when no one else wanted to touch the place with a 20 foot pole....the people that lived there before the blacks moved in CHOSE to leave @ THEIR OWN WILL! The people in parts of petworth (and gentrification is not NEARLY as bad there as it is in other parts of town) that are being gentrified are only leaving because their being forced out by high prices.....the main outrage over gentrification is that the people who lived in the area when everyone else avoided it cant enjoy the benefits of an improving neighborhood. because white people with well-paying white collar jobs (although there are yuppies of color that come in as well) are moving in, all of a sudden the city services that were WITHDRAWN years ago are suddenly coming back with a vengeance. meanwhile, the people that lived there for years get pushed out and because of their limited means, end up in another shitty neighborhood except this time its isolated in suburbia (*cough SUITLAND cough CAPITOL HEIGHTS cough*) with not only poor city services, but the public transportation is not even good....so even getting around is a pain in the a$$.....if it could be where the educated people coexist with the poor residents who were there for years, with both parties enjoying improved city services, there wouldnt be nearly as much outrage......
this area is a predominantly working class black and hispanic area...........so if the restaurants are not good enough for you and u want the amentities of Dupont Circle either start your own cocktail lounge or go downtown and STFU!

Petworth is probably the only area seeing any real gentrification and thats only around petworth station....most of the area is only served by the 70,71 and 79 buses on GA ave......most yuppies dont wanna take buses, esp. crowded buses that dont come all that frequently and are full of loud HS kids.....

Great area for mom and pop restaurants though!
Gimmie a break. no nightlife? Red Derby Hat on upper 14th is one of the coolest bars in the city. This guy has no idea what he is talking about. If I was writing this, I think I would have ventured beyond wikipedia to back up my work.
Red derby does kinda rock!Better they hate Petworth and stay away..

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