Sacramento Brookland, University Heights

Darrow Montgomery

There’s no point in moving to Brookland and then complaining there’s nothing to do. The point of Brookland is that it’s a quiet community—move here and you have a yard, a favorite greasy spoon, a tiki bar and tavern, your house and garden, your neighbors, and your 15-minute Metro ride downtown. If you come out here intending to keep up your Adams Morgan lifestyle, well, wait another 10 or 15 years for the planned big apartment complexes to fill up and you might get it.

For now, sit back and marvel at the godliness of the place. Right off the Brookland Metro stop, behold Catholic University of America (CUA), with its manicured campus and beautiful buildings, not to mention its tasty cafeteria and eclectic bookstore, where you can read tracts on hell and pamphlets describing the Pope’s antipathy toward the Freemasons. The nearby impressive Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception—another of the 60-odd religious institutions in Brookland—has an intricate roof that makes the skyline awfully pretty.

A mile or so from CUA is the Franciscan Monastery, and its gardens, and its crypts, and its collection of religious replicas which includes a replica crown of thorns. Franciscans, as a brown-robe-clad friar on the monastery’s grounds will explain, are charged with preserving Catholic sites and relics, as well as working up interest in visits to the Holy Land. Brookland’s monastery was built in 1899 so that people who couldn’t make the journey to the Holy Land could at least see what they were missing, the friar explains.

The monastery’s gardeners will claim that the monastery’s rose garden is the largest rose garden in D.C., but the friar will disagree, claiming the National Arboretum’s is bigger. Whoever’s right, the garden is wonderful to walk through, as are the Stations of the Cross, replica tombs, and the replica grotto out back. You can take a tour of the monastery—along with hundreds of eighth-graders on school trips—and of the catacombs, which are modeled after the catacombs of Rome. Also, you can enjoy the monastery’s bookstore/gift shop, where plastic statues of saints can be had for a dollar.

Between the university and the shrine is a neighborhood of old houses—bungalows, Victorians, some large, some small, some round-shaped and painted green (no, really)—and families who have lived in these houses for generations. There are oddball religious bookstores tucked into houses, a massage joint that is done up like a tropical getaway, a home-based art gallery, and an acclaimed dance studio. There is the main commercial drag—12th Street—which feels run down but promising, with a hardware store, a Yes! Natural Market, a CVS, a coffee shop, an immigration-themed restaurant, a dive bar with an open-mic night, and some guys selling T-shirts and incense off a folding table.

Jo Moore and her husband moved to Brookland 30 years ago because they wanted a yard—not a postage-stamp city yard, a real yard—and they got one, which Moore has been gardening in ever since.

Moore says that the neighborhood is wonderful for its community, the kind of place where gossip gets passed around both on Listservs and in backyards, and where people will shovel their neighbors’ driveways.

And despite all the city’s changes, Moore says this neighborhood hasn’t changed a whole lot since she and her husband arrived. “We sort of thought when the Metro opened that 12th Street would change,” she says. “That didn’t happen.”

The neighborhood, Moore says, is still diverse and welcomes its smattering of newcomers—including gay couples with kids who’ve bought houses in Brookland, as well as single people buying their own bungalows. “Mostly what brings people together is they love the trees, love the gardening,” she says. “It’s just a very accepting area. People don’t get into your business. They look out for each other, but they don’t care what color you paint your house. It’s nice. It’s not fancy, but it’s just a nice place to live.”

The nabe is a nice place to live with a great local pub, Colonel Brooks Tavern, named after the neighborhood’s founder, Col. Jehiel Brooks, who built a huge mansion on a huge plot of land in the 1830s, then sold off large portions of the plot to CUA for developments beginning in 1887.

Every Tuesday night, a New Orleans-style band plays at the tavern, and every Tuesday night a big group of locals and others comes to the tavern to listen and dance, drink the good beer, and eat the fried food. Attached to the tavern is the neighborhood tiki bar, Island Jim’s, which serves a mean zombie and has a man-made beach with sand, deck chairs, and umbrellas. But get there quick if you want to sit in the sand. Island Jim’s has been sold to condo developers.

Touchstones

• Dance Place moved to Brookland in 1986, forced out by the high rents of Adams Morgan. Its performances, resident companies, and classes for kids and adults are expanding. New space is planned for Brookland in 2009.

• Col. Jehiel Brooks was a gentleman farmer on the 200-some acres of land his house is built on. But he was more than a mere raiser of tomatoes—Brooks also negotiated treaties and land sales with Native Americans in Louisiana (and was sued over these same dealings), wrote a treaty on laws dealing with fugitive labor, and—perhaps most scandalously—was a Confederate sympathizer who objected to the Union Army’s activities at nearby Fort Bunker Hill during the Civil War. His house, which fell into disrepair for many years and was the object of a massive neighborhood preservation effort, is now used as the headquarters for public access station DCTV.

• The monastery’s Rosary Walk, one of the city’s nicest places for prayer or meditation, includes stops that represent each important bead of the rosary. But non-rosary types can enjoy the fine artwork, instructive signs, and proximity to the lovely rose garden.

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

Our Readers Say

As a 4th Generation Washingtonian who was raised in this neighborhood in the same place where his mother was raised, I find this article insulting and out of touch. You can tell it was done by someone who has no real connection with this community. First off you talk about the area but fail to mention that a good part of the area is actually not Brookland but part of what is called Michigan Park including the area around Catholic and the Franciscan which is across the street from my family home.

Second you talk about 12th street and how it is hood an old, but did nothing to mention the history of the places such as the Brookland Barbershop which has been around for too many years to count or the CVS which sits in an old theater. You left out the history of Brookland Elementary which is one of the only few open space schools in the city or the new Recreation Center at Turkey Thicket.

You then go into saying there are no places to eat but leave out the Cardinal's Nest, Ellis Island which will soon be reopen or large amount of take out places and small eat ins along 12th street.

Next time you pick a community such as this one with families who have been there for not 30 years, but 50 and more, I suggest you dig a little deeper to get a better understanding of what the neighborhood is. Or stop by a place like Brookland Barbershop and talk to someone like Willie Garold or Mike, who have been cutting hair in that area for almost 20 years and guys at Brookland Hardware or the retro Fire Station.....you totally took away from the character and history of my home to white wash it and make this about Catholic and the Franciscan which is not what this community is about. You leave out Howard University Divinity School which is next door to the Franciscan but I guess that is too hood for you as well.
CR

I have lived in this area for 40 years. The public schools here launched one of the largest bastion of well educated and successful people in the city.
Many of us attended Georgetown, GW, Howard, Princeton, Harvard, and other Ivy League and historically Black Universities and Colleges . We are not looking for Adams Morgan.This is a single family home neighborhood. We welcome a diverse population. We are Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, old and young, and gay and straight.
We have a diverse commercial shopping strip along 12th St. Yes Foods recently opened a store across form the new PNC Bank. We have mutiple denominations churches .
There are several Universities and Schools of Higher Education in the area.
Stay out of our hood ,keep your big condo buildings and fights outside the bars and saloon because we are proud of our community.
This article is way off topic, and its a shame how you used Turkey Thicket in the headline in order to grab the public's attention on possibly "The lost neighborhood" in DC that no one has discovered. Its a good thing to recognize whats going on in the city, but please do more research the next time and know your facts! University Heights is mentioned under the area, but you fail to mention anything about it. Maybe you should have included the fact that not to many people "True locals of DC" even know where University Heights is. You also failed to explain how Taylor street runs thru the heart of "Sacramento" and how it's a major connector of MD, NE, & NW with a lot of traffic passing thru daily. The Brookland neighborhood is one of the most quiet eye-popper places in the city.
Humor people!

Brookland is a great neighborhood, friendly people, lots of families, relatively safe, and most of its residents i believe are the type of folks to understand that a City Paper profile about our neighborhood, (and all others) in DC is an excercise in equal parts wit, funniness, sarcasm, and a grain of truth.
This article was very accurate and a great description of brookland. The only thing missing from it was how much crime happens in the area, particularly against Catholic University students. It left out how a federal marshall was shot in the face in 2007 on campus. It leaves out how students have been shot by residents of Brookland. Brookland is not a great community for families, but is has potential to be a great family environment. The only thing holding it back from being one of the most sought after and great neighborhoods of DC is the bigot black residents that reside there and cause trouble for those who want to improve the area!

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