The Beauty of Paying Attention

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May 18, 2014, Washington, DC: Sunday morning. Paul Simon plays softly on the record player. I open the front door to retrieve the Sunday Times. I look left and right in awe of the colorful rose bushes that have overtaken in my neighbors’ little yards up and down the block. White tents rise at Eastern Market across the park. Pancakes, crepes and homemade donuts are being prepared for the morning crowd. Inside the house, coffee brews and our newborn rests peacefully in my arms, soothed by Simon’s lullabies: “Was a sunny day, not a cloud was in the sky, not a negative word was heard, from the people passing by…”  I open the newspaper to “36 Hours on Capitol Hill,” delighted that today my favorite section of the paper features my favorite neighborhood. I watch the places referenced in the article stir to life from the front door. My stomping grounds are truly as good as New Yorkers have made them out to be.

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Someplace Good for Business

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This is one in a series featuring our city neighborhoods and the people who love them. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomads.

April 29, 2014, Washington, DC: It doesn’t take long after meeting local business owner Matt Weiss that we’re deep in conversation about the power of a good location and a belief in this neighborhood. We’re sitting in a Capitol Hill basement known as the Elixir Bar within Weiss’ new establishment, Barrel, a whiskey joint on the 600 block of Pennsylvania Ave. SE. We’re in agreement that this is a curious block. For years, the turnover on this stretch was rampant despite its geographical allure as a strip of the city that connects the bars and restaurants closest to the US Capitol with those on Barracks Row and at Eastern Market. The block is home to a post office, an old mattress store and a realtor’s office, but hasn’t been much of a hub for good food and drink. And yet within the last two years, there’s been a noticeable shift. This stretch is now offering a bit more connectivity with the addition of new bars and restaurants including Hank’s Oyster Bar, Beuchert’s Saloon, Sona Creamery, and now, as of three weeks ago, Barrel.

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History Of A House

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March 11, 2014, Washington, DC: Our new house is older than we imagined. The real estate listing noted it was built in 1906, but during the home inspection, we were told it could very well be older. The inspector reported that judging from the foundation beneath the house, the home may have been raised up 6 feet or so, perhaps around the date listed, but chances are it was built earlier, likely at the same time as the shorter homes on either side of it. The homes built on Capitol Hill in the late 1800s , he said, often housed workers continuing to construct the US Capitol Building. Fascinating, right? That this house may have stood here as the statue was heaved atop a new Capitol dome or as painter Constantino Brumidi finished his fresco in the Rotunda beneath?

It turns out the inspector was right. A few days ago, one of our new neighbors dropped off an incredible packet of house history, completed by a man named Paul K. Williams who has made a business of researching local homes. His findings relay the story of these six homes in a row, built all at once and originally of wood by an Irishman named Patrick McCormick sometime between 1860 and 1869. Public records reveal ours received the makeover that sets it apart from the others on this row around 1899, and that it was one of three Patrick kept for various members of his family. One of his sons, Thomas, who operated a carriage making business across town with his twin brother, lived here with five of his seven children around 1900, just a few doors down from his older brother Michael.

To place the people who lived here before us in the context of history is truly unbelievable. What might those earlier occupants have seen out these windows and throughout the neighborhood? Could workers have been hammering away on constructing our home that evening in 1865 when John Wilkes Booth sped through the neighborhood on his escape from Ford Theater? Did Patrick venture over to Eastern Market to shop there on opening day 1873? Could he have known groundbreaking journalist Emily Edson Briggs who lived in the Maples just a few blocks away? Might his sons have crossed paths with John Philip Sousa as children?

House history is as captivating as a family tree. Though not connected by blood, we have joined a lineage of people connected by place. In this strange sense, we are family, brought together under one roof over the course of 150+ years.

How much do you know about the history of your home? We’d love to hear what you’ve learned in the Comments section below.

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Best & Worst of 2013: The View from the Neighborhood

Supreme Court, DOMA, March 27, 2013, Photo Credit: Kate Barrett Gallery, Neighborhood Nomads

December 31, 2013: It was the year tragedy blanketed Boston and royal baby fervor gripped London, the year Toronto cringed with embarrassment and New York embraced pedal power. It was the year that wrapped with good people like Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis winning the day over less admirable personas like Miley Cyrus and Lance Armstrong. But for all the far-flung ruckus, it was a year in which we didn’t need to look far for national and local headlines. In 2013, the scoop was right here under our noses within a two-mile radius of home.

Inauguration 2013, Washington, DC

The Renewal: Inauguration Day

President Obama was sworn into his second term in office on January 21, 2013. About one million people attended the festivities.

Related Posts:
Miles from Monday: Inauguration Day (January 21, 2013)
Inauguration Through the Eyes of a DC Neighbor (January 19, 2013)

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Supreme Court, DOMA, March 27, 2013, Photo Credit: Kate Barrett Gallery

The High Point: Supreme Court Gay Marriage Arguments

In March, two watershed gay marriage cases were argued back-to-back before the Supreme Court. I snapped this photo of plaintiff Edie Windsor, the woman challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, leaving the Court on March 27, 2013. The gay marriage victory came down in June; in December, Windsor was named TIME’s #3 Person of the Year behind Pope Francis and Edward Snowden.

Related Posts:
Two Moments, One Movement (March 27, 2013)
Big News in the Neighborhood (March 26, 2013)

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The Fire: Beloved Local Business Goes Up in Flames

A massive fire at Frager’s Hardware, a 93-year-old Capitol Hill institution, devastated the neighborhood on June 5, 2013, just as I was exiting a nearby Metro station. The store has since set up shop on the empty lot at Eastern Market, the same lot that became a temporary home to the market after its own fire in 2007.

Related Posts:
Rallying Around Frager’s (June 8, 2013)

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The Water: Kayak Rental Opens on the Anacostia River

While the Nationals didn’t provide the Navy Yard with any welcome headlines this summer, investments in the adjacent Anacostia River most certainly did. In late July, Ballpark Boathouse began offering the river’s first kayak rentals, a highlight among many commitments to DC’s other river.

Related Posts:
A Warm Welcome to Ballpark Boathouse (July 20, 2013)
This is Our Anacostia River (May 24, 2013)

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The Tragedy: Navy Yard Shooting

On September 16, 2013, a gunman killed twelve people at the Washington Navy Yard. Neighborhood schools and businesses were locked down as the tragedy was unfolding, giving the local community its own brush with the workplace and school shootings that have hurt far too many in recent years.

Related Posts:
Glimmers of Hope on the Hill (October 4, 2013)

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The Dysfunction: Government Shutdown

Plagued by an inability to compromise, the US government shut down from October 1st through October 16th, 2013. The shutdown furloughed approximately 800,000 people and cost an estimated $24 billion. It also left neighbors growing beards and looking for drinks, and drew attention to DC’s lack of autonomy from the federal government.

Related Posts:
Shutdown in the City: District Blues (October 8, 2013)
Shutdown in the City: An Ugly Sight (October 1, 2013)
Same Old Song and Dance (September 26, 2013)

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The Projects: VA Ave. Tunnel

Construction projects in fast-growing Washington, DC packed local headlines in 2013. Among them is community concern over the reconstruction of the CSX Virginia Avenue Tunnel that runs nine blocks between the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and Navy Yard. Health and safety worries about carrying hazardous materials through an open trench, as well as concerns about a potential lack of access to the neighborhood during construction, brought neighbors together for a notable meeting in late November 2013.

On tap for 2014: Far more conversations about neighborhood health and safety, drama and milestones, development and density, connectivity and public space, including projects at Eastern Market Metro Plaza, Hine School, 11th St. Bridge Park and more… 

Lincoln Park, Early December

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December 8, 2013, Washington, DC: Apparently I have a thing for places called Lincoln Park. I lived in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago as a graduate student several years ago and spent many wonderful days before and after the temperatures dropped biking through the park itself to reach the path along the lake. These days I frequent Lincoln Park in DC on my regular running route through Capitol Hill.

Beautiful things happen in this Lincoln Park: ordinary, simple, everyday things. Parents converge on its playgrounds with their little ones, older kids play football in the wide open central space, dog owners huddle holding cups of hot coffee. P&C market on the corner facing the park is the only place in town I can find my favorite type of yogurt, and some of the wide wintery brownstones surrounding Lincoln Park remind me of Chicago itself. In the summer, sunbathers and readers stretch out on blankets in the grass and a rag tag, not entirely legal, fireworks display brings neighbors together on the 4th. I always get the feeling this park truly belongs to its neighbors and they take good care of it.

An article I read earlier this week about the value of shared neighborhood spaces and our role in making them better made me reflect on my frequent runs throughout this neighborhood gem. What struck me was an observation in the article, published by the Project for Public Spaces, about “the tendency of people (particularly in the developed world) to see regulations where they don’t exist.”

“After decades of society turning its back on public life in favor of the private realm of home, office, and car, a lot of people now feel that they need permission to use public spaces the way they’d like to,” its author stated. “We can give that permission to each other.”

I do get the feeling that we have that kind of permission in Lincoln Park more so than elsewhere. I appreciate that runners have carved out a dirt jogging path that parallels the sidewalk and that someone has painted the tree roots there with reflective paint for those days when the sun sets early. I have seen the beauty of the everyday unfold here in all sorts of weather except for one… I can only imagine how the neighbors will make this place come alive in the snow.

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Someplace Happy

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October 26, 2013, Washington, DC: I picked up this letterpress print Sunday afternoon at Eastern Market and I am in love. Melissa of Grey Moggie Press sells them for various DC neighborhoods, from Brookland to Shaw to Logan Circle, and her work is simply beautiful. Some of it is also quite funny. I had to resist buying a few more prints that said thing like, “Have you tried it with bacon?,” and “Smile. Ryan Gosling exists.”

But this print was a must because, as you know, Capitol Hill is my happy place. (Yes, so is San Francisco.) It makes me happy when I walk around the corner to pick up dinner at Nooshi or stroll home from an evening art class at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop or jog through the neighborhood just to marvel at the architecture. The neighborhood even makes me smile when I step outside into a dark weekday morning just as the late October sun is coming up out there past the Hill Center and the Anacostia River. And if someplace makes you happy before sunrise and coffee on a Monday morning, it’s likely worth sticking around.

Does your neighborhood make you happy? Where are your happiest places? Share them with Neighborhood Nomads in the comments below.

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Churches of Capitol Hill

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October 20, 2013, Washington, DC: Ever walk past the same structures again and again only to look up one day and notice something striking? That’s the manner in which I’ve started to notice the churches of Capitol Hill. There are literally hundreds of them in this big old neighborhood, upwards of 20 within a six-block radius of home. I can hear their bells ringing from our kitchen and listen to singing voices burst from them as I’m jogging past. Several are cores of activity, a few were renovated into condos years ago. Most, I imagine, house great community stories, both past and present.

I’ve taken pictures of them here and there when the light seems unusually flattering or soft or the outline of the church appears especially bold against a severe blue sky. This morning I set out on a purposeful walk to photograph the others. I zigzagged throughout the immediate neighborhood between 2nd and 9th Sts., only as far north as Massachusetts Ave. NE and as far south as G St. SE. Sometimes I’ve gone out searching for something specific only to have it elude me, but not this morning: At every turn was another church of another denomination and another architectural style that I pass by daily without much thought. Here are a handful of my church photos collected during walks around the neighborhood…

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