City Hike: Follow That Crowd

Cherry Blossoms DC, April '14, Credit: Kate Gallery, Neighborhood Nomads

Cherry Blossoms DC, April '14, Credit: Kate Gallery, Neighborhood Nomads

April 15, 2014, Washington, DC:  Washingtonians often remark how much they hate tourist season, but once in awhile it’s wise to keep the opinions to yourself and follow that crowd. The tourists of April are onto something here: a refreshing tradition that celebrates the arrival of spring with an explosion of pink. Sure, cherry blossoms are scattered throughout the city and we don’t need to head specifically to the Tidal Basin to catch a glimpse, but isn’t it nice to get caught up once in awhile in the spirit of something you wouldn’t necessarily do at home? A total mob scene, but a joyous one, and boy, is it beautiful.

Taking a cue from heaps of visitors, Sunday’s city hike took us on a walk down Capitol Hill straight to a Tidal Basin filled with paddle boats. We ducked through family photographs and slipped through crowds jam-packed along the sidewalks before turning east along the waterfront for a walk around Washington’s south side. Crowds thinning as we strolled past the marina and an already smelly fish market in the heat of the day, we continued past construction advertisements along the Southwest Waterfront, alongside Arena Stage and beyond the shiny new buildings of M St. SW. We detoured after crossing South Capitol back into the quadrant where we live, taking the long way through L’Enfant Plaza and between DC’s federal buildings, then going against the grain back up Capitol Hill and arriving home.

Soon enough, blooms will disappear, heat will weigh on us, tourists will vanish, and traffic will subside. In no time flat, the city will be ours again and we’ll be glad we followed that crowd while it lasted.

Cherry Blossoms DC, April '14, Credit: Kate Gallery, Neighborhood Nomads

History Of A House


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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Emerging from Hibernation

Photo by Kate Gallery, Neighborhood NomadsMarch 4, 2014, Washington, DC: You can hear a snow day before you see it. That busy city street out the bedroom window is still, too still, the moment you open your eyes. Something is off kilter and a peek through the blinds confirms it. It’s a weekday morning in the city and not a neighbor is in sight upon a hushed blanket of white.

But this morning those days are behind us. They must be. It is time. The neighborhood sounds different — the passing of tentative cars, the crackle of salt beneath heavy boots, a bird chirping and engines warming as the scraping begins. Washington is moving on. It is ready for St. Patrick’s Day and one more hour of daylight, for riding bicycles and Nationals’ Opening Day.

I feel disconnected from my Washington in winter. Cold days and early nights interfere with the way I interact with my surroundings. Instead of walking three short blocks to the Metro at Eastern Market, I get in the car out front and blast the heat. Instead of exploring new restaurants and visiting friends in other neighborhoods, we stay indoors or choose the closest place in sight. Our social scene slows to a crawl, the circle through which we move tightens to near suffocation. In the indoor exercise classes that replace outdoor runs and rides, I’m reminded that stillness can be more difficult than movement, on both our muscles and on our minds. This winter’s stillness has been excruciating.

But soon the ground will thaw and I won’t mind walking to the Metro or waiting for the bus. I might wander through the city without shivering, no specific destination planned. Not long now before those of us who have spent months hibernating will emerge back into the city and find it just how we left it, full of fascinating people and movement and life.

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Photo by Kate Gallery, Neighborhood Nomads

Snow Day Reading: On Street Life, Hipsters and Brunch

jason grant a place called home

February 14, 2014, Washington, DC: I’m continuously inspired by the writers and thinkers who record their observations about the power of place and our changing cities. Two years ago, I posted a list called, ‘Writing About Place: A Reading List’ on my blog, Neighborhood Nomads. I’ve updated it intermittently in the Comments section since, and invite you to comment with your own recommendations today.

Here are some of the words that have crept up since my last update, now added to the running list. They’re long overdue odds and ends, all worth a read on an icy winter day…

Continue reading

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)


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.

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



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.

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Rallying Around Frager’s (June 8, 2013)



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.

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


Navy Yard DC

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.

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



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.

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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)



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… 

Endless Summer, DC-Style

potomac river, august 2013

September 4, 2013, Washington, DC: Who says summer has to end so abruptly? Just because pools close and schools open doesn’t mean we can’t hang on, with as tight a grip as possible, to all that is good and happy about June, July and August. Outside this evening, my street is absolutely buzzing with the buggy sounds of summer and the night sky remains bright as we walk around the block after dinner. Just like summer, crowds have gravitated to the benches outside Pitango Gelato with their strollers and bicycles parked nearby, while others sip white wine outside Montmarte and a musician entertains on the corner by the Metro. A few miles away, DC’s urban rivers are open for business and will stay that way awhile longer, with kayak and paddleboard rentals available until sunset for at least another month or so. Tonight it’s a relief to know that scenes like this one that I photographed Monday on the Potomac will remain fixtures here in Washington until well after Labor Day. Tonight, walking up 7th St., it’s comforting to recall that this is what a flawless night at the height of summer feels like in many less humid parts of the country, and that there’s no need to rush ahead into the shorter days of autumn.

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A Warm Welcome to Ballpark Boathouse

Ballpark Boathouse, July 2013, Washington, DC

July 20, 2013, Washington, DC: DC’s first kayak rental facility on the Anacostia River opened today and needless to say, I am so excited. The dock is tucked right there in the shadow of Nationals Park and it’s called Ballpark Boathouse. Seriously. These are a few of my favorite things. As I paddled back into the dock this afternoon, I could hear a test run of the National Anthem beginning over the loudspeakers in preparation for this evening’s ballgame. Immediately, all of us there began excitedly brainstorming about enjoying night games on the water. When I lived in San Francisco, I thought McCovey Cove just outside the ballpark was one of the coolest spots in the city, and now we have someplace similar to paddle in DC.

Not only does Ballpark Boathouse combine some of my favorite elements of DC life, it’s also the result of a year of hard work by many, including Neighborhood Nomad David Garber. About a year and a half ago, David contributed to the blog to share why he loves where he lives, and we can now count Ballpark Boathouse as one more reason to spend time in Navy Yard. It’s been uplifting to see this neighborhood adjacent to my own developing in recent years and I’ll certainly be taking advantage of someplace to paddle closer to home.

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Ballpark Boathouse, July 2013, Washington, DC