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Woodley and Cleveland Parks – Washington DC


Woodley and Cleveland Parks, the twin neighboring residential districts in northwest Washington, provide an area of comfortable living.

The focus of these neighborhoods has always been to offer busy Washingtonians a lovely and convenient place to live. Not having to compete with either federal or district government buildings, commercial real estate and other downtown attractions, the Parks, since their inceptions, have been a haven for those who want city-life but not the hustle and bustle of the more urban areas in the District.

Woodley Park

The neighborhood now known as Woodley Park was founded in 1800, shortly after an uncle of Francis Scott Key purchased a 250-acre tract of land in suburban Washington. Naming the estate “Woodley” from which the neighborhood derives its name, much of the parcel remained intact for nearly a century. Only modest building occured through the mid-19th century. Then, in 1888, an art collector, by the name of Thomas Waggaman and a local businessman called John Ridout developed the land into small lots along Woodley Road. Afterwards, more houses arrived to the area.

At the turn of the 20th century, the neighborhood was still modest in size. This was primarily due to the inaccessibility of the downtown area from the region. Although, a wooden bridge connected Woodley Park to Washington proper, a need for a more sturdy and reliable bridge mounted. Around 1900, the wooden bridge was torn down and the “Million Dollar Bridge” was erected. This expensive bridge, made of unrefined concrete, was named after President William Howard Taft and provided the vital connection the area needed to the rest of the city After its completion, the neighborhood expanded with more residential housing to offer and more Washingtonians giving Woodley Park a second look.

One attraction did stand out, which was at odds with the make-up of the area. Although it was housing, the residents were not in human form. In 1889, the Smithsonian Institution purchased a large tract of land with the intention of creating a refuge for endangered animals. This refuge would turn into America’s National Zoo (which still operates from its original location on Connecticut Avenue and attracts millions of visitors per year) and is a hallmark of the neighborhood.

On the eve of the 20th century, as Washington continued its expansion, so too did the need for housing. The period of 1905-1910 saw a wave of residential building. The new bridge made the neighborhood more accessible and within five years, nearly 150, three to four story townhouses were constructed. But, some craved smaller spaces and non-permanent dwellings. Apartment buildings entered the scene. In 1914, the first apartment building appeared at 2812 Connecticut Avenue. Designed by Frank Russel White, it was the first multi-unit building to offer small residences to the public in the area. The building still stands today. Woodley Park was becoming recognized as a respectable residential neighborhood, with street upon tree-lined street of middle and upper-middle class houses.

For nearly fifty years, the focus of the Woodley Park neighborhood had been residential in nature and it continued well into the coming decades. The neighborhood experienced a real estate boom between 1920 and 1950. Developing and expanding quickly, row houses, single-family dwellings, apartments and residential hotels overtook the area. It became fashionable to live in this neighborhood even though it was not one of the most convenient in the District. But, it was only the 1930’s that brought commercial development to the area. Need for shops and services trumped zoning regulations and soon Connecticut Avenue became a miniature beehive of consumer activity. Grocery stores, drugstores, doctor offices, a beauty shop, hat shop and liquor store opened on the avenue, servicing those who lived in the area. More Washingtonians chose Woodley Park as their place of residence, which brought more shops and diners. Embassies started to make the neighborhood their homes. The Swiss moved into three buildings on Cathedral Avenue. They were followed by the Panamanians and the Embassy of Benin, which moved into 2737 Cathedral, where it remains today.

Also, in 1930, the Omni-Shoreham Hotel opened its doors to provide homes for transient government officials and out-of-town guests. Featuring 132 apartments and 250 hotel rooms, the scale of the building, for Washington, was massive. Guests could entertain themselves in the hotel’s nightclub and the Omni-Shoreham terrace dancing pavilion was popular not just with residents of the hotel. Well-heeled Washingtonians regularly trekked to the spot to dine and dance the night away.

Likewise, the Wardman Park Hotel – Wardman’s Folly (now the Marriott), found raging success in the neighborhood. When development of the site was originally speculated, conventional wisdom of the time advised against it. The hotel would be too far away from downtown Washington to offer convenience. However, its luxury and amenities stood out and most of its 1,200 suites and rooms were constantly booked. The tea room held 100, and many fashionable Washington women sipped Earl Grey from the hotel’s tiny, porcelain cups. The dining room seated 500 and offered a great meeting place outside of downtown. During World War II, the hotel served as a conference area for generals, admirals, legislators, diplomats and the media. And, in the 1960’s, the Wardman Park Hotel gained a nationwide audience as the location of the popular Arthur Murray Dance Program. The development of both the Omni-Shoreham and Wardman’s Folly developed the neighborhood’s new identity as one of the “it” places of Washington.

Throughout the rest of the 20th and into the 21st century, the Woodley Park neighborhood has enjoyed a fine reputation and is a sought-after zip code for residents of Washington. The area continues to be dynamic and offers a host of restaurants, pubs and Mom and Pop shops.

Those denizens interested in a solid steak-house do not need to journey downtown but stop off at Stone’s Throw Restaurant and Bar. Petits Plats and District Kitchen offer more casual dining to those who may want to take a night off from the kitchen. And, of course, Roberts Restaurant and the Omni Shoreham is still a local favorite.

For denizens of Woodley that wish to spend a day browsing in their neighborhood, Trocadero Textile Art, Le Parisien Furs and Antiques Anonymous beckon them inside. The mandatory Starbucks have settled into the neighborhood along with the CVS and local florists, markets and hair salons. And, of course, when walking along Connecticut Avenue, something will always catch a fancy.

Cleveland Park

Like its sister neighborhood Woodley Park, Cleveland Park was founded as a single estate. A 998-acre farm, comprising most of today’s neighborhood, is believed to have been established circa 1740. The oldest house in the area, Rosedale, was built in 1794 by Uriah Forrestre, a friend of George Washington. The building, which occupied 3501 Newark Street, became one of the few residences of what is now Cleveland Park.

For nearly a century and a half following its establishment, the area remained virtually untouched. Then, slow development arrived through large estates. Alexander Graham Bell owned one such estate. In 1881, Bell used the $10,000 award for winning France’s Volta Prize to set up the Volta Laboratory in Washington. Working with his cousin, Chichester Bell and associate Charles Sumner Tainter, they produced major improvements on Thomas Edison’s phonograph that became commercially viable. It was in this neighborhood that Bell chose to live.

Some of these estates were actually “summer homes” for those who wanted a respite from the harsh summer heat of downtown Washington. President Grover Cleveland, from whom the neighborhood received its name, owned one such summer home and regularly retreated to it. Tregaron, a neo-classical, brick mansion, became the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, after she returned to the District following her husband’s posting as Ambassador to Russia. The General Foods heiress and wealthiest woman in America (worth $250M) attached a Russian style dacha to the grounds and Tragaron became one of the most prime pieces of real estate in Washington. Unfortunately, the only remaining example of these summer homes is Twin Oaks, which was built in 1888 at 3225 Woodley Road. (Most of these homes were razed as the neighborhood reclaimed blocks of land for redevelopment to quench the city’s real estate boom of the mid-20th century.)

Records, circa 1900, indicate that only 60 houses created this neighborhood. This remained so, with the area maintaining its rural ambiance well into the 1940’s. It was the post-war development craze of Washington that spawned the modern day neighborhood of Cleveland Park. Within a decade, townhouses, apartment buildings and single-family residences flooded the scene. As Washington pushed its natural boundaries further afield, residents looked for new housing choices and many landed in the neighborhood. Shops and service firms also moved in, creating an enclave of city-living with a pure residential atmosphere. The feel of Cleveland Park, more of a suburban than a city neighborhood, drew many away from the downtown, established areas. Soon, it became a flourishing neighborhood that rivaled others of the District.

In 1936, a new resident came to the neighborhood, which remains not only one of Cleveland Park’s gems but of the entire city. The Uptown Theater, an historic single-screen movie cinema, opened on October 29th. Designed by architect John Zink, the film house originally sat 1,120 moviegoers and soon became the principal theater of Washington. It remained so featuring world premiers and limited run feature films (such as Star Wars on May 25, 1977 – it was only one of 32 houses to show the movie nationwide) through the turn of the 21st century.

But, the Uptown is not the only architectural draw to the neighborhood. Arthur Heaton’s nationally-acclaimed design for the Park & Shop, one of the nation’s first automobile-oriented shopping centers (3507 Connecticut Ave.) was born here. And, I.M. Pei, the internationally-renowned China-born architect designed the house at 3411 Ordway Street in 1962. The neighborhood is also home to the designs of Winthrop Faukner, a Washington based architect, who designed the Great Ape Amphitheater at the National Zoo and part of the United States Embassy compound in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Since its inception, Cleveland Park has been a neighborhood that has stressed the residential aspect of its development. This continues through today. The area is still home to fine townhouses and condominium buildings and still offers residents a host of treats by merely stepping outside their doors.

The neighborhood holds diverse restaurants. In the mood for Indian food? Indique is one of the best in the city. Maybe Italian or Spanish cuisines? Try Dino or Pulpo. Of course, we can’t forget Lavandou (French) and Ardeo & Bardeo (American), which are neighborhood favorites. Carribean, Thai and other Asian eateries dot the landscape. While the choices are both varied and plenty, Cleveland Park is unassuming, which is a highlight of its character.

Community means something in Cleveland Park. Neighbors know each other and chat along the streets. Backyard barbeques are as common as meeting up for drinks. Dogs meander along the sidewalks enjoying an afternoon walk. It is comfortable and telling and not surprising that so many in Washington choose to make Cleveland Park their home.

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