Today we began walking in Spring Valley. Our exploration started in the northern part of the neighborhood, consisting primarily of large brick houses on winding roads. They look as though they were built as part of a single development in the late eighties or early nineties. The development does not appear to have included the planting of street trees. Hence, there was little shade, making walking on a hot and humid day much less pleasant.
We once again ventured into Chevy Chase, passing by this recently built residential building that looks as if it would be more at home in Miami than on upper Connecticut Avenue.
We made our way across to Broad Branch Road which constitutes the eastern border of upper Ward 3. Across from Lafayette Elementary School is The Broad Branch Market, the kind of general store that every neighborhood should have.
Chevy Chase Circle sits on the border between the District and Maryland. Two major roads, Connecticut Avenue and Western Avenue, cross it, along with a couple of smaller streets, so it is always busy. In the middle of the Circle is a fountain named for Francis Griffith Newlands, a congressman who was a leading figure in the development of upper northwest DC. We’ve always been too scared to brave the traffic flowing around the Circle to get a closer look, but it looks beautiful from a distance.
Sitting around the Circle are a number of beautiful churches, which give the area a distinctly English air.
Just down from the Circle on Connecticut Avenue is the Avalon Theatre. The theater was built in 1922 and is the city’s oldest continuously operating neighborhood theatre. After it was abruptly closed in 2001, a community grassroots effort formed to restore and reopen the theater. it now offers a diverse range of movies. We encourage you to support the theatre by donating to the non-profit that runs the theatre or attending movies there. http://www.theavalon.org
Today we headed east and across Connecticut Avenue into Chevy Chase. Contrary to what you might think, Chevy Chase is not named after the American comedian. Rather, it is named after an old ballad celebrating a famous British battle. http://www.chevychasehistory.org Chevy Chase is similar in many respects to the AU Park and Friendship Heights neighborhoods, with moderate sized family homes on quiet tree-lined streets. Every once in a while, however, you come across a house that is not like the others. This one seemed strangely reminiscent of a Star Wars helmet.
During our walks, we have come across many signs with a liberal bent but had yet to come across a MAGA sign. We thought we had finally found one until we looked more closely.
We decided to stay close to home today, walking up to the Friendship Heights shops that line both sides of Wisconsin Avenue and straddle the District – Maryland border.
Lining the west side of Wisconsin Avenue is Mazza Gallery, a mall that is anchored by a Neiman Marcus store but also includes a number of other stores, fast food restaurants, and an AMC movie complex. The mall opened in 1978 and was renovated in the late 1990s. The results proved disappointing. As with the rest of Friendship Heights, Mazza is a strange mix of upmarket stores such as Neiman’s and Saks and discount stores such as T.J. Maxx.
Across Wisconsin Avenue from Mazza is Chevy Chase Pavilion, another mall that has continually failed to reach expectations, despite a number of attempts to make it more appealing. Recently, H&M closed its doors, following other short term ventures quickly sailing off into the distance. A few years back, while traveling in Sweden, we visited NK Stockholm department store. We thought something similar might have worked in the Chevy Chase Pavillion space, with a high end eatery on the ground floor surrounded by mezzanine floors containing high end retail. Perhaps it would have been a better location for the Bloomingdale’s across the border in Maryland. However, it’s not all bad, for expats looking to get their fix, the World Market on the Basement level has an extensive range of overseas produce, including candy and beer.
Back in Tenleytown we wandered by Janney Elementary School and decided to take a look around. The school opened in 1925 and undertook a massive renovation in around 2010.
On the Janney school grounds, but not visible from the street, is this awesome mural by Matthew Willey. Willey has made a personal commitment to hand-paint 50,000 honeybees – the number necessary for a healthy, thriving hive – in murals around the world. You can read more about Willey and his project at http://www.thegoodofthehive.com
Sitting directly on Tenley Circle is St. Ann Roman Catholic Church. It is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
This American University Law School building, also on Tenley Circle, was built in 1904. It was originally the Immaculata Seminary where the Sisters of Providence taught both boarders and day students from elementary through junior college level.
Spending another day wandering the quiet streets of AU Park, we came across the following street mural. For those of you not from around here, you may not know that the over 700,000 residents of Washington D.C. do not have the same voting rights as other Americans. Although we can vote for the President we don’t have voting Senators or Representatives. Hence, the license plates of many of our cars include the true statement “Taxation without Representation”. There is a DC statehood movement that has gathered some momentum. But it appears to us that it is unlikely to ever succeed. Washington D.C. residents overwhelmingly vote Democrat. Consequently, the Republicans that would need to get on board with granting the District the full voting rights of other states are unlikely to ever do so.
Throughout Washington D.C. and Ward 3 there are a number of community gardens, with plots available for free to residents who help maintain the entire area of the garden. A gardener we spoke with in Friendship Gardens said that he had recently obtained his plot after being on a waiting list for a number of years. If you are interested in obtaining a plot near you, we suggest you visit the District’s Department of Parks and Recreation website for more information at http://dpr.dc.gov
We headed up the hill, passing through Tenleytown, on our way to continue our exploration of AU Park.
On the southwest corner of Fort Reno Park, stands Chesapeake House. It has stood abandoned for as long as we can remember and we have long entertained the fantasy of turning it into a cool independent coffee shop with a community space upstairs. Currently, the National Park Service, which is responsible for the building, is discussing the possibilities for its future use with the local community. So if you have a vision for the building’s future, now is the time to step forward. We suggest getting in touch with the Park Service or Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E for details.
Above the Tenleytown metro station is the Cityline condo building. The bottom of the building was originally a Sears department store built in 1940. The Sears had a roof top parking lot and I have a distinct early childhood memory of standing in the parking lot and looking over at the shops on the other side of Wisconsin Avenue while snow was gently falling. That would have been in the mid 1960s. It’s funny how little, seemingly inconsequential, memories can stay with us over the years. The curved upper floors of the building were added in the early 2000s. My dear friend Carlos lived in one of the apartments, before passing earlier this year. Whenever I go by the building I am reminded of him and how much I miss his company.
Around the corner from Cityline on River Road is The City Church. This Spanish Colonial building, built in 1926, is the fourth Methodist church to be built on the site. The first was built in 1840. Tucked in behind the church is a small cemetery which contains the graves of many early Tenleytown residents.
Across Wisconsin Avenue from Cityline is the row of shops and restaurants that I once looked out on as a boy from the Sears parking lot. Among these is Tenleytown institution, Guapo’s, which is a longtime local favorite. It was our go-to place when our sons were small. The complementary chips and salsa are deadly and many a time family members have complained about being full even before their meals have arrived.
Back walking the streets of AU Park we passed the house of our cousins, Steve and Grace. We love their plant lined front walkway and pergola over the front door. Unfortunately, they weren’t in as we passed by.
During our walks, the most common sign we have seen is the one in the following photo, stating that “no matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor”. In these times, when the President is rallying anti-immigration forces, it’s always reassuring to see the signs. We, particularly, liked this sign, sitting, as it does, next to two Adirondack chairs, as if it is inviting the neighbors to sit and rest a while.
After once again wandering through the shady streets of AU Park, we made our way up the hill to Tenleytown, where we passed by Woodrow Wilson High School and Alice Deal Middle School on our way home.
Wilson is the District’s largest public high school with approximately 1,800 students from grades 9 through 12. It was built in 1935 but was extensively renovated in 2010-11. It also has a fantastic indoor swimming facility that is widely used by the community.
Across the road from Wilson is Fort Reno Park. During the Civil War a fort was constructed on the site to help in the defense of Washington DC. It was originally name Fort Pennsylvania, as it was built specifically for the Ninth Regiment Pennsylvania Reserves. However, in 1863, it was renamed Fort Reno in honor of Major General Jesse Lee Reno who died at the Battle of South Mountain in 1862.
The park contains the highest natural point in the District at 409 feet above sea level. There is a long wide grass slope on its west side that provides ideal sledding on snowy days. It’s also a great place to watch sunsets. When you sit at the top of the slope you can look clear across to Tyson’s Corner miles away in Virginia and see nothing but tree tops. It is easy to imagine that there is nothing below but a massive forest. In fact, the trees hide thousands of houses, buildings and streets. Because of its high point, Fort Reno Park is also the location of a water reservoir. Interestingly, the tower seen in the background of the above photo is not a water tower. Rather, it is a communications array built on top of living facilities during the Cold War in the 1950s.
The park includes playing fields, tennis courts and a community garden. It is also the site of Fort Reno’s annual free summer concert series, started in 1968. The series is currently under way with concerts on Monday and Thursday nights. We suggest you grab a blanket or beach chair and check out one of the shows. It’s a great community activity, attracting not just music enthusiasts but a wide variety of local residents, including families with small children.
The concerts take place on the little rundown stage in the above photo. It has been the site of innumerable classic Washington hardcore and punk shows. Washington legends, Fugazi, played on the stage practically every year from 1988 through 2003. In fact, I was at the now famous “ice cream eating motherf**cker” concert where the band belittled a couple of individuals who had started kicking and punching others in the crowd by pointing out that they had seen them buying ice cream from the Good Humor man before the show. I can remember it as if it was yesterday.
Across Fort Reno Park from Wilson is Alice Deal Middle School. Deal is an International Baccalaureate School and one of the District’s highest performing schools.
Tucked in behind Deal is the Jesse Reno School. The school, built in 1903, served a working class community that had began to congregate around Fort Reno after the Civil War. The community, called Reno City, was about 75% black. However, in the 1920s there was pressure from residents of surrounding white neighborhoods to remove Reno City and use the land for the construction of Deal, Wilson and Fort Reno Park. The government began to acquire Reno City properties and condemned those of owners that refused to sell. As more and more residents were driven out, school enrollment declined and the school was closed in 1950. It was used as a Civil Defense office for a while and became the Rose School for students with special needs in the 1970s and 1980s, before becoming abandoned for many years. In 2014 the school was repaired and integrated into the neighboring Alice Deal Middle School.