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.
Today we set out on our first day of walking every street in Ward 3 of Washington, DC. We started off close to our home in Friendship Heights, by exploring the nearby American University Park (AU Park) neighborhood. AU Park consists mainly of single family homes on quiet tree lined streets. The majority of the houses were built in the early and mid-1900s. Because they are, for the most part, moderately sized and sit close together, there is a nice family and community atmosphere.