Bloomingdale: Once drug-ridden, now one of D.C.’s most-coveted addresses

Bonnie Jo Mount The Washington Post

The District’s Bloomingdale, a neighborhood of colorful rowhouses, is bordered by Florida Avenue on the south, North Capitol Street on the east, McMillan Reservoir on the north, and, to the west, Second Street above Rhode Island Avenue and Third Street below Rhode Island Avenue.

Bloomingdale is a vibrant community of colorful rowhouses, apartments, and condominiums between Howard University and North Capitol Street, just south of the McMillan Reservoir. The historic rowhouses are so striking the Netflix political thriller “House of Cards” used them in its opening title sequence.

Teri Janine Quinn has been president of the Bloomingdale Civic Association for 10 years. She was originally drawn to the community because of its proximity to her D.C. office.

“I wanted to live in a place where I felt safe but where I could be at work in a snap,” she said.

After buying her 1914 three-bedroom rowhouse, she was happily surprised by the relationships she formed there.

“It was an incredible gift to get here and find that sense of community,” said Quinn.

The neighborhood has changed dramatically in the past couple of decades. Increasing numbers of businesses have opened, safety has increased, and home values have soared.

“We have people who have been here for generations,” said Quinn, “who have seen the neighborhood through rougher times and are now in the promised land of the turnaround. They really stuck it out.”

Bloomingdale resident Scott Roberts was one of those early residents. He bought his two-story Victorian-style rowhouse in 1992, during a particularly difficult time for the neighborhood.

“The neighborhood was drug-ridden, with open-air, out-in-the-open drug markets everywhere,” said Roberts. “Virtually all of the neighborhood retail spaces were untenanted in the early 1990s. Who would want to open up a business here?”

Owner occupancy declined as many owners left for safer neighborhoods and investors “who did not care at all about the community” bought up properties, said Roberts. The civic association organized orange hat patrols, “which was a bit dangerous,” he said.

(In 1994, The Washington Post reported that 14 Orange Hat citizen groups patrolled their D.C. neighborhoods as a response to “drug sales, vandalism and gunshots.”)

But better times were ahead.

“The real estate boom in the late 1990s chased off the most flagrant drug activity,” said Roberts.

Eventually businesses returned, including today’s “popular restaurants and bars such as Boundary Stone Public House and Big Bear Cafe,” said Roberts.

Roberts and a group of neighbors teamed up to file paperwork to create the Bloomingdale Historic District under the guidance of the D.C. Office of Planning’s Historic Preservation Office. The neighborhood received its official designation on July 26, 2018.

Bonnie Jo Mount

The Washington Post

Fabricio Floriano, 10, gets a lift from his father, Fabio while skateboarding in the Bloomingdale neighborhood. “People are nice on the streets, they greet you on the streets even though they don’t know you. It’s a very friendly neighborhood.”

Real estate agent Angela Jones and her wife, Donna Broderick, moved in when the neighborhood was on the upswing.

“My wife Donna and I were looking for a home we could afford and that was located near city life. We chose Bloomingdale because the houses were so beautiful and had so much charm and character,” she said.

Their 1895 Victorian has architectural details they loved, such as hardwood floors throughout, high ceilings, bay windows, pocket doors and chestnut columns.

Jones was also delighted with the neighbors.

“As we got to know our neighbors, we realized that not only were the houses beautiful, the people were too,” she said. “Friendly neighbors, longtime neighbors, some who had been here since the 1960s welcomed us. It’s a community.”

Today, the community is a richly diverse mix of old-timers and newcomers, said Quinn.

Bonnie Jo Mount

The Washington Post

Maria Paz Gutierrez works from home on her porch in the Bloomingdale. “It’s a beautiful neighborhood,” she said. “There’s a sense of community and the architecture is beautiful.”

“Just last summer I was invited to a dinner party and I looked around at the racial diversity, age diversity, gay, straight, parents, people with no kids — all in one room enjoying a meal, a moment, and exceptional company. You find that model over and over again in Bloomingdale. Friends who become family,” she said. “People are willing to really focus on the things they have in common and let that create a bond they might not otherwise be able to achieve.”

Bloomingdale’s Crispus Attucks Park, which lies in the north half of the neighborhood, is a site for community gatherings, soccer practices and regular informal socializing. The annual Bloomingdale Community Day — a popular annual event that typically occurs in May but is indefinitely postponed this year due to the pandemic — is held at the park. There are items for sale, music, and food from the local restaurants.

Another community event that attracts a variety of residents is the annual neighborhood beautification day, held close to Earth Day in the spring (canceled this year due to covid-19). But the premier activity for Bloomingdale — at least, the one that takes the most planning — is the biennial house tour, held in odd-numbered years.

Bonnie Jo Mount

The Washington Post

Since January, 45 properties have sold in Bloomingdale, for an average sales price of approximately $910,000.

“It’s quite an endeavor,” said Quinn, explaining that it takes a year and a half to plan the tour of 10 to 14 homes plus the accompanying activities, such as an art show and reception featuring local artists.

“It’s incredible the variety of design aesthetics in just this one D.C. neighborhood,” she notes. “It’s a lot of work for one day of activities, but it’s always a big draw.”

The house tour is also an opportunity for residents and visitors to learn about the history of the neighborhood, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The nearly 1,700 historic buildings include homes, businesses, churches, a theater and a fire station. Home styles include late Victorian (Edwardian, Renaissance Revival, Italianate, and Gothic), Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival and Craftsman. Bloomingdale’s rowhouses, which were built between 1892 and 1916, “are not only remarkably intact, but are substantial in size and materials (primarily brick with some stone) and offer quality design and craftsmanship,” according to the filing for historic designation with the National Register.

Living there: The neighborhood’s boundaries are Florida Avenue on the south, North Capitol Street on the east, McMillan Reservoir on the north, and, to the west, Second Street above Rhode Island Avenue and Third Street below Rhode Island Avenue.

Since January, 45 properties have sold in Bloomingdale, for an average sales price of approximately $910,000. In 2019, 97 properties sold in Bloomingdale at an average sales price of $892,000, according to Angela Jones, an agent with Long and Foster Real Estate.

There are 23 properties for sale in Bloomingdale. Homes with four bedrooms or more sold for an average of $1,179,000, and condos averaged $550,000.

Schools: Langley Elementary, McKinley Middle and Dunbar High.

Transit: The neighborhood lies between the Shaw-Howard University Metro station on the Green and Yellow lines and the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood station on the Red Line. Numerous Metrobus routes serve the neighborhood.

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