Saturday, November 03, 2012

Urban Turf -- "Truxton Circle: A Disputed Name and No Circle"

From Urban Turf:
 
Truxton Circle: A Disputed Name and No Circle
 
Truxton Circle is a neighborhood that sometimes feels like the little brother of nearby Bloomingdale. The homes are smaller and development has lagged behind its buzzier neighborhood north of Florida Avenue.
However, the modest, but solid homes relatively close to downtown have started to attract the attention of house hunters, particularly those with a desire to renovate. The sounds of power saws and hammers fills the air these days, as homes, schools and playgrounds are being scrubbed up.
                                  

A Disputed Name and No Circle

Though the name “Truxton Circle” appears on maps and is what UrbanTurf will be using for the profile, many residents actively disassociate themselves with it. For one thing, Thomas Truxton, the neighborhood’s namesake, was a slaveholder. For another, the actual circle, once located at the intersection of Florida Avenue and North Capitol Street, no longer exists.

Every cohesive neighborhood needs a name, however, and residents are eager for a new one. The Bates Area has become a popular alternative in recent years and is the name of the civic association, and Dunbar Shaw and East Shaw have been considered as possibilities as well.
Nominal disputes aside, the near-triangular neighborhood that we are profiling is bounded on the southwest by New Jersey Avenue NW, on the northeast by Florida Avenue NW and on the southeast by New York Avenue NW.

Truxton Circle’s boundaries of New Jersey Avenue and Florida Avenue seem to serve as invisible barriers to development. Shaw and Bloomingdale are two of the most talked about emerging neighborhoods in the city, constantly sprouting new restaurants, residential projects and crisply renovated row houses. Development in Truxton Circle has been moving forward much more slowly.
According to ANC Commissioner and long-time resident Bradley Thomas, a couple factors are to blame.

For one, the neighborhood did not reap the benefits of the Shaw Area Renewal Plan. Though the plan originally included Truxton Circle, money for development seemed to stop at New Jersey Avenue, Thomas explained.
                                           
Secondly, the small neighborhood is packed with about 13 social service agencies. Neighborhood non-profits like So Others Might Eat (SOME) and Action for Peace through Prayer and Aid (APPA) do good work, but some potential businesses and house hunters may be deterred when they see people lingering on the streets outside the agencies.

“That’s been part of the problem that we’ve had in terms of getting businesses and homeowners to invest,” said Thomas. “It creates an environment that is not conducive to economic development.”

A couple years ago, Thomas and other residents fought against a 14th agency that had its sights set on the area. The Latin American Youth Center wanted to develop a charter school and affordable housing units for young adults in an abandoned elementary school on a block of P Street NW. Residents activated, reaching out to the city to protest against adding another social service to the already strained area. They won the fight and appeared on the radar of many city officials, including Vincent Gray, then Chairman of the DC Council.
In DC’s newest budget, Mayor Gray has allotted funds for a small area plan for Truxton Circle, Thomas told us. Community members will soon be meeting with the Office of Planning and the Mayor’s office to help create a larger vision for the area and to weigh in on what sorts of businesses should be encouraged to settle in the neighborhood.
“That’s something that we never really had any input on, which is part of the reason why so many social services were dumped in the community. There was no plan,” said Thomas.
                         

Modestly Sized Row Houses and Wardman Two-Flats

Unlike Bloomingdale’s grand Victorians on the north side of Florida Avenue, which reach up three or four stories, most of the row houses across the former Boundary Road are two stories tall, with brick facades, sometimes flat and sometimes with bay. The homes are quite close to the street, built in the early 1900s, and often without English basements.
           
Several blocks, like the 1700 block of 4th Street NW, are populated by row houses that have been divided into two equally-sized units, an experimental design from the godfather of DC architecture, Harry Wardman. A few boutique condo buildings also exist, and numerous vacant houses sit unclaimed throughout the neighborhood.

In the first three quarters of 2012, 29 Truxton Circle homes sold for a median price of $425,000, according to Keller Williams’ Suzanne Des Marais. Seven condo units sold at a median price of $512,000. In contrast, in 2011 the median sales price for a row house in the neighborhood was $349,378.
       
“Now that there is such scarcity of inventory downtown, the activity is definitely picking up,” said Des Marais.
                  
One mark of Truxton Circle’s development has been the transition from a renter-heavy neighborhood to one that is largely populated by homeowners. As a result, many of the homes have been fixed up in recent years.
    
“With each turnover in property from one owner to another, there is a chance that the new owner might bother to address poor maintenance, wacky layouts, outdated rooms, and unsexy structural issues that come from a history of being rental housing,” said Marie Maxwell, a historian and long-time resident who maintains the blogs InShaw and TruxtonCircle.org. “The quality of the renovation, however, varies.”
                 
Unlike other emerging neighborhoods that fill up with graduate students in group houses and busy professionals in new condos, Truxton Circle’s lack of “turnkey” residences often attracts people who are interested in finding a home that they can renovate and settle into for a few years. Young couples looking to be weekend warriors fill the community meetings.
                                           

Civic Association and Valuable Proximity

The Bates Area Civic Association (BACA) is quite active, full of long-time residents and young couples who are starting families. Recently-organized events include a historic walk, a garden competition, and a meet-and-greet with ANC candidates in the area.
      
The retail scene, however, is scant; Uncle Chips on North Capitol Street is increasingly popular for their cookies and sandwiches, but vacant store fronts surround it and busy North Capitol Street will never be a pedestrian-friendly avenue.
      
However, Truxton Circle residents can easily take advantage of many of the amenities in Shaw and Bloomingdale. The Shaw Metro station is at 7th and R Streets NW, Big Bear Cafe and the Bloomingdale farmer’s market are at 1st and R Street NW, and residents are a short walk from the mini restaurant boom surrounding the Howard Theater. Mount Vernon Square, including CityVista, is also not too far away.
                                 

A Revamped School and A New Playground, But Crime Persists

Dunbar Senior High School, which gained fame as a well-regarded African-American school during the time of segregation, is currently undergoing a $100 million renovation. The brick, largely-window-less building will be replaced by a breezy, modern campus that is expected to be complete by next summer and will include features like a state-of-the-art swimming pool, a green roof and solar panels.
              
Though crime has dropped, it is not gone, Thomas noted. Shootings, stabbings and home and car break-ins are, unfortunately, still fairly frequent occurrences. BACA organizes regular safety walks, and the police are a noticeable presence on the streets.
                                      

The Bottom Line

Proximity to a Metro and a housing stock full of solid row houses are drawing in young families and eager renovators to Truxton Circle, and a small area plan will soon bring the city’s focus onto the previously neglected neighborhood.
      
The Florida Avenue Park, at the corner of 1st Street NW, underwent a complete renovation last year. Once a scary eyesore, the park is now gleaming and often filled with children.
                                                                                    

3 Comments

  1. Jay said at 3:09 pm on Friday November 2, 2012:
    Disassociation because Truxton was a slaveholder? That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Let’s not whitewash history, but if we are, then let’s start with just about everything in DC. Change the names of all!
  1. throwsatfeet said at 3:15 pm on Friday November 2, 2012:
    Great article on the “burmuda triangle” of lost development in NW DC. We just bought a rowhouse in Mount Vernon Square bordering this neighborhood, and we frequently walk over to Bloomingdale. While Mt Vernon Square and Bloomingdale are experiencing boom times, Truxton Circle continues to rot away.
    I completely agree that this is due in large part to the stubby two story rowhouses that line the streets. Three story rowhouses with a basement unit not only look better, but they provide much better investment opportunities for developers and home owners.
    Bloomingdale has peaked in my opinion. Now that bars and restaurants are moving in, the affordable rent and housing prices that made the neighborhood unique will surely vanish. What will be left are people who paid $700k for units that aren’t within 1 mile of a grocery store.
    Shaw and Mt Vernon Square are going to be the biggest beneficiaries in the next 10 years as 9th and 7th Streets become the next major retail corridors in the city. Truxton Circle will slowly catch up as all of the NOMA and Mt Vernon Triangle developments come online.
    All four of these neighborhoods are great bets, but I just think Bloomingdale has the worst location and has already come too far too fast. Shaw could see big gains considering how underutilized the neighborhood is. Without being familiar with the dynamics of the DC neighborhoods, real estate at 7th & P St. is arguably as good of a location as 16th & P. But despite being less than 1 mile apart, and being equal distance to major points of interest downtown, one is 50% more valuable per square foot than the other. There lies the inefficiency of the DC real estate market.
  1. Ron said at 3:24 pm on Friday November 2, 2012:
    Ha ha. The difference between 7th & P NW versus 16th & P NW, is that 7th Street is ‘hood, from the first alphabet thru the third and beyond. Please don’t get it twisted.

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