Friday, October 12, 2012

Case Study 5.2: Capitol Hill

I know I've been away for several months, for which I apologize. I haven't had much free time, but welcome back! This is an extra long case study, covering over 130 images, so hopefully that'll slightly make up for lost time. Plus Capitol Hill is an exceptionally large neighborhood and needs the extra space. 

Many of you will know Capitol Hill from the media, because it's a term loosely applied to Washington politics, in particular Congress and the US Capitol building, which sits on a hill at the west edge of the neighborhood. The neighborhood is of course named after the hill and building. There are several large government institutions around the US Capitol but the bulk of the area is residential, the largest historic residential district in the city in fact, with a population around 35,000. There's some dispute about the exact borders, so I've chosen the most popular borders as described on several websites. 

The neighborhood began to be developed in the late 18th century, largely around government jobs and a Marine Barracks and US Navy yard, in the south part of the neighborhood. This area is still the most vibrant commercial center, with bars, shops, and restaurants centered on 8th Street and around Eastern Market on 7th Street. Many new homes were built in the 1870's and 1880's, following a post-Civil War boom and expansion of government. The bulk of existing homes date from between 1890 and 1910, as a result of electricity and plumbing advances. Like most inner city neighborhoods, Capitol Hill suffered from white flight after WWII, and in the 1980's was well known for crime and drugs, but has since undergone intense gentrification. Many Congressmen and staffers now call the area home. It's generally a middle to upper-middle class area, with the average home price hovering around $650,000, which is significantly above the DC average. Some townhomes are currently listed at $2 million, however. A general rule of thumb seems to be that the closer you are to the US Capitol, the higher the prices, although East Capitol Street is also an expensive corridor. 

On with the show.

East Capitol Street divides the neighborhood in half north to south
The street is one of the few with such large front lawns, no doubt helpful considering the heavy traffic
Already we can see that even on one street the style of architecture is far from monotonous 
Northwest corner of Lincoln Park
Grand home across the street from the park, built in 1890
Massachusetts Avenue, one of the diagonal streets
These apartment blocks are particularly imposing yet elegant, and were built in 1900
F Street NE, the northern boundary of Capitol Hill
E Street NE, with townhomes built in 1890
This 1890 townhome was listed for $1.1 million earlier this year
It's refreshing to see such an eclectic mix of building sizes
The blossoming trees add a lot to this home on Constitution Avenue 
Bright colors are a common sight
I really like the home on the right, on A Street SE
The whitewashing of the homes on the left lends them an almost minimal modern look
C Street SE, one of the most expensive in the neighborhood with homes often selling for around $2 million
C Street is across the street from the US Copyright Office, which is part of the Library of Congress
D Street SE enveloped in canopy
Beautiful homes with lush lawns. The blue home in the center was built in 1890 and sold for $850,000 last year
As you can probably see on the signpost, this is the corner of North Carolina Avenue and 9th Street
Like the other diagonal streets, North Carolina has longer front lawns than average
Although this looks like a grand mansion, it is in fact a large apartment building which stretches back into the next block
E Street SE
The impressive home on the right is one of the oldest in Capitol Hill, standing since 1782
South Carolina Avenue
While these homes are elegant, they are simple, but complemented immensely by the generous, pleasant front lawns
E Street SE continued
This style of townhome, with square bays and large crowns, are in my experience a housing typology unique to the DC area
One of the greatest strengths of traditional architecture has to be how easy it is to have a pleasant streetscape
Here, for example, are homes of little architectural complication, yet the end result is pleasing to the eye
The funnily named Duddington Place is the most charming street in the neighborhood
Here one of the few streets I can confidentially show across its width thanks to its narrow width and greenery
Built in 1907, these small rowhomes go for about $650,000 and most have just 2 bedrooms
Duddington is known for its strong sense of community
There are few of this type of rowhome in the neighborhood, a style more typical in Baltimore
One of the largest homes, built in 1900, it's almost 5,000 sq ft
Its constantly obvious that Capitol Hill was not a planned area by any means, as the mishmash of home types proves
While not unpleasant, this Italianate home is not typical for the area
These scene has the feeling of a small New England town
Now shifting to streets which run north to south, this is 2nd Street
I've found that homeowner pride is a good gauge of an area's resiliency and beauty, and Capitol Hill has that in spades
These homes on 3rd Street were built in 1911 and the one of the right sold for exactly $1 million two years ago
I don't blame that guy, this does look like a fine place for a walk
It's like living in a forest here
I love the bay windows on these two homes, apparently built in 1880 and 1900, despite the identical style
Like a folly, the oversized crown on the red home has real presence but borders on bonkers in a good way
4th Street
The wedding cake trio
I really like this corner with A Street SE: green, lively, and great architecture. This 1890 home sold for $1.13 million in 2010
I've always liked homes among the foliage, where from within you feel as if you live in the trees. These were built in 1908
Seward Square
6th Street
Beautiful homes enhanced by the contrast between red brick and white stucco
A nice little trio of rowhomes on 7th Street
8th Street
The roofs on these homes look like hats, which I think adds an extra layer of detail and interest
There aren't many timber clapboard homes but there are some, here on 9th Street
Though most likely they are brick underneath
10th Street
The small portico is a welcome addition to this home
11th Street
And finally, a group of townhomes on 12th Street
I hope this case study was worth the wait. I don't think Capitol Hill is as universally beautiful as some parts of Logan Circle, but nonetheless it's a very charming neighborhood with a lot of history, many examples of great streetscapes, and fine homes. It's such a large neighborhood that there are plenty of opportunities to find a home or apartment of any size. Best of all, the strong historic protection means its likely to stay this way for the foreseeable future. Unlike Logan Circle, ugly modern apartment buildings are almost nonexistent. 

I wouldn't do the neighborhood justice if I didn't find some faults, however. While there is a great deal of homeowner pride visible, there are also many homes which could do with greater care, probably multi-unit apartment buildings, many years ago converted from single family use. The bulk of this is visible on the fringes, generally as you get further east and around I-695. It's a shame, because the river could be a great recreational area for jogging, boating, or just relaxing after work. This not to mention the spike in property values which would undoubtedly accompany the highway removal. The city might want to consider converting I-695 into a surface street à la the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Reclaim your waterways, Washingtonians! 

Some good links I found about Capitol Hill, should they interest you:
Capitol Hill History Project

I'm not sure how quickly I can complete the next case study, Dupont Circle, but I'll do my best.