Small-town America lives in southeast Old Town


The dog factor was one thing that piqued Ron Rices interest in buying a house in the southeast quadrant of Old Town four years ago. Everybody knows everybodys dogs, he said.

Rice lives in the 700 block of South Fairfax Street where the humans also know each other. Neighbors have a lot of dinner parties and invite everybody, Rice said. Its a lot quieter, with fewer tourists, and parking is easier, he said.

The residential appeal of the southeast quadrant is compounded by the walkability, neighborliness and historic features that make it desirable for those seeking Old Town charm. This area, south of Wilkes Street and east of South Washington Street, is a haven for dog lovers like Rice, too.

Its just like small-town America, added Diann Hicks, a Real Estate agent with Lydia Olde Realtor on The Strand, blocks from her house in Yates Gardens, where shes lived for 20 years. The proximity of Yates Gardens to Jones Point Park is a big draw. Jones Point is a social gathering place for all the neighbors with dogs, Hicks said. In the spring, we have our annual garden party, followed by December holiday gatherings. The annual Halloween parade on Lee Street goes right through Yates Gardens.

Hicks is often contacted by neighbors who need to upgrade to a bigger house but want to stay in the area.

In addition to Jones Point, several gathering spots in the southeast quadrant enhance the neighborly appeal. They include Balduccis gourmet grocery store, Perk Up coffee shop, the Firehook Bakery, and Lords and Ladies Salon and Day Spa.

Brenda Viteri is a beautician at Lords and Ladies, where they see the same faces frequently. Occasionally, when a client is getting married, the whole wedding party comes in for the deluxe treatment of facials, manicures and conversation. Recently, a bridal party came in so Lords and Ladies got some finger food from Balduccis and everyone ended up hanging around talking to each other, said appointment consultant Laura Loughlin. As they get to know each other through the years, weve developed into friends out of the salon, Viteri said. The walls in Lords and Ladies are covered with paintings and pictures from local artists.

Walking is a popular pastime in the southeast quadrant, and Hicks says this is a trend for homeowners these days. People dont want to commute as much, she said, noticing that many of her clients are settling for smaller townhouses with little yards for the convenience.

Julie Skolmowski lived in the area for the past four years and works a few blocks from her apartment. I walk to work, she said. I like to bike too; the accessibility to the (Mt. Vernon) bike trail is great.

Hicks has noticed that many of her customers in recent years have been young couples with children who are attracted by the Lyle-Crouch Elementary School and the neighborhood appeal. The common sight of children playing in the area makes the community even more open and friendly than it was before, Hicks said. Lots of little kids its quite charming.

Yates Gardens has a history beyond the initial construction of the townhouses in the 1940s. On July 4, 1789, after reviewing a parade on King Street, President George Washington had lunch in the Spring Gardens tavern at 414 Franklin Street in the southeast quadrant. During the 1800s, Mr. Yates took over the tavern and it became Yates Gardens.

Battery Rodgers, on present day Lee Street, was one of the cannon emplacements surrounding Washington, D.C. in the Civil War. It was built in 1863 and contained five 200 pound Parrot Guns. There is now a historical plaque commemorating the sight. The walking/biking tunnel at the end of Wilkes Street was opened in 1851 as part of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, and then fell into the Union Armys hands. The tunnel goes under Windmill Hill Park is now part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.