The birth of a community


Del Ray owes its national recognition as a desirable place to live as much to serendipity as it does to planning and careful nurturing.

When Ohio developer Charles Wood, of Wood and Harmon, laid out the original plan for Del Ray, the sales contracts for these parcels provided for 15-foot setbacks and banned noxious businesses such as tanneries, slaughterhouses or saloons.

The generous lots provided big back yards and ample room to plant trees.

Because Wood and Har-mon sold only the parcels of land, the neighborhoods architectural styles are varied according to what was popular as the community grew rapidly from the late 19th century until the 1930s.

Another factor is the target population of the pioneer community. As one of the countrys first bedroom communitiesor streetcar suburbsDel Rays earliest residents, on Lloyd Avenue (Now Custis Ave-nue) and Del Ray Avenue near the streetcar stops on what is now Com-monwealth Avenue, we-re solid middle class government employees who enjoyed living in a suburban area with the rural feel of families raising cows and chickens.

When Potomac Yard was developed in the early 20th century, the railroad workers, including the yard master, built homes , across from the entrance to the yard.

When the railroad yard began to wind down operations, Del Ray began to deteriorate. The streetcars gave way to buses and automobiles, the revitalization of Old Town drew more affluent residents to that area and Del Ray was became a seedy area with deteriorating houses and a reputation for being avoided after dark.

Old Towns redevelopment spread rapidly west on King Street, and homebuyers who no longer could afford the prices in Old Town and the fashionable areas of Rose-mont and Beverley Hills discovered housing bargains in Del Ray fixer uppers.

Low housing cost and the eclectic architecture began to draw an eclectic crowd with an unusually high proportion of young couples, gay families and art oriented buyers.

When St. Elmos Coffee Pub opened in 1996, it became an anchor for the community, residents walked to the Avenue for their cuppa and their conversations.

But Mount Vernon Ave-nue was never meant to be a business district. It started with grand homes on a broad boulevard and businesses filled in, but parking has never been abundant and walking became a way of life in Del Ray.

Many of the business owners on the Avenue live over their shops or within a few blocks. With the business community so integrated into the residential community, goals and inte-rests are virtually identical, which conduces to the kind of collaborative atmosphere that results in the activities that make Del Ray a unique and eminently livable community.