Columbia Heights Homes Featured on May 3rd House TourBy Charles E. Glover
The InTowner Newspaper, April 1998
The ten Columbia Heights residences to be open for the third annual Tour of Homes will be as diverse and historically significant as Columbia Heights itself. Sponsored by the Columbia Heights Renaissance Home Tour Association, the event will be held Sunday, May 3, from 1:30 to 5 p.m. Tickets are $8 if purchased in advance and $10 on the day of the tour. (See below for purchasing information.)
A special feature of the post-tour reception will be the display of plans for the redevelopment of the area's 14th Street corridor, primarily the streets adjacent to 14th and Irving Streets where the Columbia Heights Metro Station will open in 1999. The designs were drafted earlier in the year during well- attended community meetings comprised of residents, urban planners and developers.
Initially developed as Mount Pleasant Plains in 1867, the area soon became known as Columbia Heights, due both to the neighborhood's high elevation (averaging 180 feet above sea level) and the presence of Columbian College (now George Washington University), which had considerable land holdings west of 14th Street and north of Irving Street NW until 1885. [This needs some amending. The original Columbia Heights subdivisions and Columbian College holdings were generally south of Irving St. Mt. Pleasant was a separate village centered around 14th St. and Park Rd. in the 1800's....D. McIntire, Website Maintainer] It is likely that the prominence of Columbian College and the proximity of Howard University to the east, heavily influenced the naming of several streets in Columbia Heights after other institutions of higher learning: Yale (now Fairmont), Princeton (now Girard), Harvard and Columbia. Also located in Columbia Heights were the Fairmont Seminary, the Army and Navy Preparatory School, and the Washington Christian College.
Although the Columbian College and the trolley lines are long gone, the stately residences of Columbia Heights remain as a legacy to its past, present and future. One such home is a 9,000 square-foot mansion, custom built in 1900, for prominent Washington attorney John C. Fey. Located in the 1300 block of Girard Street, the main house was featured in the 1996 home tour and this year's tour will focus on the home's recently renovated two-story, 1,500 square foot carriage house (now a two-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath unit). Also featured will be a grand four-story Victorian in the 1300 block of Fairmont Street, currently undergoing extensive restoration by its owner, Damon Downing. The interior focal point of the home is the center parlor which has beautifully detailed oak columns, fireplace mantle, trim and moldings.
In 1904, the Columbia Heights Citizens Association published the illustrated, 32-page ``Beautiful Columbia Heights'' brochure. The publication, available to readers at the Washingtoniana Division reading room of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, extolled that the high elevation of the Heights served as a natural inhibitor to the inner-city diseases associated with Washington's stale air and marsh-like humidity. In pursuit of ideal residential sites a covenant was recorded in the Surveyor's office ``that the front of all lots north of Clifton Street is fixed at not less than 30 feet from the street line on which the lots front,'' resulting in more space, sunlight, air, plant life_all conducive to health and contentment. Columbia Heights offered its residents excellent sewerage and water services, stores, a post office, churches, educational facilities, among other amenities. The spacious and ``modern'' homes made Columbia Heights a choice address for members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices (including Chief Justice Melville Fuller and Justice John Harlan), Commissioner H.L. West, Education Commissioner William T. Harris, Assessor H.H. Darnel, and other Washington notables.
Up until the 1960s, Washington's streetcar line had its terminal at 14th Street and Park Road, and 11th Street had three nearly parallel lines of street railways. Columbia Heights' unrivaled street railway facilities spurred its growth into a commercial center. Many shops and businesses developed along the 11th and 14th Street corridors. By the late 1960s many of these businesses ceased operation as a result of the 1968 riots, which had a devastating impact on the community. Currently, plans are being developed to restore the historic Tivoli Theater, at 14th and Park Road, just two blocks north of the new Metro station. This should serve as a catalyst for revitalization of the area, just as the U Street Metro station and the restoration of the Lincoln Theater helped to rehabilitate U Street as a business and entertainment hub.
Columbia Heights' modern day boundaries extend from Florida Avenue about a mile north to Spring Road and from Georgia Avenue west to 16th Street. 14th Street is the main commercial artery, and 13th Street is generally thought of as the heart of the residential area. It is along both sides of 13th Street, just a few blocks up the hill from U Street, where most of the homes featured on the tour are located.
Columbia Heights is experiencing a true renaissance in part due to the opening of the Columbia Heights Metro Station in 1999, which is also expected to bridge the community with neighboring Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant. In greater numbers people are discovering Columbia Heights' rich mosaic of residents, important architecture, beautiful streetscapes and elevated views of Washington. Recent developments include new town homes and a shopping center. Also, home and apartment renovations are at an all time high. The community is highly energized and looking forward to a 21st century as glorious as its past.
Sunday, May 3rd, 1:30-5 p.m.
TICKETS IN ADVANCE:
$8 in advance, saving $2 off the door price, available at the following business establishments: In Dupont Circle, at Lambda Rising (1625 Conn. Ave.), Toast & Strawberries (1608-20th St.) and Lammas Books & More (1607-17th St.); in Dupont North, at Jolt 'N Bolt (1918-18th St.); in Adams Morgan, at Brass Knob (2311-18th St.).
Charles E. Glover is chairman of the Historical Committee of the Columbia Heights Renaissance Tour of Homes organization.