Sunday, March 29, 2009

~Transportation Department’s new chief engineer makes her home on the Hill

By Joshua Gray

As the newly appointed chief engineer for the D.C. Department of Transportation, Kathleen Penney has risen to the ranks of those who need insulation from the press. A public-relations minder hovers on the sidelines throughout our exchange, held in the blandly efficient Reeves Municipal Center on U Street NW.
In spite of the public-relations veil, Penney is largely unaffected, casual and candid — as much a long-time Hill resident and parent of two school-age children as an upper-echelon government functionary.
From her new post, Penney is well positioned to preside over major projects that could spell real change to D.C.’s roads. She cited the planned renovation of the 11th Street bridges — a key element in the District’s Near Southeast waterfront development scheme — as the front-and-center issue confronting her office. But these dry facts of city planning could be part of anyone’s curriculum vitae. It’s Penney’s back story that sets her apart.
Kathleen and Tim Penney arrived in the District in 1998 by way of California, Colorado and other points west. As employees of the Federal Highway Administration, they’d moved often, and Kathleen, a Vermont native, was glad to get back to theEast Coast.They bought a house on the Hill and then another in near Southeast when they outgrew the first. They had two kids and put them in local schools. And they became part of a neighborhood in a way that they never had before.
“The thing that’s different about the Hill, more than any place else we’ve ever lived, is the people,” says Penney. “They’re really interested in the community. The Hill has people that are committed to maybe a bigger calling.”
As a parent on the Hill, Penney touches a lot of the usual school-age bases — she’s a soccer mom and hovers on the sidelines of girls basketball. Though she hasn’t been a serious runner in years, she and her kids still do the 3K in The Capitol Hill Classic every year. And cyclists have reason to be optimistic about D.C.’s transportation plans — Penney bikes to work every day, year-round, rain or shine.
“It’s the only way to get around the Hill,” she laughs.
Serving as Transportation Department’s deputy chief engineer since 2004, Penney participated in a number of pivotal projects. Her grace under pressure was tested close to home when fire devastated Eastern Market last April. Penney’s efforts were key in the construction of the temporary hall and other facilities for long-established merchants and vendors.
“There was so much work to be done so quickly, the city administrator and the mayor wanted … to get going full speed,” she said.
Also close to home is the 11th Street Bridge project, and Penney’s excitement about it is obvious.
“I’m a civil engineer by training,” she says. “My interest from the beginning was in bridges. I really came to DDOT to pursue my dream of doing major bridges. It’s been a tremendous challenge. It’s also been just a blast.”
In this unguarded declaration, Penney gives assurance that the Transportation Department’s engineering reins are in good hands. A disinterested policy wonk could never talk about “a dream of doing major bridges.”
Only a real, live, transportation-obsessed engineering geek could say that in all seriousness.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

~10 Tips for Renters Looking For A Place On Capitol Hill

These are 10 good tips for any one looking to rent an apartment on Capitol Hill:
  1. Not everyone can live on top of Eastern Market or Barracks Row, so remember that if you can walk to those areas in 15 minutes it's okay.
  2. If you are looking for a one bedroom at $900-$1000 a month with utilities included, it doesn't exist.
  3. Seek help from an agent at Long & Foster Capitol Hill office.
  4. Walk around the neighborhood, to get an idea of where you don't want to live.
  5. Don't exclude areas, just because they are in the NE part of Capitol Hill.
  6. If you need to have someone co-sign, let the agent know that up front.
  7. Ask the agent if they have a property they may be willing to rent.
  8. Ask the agent if they know of any other agents willing that have rental properties.
  9. Be prepared to put down the security deposit immediately to hold a place.
  10. Don't forget the early bird catches the worm. Be the first to contact the owner when the property comes on the market

~For a renter, Capitol Hill is a tough market for many reasons.

For a renter, Capitol Hill is a tough market for many reasons.
  • There is a short supply of rentals because many homes are being bought by owners who plan on occupying the property.
  • Small number of apartment buildings on Capitol Hill compared to other parts of the city.
    Many apartment buildings were converted to condos.
  • Extreme Rent control laws that don't allow for open competition between tenants.
  • Many current tenants live in prime locations and pay way below market rent. I
  • Increased number of Senators, Reps & Capitol Hill staffers want to live within walking distance to the capitol.
  • Growth & Development of Capitol Hill is attracting more people to live in the area.
  • If the current president rented on Capitol Hill, then its safe enough for others to live there, so people that preferred other parts of the city are now looking at Capitol Hill as an option

Sunday, March 15, 2009 Coming in April

What is the phone number to Matchbox?
Where can I eat Japanese on Capitol HIll?
Is there a place to take dance lessons?

The answer to all of those questions and more is easy to find at

Coming in April.

A great resource for those who live on Capitol HIll or would like to.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

~Clubs to Crocs

by Christopher Pierce

As I take a stroll around Capitol Hill with my Daughter in tow, I just laugh to myself at how the community is changing. There was a time when I walked by parked cars and would see a colorful assortment of steering wheel clubs. I even went as far as putting my club on my steering wheel although I parked in my garage.

Now when I take a stroll around Capitol Hill with my Daughter in tow, I just laugh to myself at how the community has changed. Now when I walk by people I see a colorful assortment of crocs on their feet. My 2 year old daughter goes as far as putting her crocs on just to walk around in the house.

Capitol Hill has changed...

~Barracks Row Happenings: Circulator Logic

by: Sharon Bosworth

Shiny red Circulators are to everyday buses what shiny red sports cars are to everyday automobiles – the stuff of fantasy! With their direct route, sexy paint jobs and wrap around windows, Circulators deliver a juicy jolt to an ordinary day. They cost less to ride, and everyone looks better in one. Every neighborhood in town wants a bite of this apple!

We’ve been dreaming of a Circulator for Capitol Hill – for many reasons. We need one for the Hill staffers who arrive every year. Welcome, Class of 2009! Happily for us, most of these new DC residents come to town without cars. We need the Circulator for our local Hill residents, too, who yearn to leave the car home when they shop and dine locally.

We need the Circulator for thousands of tourists and regional visitors coming into DC through Capitol Hill’s own Union Station. They come raring to see the sights of our Capitol Hill neighborhood. Yet when they arrive there is no quick, obvious way to get to all the cool destinations they’ve read about.

And we haven’t even considered the 20,000 federal workers at the Navy Yard and US Department of Transportation who want OUT at lunch to get to area shops and restaurants. Sounds like a situation made for a Circulator. The route favored by a local citizens group would sweep in a rapid arc from Union Station past the Capitol Visitors Center, to Eastern Market Metro Plaza, down Eighth Street, and right on to M Street to Navy Yard Metro.

Presently, Circulators leave Union Station bound for Georgetown seven days a week. Meanwhile, Capitol Hill has waited politely: Our Circulator would be coming soon they said. Who are “they”? WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) has title to the Circulators; the District Department of Transportation paid for the buses, and an outside contractor operates them through the DC Surface Transportation Board.

Like so many decisions today, this one comes down to dollars. Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, rising chairman of WMATA, was fair minded enough to hear out the concerns of a group of Capitol Hill community leaders and residents, who concluded (rightly, it appears) that the Capitol Hill Circulator was about to be back burner-ed. At a mid-January meeting, a compromise was achieved between Councilmember Graham, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells and the Capitol Hill citizen group. The bad news? The Circulator routes promised to Capitol Hill have been reduced to a test status. The good news? As of late March, Capitol Hill will finally get a Circulator!

What caused the Capitol Hill Circulator to be in doubt? Graham's main point of contention is the low ridership on the N22 bus. But a Metro bus and a Circulator are entirely different animals. Assuming that Circulator ridership will be reflective of that of the N22 is not a fair assumption. The plodding N22 stops countless times as it loops from Union Station to the US DOT on M Street SE – a frustrating ride for even the most committed carbon footprint types. On top of that, the buses are often in disrepair and seem to be the oldest of the Metro bus fleet. Marginally popular to begin with (partly due to lack of proper marketing and promotion), the N22 route was expanded last spring in hopes of providing another transit alternative as the Nationals’ first season in their new stadium began. But the poor old N22 was no match for suburban baseball fans. They are an in-and-out crowd at best, riding the green line, but most often they park for free at RFK and shuttle to the stadium then beat a retreat back home in their SUV’s after the game. The Circulator could prove to be useful to Nats fans, but we won't be able to tell with this initial, limited schedule trial run. We will need extended hours and weekend service to find out if we can get baseballs fans to ride.

What Circulators seem do best is get riders to the places they want to go to shop, eat and have fun – FAST. Georgetown and now Adams Morgan – a newly approved Circulator destination – have a huge assortment of dining and shopping. And Capitol Hill is loaded with A-list destinations, too. Aside from the trendy blocks around Union Station, there’s Eastern Market and its environs – the oldest and most famous commercial area in DC. Nineteen blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue SE are brimming with restaurants, bars, shops and services. Barracks Row has quickly become a hot spot on Capitol Hill boasting 37 restaurants, bars and smart retail shops within a four-block stretch. The emerging Capitol Riverfront promises to be another exciting hub of commercial offerings. The Library of Congress houses a stunning interior with docent-led tours as well as the largest library in the country (open until 9:30 p.m. weekday evenings as well as on Saturday). Tourists can’t resist this ethereal gem. And don't forget the dazzling new Capitol Visitors Center (open weekdays and Saturday).

What sets our neighborhood apart from other “Circulator neighborhoods” is that our commercial offerings are spread out among several different corridors. Herein lies the strongest argument for the Capitol Hill Circulator – to serve as a connector for all of these unique areas – both for tourists and residents.

The Circulator’s final route is, as yet, not set, but the headways (how often they run) are set at 10 minutes. These are details that matter but not the most important issue. What we must change now is the transit officials' perception that somehow the Circulator will not be a financial success on Capitol Hill because of poor ridership. That’s an idea we need to beat back into oblivion! Circulators belong on Capitol Hill – and we're all going to have to work hard to prove that during this trial phase. Now is the time for Capitol Hill to rally. When the Circulators finally arrive, embrace them. That won’t be hard; they are cute and fast! Ride one every day. Ride one twice a day. Tell your friends. Better yet, take your friends for a $1 ride! It’s up to us to prove to THEM, whoever they may be, that we need this bus, we love this bus, and we want it for keeps. Can we do this? Yes, we can!

Sharon Bosworth is events and marketing director at Barracks Row Main Street. For more information or to volunteer, call 202-544-3188 or e-mail

~Capitol Hill: The Place We Call Home

by: Maggie Hall

There are very few people in the world who realize that Capitol Hill is not only the seat of the US government, but also a delightful village in the middle of the city. Guide books often give it short shrift, and government issued tourist maps often end at the Capitol grounds.

So it’s little wonder that many visitors don’t make it past the Library of Congress and thus miss seeing the number one place to live in DC. This is no idle boast. Last year the American Planning Association named our community as one of the top 10 neighborhoods in the country.

And while there may be many other close-knit communities in lovely settings, there is probably no other national capital in the world where the seat of government is situated so closely to the homes and daily lives of ordinary citizens. For those of us who live here, it’s a tough heart that doesn’t admit that the magnificent sight of that seat of mighty power at the gateway to our community is constantly inspiring. It’s a visually impressive reminder that we are part of a city that is mentioned, heard from, and seen every day in virtually every newspaper and on every television around the world.

Who we are
The place oozes history and small-town appeal. Here an errand takes an hour because people know each other, and they stop and chat. One of the biggest attractions of Capitol Hill is its residents. What a galaxy of personalities, a truly integrated cross-section of society. It’s no exaggeration to say that Capitol Hill is populated by people from every walk of life. There are senators living next to teachers; judges alongside civil-servants; clerks, shop assistants and laborers sharing space with writers, artists, actors and musicians.

There was a time when young couples moved off the Hill to the suburbs as soon as they had their first child. But the city has changed, and hour-long commutes are not high on anyone’s list of ways to spend their time. People are discovering that the Hill is not just a fun place to hang-out, but a great place to put down roots. These days our six big parks – Lincoln, Marion, Stanton, Providence, Garfield and Folger – with their playground equipment and grassy areas are alive with youngsters. The Hill’s sidewalks are full of baby carriages, kids scooter down the sidewalks to school and giggling teenagers meet in the coffee bars.

And it’s easy for strangers, visitors, tourists, to get involved in daily life. It’s nigh on impossible to sit inside, or outside, any coffee shop or bar and not get talking to a “local.” Of course that local can hail from any part of the United States or around the globe. Washington – with its dominant work-force of politicians, political aides, lawyers, diplomats and journalists – is the great transient city of the world. But those who are lucky enough, clever enough, to choose Capitol Hill to live, quickly find themselves calling it “home.”

Historic Architecture
There’s a wealth of interesting, fine, unusual and curious architecture among the 8,000 dwellings that make up our Historic District. Lovingly restored Victorian mansions butt up against charming clap-board cottages, Italianate row homes stand next to flat-front Federals, and one-time-stables have been converted into quirky apartments with alley entrances. The brick sidewalks are lined with hairpin ironwork fencing, and towering trees shade the avenues.Renovation is a big interest here, and the annual Capitol Hill House and Garden tour attracts thousands from across the city to admire the renovated interiors of these 19th and early-20th century homes. While the facades must be maintained exactly as they are, there is no such restriction inside, and many people have spared no expense to create ultra modern rooms with every modern convenience.

Livable, Walkable Community
Another huge attraction is that you can walk everywhere. Within easy strolling distance is just about everything you need in life, be it a bag of sugar, a pound of hamburger, a head of lettuce or an ice-cream cone; a visit to the doctor, dentist or optician; the need to grab a sandwich, enjoy a happy-hour rendezvous or have dinner out. You can walk to the post office, the liquor store, the cobbler, the pharmacy and the florist. You can buy a fancy gift, a pair of gloves and virtually anything at Frager’s Hardware.

Many Hill residents have done away with their cars, since the rest of the city is easily at hand via one of the five metro stops that serve the Hill. And it’s only a quick walk to the National Mall, the best front yard of any city in the world, with its mind-blowing array of Smithsonian museums. But there’s so much to keep us occupied right here. “Cheers”-like hostelries, spiffy cocktail bars, gourmet restaurants, ethnic cafes, fast-food joints, all happily exist side-by-side. Where else would you get “hole-in-the-wall” conviviality keeping company with the sophistication of some of the sleekest cocktail bars in the city?

The retail map is made up of one-off, privately owned, unusual, shops. It cannot be said that there’s a shop for every need, but few chains have intruded, making shopping on the Hill a fun and unique treat. There are several clothing stores with eclectic fare, plus a popular second-hand clothing store; books, old and new; several gift shops and a new high-end kitchenware store. Then there’s Eastern Market – the gem of our neighborhood. While the original 1873 building is being rebuilt after a crippling fire two years ago, the temporary premises is keeping our beloved market merchants in business. And never a weekend goes by that new people don’t find their way to the delights of the farmers’ line, the antique and bargain-filled flea-market and the staggering array of high-quality art, craft and clothing stalls.

But man and woman cannot live by eating and drinking and shopping alone. Well, they can, but it’s good to do something constructive now and then. And there’s plenty that fills that bill on “the Hill.” Don’t let anyone ever tell you that we don’t have our share of “must” things to do for the domestic and international tourist.

The Folger Shakespeare Library.
Eat your heart out Stratford-Upon-Avon, for here is the finest and most expansive collection of “the Bard’s” works. Scholars and visitors come from around the world to either do research or just gaze in wonderment on his manuscripts and other rare Renaissance books. The 250-seat theater, built within the library, is a timber replica of a London inn-yard performing place, the type of theater that was common in Shakespeare’s time. It stages plays that rival any Broadway or West End productions.

The Washington Navy Yard.
This is a fascinating place to spend time and worthy of space on any tourist’s agenda no matter where the interests lie. Dating back to 1799, it is the US Navy’s oldest shore base, is still an active naval station and home to the Chief of Naval Operations. It houses the Navy Museum, one of the world’s finest maritime libraries and a naval art gallery. The architecture, particularly of the commandant’s house and the other homes occupied by top-brass stationed there, is historically stunning. You can also tour the USS Barry, a 1956 destroyer that’s been converted into a museum ship.

The Marine Barracks.
The oldest active US Marine Corps post is a vital part of the Capitol Hill community. Every day platoons of Marines going through their daily running paces race around the neighborhood. The commandant’s official residence is Washington’s longest continually lived in and certainly one of the most elegant homes in the city. The public can get access to the barracks every Wednesday morning when tours are conducted. And for those of us who live here, a summer rite is to go to the “Sunset Parade,” staged every Friday evening by the United States Marine Band, and the “President’s Own” Drum and Bugle Corps. The “star” of the impressive show is of course Corporal Chesty – a bulldog, the Marine’s traditional mascot.

Congressional Cemetery.
When it comes to conjuring up the history of not just Washington, but the United States, this is the literal and metaphoric dead center of research. With its over 6,000 graves, tombs and monuments, the 200-year-old cemetery is the final resting place for many of the influential figures and colorful personalities that helped weave the fabric of our city and our nation. From leading politicians to prostitutes, from military commanders to murder victims, they all lie here, including Capitol Hill’s most famous son, John Philip Sousa. The revered “Stars and Stripes Forever” composer and Marine bandsman was born on G Street SE, and every Nov. 7 the US Marine Band plays at his grave-side, to commemorate his birthday. But any day of the year is great to walk the cemetery, wander through the outstanding funereal sculpture and soak-up the history created by its occupants. But at the end of the day – and night – what makes the neighborhood of Capitol Hill so eminently attractive, is the atmosphere it pervades. All of the individual lures – be it the interesting characters, the pretty streets, the handsome homes, the pocket-parks, the great shops, the galaxy of eating and drinking establishments, the history – combine into one wonderful, enjoyable zone of livability.

~Barracks Row: A Not Very Main Street Main Street

by: Sharon Bosworth

Over at the US Capitol the stimulus package was finally passed, but according to newscasters in the rest of the country, a financial cure is still far away. Main Street, USA, they report, is barely hanging on waiting for the salvation of stimulus dollars. However at Main Street, Barracks Row, we seem to be out ahead of the curve. “February was like Christmas … business is great!” Manuel Cortes beamed when I took him aside to learn how bad things were at his 2-year-old Eighth Street card and gift shop, Groovydc.

“February was better than Christmas – we love it here,” agreed Yolanda Vaughan, owner of 6-month-old Sweet Magnolia, a decidedly feminine boutique that flirts shamelessly every day with its across-the-street neighbor, The Unites States Marine Corps. In fact, Barracks Row vacancies are few, new businesses are opening, and many Barracks Row old favorites are sprucing up like its boom times.
Possibly 10th anniversary magic is in the air? In 1999, George Didden and Linda Gallagher founded Barracks Row Main Street on the blighted Eighth Street corridor. Even before that, Margot Kelly began the Barracks Row Business Alliance. The three of them saw the future clearly: the Eighth Street corridor would become a hip neighborhood favored by moms with strollers, bike riders, dog walkers, couples in love, tourists and the Marines. They envisioned one-of-a-kind retailers and charming boutique eateries. This year finds Barracks Row Main Street mixing up new businesses with old favorites just as the founders had in mind. New places open every month while other businesses have been on Eighth so long it’s time to redecorate.

This February even old-timer The Ugly Mug got bit by the makeover bug. A cross between college hangout and Marine watering hole, this pub facing the barracks is one of those places where too much cleanup might not be such a good thing … after all, it’s not Applebee’s. At risk of losing its tough vibe, the walls were painted, the booths got fresh vinyl, the tables were revarnished, and there’s new bar art. But the menu and atmosphere remain unchanged – hefty pizza and sliders covered with explosions of fried onions. The music is loud, the TV’s are on, and the service is a happy coincidence of timing and beer buzz that almost always turns out just fine. Best of all, no one interrupts with constant inquiries of, “How are you folks doin’? ” (Did we mention this isn’t Applebee’s?) Both serious conversations and serious game watching continue to thrive at The Mug despite the new paint!

Near The Mug, rough-and-tumble bad boy Finn McCool is being transformed into an upscale Irish lass named Molly Malone. Clearly this is very private matter; no one is allowed to watch. It’s going on behind locked doors, but we bet that owner Xavier Ceverra, who created Lola’s from Tapatinis last spring, will unveil another stunner at his March 17 launch.

On the other end of the Eighth Street corridor, just a few steps from the Metro plaza, upstairs from Popeye’s, a brand new business opened in mid-February, seemingly oblivious to the economic doom mongers. Called “DC Ink,” the sailor man from downstairs must be pleased … this is tattoo artistry at its finest. “We really wanted to get in on the happenings around the Eastern Market Metro,” explained the DC’s Ink’s PR guy, Mitch. “Business has been excellent!”

Midway on Eighth Street where Marty’s used to be, an everything-must-go rehab is unfolding. On April 1 this site will open as Cava, Barracks Row’s Greek mezze restaurant. Meanwhile, the owners, a talented extended family, are applying their carpentry and design skills to create a polished, contemporary interior. We got a sneak preview. Sexy comes to mind – so does sensuous and intimate and Euro. The design is driven by three 30-something childhood friends. One of the three is the chef; the others manage the business. Their first location in Gaithersburg draws raves from food critics. Here at the Capitol Hill Cava, the interior eye candy is being crafted by fathers and uncles of the principals. If the food of the sons is anything like craftsmanship of the fathers, Eighth Street is about to be transported to whole new level of international cool that might even amaze our founders.

New Parking Options
Those three visionary founders were also realistic business people; they may have thought it crazy to think new 60 parking spaces would ever materialize on the street that they loved. But as our 10th anniversary year opens, we find ourselves actually planning the ribbon cutting for this parking breakthrough, compliments of the District of Columbia! Inside this 2009 Valentine there is another miracle: the ugly, black 12-foot chain link fence that “protected” the former military parking lot under the Interstate-295 freeway has been removed! The entry signs, meters and striping will be installed by early March, but the new lighting is already in. With the fence now removed and the little park beside the lot cultivated and groomed by Jeff Gannon and fellow Eye Street neighbors, the corner of Eighth and Eye streets SE is beginning to look like the safe and handsome urban crossroads it actually is. The only question left is who will be our first civilian parker?

Neighborhood thanks and a big high-five go to Damon Harvey at the District Department of Transportation for making this Barracks Row parking dream a reality. Further thanks and a standing ovation go to Captain Antony Andrious of the United States Marine Corps. Captain Andrious generously released the under-freeway parking area back to DDOT when the new Marine Corps parking lot at Fifth and L streets SE was completed last year!Sharon Bosworth is events and marketing manager at Barracks Row Main Street.

For questions or to volunteer, call 202-544-3188 or e-mail

~Hey Trader Joe's...President Obama Lived On Capitol Hill...

by Christopher Pierce

If the President of the United States thought the Capitol Hill neighborhood was great enough to live in, I think Trader Joe's would do okay opening a store in the neighborhood.

Every time I go to the Duke street or Foggy Bottom Trader Joe's, I see someone I know or recognize from Capitol Hill.

Hey Trader Joe's, What About Capitol Hill? Are you that confident that we will continue to get in our cars and drive to your stores?

~Capitol Hill Architect Is Bringing His Firm To The Hill

Jeff Goins a capitol hill resident is relocating his architecture firm PGN Architects from 1817 M street, NW to Capitol Hill. His new location will be 202 7th St, SE near Eastern Market.

Another great resource on Capitol Hill.

PGN Architects
ph- 202.822.5995 ext23
fax- 202.822.0908 cell-202.549.2595