Damn you Columbia Heights, Make Up Your Mind Already!

If Petworth is the love of my life, Columbia Heights is my mistress. I love the stability of Petworth but Columbia Heights has so much excitement. But I think Columbia Heights is going through a bit of an identity crisis. I altered my walk home today so I could take a picture of the new Dunkin Donuts (see photo down below – sniffle, sniffle). I have to say the walk up 14th Street past Florida is less than pleasant. At first there was simply an uncomfortable vibe in the air. And then there was spit in the air. You remember the expression if looks could kill? Crossing Harvard a young woman looked me straight in the eye and spit at my feet. What the hell? I was stunned. I had my ipod on and I was grooving to the Drive by Truckers minding my own business. Would she have spit at anyone’s feet at that particular moment? As I have learned, it is often wiser to simply keep on walking. Which is what I did. Not two blocks later an older guy in his 40s yells at me: “yo baby, give me some of that water.” I had a bottle of water with me as it was approximately 1000 degrees today. “Yo baby, give me some of that water.” What the hell is that? Then of course I pass the gorgeous Dunkin Donuts. A few moments after that I pass the lovely Starbucks and the super cool Heights of Columbia Restaurant. So, Columbia Heights what are you? Are you just a hateful place or are you the hub of cool that I always tell everyone you are? Are you just playing mind games with me? I think we are old enough to be straight with each other. I think you are really good looking with your awesome rowhouses, sweet bars, and of course plentiful coffee shops (both chain and independent). So where do we go from here?

39 Comment

  • I really do believe that the heat makes people crazy! A friend told me today of her strange experiences on the bus today. Apparently some guy on the bus figured he could keep cool by taking his pants off. So don’t feel bad.

  • don’t feel bad, there are some really angry, uneducated people who hang out all over this town, but the nexus of new money and crushing poverty that defines columbia heights these days is just going to mean there will be a LOT more incidents like you dealt with today before there are less.

  • I hate to say it, but that’s street harassment. Getting spat on is not cool at all.

  • POP, respectfully, I see nothing cool about Columbia Heights, old version or new version.

    The new Col. Hts. is a prefabbed condo canyon, soon to be choked to the gills with cars fighting for a parking spot at Target/Marshall. I’m not a suburb hater but this effort to create a suburb environment inside the city is doomed to failure, at least for those who live there.

    For us in the PW, however, it will be nice to walk down to CH, get our stuff, but then escape the CH misery. I continue to hope that the rejuvenation of GA Ave. will lead to the arrival of Dunkin Donuts and many other stores, but in a slower, more low-rise way that feels more in tune with the neighborhood.

  • Poor people suck.

  • Living in Columbia Heights for the last year (but now thankfully moving on to PW) I can honestly say I am relieved. While no one has (dared) spit at me, MANY people have kept me up late at night yelling, singing, barfing, blasting crap spanish hip-hop, and generally being annoying. Besides being loud and cranky, CH is also stupendously overpriced. $500K for a poorly built 500 sq ft box above a loud-ass street? Goodbye CH, I may be back to shop at Target, but otherwise I won’t miss you a second.

  • There is a lot of doubt hanging in the air about what CH is or is going to be. That is true for me at least.

    Some people just end up living in a house/apartment they can afford, rather than fully understanding the “identity” of the place or what future identity will be created. I admit don’t understand all the dynamics of where I live. But right now it is a struggle just to get the plumbers to show up and to pull all the staples out of the old floors… much less define the block. Not sure whether I am contributing much during my daily commute or visits to the Giant, etc. I would guess the Central Union Mission will stir things up even further, as imgoph said.

  • PoP: As a follow-up, do you have special features that may attract unwanted attention? Maybe it’s the NY Yankees cap? It suggests you believe in lost causes and might be a push-over. 🙂

  • Lost cause? It is only July…

  • True, it’s really no fun unless the Yanks make it to the playoffs for Dill-Rod’s patented post-season collapse. Go Tribe!

  • I moved to southern Petworth after four years in Columbia Heights. Petworth reminds me of Columbia Heights during my first two years there–friendly neighbors, genuine community spirit, some nice locally owned businesses (although certainly more would have been nice!).

    Columbia Heights today is a mess, and its only going to get worse. I am so glad I left and that I didn’t buy in the neighborhood. It’s turning into Clarendon, with four times the crime, half of the civility and twice the crappy overpriced stores and restaurants.

    I sincerely hope that Petworth never goes the way of Columbia Heights. Yes more businesses, restaurants etc. would be great, but not if they come with shopping malls and racist yuppies.

  • Are there really “racist yuppies” in CH? Have you personally witnessed this? I have heard this cited before but I wonder if anyone has actually seen this.

  • There are a lot of decent hardworking working class people in Columbia Heights. However, there are a bunch of dirty, good-for-nothing gangbangers and drug dealers that make living there dangerous for the rest. Some have made their homes in public housing or housing for the disabled (i.e., drug dealers injured by gunshots getting this housing and dealing drugs from it). Perhaps, as more white collar folks move in, more pressure will come to bear on these elements. Until then, the area remains dangerous.

  • Regarding the racist yuppies, I’m afraid they are a vocal (if hopefully small) element of the new population. It’s not blatant racism of course, but their feelings are made pretty clear. Check out the comments on any number of Columbia Heights News articles (www.columbiaheightsnews.org), not the forum, which is relatively civil, but the comments on postings. Discussions of discount retail coming to the neighborhood seem especially likely to prompt statements of “we don’t want the type of people that those stores attract, they harm our property values and make our neighborhood less safe and appealing.” I kid you not. The web site’s forum has a number of references to current neighorhood establishments being too “third world” for their taste.

    I have also witnessed the following:
    -early twenties white chick on her cell phone in CH CVS telling some friend (she was clearly trying to meet someone and was lost) that he had sent her to some horrible ghetto neighborhood and she was terrified.

    -a group at Mayorga discussing how they would never ride the bus because they hate the kind of people who ride it

    -people referring to neighborhood children as animals (this happens disturbingly often)

    I could go on, but the point is, I’m not really interested in living in a place with such closed-minded people.

  • POP, there are indeed racist yuppies in CH. Indeed, I’ve met a number of them in Petworth too. And for that matter, there were a bunch of them in Mount Pleasant 18 years ago when I lived there.

    I will never understand people who move into a neighborhood that they obviously hate and then disparage those who live there and love the place.

    (Let me emphasize – I am not talking about those who aren’t willing to embrace the corner boys and the criminals. I am talking about those who look down on the retired woman up the block, the working guy around the corner…)

    All those comments in the anon post above me – I can only say, “Yep, I’ve seen those people too.”

    The one that hit me the hardest: one night, I was at Domku, not long after they opened. I had been hearing about this place, and while I was afraid that they were there in hopes of attracting only the new people, I had been told often enough that it was going to be “a welcoming place for all the neighbors,” that I decided to give it a try. I started talking to the guy next to me at the bar. And out of his mouth came the dreaded words, “Wow, you’ve lived here HOW long? You’ve seen so much change.” Had he stopped there, we could have had a good conversation. But he followed it up with his assumptions about how glad I must be to see the druggies and the crime gone, and how happy I must be about the astronomical rise in house prices, and how nice it will be once the rest of “those people” (yes, he really said that) are gone.

    Sadly, this is not a rare conversation. I’m a white chick, and far too many people assume that because I share their color, I share their feelings, so they feel free to spew this shit at me.

    They’re there in Columbia Heights, they’re here in Petworth, they’re all over.

  • i am sorry you had such a bad experience, pop… really. there is no excuse for it… as far as the racism alluded to in other posts, well, i think we americans like to believe that the presence of ,say, condi rice in a high ( or low?) position, and the memory of that black friend who went to princeton means that the racism thing is, like, so over…
    i dont think this society has truly lanced that boil.. as denzel washington’s character in “glory” memorably stated- ” we are all caught up in it, and it stinks bad.” okay, im paraphrasing-but you get my point..
    it stuns and angers me when i hear new ( and old) comers so casually use terms like “sketchy” and ” those people”… we arent as metaphorically far from the barking dogs of birmingham, alabama as we think.

  • Well, I guess, ignorance and hate knows no bounds. And I was just starting to have a good day too!

    Well, on a happier note as I finally walked home yesterday, a neighbor on my block told me it was her 87th birthday and she was so happy and so proud that it put a smile on my face after all the crap I went through in CH. Nevertheless, I’m not willing to give up on CH yet. A commentor says that Red Rocks is set to open this Thursday, and I still love Wonderland and I’m looking forward to buying an 84 pack of toilet paper at the new Target! Oh yeah and Dunkin Donuts too…

  • Sarah: too true about the “animals” stuff… just look at the recent debate here about fireworks and thinly veiled racism turns out not to be so thinly veiled. It sounds like a miserable existence to hate your neighbors so much. I wanted out of CH because it’s unbearably noisy and too expensive to buy, but I never had a problem with anyone ’round the way UNLESS they were barfing loudly on 16th Street at 3AM on a Tuesday.

  • please, oden…i don’t care what color the people are who are setting off m-80s in the alley next to my window…i want it to stop…it’s painfully disturbing especially at all hours of the night…it’s a noise issue not a race issue…good god are people overly sensitive…i’m not saying that race isn’t an issue…IT IS, BIGTIME!!!…but why are we so quick to go there?

  • man oh man, thousands of people live in CH and Petworth (which are really the same neighborhood in a lot of respects, names aside).

    some are racist pigs. some are pigs period. some are violent.

    on the other hand, most are good people, hard working, respectful, nice neighbors, regardless of race, income level, time that they lived in the area.

    if you’re looking for something, you’ll find it. i suggest people spend more time looking for goodness rather than crap to complain about. you’ll find it in CH and Petworth, I promise.

  • i didn’t say i don’t like petworth…i love it, actually…i just get tired of the race issue being brought up anytime somebody has a complaint…i secretly think it’s PoP doing it just to promote more commenting in his quest for google ad dollars

  • Pauper: not talking about you, I’m talking about people who used terms like “animals” and “monkeys” in the fireworks debate (both were used). It’s hard not to feel those terms are racially loaded. Any pardon me while I don’t shed a tear for the couple of nights a year that fireworks are a noise issue. 16th and 14th Streets are, due to the massive amount of construction, constantly noisy. Plus DCFD, for some reason, love to race up and down Harvard and Columbia, si-reens blaring, for their donut runs just as soon as the barfing stops at 3:30AM. It’s like living in Hell’s Kitchen without the quality heroin.

  • Fair enough, Oden. Anyone who speaks like that is a jackass and should be excommunicated from our neighborhood.

    I still wish they would stop though…my dog flips out and refuses to go outside.

  • We gave our pup a doggie valium and she passed out under the bed. She’s actually happier without all the busy street noise of CH. She hates metrobuses for some reason (doesn’t mide big trucks). However, using the drugs has it’s problems… now she’s stealing from my fiancee’s purse and hanging out on the corner with her “crew”… we’re going to have to have an intervention and send her to doggie detox.

  • i have to ask, bogfrog, when did i mention central union mission before right now?

  • “there will be a LOT more incidents like you dealt with today before there are FEWER”

    The condos are not “prefab”; they are normally built condos.

    There are no $500k, 500sq ft condos in CH. 900sq feet, yes.

  • Anonymous: I have only been in six or seven completely new buildings while searching for a place to live for eight months (in U st, CH, and AM), and all of them, including in particular the “Fedora” in CH and the “Lincoln” at U St. were decidedly shoddy. Cheap fixtures, unprofessional finish work, cheap PVC plumbing, uneven floors, very cheap windows and doors (both prime doors and interior doors), terrible, chinsy texturing and over sprayed paint, amateur carpentry, kit-filled kitchens and baths, with the same, cookie-cutter black granite and stainless slapped together like kindling. Terrible. Awful. “Prefab”.

    The same goes for at least 60% of the (many, many, many) renovations I’ve seen in CH and PW. Just because something is new doesn’t mean it is any damn good. Even the best renovation I could find (and bought) has a multitude of problems, created by the renovators, that I will have to eventually fix.

    Not the least of which is the “stylish” but cheap granite and stainless kitchen with el-cheapo (but oh-very-trendy) honey-colored “prefab” cabinets (screwed together like an Ikea bookcase). If you want to come over I’ll be happy to show you how cheap it is. Cheap pressed scrap wood, pot metal hinges (but they’re adjustable just like Ikea! they must be good, right?), shims left in place, excess glue on every interior joint, gaps, holes, dings, dents, stains, scuffs, and generally the feeling that the whole thing was slapped together by a guy in 90 minutes who then magically changed professions to become a plumber and (wrongly) plumbed the PVC traps. You just have to crawl around a little and see how things were put together.

    But the difference between this rather minor atrocity and a new building in CH is that the structure of a 1923 rowhouse (which, ironically, was the prefab construction of it’s time) is not suspect like these new buildings. If these contractors cut corners on cabinets, floors, and carpentry, you think they bother hiring union bricklayers? HA HA HA. The same slob that has been putting together your cabinets is likely to be put on masonry detail as well.

    The “Fedora” and its ilk are going to look terrible in just a few years of wear and tear, inside and out, and will never make it 100+ years like a Petworth rowhouse. In general, new construction concentrates on prefabbed pieces and kits (your “custom cabinets” are as “custom” as an old Ford LTD “Custom”) and lower skilled workers who can do a multitude of simple tasks quickly. It’s a dollar/time issue. It’s no surprise new building have this patina of cheapness and insubstantialness compared to older buildings. Even though this is the biggest building boom we’ve had since WWII the number of skilled and trained tradesmen (i.e. union) is a fraction of what it used to be. It can’t help but make a difference what kind of materials and skills are used.

    Take a closer look at those screwed-together cabinets and slapdash, glued-on granite counters next time you see one. Ask yourself how that faux wood “composite” (i.e. plastic) floor is really going to wear any different than any other plastic or vinyl floor? There is no “engineered” plastic floor that will outlast and outshine Georgia Pine. How will you sand or re-finish PLASTIC? When the thrown-together, gap-filled walls of drywall and patch start to wick up moisture in this lovely climate do you really think that’s a step up from real plaster?

    I mean, besides being ugly, really take LOOK at these places. It all seems pretty cheap to me and I’ve been looking closely.

  • Oden’s comments on building/renovation in CH sounds correct but it is not limited to CH. Particle board/MDF cabinets, glued down granite, drywall instead of plaster etc are the standards of the last decade or two for most construction not just CH. They are not as good as older methods but people can’t afford truly skilled labor to manufacture cabinets or do plasterwork. I just built a new home and to do it “right” (still used drywall and kraftmaid cabinets) costs a million bucks and forget good labor. Back in the day the craftsman could be paid less and lets not talk about how many exploited blacks and immigrants it took to do that masonry etc correctly.

  • To the anonymous above who said:

    “Discussions of discount retail coming to the neighborhood seem especially likely to prompt statements of “we don’t want the type of people that those stores attract, they harm our property values and make our neighborhood less safe and appealing.”

    **** I don’t think anybody said that and your paraphrasing is simply not correct. I think most people there are saying that they would like to see a more diverse set of stores come to DC USA than what the lineup so far is.

    “I kid you not. The web site’s forum has a number of references to current neighorhood establishments being too “third world” for their taste. “

    **** As far as I know, there was one comment using those words, and the comment immediately raised objections from people who live in CH.

    Just wanted to set a part of the record straight.


  • GforGood–sorry if my paraphrasing wasn’t exact. And I do understand that not everyone is racist–hence the small, but vocal comment. Here are some verbatim quotes that get to what I am talking about:

    from Jaron (4-12-07): “Ross the Store for Those with Less????”

    Come-on folks, I really don’t think we need the demographic (socio-economic) that Ross is going to attract to CH.

    Rally for the Whole Foods or Trader Joes!”

    from Nick (5-4-07):”Ross? Why? I thought they were trying to make the area better and not throw it into the ground again.”

    from Michelle (5-5-07) “How many ghetto ass stores can this mall possibly absorb?

    So disappointing.
    Let’s hope when Xmas time comes no one gets mugged walking home with Best Buy bags”

    From Vincent (4-12-07):
    “WANTING a high quality grocer like Whole Foods is part of progress. All these people posting comments that talk about embracing the so-called character of CH, including the crime, the litter, the drunkards, the lazy people who beg for money (the ppl who have the energy and health to work but just sit there and harass you, when they could be out looking for jobs…look at the migrant workers! I am so proud of them for their hard work ethic), etc… etc… seem to WANT the situation to stay and not change. People like me who buy into CH and move here are doing this place a HUGE favor. I will be very blunt to even assert that without people like ME, the so called “elitists,” CH would stay a crime infested, dirty, and poverty-stricken neighborhood. WE are here to make this place better, not just for US “elitists” but for all of the good people in CH who may not have a lot of money, but are good law-abiding citizens who deserve much better than what exists today. I did not move to CH to accept the current situation. I came to CHANGE it. THAT is progress.”

    Vincent again (4-12-07)
    “ROSS is a HORRIBLE choice, and with its addition, the DC USA site is looking more like a ghetto discount center. Don’t these developers know the kind of people who are moving to CH??”

    I could go on, but I think that’s enough. Not saying everyone is like that–just that the sentiments are voiced pretty freely and sometimes without a whole lot of objection from others.

  • Anonymous,

    Vincent certainly is an ass and I think (I can’t recall for sure though) people did react to his rants. Fortunately I’ve not seen him comment lately. I personally tried not to respond to him or some of the other idiots, as I’ve seen many forums deteriorate into useless flaming and throwing dirt back and forth (certain listservs spring to mind).


  • Personally, I prefer TJ Maxx to Ross… do they have TJ Maxx’s here? TJ Maxx is where I used to get all my shirts… sometimes as cheap as $10 bucks for stylish Van Heusen duds.

  • Well anonymous, many of those immigrants who built up the cities in the 20th century were masons back in the old country, so it was a lot different than many of the poorly paid immigrants working construction today who lack skills and the union protection that masons used to have. When my dad started laying brick he had to apprentice first to even get his union card. The decimation of the trades is a great result for the large contractors who make more margin than ever, not so great for the guys and gals now working construction, or the people paying for the sometimes awful results. Just look around Petworth, these were very *cheap* houses that were thrown up quickly as DC exploded, but even under those circumstances their quality overshadows contemporary construction.

  • Just remember that there are something like 30,000 residents of Columbia Heights, and only very tiny number have made inflammatory comments on the neighborhood listserv. Please don’t judge a whole community based on the words of a fraction of a percent of the population. Anonymous message boards are notorious for facilitating hateful speech, whether it be racist, homophobic, anti-yuppie, anti-working class, and oftentimes the authors of such posts would never behave or speak like that in real life.

  • Oden,

    The DCFD runs with our si-reens blasting because people do not get out of the way. As for donut runs, you must have us confused with the po-po. We don’t snack much, we cook big meals (and dessert) everyday at the firehouse and there is always leftovers. The reason that you see fire engines and fire trucks (there is a difference) on the same streets all of the time is because we have “running routes.” These routes have been carefully thought out and are used because they are the fastest way to get to the call. You’ll see us run Arkansas and Illinois Aves just like Havard and Columbia. The reason why you see us right after the puking stops is because people get on their cell phones and call 911 for the guy sleeping on the bus, or the drunk sleeping in the grass somewhere. We don’t pick and choose our runs like the cops can, you call, we go, and we leave immediately. Also, we do still have fires in DC. As for quality herion, you are looking the wrong places, there is plenty of it, especially in Petworth. We know when a good shipment has come in, we run overdoses all week when that happens. 🙂

    DC Fireman

  • Damn! Everytime I try a do-nut dig I get corralled by the authorities! I guess I should learn my lesson, and in fairness I shouldn’t have tarred the DCFD with the do-nut brush. They were probably in a rush to save a kitten from a tree.

  • I use to be a democrat and I had strong feelings that “gentrification” was a four letter word… not anymore!

    I moved near Fairmont and 14th.

    Now I’m a republican and I think gentrification can’t happen fast enough.

    That’s thanks to all the knuckleheads that have made me what I am today.

    OH well. CH is changing, faster than anyone in DC is realizing.

    I expect CH is going to be the new center of the city 5 years from now.

    Bitter and happy in CH,
    Anonymous Republican

  • I don’t know if people have seen but the day after this post there was big post on Metroblogging DC, then on Express and today on DCist about the new development happening in CH at DC USA. And I have to say that this horse is officially beaten. I kind of feel bad for CH. I think it just needs to be. It is almost being over analyzed and I of course am partially to blame. So, I know there will be some tension and some growing pains and some ups and downs but overall CH is a fantastic neighborhood with some of the most beautiful rowhouses in the whole city. I doubt it will ever be the center of DC but if places like RedRocks, Wonderland, Columbia Heights Coffee continue to thrive and people get to know one another, then everything will be all right. As someone else said it is a community of over 30,000 people so obviously there are going to be dissenting opinions.

  • Oden,
    You are right, most of our runs are usually kittens, or cats and occasionally, people on the boat, in trees. You have to put your gloves on for those, those little buggers like to bite and claw when they are mad. I went through several running coats before I realized the best way to get them down is to shake the hell out of the branch until they fall. Once they hit the ground they run fast as hell (especially the dipperheads.) In an unrelated event, I saw a fireman save a drunk from a metro bus bench! I am so proud.

    DC Fireman

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