Welcome back to Where We Live, your bi-weekly tour of the District’s neighborhoods. This week the focus is Near Southeast, which is also commonly known as Navy Yard or Capitol Riverfront. This neighborhood has been completely transformed over the past several years, and the construction of the Nationals Stadium has redefined the character of the area. Read on to learn how the area has changed, what’s worth checking out when you’re in the area, and where to see some amazing before-and-after photos.
History: Pierre L’Enfant came along in 1791 and recognized that Washington’s waterfront retail would be its most valuable asset, and located its commercial center in this area. Then, in 1799, the Navy Yard opened (which happens to be the longest continually-operated Federal facility), and became a major shipbuilding center. This area was the heart of Washington throughout the 1800s, and the wharf was one of the most lively parts of the city. During wartime, the Navy Yard became even more important– it was a key defense of the city during the War of 1812, and during the 1940s, the Navy Yard reached its peak of 26,000 employees (by this point, it wasn’t shipbuilding but production of weapons ammunition that kept the Navy Yard so busy).
But all this production led to one very polluted river. And I-395 cut through the urban fabric of the neighborhood. After the war, the Navy Yard drastically scaled back operations– by that point, the commercial heart of the city had moved downtown. So Near Southeast was left with a polluted river, a terribly ugly highway overpass, and lots of abandoned buildings. It’s no surprise that this combination of factors led to crime, disinvestment, and neglect of buildings.
In the 1990s, this area was home to some industrial buildings and a thriving LGBT bar district. But since industry and LGBT bars are two things that residents get all NIMBY about, they were displaced for much of the redevelopment that is happening today. There were two major catalysts to development here: the Nationals Stadium (which opened in 2008) and the new Department of Transportation headquarters (which opened in 2007). Since then, office buildings have popped up, followed by some retail (though still very limited), and recently, a bunch of luxury high rise apartments and condos have been built. The area has also been rebranded– it’s no longer the Navy Yard, and even Near Southeast is now being phased out. Now it’s the Capitol Riverfront, or ‘Front’ for short.
Neighborhood Character: Any way that I describe Near Southeast today will probably be inaccurate a year from now. In 2006, it was a construction zone. In 2007, it had the DOT headquarters but not a whole lot else. In 2008, there were more offices, lots of demolished housing, and a new ballpark. A year ago, it added some condos. And now it’s just starting to have a viable mix of uses. I think the best way to show the incredible transformation that has happened in Near Southeast is to direct you ro Jacqueline Dupree’s fantastic website at JDland.com. She started documenting the neighborhood in 2003, and has amazing before-and-after shots of the same corners that look like polar opposites. Seriously, just take a look and you’ll be blown away by how much has changed in only a few short years.
Here’s what Jacqueline says about what’s there today: “Now there are six high-rise apartment buildings (four rental, one condo, one co-op), four office buildings that have been completed since 2003, a baseball stadium, a new park (Diamond Teague Park), two more parks coming within the next few years (Canal Park and the Park at the Yards), and scads more projects that are on the boards but are in a holding pattern until the commercial real estate economy improves.” And since she started documenting the area in 2003, she’s seen 150 buildings demolished to make way for this redevelopment.
Transportation: This neighborhood has great access to many modes of transportation. There’s the Navy Yard Metro station, with a new entrance that serves ballpark traffic. There’s also Circulator service that connects the neighborhood to Capitol Hill and Union Station. And there are plenty of bus routes in the area, like the P1/P2 to Archives or the 90/92/93 to Ellington Bridge. There are some good bike lanes in the area on 1st Street SE, 4th Street SE, and 6th Street SE. While there aren’t Zipcars living in Near Southeast, there are plenty that live nearby in Southwest Waterfront or Capitol Hill. And this neighborhood also has something that no other DC neighborhood does– water taxi service!
What to See: Next time you’re in this neck of the woods, here are some places to see:
- Nationals Park. The city invested $611 million into this stadium, and on summer evenings this part of town comes alive. Head out to the beer garden called the Bullpen, or grab a drink in the Red Loft Bar in the stadium (great views and decent drinks). The Nats have to be better this year than they were last year, right?
- The Navy Yard. If you’re a history buff, check out the Navy Museum, or the Navy Library. And don’t miss the Display Ship Barry!
- Five Guys, Subway, and Starbucks are the only real options for food in the area, but luckily Barracks Row is just a few blocks away. Jacqueline says, “A new pizza/sandwich place with a full bar is supposed to open within the next few months at 1025 First Street, called Justin’s Cafe. That will be a big event for people who live in the area.”
- Need a drink? Your only option currently (outside of the stadium) is the bar in the Courtyard by Marriott.
- Check out Diamond Teague Park and take a walk along the water. Though the Riverwalk Trail isn’t yet complete, the exisiting sections are pretty cool.
Neighborhood Links: I can’t recommend Jacqueline Dupree’s JDland.com highly enough. Seriously, it’s like a time travel machine that lets you see how the neighborhood has changed, and it’s going to be amazing to look back on these ‘before’ images in the future. Not only is it the only blog that focuses on this area, it provides really striking photos, and great information on neighborhood events, crime, public meetings, and news.
Also check out the Capitol Riverfront BID, the business improvement district for the area. They’ve got a calendar of events in the area and an inventory of development projects. And, they’re responsible for the smiling faces that greet you outside the Navy Yard Metro– their Safety & Hospitality crew provides directions and answers questions about the neighborhood.
Why We Love Near Southeast: While our ballpark district doesn’t yet compare with Denver’s LoDo, we’re well on the way to being like San Diego’s East Village neighborhood. Many cities have turned to large sports stadiums as part of a neighborhood revitalization strategy, and while the transformation can be messy, the end result can be striking. The revitalization of Near Southeast is tied to the public investment in Nationals Stadium, and this neighborhood has great potential to truly become a vibrant, mixed-use community. Sure, the best sit-down food in the neighborhood is Five Guys, and the only bar is in the lobby of a hotel, but we’re just seeing the beginning of a massive transformation. Check back in five years, and Near Southeast will be a trendy, fun neighborhood with a great balance of residents, shops, restaurants, offices, and of course the ballpark.