Where We Live: Near Southeast/Capitol Riverfront

Photo courtesy of
‘loves it’
courtesy of ‘NCinDC’

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.

Photo courtesy of
‘the boilermaker shops’
courtesy of ‘christaki’

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!

Photo courtesy of
‘National’s Park from the Anacostia’
courtesy of ‘Tony DeFilippo’

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.

What’s Nearby: Near Southeast is east of Southwest Waterfront, southwest of Capitol Hill, and just across the river from River East.

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.

Shannon grew up in the greater DC area/Maryland suburbs, went to Virginia for college and grad school (go Hoos!), and settled in DC in 2006. She’s an urban planner who loves transit (why yes, that is her dressed as a Metro pylon for Halloween), cities, and all things DC. Email her at Shannon (at) WeLoveDC.com!

10 thoughts on “Where We Live: Near Southeast/Capitol Riverfront

  1. You forgot to mention Cornercopia, an excellen, locally owned, gourmet deli. They have terrific sandwiches and an excellent beer selection.

  2. What’s fascinating about Nationals Park, and DC getting the Expos franchise over Northern Virginia, is that the NOVA effort struggled to find a place to put a stadium, if and when. Yet, many believe, and it’s been written, that they were ahead of the District in the running to get the franchise.

    In Near Southeast, DC had places to tear down. Once they showed MLB the money, the transformation from old to new was fast and amazing. And the view of the Capitol from the upper deck still gets me…

  3. I would say completion of the Green Line in 2001 was a large driver of development as well. In a way it led to the DOT building.

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  5. Great post! BUT….you forgot Capitol Skyline Hotel!! We had the best pool parties every weekend of the summer, and during the year our events are the coolest/edgiest/most interesting in town. Yes I do their PR but I’m also someone who moved here just a year ago from NYC, and I’m honestly telling you, this hotel was exactly what I believed DC was missing. If you want a tour, let me know! AlyssaSheL@aol.com

  6. When are you going to do neighborhood profiles of Bethesda, Chevy Chase, and Friendship Heights?

  7. Don’t forget TSNY DC, the trapeze school that’s building in the area! They’re relocating from Baltimore and now central D.C. so that they can have two trapeze rigs (one in doors, one outdoors) open for classes simultaneously in the summer and have classes year-round as well! It’s an awesome way to spend an afternoon – challenging yourself and your fears and realizing you can do whatever you set your mind to – while enjoying the beautiful riverfront view and sunny breeze! It’ll be a great asset to this up-and-coming development. I HIGHLY recommend taking classes to everyone – young and old!

  8. Just a reminder that while the economy has stalled quite a few of the projects planned just a few years ago, there is movement once again. The Foundry Lofts project is back on track and the Boilermaker Shop is soon to follow. The Riverfront Park is now open and within a year or two, the lumbershed (now bare) will be reclad in all glass exterior and will have restaurants and retail inside. Within 2 years or so there will be a major grocery store (likely Harris Teeters, another apartment building above it, and an upscale gym rumored to be VIDA Fitness. Last but not least, you forgot to mention EYA’s brand new row house style townhouse neighborhood called Capitol Quarter which is the 1st LEED certified community in the nation. Yup… I own one. Phase two is about to break ground in the fall of 2010. And Phase three is to follow in a couple years after that. Each house has a minimum of a one car garage (in DC!!!) and a roof top terrace. The Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront is destined to be the jewel in DC’s crown.