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Door to Door: Penn Quarter, D.C., And Lake Arbor, Md.

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Although Penn Quarter has seen extensive redevelopment changes, it remains a neighborhood of architecturally significant buildings.
Courtesy, DC Public Library
Although Penn Quarter has seen extensive redevelopment changes, it remains a neighborhood of architecturally significant buildings.

It's our weekly trip around the region. This week, we visit Penn Quarter in Northwest D.C. and Lake Arbor, Md.

Penn Quarter, D.C.

Nanette Paris has been living in Washington, D.C.'s Penn Quarter neighborhood for about ten years. The neighborhood's boundaries are roughly Pennsylvania Avenue NW to the south, 5th Street NW to the east and 11th Street NW to the west. The northern border of the neighborhood is New York and Massachusetts avenues NW.

Before the neighborhood went through the development of recent years, says Paris, "it was mainly considered downtown" and had yet to be called Penn Quarter.   

"Many people think that [Penn Quarter] was a recently developed neighborhood, but it actually started in the early seventies," says Paris, who notes that back then, the area was relatively run-down. During that time, the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation was formed to revitalize the neighborhood between the White House and the Capitol, explains Paris.

"Its mission was to plan a mixed-use area that had residences, offices, theater, other entertainment venues, restaurants and retail," she says. Much of the Penn Quarter of today — the parks, public spaces and theaters — echoes the Pennsylvania Avenue plan of 1974.

The historic buildings tell a vivid history of the city's past. Near Paris's building, for example, the U.S. General Services Administration found "a treasure trove of artifacts" during construction of the complex that turned out to be some of the personal belongings of Clara Barton, a notable American humanitarian and nurse.

"Twenty boxes of newspapers, books, clothing, fabric" were discovered, Paris says. It turned out that the original building on the site held the Civil War-era Missing Soldiers Office. As the war ended, Barton took up the cause of connecting family members with information on the whereabouts of soldiers.

Other well-known buildings include the infamous Ford's Theater as well as the Patent Building, which now houses the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

"On my way to work I pass several different restaurants; I pass museums; I pass theaters, retail," Paris says. She loves the vibrancy, she says: the historical and the brand new.

Lake Arbor, Md. 


Kevin Alexander was still single when he moved to the Lake Arbor community in Mitchellville, Md. 25 years ago. Since then, the 51-year-old got married, had children and became an active resident in his small, but robust community.

Lake Arbor is about 15 miles east of D.C., located just off of the Capital Beltway in Prince George's County. In 2010, the population was just under 10,000 residents, most of them African-American. Lake Arbor is an affluent community that has both young families and retirees. 

An attraction for the community is the Lake Arbor Jazz Festival, which Alexander produces. This year was the third annual festival and it brought more than 8,000 music lovers to Lake Arbor.

In the past, residents and visitors also enjoyed the Lake Arbor Golf Club, which closed in 2010. Alexander hopes the golf course will reopen one day. 

"It's a wonderful course. It was a challenging course, and right now it's just open space," Alexander says. "But the plan is for someone or a business or a golf course to come back in and operate it as a full-fledged golf course again."

Volunteerism is an important value in Lake Arbor, Alexander says, and he tries to impart that to newcomers. 

"What you will find sometimes is new residents coming into the community not having the same passion for volunteerism unless they run into someone like me who can pull them aside and say, 'Here's what we're doing. Help us out,'" he says. 

One of the top concerns for Lake Arbor residents is development, according to Alexander. Community members work together to ensure that whenever a structure, school or shopping center is built, it meets the standards of the neighborhood.

"The first thing that will get the residents up in arms is low-quality development," Alexander says. "This community is going on 30 years, and when you drive through you can see that the level of the quality of the homes is still there," he said. 

It's not just the community's tennis courts, swimming pools and activities sponsored by the Lake Arbor Foundation that keep Alexander living in this neighborhood. He's also met a number of wonderful people there over the years.

"Friends from all walks of life live here in this community, and once you meet people and you have a network, then it's difficult to leave," he said. "I've had many opportunities to move to Northern Virginia or north of Baltimore, but I chose to stay here in Lake Arbor because of the community."


[Music: "No, Girl" by John Davis from Title Tracks / "Cruel Summer (Karaoke Version)" by The Karaoke Channel from The Karaoke Channel - In the Style of Bananarama - Vol. 2]

Explore previously featured neighborhoods on our Door to Door map:

This map shows previous Door to Door segments, and includes links to photos and show audio. The yellow marker represents neighborhoods featured in Washington, D.C., the blue represents neighborhoods in Maryland, and the red represents neighborhoods in Virginia.


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