My Historic Washington: Mt. Pleasant

Posted on: January 13th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation
Mt. Pleasant: Home to cultural diversity and the best Peruvian chicken in town.

Mt. Pleasant: Home to rich cultural diversity and the best Peruvian chicken in town.

One thing you should know about me is that I was born and raised in D.C, which The New York Times recently called “the last colony." Voting rights or not, it's my hometown and I love it.

I grew up in Barnaby Woods, but I’ve lived in Mt. Pleasant since December 2001. Mt. P (as locals call it) is one of those neighborhoods area realtors describe as “transitional.” Property values have definitely gone up over the years, but we’re not quite what some folks would consider “gentrified.” Personally, I hope we never are.

We have our own little shopping district on Mt. Pleasant Street. I make it a point to check out the latest outrageous outfits displayed in the El West window on my way to picking up the best Peruvian chicken in the city at El Pollo Sabroso. But Mt. P is nothing compared to what has been going on just two blocks to the east in a neighborhood called Columbia Heights, which The Washington Post believes is thriving at the expense of Mt. P.

Since I moved here, the gang activity in Columbia Heights has been pushed to neighborhoods to the north and south, there is a brand new middle school building, and the area around the metro station has been transformed by luxury apartments and a shopping mall complete with a Target. When I walk home from the gym or the shiny new grocery store, there are people on the street everywhere, no matter the time of day. I admit that I love the new shops - even if most are national chains - and the new locally-owned restaurants, mainly because I can walk there instead of driving out to the burbs.

But all of this convenience comes at a price, and it’s a loss of diversity.

For decades, Mt. P and Columbia Heights were home to immigrants from South and Central America. Spanish was the dominant language on the streets, and the shops and take-out joints catered to Latino tastes. Now, low-rent housing and empty lots are being converted into condos that are priced out of reach for many that call these areas home. When the customers leave, the businesses will leave too, and Mt. P will lose it’s flavor. Columbia Heights already has.

It’s selfish, but I’m not sorry that the five-lanes of 16th Street have so far insulated Mt. P from what is happening in Columbia Heights. Because of this, my neighborhood is still "in transition," though it is not clear what we are transitioning from or to.

I, for one, hope we stay in transition for a long time.

– Alison Hinchman

Alison Hinchman is the technology manager for Stay tuned leading up to the inauguration as more National Trust staffers share their stories about the greater D.C. area. Coming to town for the historic event? Be sure to visit our new Preservationist’s Guide to Washington.

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.