Is Hillcrest the New Power Neighborhood?

DC mayor-elect Vince Gray isn't the only power player to call the east-of-the-Anacostia area home

By: Harry Jaffe

New York City has Gracie Mansion, and Los Angeles offers its mayor Getty House. Maryland and Virginia’s governors live in centuries-old estates. But if you’re elected mayor of DC, as Vince Gray was yesterday, you’re on your own.

The District has taken a few stabs at establishing an official mayoral residence. Talks about building one on Foxhall Road, Northwest, collapsed in 2003. Plans to renovate the former Naval hospital on Capitol Hill’s Pennsylvania Avenue never materialized.

For Gray, that means that come January he’ll still be in a tan-brick house in the city’s Hillcrest neighborhood, a middle-class community on the bluffs east of the Anacostia River.

Hillcrest features center-hall Colonials on large lots. Its quiet streets have names like Camden and Bangor and High View. It has a good community center, a strong civic association, and decent schools. It’s as peaceful and stately as elite Northwest DC communities such as Spring Valley and Crestwood, home to lame-duck mayor Adrian Fenty.

Hillcrest in fact might be the District’s new power ’hood. Incoming DC Council chair Kwame Brown lives on Hillcrest Drive.

Yet the neighborhood doesn’t offer much in the way of nightlife. There’s not one sit-down restaurant. A Subway and a Star Pizza are at the Penn Branch shopping center; Denny’s and Ray’s the Steaks at East River are a drive away.

“One of the feelings east of the river is that the amenities in the rest of Washington have not come our way,” Gray says.

He and his late wife, Loretta, bought their house, which sits just yards from the Maryland line, in 1984. Hillcrest was and still is integrated, but it was then attracting members of the rising black middle class. Loretta taught at Winston Middle School down the street. They raised two kids. She passed away in 1998; Gray has lived alone since.

“People here take pride in their community,” he says. “They take ownership of it, and if they want things, they go after them.”

Gray’s neighbors are hoping he can help lure some restaurants across the river where they can have power breakfasts and dinners. A mayoral mansion can wait.

“I’m not a fan,” says Gray. “This city has too many needs. For me, personally, I like living in my own house.”

This article first appeared in the November 2010 issue of The Washingtonian. It has been updated to reflect last night's election results.

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