While there is no precise definition of the social and cultural community known as “Capitol Hill” in Washington, D.C., in the context of Capitol Hill Village, it definitely does not mean the narrow world of politicians and those who revolve around them. That is the national media’s definition. The other “Hill” that the Village encompasses is an eclectic community covering some 4 square miles, containing 45,000 people. Most of them live in densely packed Federal, Victoria, and 20th-century, two-and-three-story row houses and small apartment buildings, a housing stock whose facades have not changed dramatically in more than 100 years. Its heart is Eastern Market on 7th Street SE, and it is home to half-a-dozen major commercial streets and hundreds of small businesses and professional offices.
The Hill’s inhabitants are racially diverse and generally well-educated; many are professional, federal, or city government workers, or in the service sector. The area contains about 13,000 people over 50 years of age and about 3,500 over 65 (according to the 2000 census). The geographic boundaries of CHV are within the Northeast and Southeast quadrants of the city closest to the Capitol building and reaching to the Anacostia River on the East and South.
– Mike Canning
One of the oldest and most architecturally diverse communities in the city, Capitol Hill reflects the social diversity and economic growth of the early capital. It includes early residential development clustered near the Capitol and Navy Yard, and much late-19th- and early 20th-century housing for mostly middle-class workers.
There is great variety of housing types, with elaborate ornamental pressed-brick structures adjacent to simple, unadorned frame buildings and small apartment houses. Many row houses were built either in long uninterrupted blocks or in small groups whose imaginative facades reflect the aspirations of the builders and residents. There are many fine commercial buildings, particularly along 8th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, and notable religious and institutional structures. The predominant architectural styles include Federal, Italianate, Second Empire, Romanesque, Queen Anne, and Classical Revival. There are approximately 8,000 primary contributing buildings dating from circa 1791 to1945.
– from Capitol Hill Restoration Society website, http://chrs.org
“Victorian” appears nowhere in this fine portrait, and correctly so because the word connotes an era – roughly 1840 to 1900 – rather than an architectural style. Yet, in a loose way, Capitol Hill styles, of which there are many (Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Stick, Eastlake, even Italian Villa), are all embraced by “Victorian style” – houses that are often narrow and tall, so they can snuggle up side-by-side to each other. They have steep roofs, although many houses now have flat roofs, with their inevitable leaks – to the cost of homeowners and the profits of roofers. Other common features include exterior decorations, bay windows, stairs to the front door, cone-shaped turrets, and horizontal ridges at the roof line and above each window.
That’s, of course, a general description and often wrong in the particulars. However, as you explore the neighborhood, those characteristics recur many times, and the net effect is a Victorian feel that helps make the community such a special place. That Victorianism endures is not accident, and owes to the creation in the 1970s of the Capitol Hill Historic District and in tandem the emplacement over time of a strong program to assure that as new development and major exterior changes occur on the Hill, that they maintain the feel of the place. That the program of historic preservation has succeeded – thanks to sensible regulation and laws, and to the dedication and very hard work of volunteers – is visible all around you. Circumspice.
– Norman Metzger
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