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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Thing 154: Walking Tour of Brookland

Continuing with my recap of WalkingTown DC free walking tour weekend, I got off at the Brookland/CUA metro stop for a walking tour through the Brookland neighborhood. This was the second time getting off at that metro stop in the entire ten years I've lived here, and the first time was to go to a craft fair at Catholic University. So I was really going into this tour without any idea of what I might learn or see or find.

What I found is a highly residential, very diverse, suburban feeling neighborhood, with a mix of houses going back to the early 1900s up to modern architecture. Our guide, Ed, had lived in the neighborhood for seventeen years and was proud to show us the homes of any resident, past or president, who had even a tenuous claim to fame.

We started out tour by seeing the original Brooks mansion, which lent Brookland its name once the property was divided and sold. In the 1840s, the Queen family had built their daughter and her new husband, Mr. Brooks, a mansion on a hill, sitting on a hundred or so acres. In the 1880s, the land was partitioned and sold. Because it was not sold to a developer but rather sold as individual lots, there's no uniform look to the neighborhood -- everyone built whatever kind of house they wanted to. In addition, because the lots were sold individually, it was a more hospitable neighborhood for African Americans, and the neighborhood has a rich history of prominent African Americans as residents.

The neighborhood also has a rich Catholic history. Not only is Catholic University right across the train tracks, but there are numerous Catholic schools and churches in the neighborhood. In addition, there is a Franciscan monastery up the hill that is truly stunning.

Ed led us up the hill (past a park that used to be a Civil Was fort, but now apparently has really excellent sledding terrain in the winter) and once we'd entered the monastery, gave us ten minutes to explore on our own. The monastery is completely breathtaking.

Inside city limits, tucked away in the middle of a residential neighborhood, is a huge monastery, with a gorgeous rose garden, fountains, cloisters lined with vibrant mosaics, and the "Ave Maria" in every language of the world. That's all I had a chance to see in ten minutes, but I already have plans to go back and spend an afternoon there, so I will report back shortly on what else there is there. Ed said there were catacombs, which I'm looking forward to. But the fraction that I did see completely blew me away, and made the trip out to Brookland well worth it.

I do have a major remaining question about Brookland -- aside from frolicking through the monastery and gardening in your enormous corner lot, what is there to do there? We passed through their commercial strip, but it looked mostly like chains or takeout counters. What am I missing? If you have a favorite bar, restaurant, museum or activity in Brookland, leave it in the comments. I am intrigued by the neighborhood, but not sure what else might be there.

Two years ago: The smoky goodness that is Rocklands BBQ.


sprite said...

Colonel Brooks' Tavern used to be a good place to get a bite and a beer. And apparently on Tuesdays they offer up a fun night of live Dixieland jazz.

andrea said...

Things to do in Brookland... definitely spend more time at the monastery--they are guided tours that go into the catacombs. You also can explore the Basilica (on Michigan Ave.) and the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center (Harewood Rd.) for a local museum experience. Some people enjoy the San Antonio Grill on 12th Street for Mexican food and margaritas. I haven't been to the newly opened Brookland Cafe on 12th Street, but that might be worth a visit. There is a YES! Organic Market on 12th Street as well as a farmer's market on Sundays by the CVS (also on 12th Street).