Living in Washington DC
Hi, I’m Melissa Terzis, DC Real Estate Mama, and today, I’m filming in front of the beautiful Georgetown Waterfront. Today, we are going to talk about 4 quirks, or myths, of living in Washington DC and figure out the truth behind them!
If you’ve been living in Washington DC long enough, you’ve probably heard people talk about a few of the quirky details of this city! You can definitely find people debating topics like J Street and where to find it or you might wonder why the metro doesn’t go to Georgetown. What is the “inner loop”? And why can’t you build anything taller than the Capital?
Let’s dispel some famous DC myths!
Let’s talk about the beltway.
When I moved to DC, I was in awe of The Beltway; it has two loops know as the inner and outer loop that runs throughout the city but both of these loops are 495 highway. When you’re driving, oncoming traffic will always be on your lefthand side whether you are on the inner or outer loop. When people move to DC they have a hard time understanding the difference between the inner and out loop but I absolutely love it!
Where is J Street?
There’s an old urban legend that this was because L’Enfant, the man whom George Washington asked to design the city, hated John Jay. John Jay was Chief Justice of the U.S. from 1789 -1795 and then went on to serve as NY’s 2 nd Governor for 6 years. It’s a great story, but not rooted in truth as far as anyone knows. It’s explained by the fact that the letter i and j were written almost identically back then, thus they omitted J to just keep the confusion down. But there actually is a Jay street in the NE quadrant. There are also no X, Y, or Z streets in any quadrant, and most or all of A and B streets are called by other names in the Mall area only.
While we’re on this topic, let’s dive into how DC is laid out.
Yes, the city is based on a grid! As mentioned, streets running north-south are numbered and east/west were letters. The early city only existed south of what’s known today as Florida Avenue, but it was called Boundary Street until 1890 when it was renamed to Florida.
Generally speaking, the streets for each state were added as they gained their statehood. You will see that downtown is mostly state streets that are on the east coast. There was a light attempt to place states in the city with respect to their location in the country but that got difficult to maintain as statehood wasn’t granted in geographic order.
In 1901, the District mandated a way of naming streets, North of Florida Avenue, streets running east and west would be named after famous Americans. The streets would be given one-syllable names in alphabetical order. You will mostly see these one-syllable streets in NE, specifically the Trinidad neighborhood.
When the one-syllable series ended, two-syllable names would be used, and then three-syllable names. Only in the Northwest Quadrant was a “fourth alphabet” necessary. This fourth alphabet uses botanical names without regard to the number of syllables: Aspen, Butternut, Cedar, etc. Verbena Street NW is the last in this series before the Maryland state line. DC is divided into 4 quadrants and N. Capitol is the dividing line. To the east is Old City #1, to the west, is Old City #2. On various maps and even in our MLS, a “subdivision” might still show up as Old City #1 or Old City #2.
But not everything within the L’enfant Plan is designated Old City. Downtown, the Mall, Lenfant Plaza, Golden Triangle, Foggy Bottom, and parts of Capitol Hill are not part of the Old City assessment boundaries.
No Building Can Be Higher Than…
You will often hear that DC is a “low city” which is in reference to our skyline because they didn’t want anything in the fly-zone. They didn’t want to have any builder taller than the Capitol, The White House, or The Monument. You’ll hear it all.
But here’s the truth: In 1894, a builder broke ground on The Cairo, which soared 164 feet from the ground with 12 stories. The Cairo is on Q Street between 16 th and 17 th on the eastern side of Dupont Circle.
DC Commissioners decided to limit the height of residential buildings to 90 feet and 110 feet on business streets – OR, the width of the street they face, whichever is smaller. Height of Buildings Act. First passed in 1899– they ended up removing that street front stipulation but stuck with the 90 for residential and 110 for business street height rule which is about 6-8 stories.
It was amended in 1910 stating that the building height was now limited to the width of the adjacent street, plus 20 feet. Still a max of 90 on residential 130 on commercial and 160 feet on 15 blocks of Penn Ave.
Why doesn’t Georgetown have a metro station?
The long-standing rumor is that the people of Georgetown blocked it, fearing that crime would come to the neighborhood. Well, that’s not true. The part about them not wanting metro – yes, that’s true. But it wasn’t really even a consideration for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, they would have had to dig under private property for the metro and that presents a lot of legal and physical challenges. Another reason is the proximity to the river. The station would have already been underground, then to dig under the Potomac to get the track over to Roslyn would have been too difficult.
There you have it – some of the most famous drunken debates. I’m Melissa Terzis, the Real Estate DC Mama and if you have any questions about DC or what living in Washington DC is really like, please feel free to reach out!