If you’re looking for a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, look no further than Cleveland Park. This historic DC neighborhood in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C. is a true gem, offering a mix of stunning architecture, abundant greenery, and vibrant local culture.
If you want to get off the National Mall, visit this DC neighborhood. Take a walk back in time and admire changes in residential and apartment architecture styles in Washington DC. Cleveland Park is an intact neighborhood wedged between Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues. Washingtonians used it as a summer escape back in the 19th century.
“Georgetown is just down the hill from Cleveland Park and used to be a hub for businesses. Many people would take their horse and carriages in the summer and go up the hill, which we think of as Wisconsin Avenue now, to a cooler climate. So, summer homes got built in this area because of the elevation. They were summer homes for the merchant class in Georgetown.”ANC Commissioner Nancy MacWood
As one of the highest land levels in DC, Cleveland Park features a wilder topography with curving streets. The land slopes down toward the commercial development on Connecticut Avenue. You can trek parkland and ravines in the Klingle Valley and Melvin Hazen Park. It reminded me of the Woodland Normanstone neighborhood in Kalorama.
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Cleveland Park is an original “DC street car suburb.” John Sherman, the founder of Cleveland Park Company, hired architects to build distinguished homes for well-heeled DC residents in the late 19th century.
“Cleveland Park is a significant example of the development of a ‘streetcar suburb’ created by an enlightened real estate developer who fostered a sense of pride in the community which continues to this day.”National Register of Historic Places
What is notable is how the original houses built on Newark Street and Highland Place seem to perch on a hill. You’ll want to stop often in front of these historic homes to admire the architectural details.
The wraparound porches (along with ample shade from the trees) offered respite from DC’s muggy summer months. The homeowners enjoyed large front yards since the houses are set back on the lots.
When you stroll through Cleveland Park, you immediately notice the bucolic design. Rather than linear ruler-straight thoroughfares, many of Cleveland Park’s streets are designed to follow the natural contours of the land. You glide along curving paths, inviting you to linger and look around at the stately trees. Even the house rooflines seem to create a “river” that flows like the streets below.
“This significant approach to urban design was introduced by the internationally renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead,, whose firm was consulting with the District of Columbia on the expansion of the street system outside the city center between 1894 and 1897.”National Register of Historic Places
In the spring, the Yoshino cherry trees are dressed in white and pink bonnets. Through the summer, you see only a green canopy like the sky. Then in the autumn, the oaks and maples turn vibrant shades of burgundy, orange, and mustard yellow.
As you wander through Cleveland Park’s leafy streets, you’ll be enchanted by the diverse array of architectural styles on display.
From stately Victorian mansions to elegant Colonial Revival homes, each building is a testament to the neighborhood’s rich history and storied past.
“The houses looked like old Southern mansions or Gothic castles, everything a little off-kilter, as though the whole street had been built in a hurry one afternoon after a long lunch.”Donna Tartt
But Cleveland Park is more than just a picturesque collection of buildings – it’s a living, breathing community, filled with friendly locals and bustling shops and restaurants. As novelist Jennifer Weiner noted, “The streets were lined with little shops and boutiques and bakeries, with people going about their day in the sunshine.”
If you’re a nature lover, Cleveland Park has plenty to offer as well. The neighborhood is home to several parks and green spaces, including the 1,754-acre Rock Creek Park, which offers hiking trails, picnic areas, and a nature center. The Melvin C. Hazen Park, located in the heart of Cleveland Park, is a quiet, tree-filled oasis that’s perfect for a relaxing afternoon.
“The streets were full of majesty, with the old trees and the green grass of the parks and the sweet scents of the flowers that bloomed in the spring.”David Baldacci
One of Cleveland Park’s most beloved landmarks is the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, which is home to over 2,000 animals across 163 acres. For local children as well as visitors to the nation’s capital, the zoo is a place to roam, run, and play.
DC’s Oldest Home
The Rosedale estate predates the development of Cleveland Park. In fact, it is the oldest residence in the neighborhood. An “unknown Maryland colonist” constructed a stone cottage on “Pretty Prospects.” This land would later become the home of the National Zoo, Melvin Hazen Park, and Wisconsin Avenue.
In 1793, General Uriah Forrest bought 420 acres in “Pretty Prospects,” He wanted to move his family from “the sweltering port of Georgetown to the green hills above the new federal city.” To create room for his family, he built a farmhouse, which was attached to the modest stone cottage.
“Debt and misfortune nearly took Rosedale from the Forrests and their descendents. Gradually, all but 8.6 acres were sold, including the land to develop Cleveland Park in the 1890s.”Rosedale Conservancy
Cleveland Village Green
Fast forward more than a century, after Rosedale was owned by the Coonley family, the National Cathedral, and the Youth for Understanding. In 2002, Cleveland Park neighbors purchased the land. Their goal was to preserve the 18th-century landscape as the Village Green. This urban oasis is now the Rosedale Conservancy.
A historical plaque outlines the history of DC’s oldest house
The Rosedale Conservancy is open to anyone from sunrise to sunset to enjoy this rare urban green space. However, dogs are not permitted on the 3-acre property unless registered. (So sad! I cannot take my Golden Retriever to romp and chase his tennis ball in this beautiful park.)
The Rosedale farmhouse is privately owned. The residence is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The heart of Cleveland Park is Connecticut Avenue, a bustling street that’s lined with restaurants, shops, and cafes. One of the main attractions of Cleveland Park is the Uptown Theater, a historic movie theater that first opened its doors in 1936. The Uptown is one of the last remaining single-screen theaters in D.C. and is known for its grand, art deco architecture and its showings of the latest blockbusters.
Another must-see in Cleveland Park is the National Cathedral, located just a short walk from the neighborhood’s eastern border. The Cathedral is a stunning work of Gothic Revival architecture and is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world. Visitors can take guided tours of the Cathedral and enjoy stunning views of the city from its observation deck.
The cathedral offers a wide variety of options, from docent-led group tours to behind-the-scenes access to specialty tours on specific topics. Visitors can explore on their own, use a new visitor app, or book a walking tour with a guide. Self-guided tour brochures are included with admission, and self-guided digital tours are available through the Bloomberg Connects app. A limited number of audio tours are available for purchase upon arrival.
You’ll also want to save time exploring the adjacent gardens. The Cathedral Close features 59 acres of gardens surrounding the Cathedral.
The cultivated gardens include the Bishop’s Garden, the Olmsted Woods, an oak and beech forest, manicured lawns, and a prayer path. You will also see landscaped grounds and the athletic fields of the Cathedral schools. It provides a beautiful sanctuary year-round.
The grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk. Keep your pets leashed in accordance with D.C. law.
Cleveland Park Historic District
If you love architecture, then you must visit this DC neighborhood. Cleveland Park Historic District features 18th and 19th-century estates, ranging from Queen Anne to late Victorian.
The decorative details include turrets (witch’s hat), towers, Palladian windows, Richardsonian arches, Adamesque swags, and steep gables.
“Robert Thompson Head, the most prolific architect for the Cleveland Park Company, was influenced by Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Japanese and Prarie styles in his four years of work for John Sherman. Waddy Wood introduced the first Shingle and Mission revival homes in this neighborhood.National Register of Historic Places
But this streetcar suburb also features 20th-century Art Deco-style stores, apartment houses, and modern homes.
Architecture Walking Tour
DC Design Group offers a Cleveland Park walking tour. I highly recommend it if you are enamored with DC’s architecture. Founder Carolyn Muraskin led my tour. She provided a historical perspective on the neighborhood’s growth from a 19th-century street car suburb to today. I even learned that the neighborhood was named after President Grover Cleveland.
We visited the National Cathedral grounds, rambled along tree-shaded streets, and stood outside the brick wall which hid architect I.M. Pei’s 1960s-style modern home.
“Named ‘Dubbed “The Queen of the Washington Suburbs’ in 1903, Cleveland Park is one of Washington’s most beautiful and architecturally eclectic neighborhoods.”Carolyn Muraskin
As you stroll through Cleveland Park, taking in its stunning architecture and verdant beauty, you’ll feel transported to another time and place. It’s a neighborhood that exudes charm and elegance at every turn, a true haven in the heart of the city. So why not take a solo trek to Cleveland Park and discover its many wonders for yourself?