October 23, 2019

History

The North Portal Estates community consists of approximately 220 homes in the area bounded by 16th Street, North Portal Drive, East Beach Drive, and the District line. Street names in the area were taken from the botanical kingdom, reflecting the former presence of the nurseries of Irish horticulturist John Saul. He came to Washington in the 1850s to help landscape the mall area and, on his own, developed 140 acres of nurseries in the area of today’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Shepherd Park. Saul’s son inherited the land and the B.F. Saul Company grew to employ 3,000 and operate in 14 states. Beach Drive was named for Lansing H. Beach, one of the first men responsible for the creation of Rock Creek Park. At the northern terminus of 16th Street is a circular plaza around one of the original boundary stones set out soon after the District was surveyed in 1792.

North Portal Estates was originally built by wealthy Jewish families who undertook most of their building in the wake of the 1948 Supreme Court decision invalidating racially restrictive covenants. The homes that were built there were larger and more contemporary than the older homes in Shepherd Park. African-American families began to move there in the 1960s, and constituted about two-thirds of the population by the 1980s. Community leaders and professionals have been attracted to the community for its many assets, including its park-like setting and convenient access to the entire metropolitan region.

Civic League of North Portal Estates

The Civic League of North Portal Estates held its first meeting on May 3, 1967 at the home of Atty. King David, 1769 Sycamore Street, NW. Individuals responsible for organizing the meeting were Clifford Allen, King David, Levi Delaine, and Robert E. Gayle. Gilbert Goldhammer was selected the first president. During the first year, 109 families participated, paying annual dues of $5.00. Other former presidents are Victoria Street, Jeanne Fox, Deborah Matory, Virgil Young, John Satterwhite, Virgil Carter, Harry Jones, Evelyn Jones, Harold Thomas, Aleen Sutton, Hosea Taylor, John Levermore, William Rumsey, Phylicia Fauntleroy Bowman, Gwendolyn Harllee, Jerome Paige, Judie Ponds Ransome, Deborah Royster, and Sharon Pugh.

At its bi-monthly meetings the CLNPE maintains liaison with police, Ward 4 and city leaders to discuss traffic and street safety, neighborhood security, street and curb maintenance, zoning and environmental issues as well as sponsoring a December holiday party. Its members have also organized works to beautify and restore the adjacent public lands in Rock Creek Park and to plant trees through the Casey Trees program.


References

“Washington, DC: A Guide to The Nation’s Capitol”; American Guide Series, Hastings House Publishers, New York, 1942

“Friendly Spirit Lures Families to North Portal”; The Washington Post, September 15, 1990

“On This Spot: Pinpointing the Past in Washington, DC”; On This Spot Publications, Garrett Park, MD 1992, 1996

“House Deemd ‘Inapporpriate’ to Come Down, Piece by Piece”; The Washington Post, April 10, 2007