With suburban charm and the amenities of a big city, the Northeast D.C. neighborhood offers residents and visitors the best of both worlds.
Washington, D.C., is more than the seat of the national government. The DMV—the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia—is home to broad, diverse communities and neighborhoods that offer history, good eats, parks and waterfronts—much of it a quick Metro ride away. Once a month during the academic year, Getting to Know the DMV will offer a glimpse of selected neighborhoods.
By Tatyana Hopkins
The neighborhood’s two defining icons—the tower and dome façade of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the bold white “BROOKLAND” sign painted across nearly two stories of the Brookland Works building—represent the neighborhood’s rich history and its recent and upcoming developments. Located in the Northeast quadrant of Washington, D.C., Brookland is a quaint neighborhood with big-city appeal as new establishments and a lively arts scene merge with small local businesses, Catholic history and a community with strong ties.
Brookland began to take its form as a residential suburb in the 1880s when nearly 150 acres of land owned by Col. Jehiel Brooks, for whom the neighborhood is named, was sold and divided for the development of tracts of middle-class homes.
Residential development brought the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and other public transportation to the area, connecting it to downtown. Newcomers flocked to the area for its large single-family Victorian, Colonial Revival and Craftsman homes amid the area’s greenery, while the Roman Catholic Church built a lush campus for the Catholic University of America and other religious institutions followed. Now located on Metro’s Red Line, the diverse and developing Brookland neighborhood is full of history and community character.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the country’s largest Roman Catholic church in the United States. Annually, it attracts nearly 1 million pilgrims and tourists. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
What to Do:
Head over to 12th Street for a small-town feel with locally-owned businesses and retro storefronts or walk a few blocks to the newly developed Monroe Street Market for its new retail, Catholic University’s bookstore and the Arts Walk.
Head to the Market
Go to Monroe Street Market where you can find the Arts Walk for locally-made crafts and popular retailers. Grab a book and a quick bite to eat at Barnes and Nobel Café, Busboys and Poets or a cup of coffee at Fox Loves Tacos. Catch the weekly farmers market on Saturday and other free events held in the community space.
Stroll over to the brick-paved Arts Walk at Monroe Street Market, home to a number of small shops, galleries and studios of local painters, potters and crafters. Find one-of-a-kind art, catch artists at work, create your own masterpieces and join in on any of the area’s free music or dance events. Head over to nearby, long-running Dance Place, which offers up to 100 performances a year and a variety of workshops, or catch a show at Catholic University’s Hartke and Callan theatres.
Explore the Neighborhood’s Catholic History
Home to Catholic University of America since 1887, Brookland’s collection of Catholic-inspired architecture, colleges, schools, convents and seminaries has earned it the nickname “Little Rome.” This cluster of Catholic institutions secured the neighborhood a visit from Pope Francis during his 2015 visit to Washington, D.C. Tour some of the most popular sites:
- Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 400 Michigan Ave., NE. Take a guided or self-guided tour of the largest Roman Catholic church in North America and one of the largest in the world. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the massive church has about 1 million visitors annually.
- Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land of America, 1400 Quincy St., NE. Monks draped in brown robes guide tours of the monastery’s 42 acres of gardens of hundreds of roses, outdoor replicas of Holy Land shrines and indoor relics.
- Saint John Paul II National Shrine, 3900 Harewood Rd., NE. Explore the life of Pope John Paul II through nearly a dozen gallery exhibits featuring artifacts, personal belongings and interactive displays.
See Historic Sites
After World War II, Brookland became a popular neighborhood for affluent African Americans looking for housing that was not restricted to whites only. Catholic University professors lived there as well as quite a few Howard University faculty. Today, it remains a racially diverse neighborhood with a history of social activism. Pass these historic places while in the area:
- Brooks Mansion, 901 Newton St., NE. The former estate of the Brooks family is now home to D.C.’s public access television station, DCTV. Become a member and take advantage of opportunities to learn, create and share media through DCTV’s training courses in media production.
- Ralph Bunch House, 1510 Jackson St., NE. Part of the self-guided African American Heritage Trail, the home of the first African American to win a Nobel Peace Prize and former Howard University political science department chair was designed by one of the most prominent African American architects of the time, Hilyard Robinson.
- Newton Theatre, 3601 12th St., NE. The 1,007-seat theater opened in 1937, when movie-going drifted from downtown venues to neighborhood theaters. In 1979, the theater closed and served as a rock concert venue until the mid 1980s. Today, the historic building houses a CVS pharmacy.
The gardens of the Franciscan Monastery offer a serene setting on the 42-acre site, which was founded in 1899. (Photo Courtesy of dcgardens.com)
Where to Eat:
Find hallowed 12th Street favorites like Murry and Paul’s for diner-style breakfast and San Antonio Bar and Grill for Mexican cuisine or head to newer spots like Busboys and Poets. With expanding dining options, you can find an eclectic mix of restaurants to meet your cravings for Indian, Vietnamese and other worldly cuisine as well as American classics. Visit:
- Brookland’s Finest, 3126 12th St., NE.
Brookland’s Finest serves comfort food with a regional twist such as their Chesapeake Bay shrimp and grits and Baltimore-style pit beef sandwiches. A local brunch hotspot, the menu includes seasonally inspired specialty dishes and is open to diners of all ages.
- Askale Café, 3629 12th St., NE.
This restaurant serves authentic Ethiopian dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It also features a traditional coffee service in which raw beans are roasted on the spot.
- Fox Loves Tacos, 716 Monroe St., NE.
This all-day taco and coffee café inside the Bike Rack bike shop offers mostly vegetarian tacos with ingredients such as smoked tofu, poached eggs and pureed sweet potatoes.
- Menomalé, 2711 12th St., NE.
Italian for “thank goodness,” Menomalé’s wood-fired ovens cook authentic Neapolitan pies, charred on the bottom and with a uniquely textured bubbly crust.Certified by the True Neapolitan Pizza Association in Naples, the menu features ingredients from the Campania region of Italy.
The brick-paved paths of Brookland's Monroe Street Market will lead visitors to a collection of local art studios and galleries for handmade and unique crafts as well as the area's growing number of dining options. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
How to Get There:
From Foggy Bottom
- Metro: From the Farragut North Metro Station take the Red line toward Glenmont to arrive at the Brookland-CUA stop.
Or from the Foggy Bottom-GWU station take the Orange line toward New Carrolton or the Silver line toward Largo Town Center and transfer to the Red line toward Glenmont at Metro Center to arrive at the Brookland-CUA stop.