Washington's rising star -- Logan Circle

Area of beautiful Victorians, eclectic shopping enjoys a renaissance

Short Hop

April 04, 2004|By Beth Luberecki | Beth Luberecki,Special to the Sun

Four years ago, when Randy Kuczor and three friends bought a Victorian rowhouse in Washington's Logan Circle area, the neighborhood wasn't exactly hospitable. Drug dealers and prostitutes wandered among abandoned buildings and late-night chop shops. Restaurants and retail establishments were few and far between.

But the four men persisted, sprucing up their property on 10th Street Northwest and transforming a patch of concrete into a garden. Soon, others began following their lead.

"All of a sudden, gardening became a competitive sport," says Kuczor. "Now, in the spring and summer, this neighborhood just pops."

In fact, Logan Circle itself is "popping." Northeast of the White House and six blocks east of Dupont Circle, the area was once home to the city's Victorian elite and, later, many African-American leaders. But the riots after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. crippled the neighborhood, and it has only recently begun to recover.

In the past few years, Logan Circle has turned from an often-avoided area into a hip enclave of shops, restaurants and luxury loft condominiums. A melting pot of residents -- gays, straights, blacks, whites, empty nesters, families -- occupies restored Victorians on and around the circle.

A bustling theater and live music scene draws a more desirable crowd to the neighborhood at night. Galleries display contemporary works by up-and-coming artists. And now cooler-than-usual lodging options have started appearing on the scene, one being Kuczor and crew's abode, which they opened as the DC GuestHouse last May.

Eclectic B&B

Forsaking the fussy, overly feminine design scheme found in many bed and breakfasts, the DC GuestHouse boasts a modern, eclectic look. In the common areas, streamlined furnishings mix with Asian antiques and African artifacts.

"We don't do things on the cheap, unless we can get away with it," says Tom Bell, who owns the inn along with Kuczor, Ron Wilkerson and Mike Molock. Finds from thrift stores or Marshalls sit next to high-price pieces from galleries and antiques shops. It's hard to tell the difference, showing that they do, in fact, have the skills to mix and match.

In past lives, the circa-1867 house served as a funeral parlor and an art gallery. It was during the latter incarnation that a previous owner removed the front room's floor to create a "pit" for displaying large textiles. That sunken, brick-floored space now boasts green, striped love seats clustered around a fireplace as well as a silver chandelier that hangs from the decorative, plaster ceiling.

Bright colors -- red, green, purple -- cover the walls of the four guest rooms, which feature works by deco artist Erte as well as satellite TVs and DVD players.

"Each room has its own character, but it's not overwhelming," says Bell. Gold drapes and African masks set the scene in one third-floor room, where the closet door bears a design inspired by a door seen in the movie Mullholland Drive. Down the hall, another room includes a bathroom painted to look like the inside of an Egyptian tomb.

On the second level, a brown and gold faux painting technique creates a tortoise-shell effect in one of the bedrooms, while the other gives off a cozy vibe with its purple drapes, white headboard and plaid bedspread.

Kuczor does all the cooking, using organic ingredients to whip up banana-walnut pancakes, crab omelets and other morning meals.

"We've had everyone from Baptist preachers to drag queens stay here," he says. "There have been some pretty interesting conversations around the breakfast table."

Some of those preachers booked rooms on the recommendation of Thomas Bowen, minister for youth and outreach at nearby Shiloh Baptist Church.

"After the ministers' stay, they told me how wonderfully they were treated," says Bowen. Like one clergyman who needed a cab to the airport, and instead got a ride from one of the guesthouse owners. Bowen now refers friends and business associates to the inn. "I feel like I have an extra bedroom," he says.

Storied neighborhood

But while the welcoming, comfortable atmosphere ranks as one of the DC GuestHouse's main selling points, Kuczor is quick to point out that "you can walk anywhere from this house," making it an excellent home base for exploring the neighborhood.

City planner Pierre L'Enfant included Logan Circle in his original 1791 plans for Washington, but it remained relatively uninhabited until the Civil War era. Called Iowa Circle then, the grassy expanse served as an infamous executioner's square, where spies and deserters were hung.

But by the 1870s, it had become one of the most sought-after residential areas in town. "It was the elegant enclave," says Carolyn Crouch, founder of Washington Walks, which offers tours of Logan Circle on the third Tuesday of the month from April through October. Wealthy city folk built three- and four-story houses along the circle. Many still stand, making Logan Circle Washington's largest intact Victorian neighborhood.

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