The area also has its share of stately brick mansions that make you wonder who lives there, or used to. Often, it’s someone well-off, but occasionally it’s a someone someone. Power players in media, politics and entertainment — like Madeleine Albright, Ben Bradlee, Katherine Graham, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Elizabeth Taylor — have called Georgetown home. But it wasn’t always Washington’s glamour spot.
“Georgetown was kind of a dump in the early 20th century,” said George Derek Musgrove, the co-author of the 2017 study “Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital.”
The old houses had largely fallen into disrepair, and the neighborhood was home to working-class Irish and African Americans. Then, with the explosion of government hiring during the New Deal, Ivy League graduates moved in. They fixed up their homes in an array of styles until the national craze for historical preservation took hold. In 1950, “Old Georgetown” was designated a federal historic district, with all the restrictions on home modification that entailed.
“By the time you get to 1960, and John Kennedy leaves his Georgetown mansion on N Street for the White House, you just couldn’t afford to get in if you wanted to,” Mr. Musgrove said.
A lot of the residents support efforts to keep things more or less the same. Catherine Emmerson, whose family lives close to Dr. Howard, helped start the Prospect Street Citizens’ Association a few years ago to stop a condo conversion that would have blocked local residents’ views of the Potomac River.
When the Transformers arrived, the group had a new target.
It’s not that the association was against celebrating film history. In fact, its members argued that the condo conversion would have threatened something that ought to be a landmark (and now is): a set of steep steps on Prospect Street, built in 1895, that appeared in “The Exorcist.” (Think: tumbling priest.)