Stephen and Mickey find home in DC's renewed Southwest neighborhood

By Chord Bezerra
Photography by Todd Franson
Published on June 24, 2004, 12:00am | Comments

If at first you don't succeed, you can always move to another neighborhood. This 2 BR, 2 1/2 BA townhouse near the waterfront in Southwest comes complete with great natural lighting, distinctive architecture, and plenty of space for two dogs and their owners.

The night Stephen Dempsey and Mickey Braden heard their next-door neighbor had been murdered in his house, they decided it was time to leave their Columbia Heights townhouse behind. They found a haven of their own in a little-known section of D.C.'s Southwest where urban renewal came with a contemporary twist. 

Stephen: We've been in D.C. for about four years now. We moved here from Dallas. We started out in an apartment up on Connecticut and Van Ness when we moved here because we needed something we could move into right away. Then we bought a house in a slowly gentrifying section of Columbia Heights. For Mickey it was a big change from Dallas.

Mickey: I had never lived in the inner-city.

Stephen: So we went from suburban Dallas to Columbia Heights. We lived there for almost 18 months. We were not real thrilled with the area.

Mickey: The night the police woke us up because our neighbor was murdered in his kitchen was my last straw.

Stephen: When we were in Dallas we had always been drawn to '60s contemporary [architecture], which is hard to find here in D.C. Our realtor said Southwest would probably be one of the few places in town where you could find that architecture. All of Southwest from the Capitol down to the waterfront was part of an urban renewal plan that they started in the '50s. There are actually five or six big complexes that comprise the bulk of Southwest. This was actually one of the first ones built -- it was a joint venture with Reynolds Aluminum. The high-rise next to this complex, as well as all the panels on these townhouses, were [made with] aluminum. It was Reynolds showing how aluminum could be used both structurally and ornamentally. It's pretty neat. The architect was Robert Goodman, who also did a lot of the first buildings out in Reston, Virginia. It is actually a fairly interesting complex.

[In the living room] When we walked into this place I think we both agreed that this was what we were looking for. It was wide open and the whole back of the house is glass. You get nice light and the open '60s feel. That kind of sold us on it when we got here.

We had to do a lot of clean up work when we moved in. The previous owner had enclosed this staircase and there was crown molding throughout the downstairs. I think he tried to make it a more traditional looking home, which it is not. We had a contractor come in and took this wall out. He also worked with a steel manufacturer and designed this rail system [for the stairs].

Mickey: [In the den] I got the dogs when we were in Columbia Heights. They're longhaired miniature Dachshunds. I'm a dog fanatic. When we left Dallas I had to give up my two dogs because the place we moved to didn't allow pets. After living here for about a year it got to the point that I needed something to come home to, to lick my face and everything would be fine. They're actually sisters from the same litter -- I made a deal to take them both because I didn't want to get just one. With both of us working I wanted them to at least have somebody to play with while we were gone. Their names are Cagney and Lacey -- our own little detectives.

It gets kind of dark down here so I can relax. I'm a sports nut so I come down here and watch sports and curl up on the couch. I watch any kind of sports.

Stephen: He watches anything, starting with tennis.

Mickey: Volleyball, softball, baseball...

Stephen: European rules football, juggling, gymnastics, ice skating…

Mickey: Well, not so much the ice skating.

Stephen: [In the master bedroom] I felt at home here almost immediately. I grew up as an Air Force brat, so moving for me is never a big deal. I tend to acclimate and fit in wherever I happen to be. For Mickey it was a little harder.

Mickey: I would say only in the past year and half have I been comfortable with D.C. period. I lived in Dallas for 18 years before coming here. It was very difficult for me. Just getting used to the city lifestyle and the people that go with it. For me it was not as friendly over here on the east coast as in the south. It was a challenge [to meet new people] but we developed some really good friends. Meeting them and getting comfortable with them helped me become comfortable with myself here.

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