North Portal Estates History

North Portal Estates, which has about 220 homes, is 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 National Mall area and, on his own, developed 140 acres of nurseries in Shepherd Park and the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Saul's son inherited the land, and the B.F. Saul Company grew to employ 3,000 persons 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 developed in the early 1950s by wealthy Jewish families who undertook most of their building in the wake of the 1948 Supreme Court decision ruling racially restrictive covenants unenforceable. The homes that were built there were larger and more contemporary than other residences throughout most of D.C.

African-American families began to move to North Portal Estates 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.

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