We often receive these questions. Perhaps they will answer your question before you need to ask it.
How did Rosedale come to be?
In the 1990’s, Youth for Understanding (YFU), then owner of the six-acre Rosedale estate, began to experience financial difficulty, and by 2000 it was seeking a buyer for the property. Friends of Rosedale, an organization formed by the neighborhood to protect Rosedale, monitored the negotiations as different potential buyers emerged, ranging from developers to embassies to schools. In the Spring of 2002, after a potential sale to another charitable organization failed to close, Youth for Understanding held what amounted to an auction for the property. Two neighbors put together an $8 million bid that would have assured public access to the 3-acre lawns area in perpetuity. Ultimately, an independent school submitted the winning bid, and YFU entered into a contract in June to sell the property for $12 million.
However, back in the late 1970s when YFU bought Rosedale, it agreed to a Covenant with numerous surrounding neighbors guaranteeing stewardship of the property, public access, and, importantly, a provision that owners of some 18 neighboring properties would have a deeded right of last refusal in the event Rosedale was ever sold. This right of last refusal gave surrounding neighbors ninety days to match any sale contract. Although the pending price made success seem nearly impossible, the Cleveland Park community mobilized an unprecedented fund-raising and legal effort aimed at triggering the neighborhood’s right to match the school’s terms.
On September 3, 2002, after a summer-long and neighborhood-wide effort – and a declaration of Bankruptcy by YFU — the Covenant holders unanimously exercised their right to match the sale contract’s terms to enable a purchase of the property. The front historic grounds would be purchased by a conservancy and ultimately held by a local neighborhood land trust. The historic Farmhouse would return to its original use as a residence, the dormitory buildings would be demolished, and the rear Ordway Street side of the property would be the site of several homes in place of the large institutional structures. It was a plan with virtually unanimous support in the neighborhood and the full support of DC’s Historic Preservation Review Board.
The school fought the neighborhood’s right to purchase the property, asking YFU’s bankruptcy court to reject the neighborhood’s matching of the school’s contract. After a day-long hearing, with neighbors waiting in the gallery, the Judge upheld the neighborhood’s right to purchase the property. Several weeks later, with funds contributed by over 100 families, the neighborhood was able to close on its purchase, thereby achieving an award-winning outcome that resulted in protection and preservation of the front three acres in perpetuity, restoration of the Farmhouse, and the return of the north side of the property to the residential use typical of the neighborhood.
Why is there no access from Ordway Street?
When the plan for subdividing the north-side of the 6-acre Rosedale estate was pulled together, in the chaotic effort in the summer of 2002 to protect Rosedale’s lawns and preserve public access, the plan did not include a north-side access point. This was not initially a problem, because for ten years the undeveloped lot to the east of the Farmhouse was accessible from Ordway Street, and its owner allowed neighbors to pass across it to enter Rosedale. However, in 2013, the lot was sold and a home was built there. From that time forward, access from Ordway ended.
Why is Rosedale surrounded by large homes?
Some of the homes that surround Rosedale – those on 34th Place and 36th Street – have been there for many decades. The newer homes around Rosedale are those that sit on the 3-acre area to the north of the Conservancy lawns. Prior to 2002, the Farmhouse was surrounded by three 5-story student dormitories, which were wholly out of place in Cleveland Park. As part of the 2002 neighborhood purchase of the estate, the dormitories were demolished and the land was subdivided to allow for the construction of seven new homes: one on either side of the Farmhouse and five along Ordway Street. The replacement of the dormitories with new homes completed the return of Rosedale to wholly non-institutional use.
Why are there no trash cans at Rosedale?
It’s a fair question. A receptacle would surely make it convenient for people to drop their trash in as they leave the property. Unfortunately solving this problem would create a list of other, bigger problems:
Since Newark Street is not a bus route, there is no DC garbage pickup. As an all volunteer organization we don’t have the man-power to empty cans regularly. The trash cans (at best) would be filled with dozens of poo bags and be especially foul in the summer. Public trash cans also invite drive-by dumping of garbage. Because the local animal population will undoubtedly “volunteer” to pick through the trash and scatter it around the park, we think the scene could get pretty grim, pretty fast, and that’s not fair to our neighbors.
The sad truth is that trashcans have substantial downside as demonstrated in the various photos shown below which were all taken within walking distance of Rosedale. These trashcans are eyesores to park users and neighbors. They are used to dump all kinds of things including clothes, furniture and large plastic bags of unknown content. They require a permanent structure which is contrary to Rosedale’s charter of historic preservation. They require foot traffic to and from a fixed location which results in bald ground and erosion. Often there is trash on the ground around these trashcans which results in vermin. They are also targets for graffiti. Cans either use plastic liners (resulting a waste/poop “soup” when it rains) or not use liners which results in more trash on the ground. Whatever marginal convenience is outweighed by these realities.
So, while it takes a bit more effort, like the National Park Service, we continue to ask that you “pack it out” and “leave no trace.”
Why does Rosedale stay closed after it stops raining?
The grounds of Rosedale were shaped by landscapers over 200 years ago and are of great historical significance. The features that were created in front of the farmhouse- the ramps, bowling greens and falls- are characteristics found at only a few remaining landmarks in the mid-Atlantic states. For this reason, the grounds were given landmark status and the Rosedale Conservancy was able to organize to protect them from further development.
It is therefore our moral and legal responsibility under our historic easement and landmark designation to protect them for future generations. To protect the historic features and protect the lawns from erosion and destruction, we unfortunately have to restrict usage after it rains or snows.. The grounds are characterized with soil that contains a lot of clay and it retains water and drains very slowly after rainfall. So the grounds can be easily damaged when it is still retaining the water from recent rainfalls.
Closures are particularly common in the winter months when the grass is dormant and the moisture forms wet spots around the property which can easily cause damage to the grounds with any foot traffic, human or dogs.
Fianally, the two bowling greens (the large flat areas on the northern side of the property) act like containment areas or retention basins that soak up the water from rain storms and melting snow and slowly release the water towards Newark Street. Topographically, this becomes the headwaters of a natural spring that starts at Rosedale, the highest point in this part of Cleveland Park. The water is released onto the brick sidewalks of Newark Street where after a rainfall or snow storm, you can often see standing water or ice on the bricks. The moisture then goes underground, under the houses on Newark Street and adjoining streets where the spring reappears east of the Macomb Playground and travels down behind Macomb Street and through the northern border of Tregaron down to the Rock Creek. So Rosedale, being the high point, is the originating point or headwaters of this stream.
We appreciate the patience of all of our Rosedale friends who love to use Rosedale for dog walking and other activities. We all have a shared responsibility to protect its unique features and status and that sometimes requires us to stay off the grounds until we can again safely use them without causing unnecessary damage to its historical features and beauty.
Can Rosedale be rented for weddings or private events?
No, Rosedale cannot be rented for private events. It is open to the public so everyone can enjoy the historic, natural landscape.
Why is there no place to sit at Rosedale?
The board is planning to add some seating to test its impact on the historic landscape and whether it is enjoyed by visitors.
What is Rosedale’s Mission?
The mission of The Rosedale Conservancy is “to preserve, maintain, and, as appropriate, restore the natural and historic character of the Rosedale landscape and, to the extent consistent with the foregoing, to facilitate public access to, enjoyment of, and education about Rosedale in a manner that enhances the Cleveland Park community.”