People new to Georgetown are often surprised to come across the insular terms East Village and West Village. They are terms used to distinguish those parts of Georgetown on either side of Wisconsin Ave. Beyond simple geography, these terms often carry with them loaded associations, most of which are unjustified in GM’s opinion. So what’s the deal with the two villages?
The first issue to address when talking about these terms is where exactly they came from. The initial thought most people likely have is that the names are just copies of the Manhattan neighborhood names. It would not be the first time a neighborhood looked to steal a little cache from New York (although, the pre-gentrified East Village of New York is hardly the type of neighborhood that the East Village of Georgetown has ever aspired to be).
It’s not clear from a search through the Washington Post archives whether copying New York is the source of the names. However, it does appear that the names are really not that old. GM couldn’t find a use of the term before 1986, and even then it was just in a real estate listing. This shouldn’t be a surprise. The names are more creatures of real estate listings than they are actively used in everyday conversation.
Beyond real estate listings, the names appeared only a few times in the Post throughout the 80’s and 90’s. It’s not until this last decade or so that the terms began to be accepted for normal article-use. Perhaps what opened the floodgates was this piece from just a few years ago, which was apparently the first time the newspaper ever discussed the names at any depth.
While the post article doesn’t perform much of an etymological survey, it does discuss the supposed cultural history of the two quarters. It states that legend has it that the “split” between the villages can be traced to the decision on the part of some rich Episcopals to quit St. John’s on the west side and establish Christ Church on the east side (a bit more genteel form of schism than Episcopals are used to these days). Sounds a bit apocryphal to GM.
So which side is better? Here’s GM’s head-to-head (with the advantage in bold):
East Village West Village
Most expensive home: Everymay $50 m. Halcyon House $30 m
Current Politicians: Roy Blunt John Kerry
Past Politicians: Allen Dulles JFK’s house when
Robert Taft elected president
JFK’s house when
Journalists: Bob Woodward Maureen Dowd
Parks: Montrose Park Volta Park
Dumbarton Oaks Park
In GM’s opinion, the East Village has “grander” homes, is a bit quieter, and has none of the West Village’s traffic problems. On the other hand, the West Village has homes that rate higher on the “quaintness” scale, more neighborhood stores, and Volta Park pool. In the end, GM is happy to live in the East Village, but the differences are probably overblown.
So what do you think? Is one side better than the other or are the terms just useless parochialism?