One Capitol Hill resident has a serious bug problem, but that’s how she likes to live–at least during Halloween.

Lara Walker, 48, is the self-proclaimed “Mama Spider” behind the Capitol Hill spider house at the intersection of 13th Street and South Carolina Avenue SE. Almost every Halloween, the elaborate decorations seem to weave their way out of the brick home.

Walker has lived in Hill East for nearly 25 years and has set up her elaborate display of arachnids for more than 20 of them.

“The spider thing happened completely by accident,” Walker explained. “I like spiders, and they happen to be a simple thing in Halloween stores. I didn’t really like any of the gaudy, bright colored stuff.”

Halloween is the only holiday Walker commits to decorating for, and commit she does. She estimates it takes her at least 40 hours, spread out across the course of a week or so, to put up all the decorations.

Even then, she said she is constantly adjusting them, always finding something that could look a bit better.

The exterior decorations are made up of several packages of 400-foot long, synthetic webbing draped from all levels of the home, including the roof. It’s also wrapped around the fencing, trees and shrubs along the front and side of the house.

That’s not all. Nearly 30 spiders of all sizes are scattered around the webbing, hanging from the roof and windows. There are skeletons, bones, bats, ghosts, rats and likely hundreds of smaller spiders–what Walker calls the “babies”–used around the yard.

Every year, things are arranged a bit differently.

“I want it to look real, not kitschy,” Walker said. “I try to add a little bit every time.”

This year, she crafted some spider “cocoons” using extra webbing and some of the smaller spiders. They’re hanging from trees and settled in bushes. They are, indeed, freakishly realistic.

“People of all ages get a kick out of the house,” she said. “I think a lot of people appreciate how much work goes into it, but to be honest, I don’t do it for them. I just love it. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Until about 8 years ago, Walker worked in marketing communications. She now owns her own dog-walking business.

She doesn’t have any children, but she knows many families in the area and enjoys seeing the kids take notice of the decorations, whether they enjoy them or are a little scared by them.

“That’s what I love about this neighborhood, and I think it’s one of the reasons why I’ve stayed here as long as I have,” Walker said. “I think it’s also why this works here. It’s like a village, and everybody knows everybody.”

“In a community like that,” she added, “it’s kind of fun to be known as the spider lady.”

But being the spider lady is hard work, and Walker isn’t sure how many more Halloweens her spiders will come out for.

“I make no promises anymore about the house,” she explained. “That’s why I wanted to outdo myself this year because this really may be the last year.”

For now, trick-or-treaters can still visit the spider house between 6 and 8 p.m. on Saturday. Walker will be there too, dressed as a “spooky, witchy spider lady,” an extension of the entire display.

Visitors can also document and track their time with the spiders on Twitter and Instagram with #CapitolHillSpiderHouse.

As far as the future of the spider house, Walker said anything could happen.

“It’s a labor of love at this point,” she said. “A really weird one, but I do love it.”

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Morning Rundown

Eastern Market

Pedestrian Dies After Car Crash in NoMa — A 62-year-old woman died last week from injuries she sustained after being hit by a car at the intersection of H and 1st streets NW Sept. 19. [WUSA]

Man Beaten by Teens After Trying to Break Up Fight Near Eastern Market — A man was attacked by a group of teens near the Eastern Market Metro station last week after trying to stop the group from attacking a boy. [NBC Washington]

Mattress Company’s ‘Napmobile’ Visits Capitol Hill — Mattress company Casper parked a trailer with four nap pods near the Eastern Market Metro station over the weekend for passersby to use for free. [Washington Business Journal]

Meet the Neighbors: NoMa’s Trumpeter — Homeless musician Melvin Simpson serenades residents near the NoMa-Gallaudet University Metro station. [Hill Now]

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Melvin Simpson

Hill Now periodically publishes profiles of locals — from longtime residents to newcomers, from government officials to ordinary folks. Know someone we should feature? Email us at [email protected]

Trumpet music has become a familiar sound to residents near the NoMa-Gallaudet University Metro station. They’ve heard “Amazing Grace,” “Military Taps,” “When The Saints Go Marching In” and a slew of other traditional American tunes.

The morning accompaniment is courtesy of Melvin Simpson.

He plays a pTrumpet, a brand of plastic trumpet that offers musicians a less expensive alternative to a heavy, brass instrument. This is critical for Simpson, who is homeless.

“I just try to entertain so I can make it through my day until I can find a regular job,” he said. “I needed to do something to bring in some income, so I just play my trumpet.”

Simpson grew up in Southeast D.C. and attended Eastern High School. At the school, he played baritone horn and trombone in the marching band, but hasn’t had any other formal musical training.

He taught himself how to play the trumpet, and all the songs he knows, he learned by ear.

The trumpet was a gift he received after he spent a week or so whistling popular tunes around the block. One day, a local couple approached him.

“I had just met them, and we started talking about my past and what I did,” Simpson said. “We talked a lot about instruments. I told them I was looking to get back into it but didn’t have the money for it. So the woman found this trumpet online for the right price and said she’d foot the bill.”

The instrument came at a small price to Simpson: Play “Happy Birthday” for the woman on her birthday.

“I’m just happy I was able to provide,” he said. “It was such a small task for what they did for me.”

Simpson did not identify the woman who purchased the trumpet.

When he’s not performing, Simpson spends his time at a nearby homeless shelter, where he said he has received a lot of support.

“They’re actually pretty surprised that someone’s actually doing something, but they see the initiative I’m taking,” Simpson said. “It’s hard, but I keep a positive attitude.”

After working on his repertoire around NoMa, Simpson plans to branch out to play at more locations, like Union Station. For now, he said he’s happy to do so while he waits on a Social Security card and can continue the job hunt.

“You could be going through something bad and hearing a song can just lighten up your whole day,” he said. “Music is a just a wonderful thing that speaks to the soul. It’s something this place lacks.”


Betsy Poos and Stacey DeGrasse

Hill Now regularly publishes profiles of locals — from longtime residents to newcomers, from government officials to ordinary folks. Know someone we should feature? Email us at [email protected].

Ward 6 residents Stacey DeGrasse and Betsy Poos both began taking yoga classes as a counterbalance to their busy lives.

Now in their fifth year on Pennsylvania Avenue, the co-owners of Capitol Hill Yoga said they hope to bring more serenity to the lives of locals.

“Yoga has been so helpful for me,” said DeGrasse, who also works full-time as an FDA research biologist. “With the fast-paced, high-pressure careers so many of us have here, we want to provide that.”

She and Poos, a former Hill staffer and consultant, opened the garden-level studio at 641 Pennsylvania Ave. SE after the studio where they both previously taught closed. Earlier this month, their studio was named Fitness and Exercise Service of the Year by the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.

Yoga practitioners can spend Jan. 1 with DeGrasse, 42, and Poos, 36, in a special “New Year’s Day Awakening” class. The goal of the 2 hour 15 minute class is to “to deeply set your intention for the year,” DeGrasse said.

Here’s what Hill Now learned about them in our last Meet the Neighbors interview of the year.

Live: DeGrasse lives on the waterfront, a few blocks east of Nationals Park, with her husband, two cats and “a lot of saltwater fish and invertebrates.” Poos lives near Tyler Elementary School with her husband, 4-year-old daughter and a Boston terrier named Bodhi, which means enlightenment. “I live on a pretty special block. Up and down, I know every neighbor,” she said.

Favorite Neighborhood Hangouts: Acqua Al 2 for DeGrasse, and Zest for Poos.

Favorite Glimpses of Old D.C.: Poos, a runner, said glimpses of the Capitol Building give her additional spring in her step. “That stretches me all the way down the Mall.”

What Changes They’d Like to See on the Hill: More opportunities for small business owners, like additional storefronts and leasing opportunities, DeGrasse said. She would also like to see more community involvement in local politics.


Hill Now regularly publishes profiles of locals — from longtime residents to newcomers, from government officials to ordinary folks. Know someone we should feature? Email us at [email protected].

Betty Hart opened With These Hands Hair Gallery 30 years ago and named the business after her love for being a caregiver.

“I like working where I can lay hands on people,” she said yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon. “I’m a woman of God, and I believe in laying of hands and praying. That’s what I like to do.”

Hart, 70, grew up in Roanoke and began styling hair as a teenager. She studied business at Florida State University, bought 521 H St. NE in 1984 and then opened for business.

The 11-chair salon spans two stories and was decorated on Thursday with garland in fall colors, Washington Redskins posters, and signed photographs of U.S. presidents and Michelle Obama. Hats that Hart makes and sells hang behind the counter.

Speaking before she headed home to bake 14 sweet potato pies for Thanksgiving, Hart said she opened her business in the area because it was a “beautiful place.”

“I love H Street,” she said. “In any of the restaurants and shops I have been, they’re so beautiful and kind.”

Lives: In Northeast D.C. with her husband, 50-year-old son, a shih tzu named Pup Pup and a pit bull named Kojo

Favorite Neighborhood Restaurant: Hart said she tries to sample local restaurants, and often orders oxtail from Taste of Jamaica (528 H St. NE).

What Changes She’d Like to See on the Hill: Hart said she would like to see local parking overhauled. “When I have clients and they have to come so far to come to me and then they have a $100 ticket, that’s not pretty,” she said.

How to Be a Better Neighbor: Hart said she loves that locals look out for her. “I’ll come in with an armful of supplies and people will ask me, ‘Ma’am, can I help you?'” she said. “When God blesses you, you have to bless others.”


Claire Portolese, in pink (Photo courtesy of Claire Portolese)

Every week, Hill Now will publish a profile of a local — from longtime residents to newcomers, from government officials to ordinary folks. Know someone we should feature? Email us at [email protected].

Hill resident Claire Portolese has loved to dance since she was a child. About two years ago, the Tulsa, Oklahoma native turned that love into her career.

“It’s been my only passion my whole life,” she said. “I finally decided to take the big leap.”

Portolese is the owner of Tippi Toes Washington D.C., a roving dance school for children 18 months to 12 years old. Many of the studio’s coed classes are held in schools once classes end.

“Classes held in schools give parents or nannies another hour,” she said. “That’s a big deal, especially in his crazy traffic city.”

Portolese, 37, grew up leading neighborhood girls in dance lessons on her sidewalk. Years later, she saw on the show “Shark Tank” that her childhood friends started Tippi Toes, which has locations nationally. Portolese had worked in commercial and government consulting for 10 years then and was plotting her next move. She reconnected with her old friends, and launched the franchise in July 2012. Tippi Toes regularly adds classes, like the “Toddler and Me” and “Baby Ballet” sessions that start this week.

Teaching young children to dance is “hysterical,” Portolese said.

“‘Hold your hands in beach ball,’ ‘put your arms in airplane,’ we tell them. What they don’t know is they’re learning the basic steps of ballet,” she said.

Lives: Near Garfield Park with her husband — an I.T. consultant who has called himself “Mr. Tippi Toes” — their 6 1/2- and 3 1/2-year-old sons, and their 10-year-old pug, Zoe.

Favorite Neighborhood Hangouts: Beuchert’s Saloon (623 Pennsylvania Ave.), Eastern Market and parks near her family’s home. Turtle Park is perfect for kids 3 and under, and Garfield Park works for children of all ages, she said.

What Changes She’d Like to See on the Hill: 1) The neighborhood needs an indoor play space for children, Portolese said. “They need some place to run and get out their energy.” 2) The reopening of Frager’s Hardware, where she and her husband shopped while they renovated their home over the course of six years.

On How to Be a Better Neighbor: Talk to each other and welcome newcomers. Portolese said she was delighted when neighbors brought cookies when she moved in 12 years ago. “It reminded me of the friendly environment I grew up in,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Claire Portolese

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Brian Flahaven

Every week, Hill Now will publish a profile of a local — from longtime residents to newcomers, from government officials to ordinary folks. Know someone we should feature? Email us at [email protected].

Brian Flahaven pays tribute to the “tradition of activism” on the Hill and wants to shepherd his own corner of the neighborhood into the future.

Flahaven, 39, has lived in Hill East since 2007 and was elected the area’s ANC 6B representative in 2010. He’s on the ballot again tomorrow (Tuesday) and is unopposed.

The Illinois native said he wants to help plan the future of Reservation 13, close the homeless shelter at D.C. General, increase access to the waterfront and make the neighborhood a destination. However, “I don’t think we want to be another H Street or Barracks Row,” he said.

Hill Now spoke with Flahaven, who works as a legislative director for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, about his life and volunteer work in Hill East.

Lives: Near 17th Street SE and Potomac Avenue SE with his wife, 14-month-old son and a 2-year-old miniature Dachshund. “She’s the worst constituent dog you could imagine,” he said. “She barks at everybody.”

Favorite Neighborhood Hangouts: Curbside Cafe (257 15th St. SE), The Pretzel Bakery (340 15th St. SE) and Zest (735 8th St. SE). “We in Hill East have been clamoring for more restaurants,” he said. “We need more community gathering places.”

Favorite Glimpse of Old D.C.: The Historic Congressional Cemetery. “It’s a great way to have a ‘serenity now!’ moment. I wish more people knew about it.”

What Changes He’d Like to See on the Hill: 1) Make streets more pedestrian-friendly, especially around 17th Street SE. 2) Keep the neighborhood diverse and affordable as it develops.

On How to Be a Better Neighbor: Take the time to meet your neighbors. “It really adds to your quality of life and sense of place.”


Chris Ellis

Every week, Hill Now will publish a profile of a local — from longtime residents to newcomers, from government officials to ordinary folks. Know someone we should feature? Email us at [email protected].

Chris Ellis has lived near H Street NE for just a year but is already a diehard fan of the neighborhood. The 29-year-old travels by skateboard, works at the H Street location of Metro Mutts (508 H St. NE) and frequents bars and restaurants along the corridor.

The warmth and diversity of H Street NE are what Ellis said he loves about the area.

“I get a piece of everything I want here — a little touch of the ghetto when you get to H and 8th,” the Brooklyn, New York native of Barbadian, Jamaican and Puerto Rican descent said. “It’s all down one street.”

Ellis, who practices jiu-jitsu and Thai boxing, tried living in Tenleytown when he first moved to D.C. four-and-a-half years ago but found it too sleepy. “It was nice living, and if you wanted to have fun, you had to venture out,” he said.

He tried U Street NW next, but it wasn’t a good fit, either. “U Street is not as subtle [as H Street NE]. This is more sit-down, drink, talk, whereas U Street is get drunk, party, dance,” he said.

H Street NE felt like a fit right away, Ellis said. “There’s no strip like this in my whole life.”

Lives: Off H Street NE with his girlfriend, a 80-pound pit bull mix named Buster, a Yorkshire terrier named Jake and a few cats they’re fostering.

Favorite Neighborhood Hangouts: Hikari Sushi & Sake Bar (644 H St. NE) and Little Miss Whiskey’s Golden Dollar (1104 H St. NE).

Most Frustrating Thing in the Neighborhood: Ellis said he doesn’t feel welcome in some businesses. “There’s still a bit of racism. In certain bars, they look at me like ‘What are you doing in here?'”

What Changes He’d Like to See on the Hill: Ellis said he’d like to see expanded homeless and mental health care services in the area.

On How to Be a Better Neighbor: Use trashcans, pick up after your pets and say hello. “I’m always warm to people, from the crackhead to the hippie.”


Julia Christian (Photo courtesy of Julia Christian)Every week, Hill Now will publish a profile of a local — from longtime residents to newcomers, from government officials to ordinary folks. Know someone we should feature? Email us at [email protected]

Julia Christian has lived on the Hill her whole life. Now the communications director for City Councilman Tommy Wells, Christian grew up taking classes at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, became program director there as an adult and managed H Street Playhouse. Christian, 37, went on to direct the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce (CHAMPS) and even snagged the Twitter handle @capitolhilldc.

She said she stays involved on the Hill — including by playing keyboards and singing in the local bands The Sequins and The Fuss — because she wants to give back to the community that raised her.

“I feel like I should be an ambassador of the neighborhood,” she said.

Lives: At 6th and North Carolina streets SE, just blocks from where she was raised, with her 7-year-old daughter and a “docile” pet guinea pig.

Favorite Neighborhood Hangouts: The Queen Vic (1206 H St. NE), Tunnicliffs Tavern (222 7th St. SE) and Jimmy Valentine’s Lonely Hearts Club (1103 Bladensburg Road). She’s a big fan of the decor in Jimmy Valentine’s. “It’s like an old yard sale mixed with a disco ball.”

Favorite Glimpse of Old D.C.: The 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. “It seems to be stuck in this odd time capsule,” she said. Christian recalled a “country kitchen-style” McDonald’s on the block when she was a kid. “That block has always felt the same.”

Most Frustrating Thing in the Neighborhood: A lack of involvement in local government. “If all of you who said ‘What’s the point?’ got involved, we could really make a difference.”

What Changes She’d Like to See on the Hill: 1) Reopen the Pennsylvania Avenue location of Chesapeake Bagel Bakery. “Everyone would head there and then go to the Market.” 2) Bring back Market Day and the community unity it created. “The entire neighborhood was in one place at one time.” 3) Improve North-South transportation. “Not all bus lines are equal, which is not right,” she said. “If we want visitors to come, we need to be able to get them from Eastern Market to H Street efficiently.”

On How to Be a Better Neighbor: Commit random acts of kindness like flipping your neighbors’ windshield wipers up before a snowstorm, and smile. “I find that smiling is amazingly catchy. If you do it, people will do it back.”


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