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In 1790, Washington locals began calling the neighborhood "Tennally's Town" after area tavern owner John Tennally. Over time, the spelling has evolved and by the 19th century the area was commonly known by its current name, although the spelling Tennallytown continued to be used for some time in certain capacities, including streetcars through the 1920s.
The area is the site of Fort Reno, one of the forts that formed a ring around Washington D.C. during the American Civil War to protect the capital against invasions. It proved to be the crucial lookout point for preventing a siege of Washington (indeed, it is the highest natural point in the District of Columbia).
In the post-Civil War era, Fort Reno was a free black community. This community was almost entirely wiped out when the federal government decided to condemn most of its housing to build Deal Middle School, Wilson High School, a park, and a water tower. The Jesse Lee Reno school building, which housed an African-American school during the Jim Crow era, is one of the few remaining traces of this history.
Within the park boundaries lies the highest natural point in the District of Columbia, 429 feet above sea level. Fort Reno also hosts community gardens, free rock concerts in the summer, sledding in the winter, and tennis courts, playing fields, and dog-walkers year round. Wilson HS baseball now uses the ball field for its home games.
Tenleytown was transformed on October 2, 1941 when Sears Roebuck opened its department store on Wisconsin Avenue at Albemarle Street. At the time the store was notable for its size and for its 300 car rooftop parking lot. In the 1990s, Sears abandoned its retail operation at the location and the building was used by Hechinger hardware until its demise in the late 1990s. In the 2000s, the building was converted to a mixed-use development complex called Cityline at Tenley, with luxury condos (The Cityline) on the top levels, a Best Buy and a Container Store at street level, and an Ace Hardware underground, located within the parking garage that serves the aforementioned stores. The west entrance to the Metro station is at the front of the building.
In 2010, the Top of the Town: Tenleytown Heritage Trail opened. The path starts from the metro station and passes by neighborhood landmarks such as American University, the Civil War's Fort Reno, and the studios of WRC-TV, Washington's NBC station.
The neighborhood is home to the highest point in Washington, Fort Reno's Point Reno. Due to the high altitude, the neighborhood is home to nearly all of the city's radio and television towers. The studios and/or towers for WRC-TV, WTTG, WUSA, WETA-TV, WHUT-TV, WDCA, WPXW-TV, WJLA-TV, and radio stations WAMU and WTOP-FM are located here. American Tower Corporation started to build an even higher tower, 756 feet (about 230 meters) tall, which could support 169 transmitters, but the District government reversed its position, and the incomplete tower was demolished in August 2006.
Tenleytown and adjacent American University Park are served by the Tenleytown-AU stop on the Washington Metro Red Line. A free shuttle bus runs between the Metro stop and American University's main campus. The station is located in the heart of the neighborhood at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Albemarle Street. Metrobus routes 31, 32, 36, 37, D32, H2, H3, H4, M4, W45, W47 serve the neighborhood, all making stops at the station.
The neighborhood is defined by Tenley Circle which lies at the intersection of Nebraska Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, and Yuma Street. On Tenley Circle itself is St. Ann's Catholic Church, a large imposing stone church which serves area Catholics. On the opposite side of the circle is Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church. American University's Tenley Campus, formerly the Immaculata School, also bounds the western edge of the circle.
The area is served by the District of Columbia Public Schools.
Tenleytown is zoned to:
The District of Columbia Public Library system operates the Tenley-Friendship Library. After seven years in an interim location, the library reopened in 2011 at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Albemarle Streets.
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