Apartment Living

High End, High Style At the Avalon in D.C.

By Susan Straight
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, February 12, 2005; Page T05

Avalon at Gallery Place lives up to its billing as a luxury property just east of the Gallery Place Metro station in downtown Washington. From the elegant tiled lobby with a large, marble-edged fireplace, rich beige furniture and hefty coffee-table books on art and architecture to the teak rooftop deck furniture, it's evident this is the upper end of rents in a neighborhood of high-end apartments.

Units have granite kitchen countertops, hardwood floors in kitchens and foyers, large windows, and ceramic tile floors in bathrooms.

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The building has neither balconies nor sunrooms, unlike competitors Meridian and Sovereign Square a block away, but its rooftop deck is furnished with tasteful teak patio furniture. The space, which does not include a pool, is clearly designed for lounging, casual dining and socializing. There are tables, benches, chaise longues and two propane grills, interspersed with evergreens in teak planter boxes and large overarching trellises. Lattice work and wooden enclosures hide the rooftop ventilation equipment.

Avalon at Gallery Place opened in the spring of 2003; its 203 units are now nearly fully occupied. Residents rave about the selection of restaurants and shops nearby and the new movie theater within blocks of their front door. Metro's Gallery Place station, on the Red, Yellow and Green lines, is two blocks away. Most residents use the subway at least occasionally.

This location with this kind of luxury starts at $1,545 a month for an efficiency and tops out at $4,465 for a three-bedroom penthouse. Efficiencies are spacious for downtown, at 531 to 563 square feet.

Resident Kevin Thurman did his homework before choosing the Avalon. He looked at apartments all the way from the U Street corridor to Arlington and McLean. The Avalon won because of its location and the hardwood floors in his 11th-floor penthouse unit. "The location is everything when it's 30 degrees outside and you want to run over to Chinatown and get dinner real quick," he said.

The Avalon calls both the 11th and 12th floors penthouses. Penthouse units have hardwood flooring throughout, upgraded fixtures and darker wood kitchen cabinets instead of the white cabinets on floors one through 10. Prices are significantly higher for these units. "When you look at the price sheet, these are the 'wow!' prices up here on these floors," Thurman said with a laugh.

He said it's worth it, however, when he looks out his French doors onto the National Building Museum and city lights at night. His side of the building faces east, and his windows let in the morning sun.

Thurman was "really impressed" with the building and enjoys inviting friends to visit. "All my friends love coming down here because they say, 'You're in the heart of everything,' " he said. "The best thing is 7th and H streets on a Saturday morning at about 10:30 or 11 a.m. I'm not going to say it's New York City, but there's so much hustle and bustle, if you're a city person, you're going to love it."

New resident Erin Tuggle wasn't a city person -- until now. "If you like the city buzz, this is the place," she said. The Capitol Hill staff member moved in October after failing to find anything similar in this price range on Capitol Hill. She was also concerned about safety because she was moving from a Wyoming town where everyone knew each other and crime was rare.

"My parents called the [Avalon] staff because of their concern about safety, and the staff put them at ease," Tuggle said.

A widespread complaint of Avalon residents is that the Penn Quarter neighborhood has no grocery store. "It seems that the neighborhood has come so far and there are enough residents here now to justify a grocery store," said resident Edgar Mayes, who usually drives to the Safeway supermarket at Waterside Mall or to the Harris Teeter store at Pentagon City.

However, for residents who have no car or do not want to cart groceries on the Metro, the closest option is the Giant supermarket at 1414 8th St. NW, about a mile away. Developers have long discussed a closer grocery, but it's still not a reality.

The overwhelming majority of Avalon residents are childless professionals who work long hours, making the Avalon's concierge services a necessity rather than a convenience. The number of one-bedroom units, 113, is greater than all of the other styles combined. For those whose jobs regularly take them out of town, management provides pet sitting (cats only -- no dogs allowed).

Mayes, for example, must show up for work at the Department of Education in all kinds of weather. "I needed to be closer to work," he said. "I needed the Metro." At the Avalon, he has about a five-minute walk from the station and then two stops from work. If Metro wasn't running, he could walk to work in less than 45 minutes.

He also wanted a building that looked and felt pleasant. "I was very impressed with the lobby. It's very comfortable and inviting," he said. "You want someplace that's inviting for your relatives and friends."

Mayes likes the finishes in his apartment, such as the granite countertops. Appreciating the layout took a little time, however. "Having the bedroom right off the living room was a minor adjustment, but I've gotten used to it," he said.

The full-size washers and dryers in every unit were also a selling point for him, as were the rooftop garden and the gym.

The Avalon's goal was to provide a facility that would substitute for a regular gym membership. To that end, it contracted with a service through which residents can have a personal trainer at the gym for an extra fee.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company