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Apartment Living

It's Home Chic Home in Trendy U St. Neighborhood

By Samantha Ganey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 21, 2004; Page T05

Two years ago, the corner of 13th and U streets NW was a commuter parking lot for Metro's Green Line. Now, though, it is home to one of the city's newest apartment buildings, the Ellington, which is selling itself as a cool place in a hot neighborhood.

The three-month-old neon-adorned building, which features units with big industrial-style windows, is beginning to fill with residents enthusiastic about the area's liveliness: The U Street corridor near the eight-story building includes a row of mostly independently owned restaurants, bars, boutiques and nightclubs.

Mona Test, an Ellington resident since June, says she prefers U Street life to her old Capitol Hill environs. (Samantha Ganey -- The Washington Post)

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Another perk, of course: easy access to the U Street/African American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Metro stop right across the street.

"I love the neighborhood," said David Marshall, who previously lived in nearby Adams Morgan. "It has the flavor of Adams Morgan," known as a night-life destination, "but without the sidewalk congestion."

The Ellington is part of a recent wave of condo and apartment construction near U Street, but the neighborhood is still not as densely populated as some other D.C. areas popular with renters. Nonetheless, there are enough people around, both residents and club-goers, that tenants at the 190-unit Ellington say the neighborhood seems safe and fairly active. "U Street is busy. There would always be someone to help out or witness something," said Jin Lee, 24, a research associate at a small D.C. environmental think tank.

Mona Test, 33, an Ellington resident since June 1, said she prefers the area to her previous residence on Capitol Hill. "It has a city feel," she said, "energetic, chic and artsy."

"It's the best location: new and up and coming," said Test, a saleswoman for Nextel Communications Inc.

The Ellington is introducing even more newness to the area by renting first-floor storefronts to mostly community or minority-owned retailers, said Chris Donatelli, president of Bethesda-based Donatelli & Klein Inc., which developed the building along with Gragg & Associates LLC of the District. The building is managed by Bozzuto Group.

These businesses will include the Maggie Moo's ice cream shop and the Mocha Hut coffee shop. Property Manager Ted Brownfield estimates all seven businesses should be open in a few months.

Despite new establishments getting attention, the area is still known for its history. The likes of jazz icon Duke Ellington -- for whom the building is named -- and literary great Langston Hughes -- remembered with the nearby Langston Lofts condominiums -- frequented the area when it was a center of the city's pre-integration black night life. Just off the corner of 13th and U streets, G. Byron Peck's mural of Ellington seems to be keeping an eye on the new building.

"Everybody is glad that big empty space is filled with that nice building," said Ben Ali Jr., second-generation owner of Ben's Chili Bowl, the well-known restaurant up the street.

Bringing more residents to the area will likely create a "more competitive business environment," Ali said. "But that's normally good for customers and can be good for business."

Despite the neighborhood's attractions, Marshall, a researcher at a law firm that is a 20-minute walk from the Ellington, is content to stay in on occasion. He sometimes prefers to hang out in the building's club room "just to be out, but in," he said. The room, with its plasma TV and soft, gray-ish couch, provides a change of scenery from the third-floor one-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife.

"It has the same comfort as my apartment," said Marshall. "I actually fell asleep down there [once], and woke up at 3 a.m. That shows, to me, how safe it is, because I'm someone who's always on guard."

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