Apartment Living

Downtown Neighborhood Blooms At Lansburgh Residents' Doorstep

By Sarah Abruzzese
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, January 29, 2005; Page T05

Renee Ingram moved into an apartment at the Lansburgh in downtown Washington because the building was convenient, just across the street from her office. Twelve years later she has left the job, but she said she remains in her home because the neighborhood provides just about all the good things in life.

There's one exception -- even as the neighborhood around the Lansburgh has bloomed over the years since Ingram moved there, there's still no grocery store in walking distance.

Architect Graham Gund kept the facades from the original buildings. (Photos Sarah Abruzzese For The Washington Post)

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These days, the area near the MCI Center is the site of several luxury apartment buildings. The Lansburgh, which opened in 1991, was a neighborhood pioneer.

"It's the most wonderful place I've ever lived for so many reasons. . . . The location is incredible," said Bonnie Hummer, 54, who moved to the Lansburgh in October.

She wanders the neighborhood dining in local restaurants and visiting museums. On nice days, "I take my book and go down and sit on the Mall and watch the tourists," she said.

The units at the Lansburgh were designed by Boston architect Graham Gund, also owner of the three old buildings that were united into the current structure -- the Lansburgh Department Store, a Kresge's store and another commercial building. Gund's innovative design -- he kept the facades from the original buildings -- won a competition to develop the building in the late 1980s.

In keeping the facades, Gund also kept the original windows and floor plates.

There are about 200 floor plans for the building's 385 apartments, according to Kevin Wilsey, the building's general manager. The apartments also have varying ceiling heights and in some units, soaring windows.

Gund also has decorated the halls with his selections of modern art.

Nancy Donovan, 50, has lived in the building for 12 years. "I live on the courtyard. When I started there the trees weren't very high and now I have this very lush-looking view in the summer when I look out toward the fountain," she said.

"It's pretty much a self-contained building," she said. "You can live a quieter life if that is your mood or you can walk outside and experience all that the neighborhood offers."

Jim Perkaus, 41, lives in a two-bedroom apartment. "There is a neighborhood down here now, which was kind of in formation when I moved here five years ago," he said.

When the Lansburgh opened, it was an outpost of the development to come. "There was this and Chinatown and nothing in between," Wilsey said. Now the area is vibrant, with the MCI Center, galleries, stores, movie theaters amd an abundance of restaurants. Some of them -- Cafe Atlantico, Jaleo and Austin Grill -- are in the Lansburgh's ground-floor retail space, which also holds the Shakespeare Theatre and stores.

The lack of a grocery store is the one glaring problem, residents said. Developers of a nearby site have promised a grocery.

The Lansburgh has its own amenities, including an indoor stainless steel pool that is heated by the sun during the day through the windows above it. There is an indoor gym abutting the pool; they are separated by a glass wall that gives the long rectangular gym the illusion of spaciousness despite being packed with dozens of machines. Down the hall is an aerobics and yoga room, where residents can stretch or play a workout video.

There's also a business center. Ingram, who used to work across the street, is now president of a foundation she started, the African American Heritage Preservation Foundation Inc. She sometimes uses the computers in the business center but generally works from her apartment.

Hummer, who recently sold a house in the District's Kalorama neighborhood, said she wanted to experience the downtown lifestyle before she committed to buying anything else.

She said she thinks the neighborhood is safe and welcoming, in part because of the staff at the Lansburgh. "They go out of their way to remember your name," she said. "I've gotten to be friends with them. . . . Any request, they would take care of it."

Others praise the staff, too. Perkaus, who is a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, describes himself as high maintenance. He said building employees are helpful, even heating dinner for him sometimes. "When I first came here they made accommodations which they didn't need to make regarding wheelchair accessibility," he said. "They put in a roll-in shower. They made accommodations that they weren't legally required to make, immediately and there was never a question."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company