High-End Condos for the Luzon Building

By Chris Kirkham and Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 25, 2006

The weathered, off-yellow Luzon apartment building on Pennsylvania Avenue has been vacant for more than a decade.

Condominiums and a Trader Joe's grocery store have sprung up steps away in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, but the lot at 2501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW is overgrown. Rickety fire escapes and rusted balconies mar one of the last examples of late-19th-century middle-class apartment buildings in the District.

Owners have come and gone, none able to please the neighborhood or District preservation officials with their plans.

Early next month, District-based Intrepid Real Estate LLC will break ground on a condominium project that will incorporate the Luzon building and fill in the lots surrounding it -- some of the last vacant property along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Unlike many District condominium buildings with smaller units on the bottom floors and a few penthouses on top, Intrepid President John B. Mason plans to build a 16-unit, eight-story building filled with large units. He envisions a Fifth Avenue-style boutique building, with concierge service and elevators that open directly into the condos.

"This is America's main street; it's a monumental location," Mason said. "We wanted to design a building of monumental status."

Getting to this point wasn't easy. The Luzon building was designated a historic landmark in 1990, making demolition of the building nearly impossible. Previous owners had proposed more dense development or time shares, none of which would have brought the long-term residents that neighbors want.

But the crumbling building was becoming more of an eyesore every year.

"Many people had become impatient for some kind of development," said Richard J. Price, who served on the advisory neighborhood commission in Foggy Bottom.

After months of back-and-forth with the District's Historic Preservation Review Board and neighborhood activists, Mason settled on a plan that would preserve the facade at the corner of 25th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

"It had been a long-standing controversy in the neighborhood," said Tersh Boasberg, chairman of the review board. "It finally worked out, with a lot of pulling and tugging and hemming and hawing."

Mason will renovate the brick exterior of the Luzon, demolish the back side and add additions on both sides. After Mason found old photographs that showed a bell tower at the top of the Luzon building, the preservation board asked him to install one.

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