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The Woodner Has One Foot In Glamorous Past, the Other In Area's Promising Future

The Woodner
The Woodner (Sadie Dingfelder - Sadie Dingfelder for The Washington Post)

"When it's cold, without walking outside you can get food," she said.

Next to the grocery store is Sangria Cafe, a restaurant that also has a bar, plus pool and foosball tables.

"I've been to the little bar," said Rachel Hoffman, 32, who often visits friends who live in the Woodner. "It's great when you want to go out for a drink in your pajamas."

Southerland said such conveniences were especially useful when she came to the Woodner in 1995, before the surrounding neighborhood's gentrification was complete. "It was scary in here when I first moved in," she said.

Since then, the nearby neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights have improved, she said.

The area around the Columbia Heights Metro station has a few restaurants and a supermarket. Soon Best Buy, Washington Sports Club and Target will open, too.

"It's a new, vibrant city center, at least for people who live up in this neighborhood," Milby said.

Residents whose apartments face away from 16th Street might forget that they are in the middle of the city. Many units, including two that were carved out of a former dining room, face a particularly hilly part of Rock Creek Park. Top-floor residents, especially the few with balconies, gaze out over rolling hills and hear barely any street noise.

That silence is, in part, because of the building's new windows, Milby said. Until last year, most of the Woodner's windows dated to the 1950s. Residents, turning a crank perhaps once used by frequent Woodner guest Jimmy Hoffa, tilted their windows out to let in fresh air. Now most apartments have modern windows that slide open.

The Woodner also recently got new freight elevators. The old ones, also original to the building, had held up pretty well, Milby said. But when they did break, it was almost impossible to find replacement parts.

There are plans to revamp the electrical system and fire alarms. "They are both not glamorous projects, but they're needed," Milby said.

Other interior renovations are scheduled after that. That may include refurbishing a built-in fish tank, which now houses only a few mud-colored guppies. A giant piece of decorative paper, which covers one wall with swirls of taupe and gold, is also in need of restoring, he said.

Even after the renovations, the Woodner will be far from its former glory. But that's just fine with many of the residents, for whom an inexpensive, convenient place to live is glamour enough.

"I like my own little space here," Southerland said. "I don't have any complaints."

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