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Paradise Gained
Paradise Gained

Saturday, June 7, 2008

You have to be more than 6 feet tall to peep over the wall off 13th Street NW and catch a glimpse of Edward and Juliet Gill Cunningham's patch of paradise in Petworth.

The wall, which forms the backdrop to their porch and deck, belongs to neighbor "Miss Lily," said Edward Cunningham, who first asked her permission to paint the wall white. When Cunningham's wife was smitten with a photo of Hawaii and started discussions with Silver Spring muralist Ronald Shaw, Cunningham again approached Miss Lily, who was unperturbed. "I don't care. I can't see it," she told him.

That was about 12 years ago. The Hawaiian scene now covers some 30 feet of wall, becoming more whimsical each summer with the addition of mermaids and lions and a rainbow studded with bits of glass to refract the sun.

"Every year, the artist is over here doing something or other," Cunningham said.

He just finished the fence around the hot tub. Last year, he did the cabana.

Cunningham, a night manager at Safeway who studied architecture in college, and his wife, a counselor at the District's H.D. Woodson High School, bought the house in 1990. They gutted it to create a hyper-modern space filled with white leather, art works, and a concrete fish pond with Miami-style spot-lit fountains under the staircase.

A 16-by-12-foot koi pond, stocked with fish Cunningham has raised from babies, is set into a deck outside the back door. The fish roil the water when he scatters food across the surface, tails flashing gold and orange. "My daughter used to sit on the side and dangle her feet," he said. Presumably that was before the fish grew to the size of small sharks.

Surrounding the pond and the hot tub are tables, chairs and benches. "A lot of people come to visit," Cunningham said. "They say, 'I feel like I'm in another world.' "

His favorite part? "My goodness," he said, gazing around his tropical hideaway. "Relaxing in the evening time when the lights come on."

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