In the Prettified City, Urban Grime Gives Rise to Green

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 6, 2008

Kathy Remus shelled out more than $1 million to live in a new building with views of the Washington Monument, Washington National Cathedral and -- wait . . .

What's that next door?

A gas station?

Ah, but no ordinary gas station. Not with a 5,000-square-foot garden sprouting lush and verdant from atop its roof. It's a dash of Eden in the middle of the city -- if you forget about the $3.75 a gallon gas running beneath it.

The condo developer planted the garden partly as an environmentally friendly gesture. But his main purpose was to shield his buyers, some spending upward of $3 million, from having to gaze down upon -- horror of horrors! -- a weathered metal roof.

Any metropolis worth its bustle is a chaotic mix of beauty and grit. Soaring skyscrapers, handsome facades and broad boulevards are essential to a city's character. Yet so are the less-refined urban accouterments -- fire escapes and clothes lines, manhole covers, antennas and, yes, eminently forgettable rooftops.

To green the concrete jungle, it could be argued, is to dull the urban edge.

Or put another way, what's wrong with a little ugly?

Not a thing, says Anthony Lanier, president of EastBanc, the developer who planted the garden next to 22 West, which his publicity team billed as "uber-luxury, eco-chic" living at 22nd and M streets NW.

His intention, he says, has nothing to do with making the rooftop as serene as a suburban lawn. Indeed, he's a fan of urban vistas, even the more unsightly views. He just wants to make them "more fun." And easier on the eyes.

Imagine a water tower painted yellow or green, he says. "Or you could put a neon band around it that shows Mickey Mouse chasing his girlfriend. Why not?"

When he decided to build next to the gas station, he was determined to embrace what could otherwise be unfortunate geography. As part of an agreement with Exxon, he remodeled the station to make it match his glass-and-zinc design.

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