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Prospect House:
A View With a Room

By Louie Estrada
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 30, 1995

As an architectural engineer, Ray Domino had a special appreciation for Prospect House, an 11-story luxury high-rise condominium set on a steep hill behind the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington.

Beyond the unusual floor plans, which provide 13-foot-tall ceilings and multilevel living, it was the glass wall opening onto a private balcony that entranced Domino, who moved to Prospect House a year after the building opened in 1965 as a rental apartment house. When the building was converted to a condominium in 1980, Domino was one of the first to buy.

When he died in 1993, Domino willed his condo to his niece, Martha Nash. The will stipulated that the condo cannot be sold out of the family, Nash said. "He wanted to pass along the joy that he found here to his family. He loved this place so much. He always referred to it as his paradise in the sky," Nash said.

Nash can see for miles across the Mall to the hazy horizon, with the monuments and federal buildings painted neatly on a postcard-like landscape. "He picked out the best spot in the building," Nash said of the eighth-floor unit.

Most of Prospect House's residents would share that opinion. The panoramic view of the monumental core of the District just across the Potomac River is what makes Prospect House unique, said Joan Mann, a real estate agent with Pardoe & Graham Real Estate Inc. and a resident there for the last 10 years. Some aspects of the units can be duplicated in other buildings, she said, but not the view.

Located at Fort Myer Heights in Arlington, Prospect House is one of a few apartment and condominium high-rises on a collection of 12 short streets, bordered on the north and west by Route 50, on the east by the Iwo Jima Memorial and nearby Arlington Cemetery, and to the southwest by Fort Myer.

The choice residences at Prospect House are the upper-level one- and two-bedroom condos. The larger units, which overlook the monuments, sell for about $300,000 to $375,000 and can rent at about $2,300 a month, Mann said. In addition, condo fees range from $375 a month for a one-bedroom unit to $557 for a two-bedroom. The studio units, which face the Arlington Courthouse skyline to the west, are priced at $70,000 to $80,000, she said.

There is no skyline view for the lower levels, which face landscaped grounds and surrounding apartments. The price difference? A one-bedroom condo on the lower floors sells for about $160,000, Mann said. Some people, eager to gain a foothold in the high-rise, have bought studio condos and are biding their time until a larger unit moves onto the market.

Interested buyers include those who already live at Prospect House. Looking to enlarge their units, some residents have bought adjoining condos and knocked down walls, Mann said. A few have bought studio condos located below the bedrooms and installed a spiral staircase to gain access to the room.

The renovations are possible because the studio condos are sandwiched between the larger units in an intricate maze of layering. While the condos vary in size, there are five basic floor plans created by architect Donald Hudson Drayer, who specialized in designing large luxury Washington area apartment houses after World War II.

The larger units are about 1,530 square feet. The one-bedroom and two-bedroom units are either split-levels or duplexes. In the duplex condos, a small foyer from the hallway leads to a seven-step staircase to the 13-foot-tall living room with the balcony overlooking the monuments to the east. A second six-step staircase from the living room leads to the dining room, kitchen and bedroom. Those upper rooms are built on top of the communal hallway and extend over a studio unit next door. Those rooms have a view of the growing Arlington Courthouse skyline.

Because of the design, the elevator stops only at every third floor. The hallways are lined with hundreds of crimson-colored doors and the walls are painted an antique white.

The dimensions of the rooms and the description of the building tell only half the story, Mann said. The residents cover the spectrum of young professionals to retired seniors. "A lot of people are active in the {condo} association, but mostly it's a non-intrusive group that enjoys privacy," Mann said.

Anna May Hays, who retired in 1971 as chief of the Army Nurse Corps, has lived at Prospect House since 1964. For a time, she was stationed in Spain and had an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean. But even that view couldn't compete with Prospect House, Hays said. "I have a moving picture of Washington and there is something always changing," she said.

There have been few changes to the building since it first opened in the 1960s. The Top O'The Town restaurant, a fixture on the top floor of Prospect House for 28 years, closed this year. The association is unsure how the space will be used, but there could be another restaurant, or penthouse units could be built.

While Prospect House boasts such amenities as a swimming pool, underground parking, a bike room, a 24-hour answering service and security, residents still have to squirrel away quarters for laundry. Most of the units do not have washers and dryers, making the basement laundry facility a popular place for visiting with neighbors.

The main annual attraction of Prospect House comes in the summer. It's a great vantage point from which to watch the Fourth of July fireworks on the Mall. The spot is so popular that the association started providing shuttle bus service to ensure the arrival of its invited guests.

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