At Peace in the Past
By Marianne Kyriakos
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 3, 1995
The grand and fabled Broadmoor opened in the fall of 1929, the same month as the stock market crash, perhaps an inauspicious moment for the launch of a luxury apartment-hotel. Its upper Connecticut Avenue perch overlooking Rock Creek Park was then considered somewhat remote from downtown Washington.
And yet the story of the massive Broadmoor has been lively and rich, intricately linked with the city's chain of history. Some say it is one of Washington's great addresses. The residence at 3601 Connecticut Ave. NW, at the corner of Porter Street in Cleveland Park, is mentioned in James M. Goode's book, "Best Addresses: A Century of Washington's Distinguished Apartment Houses."
During the Great Depression, the Broadmoor's Silver Grill dining room served 25-cent breakfasts. The manager and most players of the Washington Senators baseball team lived in the Broadmoor during three baseball seasons in the late 1930s. Their principal watering hole was the Grill's glass-block art deco bar.
Later, at the height of World War II, beds were placed in alcoves near the elevators on each floor, as quarters for women military officers.
The residence has been home to Richard M. Nixon and his wife, Patricia, during his days as a congressman from California; labor leader George Meany; members of the retailing Hechinger family; and the last direct descendant of President Lincoln, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith.
"It's a very quirky little building; it's a funny old place," said Paul Jorgensen, 32. "It's got walls that are thicker than you can imagine, and it's very quiet."
Jorgensen and his wife, Judy Osborn, 34, bought their well-kept two-bedroom, eighth-floor cooperative unit five years ago.
"We were in the high $200,000s, but that included a lot of renovation," Jorgensen said. The kitchen was enlarged by taking some space from the "baronial" dining room. "We like to cook," he said.
The couple, both lawyers, have an 11-month-old son -- one of the Broadmoor's four babies.
Residents cherish the Broadmoor's quaint touches.
A few of the outer louvered apartment doors still hold a reminder of World War II -- a decal that urges, "Please turn out your lights when leaving rooms. Blackout alarms may occur while you are out!" Each unit has miniature "Serva Doors" opening into the hall that once were used for deliveries. (Most residents have sealed them off for security purposes.)
And there is an entire wing of guest rooms, which those who live there can rent for $20 a night for visiting friends and family. "They are not the most updated rooms; a lot of them are like stepping back 20 or 30 years," Jorgensen said. "But little amenities like that are what make the Broadmoor very, very charming."
Much of the original floor plan has changed because space was at a premium during World War II, when many units were subdivided. Some owners have purchased an adjacent unit and re-created the original apartment.
The building is equipped with a quaint passive air-conditioning system, 1920s-style, no longer in use. Elevator-size concrete air shafts lead off one of the bathrooms in each unit to the roof. Decades ago, air would circulate by an enormous fan in the basement boiler room. "We have one of the strangest basements on Connecticut Avenue," Jorgensen said.
Dorothy L. Downing has lived in the Broadmoor since 1937, longer than anybody else in the building. "Miss, that's M-I-S-S now, none of this Msssssssss . . .," the retired D.C public school teacher said.
Downing paid $11,500 for her one-bedroom apartment when the building went co-op in 1948. "And now they go for $80-, $90-, $100,000, which I think is appalling. I would rather have a house."
Nonetheless, she said, "from one of my windows, I can see the National Cathedral spires. And I discovered quite by accident last July 4 that I can see the fireworks from my kitchen and bathroom. Just marvelous."
Downing, who is 68 ("But I feel 35"), described the atmosphere as "whatever you want it to be. I'm very private," she said. "Nobody crosses my threshold; I do most of my socializing outside. But I think everybody here kind of thinks their home is their castle."
An early sales brochure describes the Broadmoor as "home of . . . a select cross-section of official Washington." Education Secretary Richard Reilly is the notable of the building now.
"I don't think we have as showy and flashy a group of residents as we once did," Downing said. One past resident with elan was a very wealthy woman "dripping in jewels and mink."
The woman had a Pekingese dog with the same short legs and prominent eyes as its owner. "They looked just like a matched set," Downing said.
Raymond A. Mailloux has an opulent home filled with antiques and collectibles. He paid $140,000 for the two-bedroom, two-bath unit in 1986. "My nephew came to visit last year, and we visited some friends in the building. My nephew said, It looks like you all live in little mansions,' " Mailloux said.
"At one time you couldn't walk through the lobby in Bermuda shorts," Mailloux added. "The women could wear shorts but the men couldn't. Maybe it's because we have ugly legs, I don't know. It's not frowned upon now."
Some people had a self-imposed dress code, he said. If they were wearing shorts, they would take the freight elevator.
He misses the first-floor restaurant. Its last incarnation, as a Hungarian eatery, closed a few years ago.
"You know how that used to work? We who lived here could eat there before a certain hour for almost half the price -- soup to nuts," Mailloux said. "You could not select from the menu, but there were specials posted the day before. It had atmosphere, low lighting -- when you walked down those steps, it was sort of somber."
The Broadmoor's 194 units range in price from $35,000 to $40,000 for efficiencies, $130,000 to the mid-$160,000s for a single bedroom and $165,000 to $285,000 for two bedrooms, according to Joan A. Farrell of Weichert Realtors on Wisconsin Avenue. The apartments are roomy -- from 1,000 to 1,750 square feet. At present, there are four one-bedroom units on the market.
"Half of the world wants the park side, and half wants Connecticut Avenue, and that's just fine," said Farrell, who has lived in the Broadmoor since 1987.
Life in the Broadmoor is good, Jorgensen said. His only vexation: "Everyone knows the baby. It's kind of disturbing; we've really got to memorize more people's names."
© 1996 The Washington Post Co.
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