If a tenant at the Summit Grand Parc were to borrow a cup of sugar from the complex's nearest neighbor, he would have to knock on George W. Bush's door at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
The building, on the northwest corner of 15th and I streets NW, is not only the closest apartment residence to the White House, but also the only residence on McPherson Square, which was a thriving neighborhood in the 1800s.
The Summit Grand Parc is one of two D.C. luxury apartment buildings owned by Summit Properties of Charlotte, which also owns six buildings in the Washington suburbs and dozens elsewhere.
Summit Properties bought the historical nine-story building in 1999 and has added a 14-floor, 85-unit building next to it. The upper floors of the old building were converted into 20 apartment units, while the lower portion was left for office use. The Dana Foundation occupies about 10,500 square feet, and Summit is still looking for a tenant for the remaining 2,000 square feet, said Adrienne Teleki, Summit Properties' development manager.
Because of the combination of renovation, new construction and a four-story underground automated parking system, "the complexity of this type of job makes it very expensive," Teleki said. Summit bought the property using historical preservation tax credits, transferable development rights and the District's tax abatement for multifamily dwellings.
"D.C. made a really big effort to promote downtown housing . . . to make downtown a more livable place," Teleki said.
Activist Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, was a forceful advocate of the building, seeing it as a way to get more residents back to the area. He was helpful in such details as getting a zoning variance for the inner courtyard area, Teleki said.
The Summit Grand Parc "is a tremendous boost to downtown," Lynch said, because of the presence of residents after business hours and the increased civic concern created when people live, as opposed to just work, in a neighborhood.
Until the Summit Grand Parc opened, the only residents of the immediate McPherson Square neighborhood were a number of homeless people who receive daily meals at the park. With the Summit's initiative of returning residential space to McPherson Square, Lynch sees the neighborhood "as a vibrant city center." He envisions successful integration of federal and local uses and needs, "not just nine-to-five bank and copy shops."
Charlie Docter, chairman of the Downtown Housing Now Committee, a group dedicated to returning residences to downtown Washington, also actively supported the Summit Grand Parc. He testified in favor of approving Summit's residential zoning permits. "We are thrilled that the Summit Grand Parc is opening," Docter said. He said he hopes that, by demonstrating "it is economically sound to put housing there," the project will spur other residential development and historical rehabilitation in the neighborhood.
The Italian Renaissance-style building was designed in 1912 for the University Club by prominent D.C. architect George Oakley Totten Jr. Totten is known for his designs of numerous embassies and elegant residences, primarily in the Sheridan and Kalorama neighborhoods.
The United Mine Workers of America bought the building in 1936 and promptly removed all the university crests affixed to the outer stonework. The miners' other renovations, including a ninth-floor rooftop addition for President John L. Lewis's offices, made it one of the most modern office buildings of its time. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Summit has been asked by the National Park Service to submit an application to become a national landmark.
Lewis, one of the major reasons for the building's listing on the National Register of Historic Places, was a major figure in the American labor movement and founder in 1935 of the Committee for Industrial Organization, better known as the CIO.
The offices of that working man's champion are now the Summit Grand Parc's most expensive two-bedroom unit, priced at more than $10,500 a month for 2,184 square feet overlooking McPherson Square to the east and with a view of the Washington Monument to the south. In the apartment's main gallery, which looks much like a medieval banquet hall, heavy timbers rise to an 18-foot ceiling, and an oversize brick fireplace and hardwood floor create an impressive room for entertaining.
The unit has not been rented, said Summit regional manager Jim Brady, but he has received some interest.
The McPherson Square Metro station is directly across the street, but parking is a breeze if residents have a car. Summit says its automated parking system, installed by Chicago-based SpaceSaver Parking Co., is the first of its kind in a rental property in the United States, although there are dozens in Europe and Asia. Made by German parking-system manufacturer Wohr, the four-story underground system cost about $1.5 million -- not including land, excavation and installation expenses.
The cost is worth it, Summit executives said, because the system creates room for three times as many cars. Residents enter the garage and pull directly onto a pallet that then travels via a transporter machine to be stacked in an underground racking system. When residents want to use their cars, they wave a card in front of any of the five sensors in the building and proceed to the garage, where the car should be waiting. The cars can be parked or retrieved in two to four minutes, said Cullen Bailey, SpaceSaver's project manager.
A lot of the work Summit has done on the 91-year-old building has involved historical restoration, to return it to the condition of its earlier days as the University Club and the Mine Workers headquarters. Restoration included cleaning the brickwork and limestone, retrofitting the original windows with double-paned glass, and maintaining the original wide corridors.
Integrating the historical elements of the building with the new construction was a challenge; for example, workers had to adjust the heights of the hallways to fit the different floor levels between the new and old construction. The decor includes warm neutrals with black accents to combine old elegance with a modern urban edge, said designer Bill Carroll of Model Home Interiors in Beltsville.
But the few residents who have moved in say they know only that the building is fantastically convenient to an area that until now offered no residential opportunities.
One resident, an executive who works around the corner, said he found the building by accident on his way to work. He assumed it was new office construction and "was totally surprised that such an opportunity would become available."
"How could you not want to live there?" he said.
When he learned it was an apartment building, he was again surprised that the apartments had not all already been rented or picked over. He got to choose the exact unit he wanted. "It's nice being one of the pilots," he said.
He enjoys the great restaurants in the neighborhood, he said, as well as not having to negotiate a parking garage when he leaves his car in the automated parking system.
"It's an excellent location for people who have to be downtown at least a few days a week. . . . It makes being downtown feel more like home," he said.
Another resident, Matt Stevenson, found the building after a friend pointed it out. It is within an easy Metro ride of his office. The best two things about the property are the "pretty amazing" level of attention to detail and the "incredible" service, he said.
He goes for morning jogs around the White House and monuments. And for evening entertainment, Dupont Circle is a short walk away. "It's the first time I've really enjoyed where I live," said the business analyst.