Two 13-foot sandstone arches, painted white and carved with intricate curlicues, dominate one of the walls in Bobby Hill's two-bedroom apartment.
Part of the Warder Mansion, built in 1888, the arches survived the house's disassembly and move in 1925 from 15th and K Streets NW to its location now on 16th Street NW in Columbia Heights. They also withstood years of neglect when the Antioch College of Law occupied the building and more than 10 years of abandonment.
But the Warder Mansion has reemerged, polished to its former glory as 38 luxury apartments.
"I could not imagine not taking this apartment," said Hill, an Internet technology marketing consultant who works at home. The T1 Internet access available in most apartments has made his job easier, he said.
"What I like is that every apartment has something special architecturally," Hill said.
From the seven-foot ceilings in some apartments to loft apartments with ceilings more than 25 feet high to an apartment with a living room carved out of the building's turret, no two units are the same. Most have fireplaces, some with ornately tiled mantels and hearths.
To those architectural features, modern amenities were added: stainless steel appliances and granite countertops in the kitchen, marble floors and vanities in the bathrooms, and thermal and acoustical insulation in walls and ceilings. Each unit also has a washer-dryer.
What charm could not be coaxed out of the deteriorating building was re-created, such as crown moldings and carved stone around the entrances.
When United Housing LLC bought the mansion and an adjacent 112-year-old cottage in 2000, the structures were in serious disrepair. Squatters had taken over sections and fires they lit to keep themselves warm burned down some of the interior walls. Thieves had carted away as many pieces of antique stone and woodwork as they could pry off the walls.
The building made the D.C. Preservation League's list of most endangered properties beginning in 1996. Tim Chapman, one of three partners in United Housing, said it exemplified what preservationists call demolition by neglect.
United Housing used tax credits available to those who restore historic properties to help transform the mansion into apartments that rent for $1,900 to $3,500 a month. In exchange for help from the D.C. government, United Housing agreed to build an 80-unit building for moderate-income residents. Called Totten Tower, after architect George Oakley Totten, who owned the original cottage and moved the mansion to 16th Street, the one- and two-bedroom apartments rent for $975 to $1,170, including utilities.
United Housing obtained $1.3 million in federal tax credits to help keep those rents below market price. Income in Totten Towers is capped; for example, two people renting an apartment can have a combined income of no more than $41,000. But the features in the apartments echo those in the mansion, with the same high-end appliances, and fireplaces and cathedral ceilings in some units.
D.C. Council member Jim Graham (Ward 1) advocated Warder's restoration for several years.
"I thought it was a goner. It was just a matter of time until the final fire swept it away," Graham said.
Residents say they are grateful it was preserved. Last August N'cole Merritt flew in from Portland, Ore., to find an apartment before she started a program in dental hygiene at Howard University.
"I was just in tears," she said. "No one from other rental offices was returning my phone calls. When [Warder] did, I said, 'Well, a mansion sounds like a great place to live to me.' "
Merritt was sold on the building once she saw the fireplace in the lobby and the modern appliances. Another perk for Merritt: The building is next door to a Howard University dorm, so she can take the shuttle that takes students to the campus. She walks the few blocks to Adams Morgan on weekends.
In January, Linda McCutcheon began working as publications director for AARP. Her family lives in New York, and McCutcheon stays in Washington three nights a week. She stayed in various corporate apartments that she described as "entirely beige."
Still without a home on her second day of work, McCutcheon found the Warder Mansion.
"I walked into the building, and it felt like home," she said. "It looks a little bit Gothic, a little Federalist, with all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies." Her two-bedroom apartment has a fireplace she describes as "medieval looking."
During the Presidents' Day weekend snowstorm, McCutcheon, her husband and three children were driving from New York to the apartment. A few miles from the Warder, she said, she found that she did not have the remote control to open the parking-garage door. Her children were hungry because no restaurants had been open along Interstate 95. She called the building's manager, Fatima Nero, for help.
"Fatima was waiting for us with a bag of chips and ginger ale and had the garage open," McCutcheon said. "My children were ready to marry her. I don't think in a big, more institutional building that would have happened. The service here is astounding."
McCutcheon said that although Adams Morgan reminds her of New York's Upper West Side and Columbia Heights of Brooklyn, Washington has a flavor all its own.
"I look at the diversity of the children waiting for the bus before school on 16th Street and at all the ambassadors who live nearby when I go out in the morning," she said. "It's everything I imagined my experience in Washington would be."