After being displaced for more than a year by renovations, the residents of the Wildwood Towers apartment complex in Arlington have returned home.

The owners of the 134-unit high-rise, which was built in 1967, relocated tenants from March 2003 until this year while the building underwent heavy cosmetic and minor structural modifications. Workers changed the floor plans of some units, converting efficiencies into one-bedroom units, and installed a new heating and air-conditioning system.

The move wasn't far -- Wildwood Towers residents shifted to the Wildwood Park complex next door, also owned by Dittmar Co. of Vienna.

Still, said longtime resident Beth Mullinax of her temporary relocation, "I felt like I was in exile for 14 months."

Maizie Christensen was so relieved to return to her home of 35 years, she recalled, that she greeted resident manager Carole Morris with a big hug and an exuberant, "Carole, I'm home."

"She burst into tears," said Miriam Goldberg, Christensen's longtime neighbor.

Chris Brigham, who oversees nine Dittmar apartment complexes, noted that although Wildwood Park is larger and has a convenience store and hair salon on the first floor, there has always been a certain elitism about the smaller Wildwood Towers for those who chose to live there.

"It's a more intimate building and the people who live there prefer that," he said.

The Wildwood Towers renovations included new carpet, linoleum, bathroom tile floors, stoves, vented microwaves, refrigerators, fiberglass single-piece tubs, vanities, windows, blinds and washer-dryers. Among the common-area changes were new interior decor, tile flooring, game room, community-social room and exercise room with treadmills, recumbent bicycles, elliptical machines and StairMasters.

The construction is nearly complete, with the exception of the 10th floor, which will be finished this summer, and a two-level parking deck to be constructed through mid-fall. The deck will eliminate 27 carport spaces, but will result in an overall addition of 44 spaces, Brigham said. As part of the renovations, some of the larger one-bedroom units were converted to two-bedroom units, which "creates the potential for more vehicles," he said.

Wildwood Towers is at the top of the South Jefferson Street hill between Columbia Pike and Route 7 near Baileys Crossroads. The road is a well-traveled cut-through between the two main roads, which are lined with strip shopping centers. Just across Route 7, also known as Leesburg Pike, is the sprawling Skyline complex, made up of high-rise apartment and office buildings and an empty shopping mall where a Target is scheduled to open this year.

"It used to be a really nice shopping mall, but it had gone downhill," Goldberg said. Her balcony faces south and overlooks Skyline, which she said she likes because "it's like a city view."

The balconies are a highlight of Wildwood Towers. Every unit has one; they typically run the length of the units. For some of the smaller apartments, it's like having an extra room. To keep the outside of the building looking attractive, there are strict rules about what can be placed on the balconies -- just outdoor furniture and plants.

Katherine Day and her husband, Jose Granados, are raising their infant daughter at Wildwood Towers. Everyone who works at the front desk knows the girl, and she sits in staffers' laps if they're not too busy while her mom visits in the lobby.

The tot lot shared by Wildwood Towers and Wildwood Park is a safe place for the baby to play. Its surface looks like asphalt from a distance, but it is actually a spongy material that aims to prevent bumps and bruises.

Kent Gallion, a 21-year Army veteran, chose to live at Wildwood Towers following a methodical search of more than 40 complexes. He visited each one and eventually narrowed the choices to three. "I stopped here," he said. The staff "was so kind and showed me additional units."

Gallion said the building is comfortable, safe and close to conveniences -- stores are nearby, and he is just a 10-minute walk from his contract position at the Defense Information Systems Agency.

If residents have one gripe, it's about the pool renovation: They miss having a second pool. The new single pool is great for lap swimming or splashing, they say, but it's not as deep as the old one. "Plus we had to put up with the pounding while they dug this new one," Christensen said.

Other aspects of the renovation are more popular. Goldberg is thrilled with the additional height of the new elevators. Before, her couch had to be moved up and down the stairwell.

"My deliveryman said, 'It's lucky you're only on the second floor, or you wouldn't have a couch,' since they couldn't fit it in the elevator," she said. When she moved back this spring, the elevator easily accommodated the large couch.

Manager Morris, who lives in the building, said she has heard overwhelmingly positive reactions to the renovations. And she's pretty sure she would hear if residents were displeased. An 18-year resident herself, she started working in the management office six years ago and maintains an easy rapport with other residents.

Although it's not standard procedure for Dittmar, Morris and her staff handle all rental application approvals onsite. "I wanted to learn everything about the position if I was going to do the job," Morris said. "You get a good feel for the residents if you meet them all when they apply."

Wildwood Towers resident Maizie Christensen, right, chats with Katherine Day and Day's husband, Jose Granados, who holds their baby, Alexis, in the newly renovated lobby. Christensen's return to the reopened complex was emotional.