All it took to persuade Johanna Hofmann to move to the Dolley Madison Towers in Arlington 10 years ago was the view from a friend's balcony.
The green vista of the Army Navy Country Club golf course sold her on the 12-story, 364-unit high-rise. Because Hofmann's commute requires using Interstate 395, the building's location, next to the highway and just two blocks from the Glebe Road entrance ramp, made sense. Because it's not within walking distance of a Metro station and is older than some of the other high-rise rentals in Arlington, the rents are generally lower than elsewhere, too.
"The apartments were a lot bigger than the others I looked at, it was a convenient location and the prices are very reasonable," she said. "The golf course view is a real plus."
Because Dolley Madison Towers is on a prominent spot visible from I-395, the building is often full even as other apartment buildings languish in a soft rental market. "We have a lot of drop-in traffic," people who see the building while sitting in highway backups, said property manager Bill Smith.
Smith, who has lived and worked at the property for 13 years, said the rent on the highway side of the building is less than on the golf course side. Sitting on the highway-side balconies is not for the timid, but some residents insist the constant rush of traffic becomes a sort of lulling white noise. The storm windows installed in 1988 insulate against the sound when they're closed, a plus for those who prefer the rent break but not the traffic noise.
The traffic along I-395 is relatively new in the long history of the land. In the late 1700s, Revolutionary War soldiers marched along what was then a rough road through Virginia to Yorktown to defeat the British, according to the Arlington Historical Society. And the land on which the Army Navy Country Club now sits was the site of the Union Army's Fort Richardson -- the highest fort in that area during the Civil War.
According to Carole DeLong of the country club's history committee, the club sold the 4.91 acres on which Dolley Madison Towers now sits to Arlington County in 1945 for $20. The county built the Dolley Madison School, which served as a junior high school until the mid-1950s. In 1965, Arlington County sold the property to Dittmar Co., which named the building it built in 1967 after the junior high school it replaced.
Dolley Madison Towers is somewhat aging by Northern Virginia apartment standards. It has its original two-pipe heating and cooling system, meaning the whole building switches over from heat to air conditioning on a designated date. Dittmar, of Vienna, has updated two of its other similarly aged Arlington properties -- Wildwood Park and Wildwood Towers -- to four-pipe systems. "We're very envious," said Smith, laughing.
All of the tower's apartments have balconies that run the length of the units. Corner units have L-shaped balconies that wrap around the side of the building. Hoffman said she loves that her one-bedroom unit has a wrap-around balcony from which she can see the top of the Washington Monument -- and the Fourth of July fireworks on the National Mall.
Jean d'Alpuget has a balcony that faces the golf course and runs the length of his 12th-floor apartment. He was the building's second resident in 1967 and holds the record for longest tenancy. Living at the Towers throughout his career as an editor on Capitol Hill allowed him to travel for months with no need to hire a house-sitter or worry about home maintenance.
"It was easy [to travel] living here," he said. He rattles off the list of countries he has been to as if reciting the alphabet -- it takes a few minutes. Once, when he took three months off to visit friends in Europe, the apartment building's front desk staff bundled up his mail and forwarded it to addresses he provided.
The building's kitchens aren't fancy, but because they were designed to be eat-in kitchens, they're spacious and functional. D'Alpuget said he has done a lot of cooking over the years and appreciates how close he is to several grocery stores with ethnic foods.
The one thing d'Alpuget misses from the early days at the Dolley Madison Towers is the big swimming pool. The pool was sacrificed to create more parking spots. Dittmar paved over it years ago to create the above-ground lot most residents use. Now d'Alpuget, who celebrated his 90th birthday in early June, drives to a nearby Olympic-sized pool to swim laps.
Even though he misses the pool, he said he is still happy that he is able to greet longtime neighbors in the halls and enjoy reading his newspaper while he sits on his balcony overlooking the golf course. He has no plans to leave.
"I've had a good life here," he said.