Ray Shirey and his wife, Theda, have lived in four different units at Alexandria's Edlandria apartments since 1971. Their son, Jesse, 31, was born while they were living there.
However, Shirey admits he doesn't know many of the residents very well.
Give him time.
It's not that Shirey is uninvolved in the community -- quite the contrary. He and Theda have been co-resident managers there for 25 years. Their son began working on the grounds and as a porter when he was in his teens; he now works in the leasing office.
However, a major renovation project over the past year has caused a hefty turnover in the population of the 233-unit garden complex. In 2003, when residents were given four months' notice of the impending year-long overhaul, they were offered more than $800 per household in relocation fees. About three-quarters of tenants chose to leave.
Darlene Knight and Joseph Harris, who have lived at the Edlandria since their daughter, now 12, was 2, opted to stay, weathering the disruption of long-term construction. They moved from their original apartment to a spiffy new one last December.
While rents throughout the community rose $200 to $300 per unit, the renovated units have new walls, new windows, new doors, new kitchens, new bathrooms; even the things that can't be seen, such as plumbing and wiring, were upgraded. A few courtyard units were renovated five years ago, so are not on the list to be gutted.
According to Knight, the best new feature is the enlarged closets. "We used to have tiny closets, but now there's tons of space," she said.
Reconfiguring the living room and the all-electric kitchen freed up some closet space. However, it also relocated the stackable washer and dryer to the kitchen, right next to the refrigerator -- a pass-through window between the kitchen and dining area can provide guests a glimpse of the laundry.
Knight has no complaints, though. "The dining room is larger, the living room a bit smaller," she said. There is a ceramic tile foyer, new flooring and carpeting, and new cabinets and counters. Soundproofing between units has been upgraded, too.
Knight does miss the ceiling fans from the old, late-1960s apartments, but acknowledged that they presented maintenance headaches.
"Now each bedroom has its own thermostat control," she said. All utilities are included in the rent, and the apartments have central air conditioning.
Most of the other residents have been there a year or less and are just starting to get to know each other. The one recreational amenity on the property is a cozy new fitness center, but the Edlandria's compact office seems to be the place to chat.
While two couples signed leases recently, Lillian Gerhardt, a retail worker at Springfield Mall who moved to the Edlandria in May, popped into the office just to visit. About the same time, Matt Robinson, a federal employee who moved in four months ago, dropped by to praise the maintenance staff's handling of "a nit-picky problem" in his apartment (a squeaking door).
The two quickly began comparing notes on life at the Edlandria. "Quality throughout," said Gerhardt. Said Robinson, "Maintenance asks, 'What time is good for you?' rather than telling you they'll be there between 9 and 2."
Gerhardt said, "It's quiet," praising the enforcement of community rules -- no loitering, no noise after 9 p.m.
Robinson, whose wife is in the Army, practically cheered when he said, "They let you fly the American flag from your balcony."
KayLynne Westen, a nanny and year-long resident who also works part time in the leasing office, chimed in, saying her boyfriend was a Marine and she had three small flags on her balcony railing. Along the way to check out various patriotic displays on the property, the three new friends decided they needed to organize an end-of-summer picnic at a nearby park to help other newcomers meet.
With three-quarters of the remodeling completed, about 90 percent of the renovated units are leased. The last section is scheduled to be ready by January.
Built and managed by Dittmar Co. of Vienna, the Edlandria -- so named because it is on Edsall Road in Alexandria -- is one of a few garden apartment communities remaining amid a sea of high-rises. Looking out over the grassy area in front of her apartment, Knight said, "It's like we're down in our own cubbyhole."
The Edlandria's location offers rapid access to Interstate 395, the Capital Beltway and Route 236. Bus service at the entrance provides transportation to downtown Alexandria as well as to the Van Dorn Metro station, which Robinson described as "a leisurely 15-minute walk away."
Also within walking distance are parks, numerous ethnic restaurants, two grocery stores and a 24-hour pharmacy. Within a 10-minute drive, Edlandria residents can be shopping at Landmark Mall or relaxing at Cameron Run Regional Park with its wave pool and miniature golf course.
After making plans to join Westen in the fitness center, Gerhardt said, "This is going to be a great place to live."