Connecticut Heights Apartments and Ellicott House directly across the street were built more than 30 years ago as a pair of towers standing on either side of the 4800 block of Connecticut Avenue NW. Though they are now owned by separate companies, they continue to share a robust set of amenities for apartments in their price range: Borger Management Inc.'s Ellicott House shares its heated indoor pool and tennis court with Archstone-Smith's Connecticut Heights, which reciprocates with its outdoor pool, sundeck and ATM.
What was then Charles E. Smith Residential Realty bought the westernmost of the two 1974-built towers in 1995. It combined the 281-unit buildings with four others on the same block to form the 519-unit complex now known as Connecticut Heights. The four smaller red brick buildings are each five stories tall and have ornate friezes above the entrances. They were constructed in the 1920s and retain their original hardwood floors, baseboards, nine-foot ceilings and gas cooking. The trade-off for their old-fashioned elegance is window-unit air conditioning and radiator heat.
Three of the four smaller buildings have 58 units each, while one has 64 units; the taller one has 281 units on its 12 floors. Residents in that building whose units face the inner courtyard have balconies. All five buildings back to a central courtyard with its outdoor pool and sundeck.
The community is bordered by the Murch School and single family homes to the west, a small park dedicated to John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg to the north and, on the east, a row of apartment buildings, giving way to high-priced brick and stone single-family houses.
Bob Laprade moved to Connecticut Heights on the recommendation of a co-worker in 1976 and thinks things have only improved under Colorado-based Archstone-Smith's management. "They're very good on complaints; this is a more aggressive management company . . . more security conscious," he said. For example, recent upgrades included improved garage security.
Erika Ettin has lived at Connecticut Heights for less than a month and has already persuaded a friend to move in, too. "Everything I've seen about [Connecticut Heights] I really like so far," she said. That includes the condition of the carpet, the size of the units and the staff.
"I didn't expect them to be so helpful," she said of her first conversation with leasing manager Kyna Voss. "But she was the most helpful person I'd met at any apartment. I gave her a hug when it was all over."
Ettin was looking for a one-bedroom apartment in the Tenleytown, Van Ness or Cleveland Park neighborhoods, but doubted whether she could find a place that cost less than $1,200 per month. "I decided I wanted to live in a nicer building. . . . I knew I had to find something convenient to work since I was spoiled by [the location of] the other building," she said, referring to her former apartment complex about a mile away.
Ettin was surprised and pleased to find a one-bedroom in Connecticut Heights for $1,135 per month. Ettin is also pleased with her commute -- seven minutes to Fannie Mae -- and her proximity to the shops and restaurants of Cleveland Park and Tenleytown, one Metro stop in either direction.
Resident Shannon Hobbs moved in last year and renewed her lease two months ago. She plans to stay until she saves enough for a down payment on a home. She found Connecticut Heights initially through an online search, then confirmed her impressions by visiting a number of competing properties along Connecticut Avenue. "It was exactly what I was looking for," she said of the building's location near restaurants, stores and Metro, as well as to an established neighborhood of single-family houses.
Hobbs said she always feels safe in the neighborhood, even last winter, when she had to make the walk of seven-tenths of a mile to the Van Ness Metro station in the snow, after dark, with an injured foot. The 10-minute walk turned into 45 minutes on crutches. "I never, ever feel uncomfortable there," she said.
Residents can also take a three-minute ride on the L2 Metrobus to the Van Ness Metro.
Hobbs lives in the complex's taller building and favors what some would consider the overly noisy Connecticut Avenue side of the property. "I'm a city girl. I love it. I really like having traffic noise -- I got used to it really quickly. Now I can't sleep without it," she said.
In the time Hobbs has lived there, the elevators and garage have been renovated. Though this caused the normal amount of noise, Hobbs said it was not excessive.
In fact, all the buildings have undergone significant renovation over the past six years, according to community manager Maureen Simmons.
Renovations included a new sun deck, a new white coat on the swimming pool, balcony repairs, new pool furniture, complete kitchen renovations including new white cabinets, white appliances, white tile flooring, new bathroom fixtures, improved lighting, upgraded air conditioning, refinished hardwood flooring, new blinds and new microwaves. In addition, the underused first-floor party room was converted to a large fitness center with carpeting and skylights.
Simmons noted that residents experienced some noise and dust as a result. "There were some issues, there were some inconveniences," she said. However, the community performance following the renovations was such that Archstone-Smith recognized Simmons with its national annual customer service award for the entire Charles E. Smith division this year.
Resident James Douthat's primary goal in finding an apartment was to be in a neighborhood with nightlife. "I wanted to be in an area where I could unwind and have a beer after work," he said. Since he works in a Georgetown restaurant, this could be fairly late at night. "I was driving around and saw a lot of activity in that area at night," he said of the neighborhood around Connecticut Heights.
He also thought the building was well maintained and liked that it is close to the National Zoo. Like Ettin, Douthat was surprised at the relatively reasonable prices the complex offers. He pays $1,350 per month including utilities for his one-bedroom and says this beats all the other buildings he looked at all along Massachusetts and Connecticut avenues NW.
The location has also been tourist-friendly for Douthat's guests. He said his mother felt safe walking around while he was at work. He takes visitors to the zoo, or to his favorite neighborhood restaurants, the Parthenon, Riedel's Restaurant and Yanni's Greek Taverna.
Besides two pools (indoor and outdoor) and tennis court, Douthat points to quick service as a strength of the building. A leak caused by remodeling work in an adjacent unit was repaired within the hour and a dented closet door was replaced the next day. "I've recommended it to a lot of people," he said.