Commonwealth Crossing is a no-frills apartment community in the heart of Alexandria's Del Ray community.
Judi Amey said she immediately felt at home when she moved to Commonwealth Crossing a year ago. "This is my neighborhood," she said, noting that she grew up a few blocks away and was in the last graduating class of George Washington High in 1971, before it became one of Alexandria's two middle schools.
Admittedly, living at Commonwealth Crossing is "a trade-off," Amey said. The solid brick buildings, constructed in the early 1950s, have plaster walls, hardwood floors and radiant gas heat, but no balconies, no recreational facilities, no dishwashers or disposals and only one laundry room for the 102 units. However, beyond paying for your own electricity and water, and a one-time, nonrefundable pet fee, you won't face a long list of extra charges.
For Amey, the big plus -- beyond being allowed to bring her aging cat -- is that the apartments are roomy and the complex is only 15 minutes from her office in Crystal City. It is also only one Metro stop to Reagan National Airport, three stops to Pentagon City and four to the Pentagon. The Braddock Road Metro station, just a little over a mile to the southeast, is a pleasant walk through a residential neighborhood. On days when walking isn't an option, frequent bus service is two blocks away.
Commonwealth Crossing's location is particularly convenient for walkers. Diagonally across the street are a dry cleaner, a small market, a tae kwon do studio and Monroe's Restaurant. It's an easy walk to restaurants and shops along Mount Vernon Avenue, as well as to the Del Ray farmer's market and the community's numerous street festivals. An expanded city library, less than a half-mile away, is scheduled to reopen soon. The Alexandria YMCA, a Giant Food grocery and a CVS pharmacy are a four-block walk. Alexandria's Mount Vernon Elementary and George Washington Middle schools are also within an easy walk.
For Gary Griffin, a stay-at-home father to a 2-year-old son, having four playgrounds within walking distance is a big plus because while Commonwealth Crossing's grounds are well landscaped, there's not a lot of running room for active children. Griffin and his family moved to the community a year ago, and it didn't take him long to realize that balls tossed to a toddler inevitably roll into the parking lot.
There are 60 unassigned parking spaces in front of the property and another 16 along the south side of the complex. Free parking is also available along Commonwealth Avenue. However, some residents note that finding a spot close to your apartment can be a problem if you arrive home late in the evening.
The one- and two-bedroom apartments offer 11 floor plans. All have the classic black and white tiled bathrooms of the era and each unit comes with one window air conditioner. Controlled access entries and the availability of cable and satellite TV are the extent of the complex's bow to modern technology.
Gary Griffin describes his family's kitchen as "very roomy." Each kitchen has new cabinets and counters and at least one window. Some of the corner units have two windows in the kitchen. Those units with smaller kitchens -- averaging 71/2 by 8 feet -- have separate dining areas. Kitchens that are bigger than 10 by 12 feet have room for dining tables.
Commonwealth Crossing has changed a lot since Whetstone Co. of Gaithersburg acquired the property in 1991. Fifteen years ago, under a different name, this U-shaped complex was not a pleasant place. The vacancy rate was high, and many of those who lived there were in arrears on rent. Buck Sarver, the maintenance supervisor, remembers those years immediately after Whetstone took over. Because of residents' previous bad experiences with maintenance contractors, Sarver said, "it took almost two years for residents to trust me enough to let me into their apartments while they were away."
Sarver's first step was to fire the outside contractors. He prefers a hands-on approach to maintenance. "In some of the bigger places, maintenance guys just change light bulbs or fix leaks. Contractors do everything else." Sarver likes being able to tend to problems quickly without being beholden to someone else's schedule.
He said that he and Carlos Juarez, a maintenance technician who lives on site, handle "everything but the roof, and floor sanding." Roofers and floor sanders are drawn from local businesses.
"It's very helpful to have two full-time maintenance workers for a small complex," said Tara Endt, Commonwealth Crossing's manager for the past three years.
Residents praise the maintenance staff's quick response time. Newcomer Lewis Davis, who just graduated from college and whose father also lived at Commonwealth Crossing until recently, said, "These are old buildings but they work hard to keep them maintained."
Commonwealth Crossing's office staff also receives high praise from residents. One resident brought her plants to the office for Endt to care for while the family was away on vacation. Special requests are accommodated when possible, such as mailing a forgotten item or signing for packages. Endt is receptive to residents' advice on things such as landscaping. She recently asked Sarver and Juarez, "You hear what residents say, what do they think? What would they like?"
Pockets of perennials and the cheerful whirling of strategically placed pinwheels add color to the grounds. Reflecting on the community's setting, with tree-lined streets and 1930s bungalows nearby, Endt said, "Our biggest draw is from drive-bys or word of mouth."