When her mother paid $9,000 for two small federal-style row houses in 1946, "it was a matter of educating me" about the value of real estate and the care of property, Charlotte Marie Perry recalled yesterday.
Then a young elementary school teacher in the District of Columbia, Mrs. Perry remembers how she would collect the rent each week and occasionally listen to complaints from tenants who lived in the two-story brick homes at 821 and 823 R Street NW.
For a while, Mrs. Perry said, she tended a vegetable garden and a peach tree in the yard behind the homes and, she said, she daydreamed of the time when she would have an architect renovate the houses to look like the stylish homes she saw in Georgetown.
After 31 years, the only vague resemblance that Mrs. Perry's houses have to homes in Georgetown is an old coat of white paint on their brick fronts and black trim on the window frames. The houses now are empty, the doors and windows boarded up. The garden is covered with garbage and rubble and the peach tree is long gone.
For Mrs. Perry, now 59, her lesson in property ownership came to an end yesterday in D.C. Superior Court. The city claimed her property in 1975, under its power of eminent domain, as part of the Shaw urban renewal area, and offered her $5,000 for both houses in return.
After hearing two days of testimony and taking a bus trip to see the run-down houses on R Street NW, a jury of four women and one man determined that Mrs. Perry was owed $11,000 - $6,000 more than the city originally offered.
"The circle completes itself," Mrs. Perry said as she thought back on the history of the two places. "So now, I've learned all about property - how you can acquire it and how you can lose it," she said.
"This is a battle of experts," said assistant corporation counsel Michael S. Levy in his closing argument to the jury late last Friday afternoon. The experts were appraisers, one hired by the city and the other by Mrs. Perry, and the battle was over what was the fair market value of her property.
The condemnation proceeding at Superior Court, brought by the city against Mrs. Perry when she exercised her option not to accept the city's offer, was consolidated with an identical action brought against Alan J. Werner, who owned property at $15 and $17 R St. NW and who also refused the city's offer when his land and houses were acquired.
The city offered Werner $12,000 and the jury eventually awarded him $15,000.
The four houses owned by Werner and Mrs. Perry, estimated to be between 70 and 100 years old, will be demolished along with the rest of the structures on the block bounded by 8th and 9th, R and S Streets NW to make way for a 122-unit federally subsidized garden apartment complex for low- and moderate-income families.
The block, called Square 395, has a long history of disputes over whether the area should be cleared or renovated and whether the prices the city offered were fair.
I took the Superior Court jury 97 minutes yesterday to determine that the prices the city offered Mrs. Perry and Werner were not exactly fair.
The jury based its decision on the testimony of appraisers, who came to Judge DeWitt Hyde's courtroom armed with lists of "comparables," sale prices on properties they thought were similar to Mrs. Perry's and Werner's at the time the houses were acquired by the city.
Mrs. Perry's expert thought her property was suitable for renovation and worth $16,300. The city appraiser said her houses were rundown and worthless, so his estimate included only the value of the land - $5,000. Werner's expert said his property was worth $21,500.
Werner, who said he played the Washington real estate market for 28 years until he retired to Florida in 1964, had no comment on the jury's decision.
Said Mrs. Perry, "well I don't feel bad at all. You never get what you ask for."