It is the honeysuckle that most of them remember - growing lush and wild along a chain-link fence that separated Cecil Place NW from the old paper mill. "It was why I moved in here," said one resident. "It was the charm I was looking for," said another.
Today, in the name of progress, the honeysuckle is gone. In its place is a chicken-wire fence that bears emergency no-parking signs. Cecil Place, once a charming urban island of a dozen town houses, is now in the middle of an urban bad dream.
The immediate reason, which seems all the more immediate six days a week when airhammers open fire at 7 a.m., is the construction of a 101-townhouse development called Georgetown Papermill. The project is the first in a series of redevelopments planned along the Georgetown waterfront in the next ten years.
Construction of the townhouses has been underway for about three months on a 30-acre plot just west of Cecil Place. It follows by only two years the construction noises - and the often-criticized architectural of Dodge Center, an office complex at the southern end of the street.
Meanwhile, at the northern end of Cecil Place, which is only two blocks long, initial construction has begun on a multimillion dollar housing and retail complex.And slightly south of Dodge Center, over the Potomac River, are shrieking jets at National Airport.
Add the Cecil Place rents - $350 to $550 a month. Sprinkle lightly with the noisy drunks who spill out of M Street's nearby bars at 2 a.m. Mix in the construction dust on windows, plates, silverware. Garnish with a lack of parking spaces and the absence of street lights.
"Put everything together," says Keigh Nichols, of 1039 Cecil, "and it turns out pretty bad."
When it is finished, Georgetown Papermill shows signs of being good.It will be a complex of townhouses with brick exteriors, modern conveniences, underground parking and carefully landscaped grounds.
The complex is being built by Holland and Lyons of Washington, which is so committed to honoring the old nearby mill that it has named its nine basic home designs after kinds of paper.
Like the original Cecil Place townhouses, the paper mill was built in the early part of the 19th century, when the waterfront bustled with light industry.
The mill was abandoned in the early 1950s, and its buildings and grounds have stood unused since.
Holland and Lyons has razed some of the old storage huts that were used in the milling process. Even though its eventual role is still uncertain, the company has left the main, six-story brick mill undisturbed. Still, the noise and dust of construction have left Cecil Place residents feeling angry, and somewhat powerless.
"There's a feeling of commiseration among those who've been here awhile," said George West, a computer specialist for the World Bank who lives at 1029 Cecil.
"Most people on an individual basis don't feel like they can do anything," said West. "This used to be secluded, very pleasant. Now, it's rather unpleasant."
Keith Nichols, an artist, noted that "construction is always noisy, always dirty. It isn't as bad as it might be." He added that he would be "a lot angrier if they were building another Dodge Center here."
The Center, a six-story, modern brick office building, is built up against 1021 Cecil and casts a shadow over much of the street.Sold twice since it was built, the center is still less than half occupied. Georgetown conservation forces have often called it a white elephant and have cited it as an example of the futuristic architecture they feel has no place in colonial Georgetown.
Gail Chipman, of 1035 Cecil, said, however, that having the sun blotted out by the Center is not as hard to take as the construction noise across the street.
Many mornings, Chipman said, "I feel like I'm in a war zone or something . . . The noise is just horrendous. At breakfast, you can't speak, it's so loud."
But would she move? "The thought has crossed my mind.
"I would stay because I do like the townhouse and I do like the location." Then she looked out her living room window directly at a bulldozer. "But I don't like that."