Living at St. Mary's Court, an innovative housing project for the elderly in the District's affluent Foggy Bottom section, is " as close as I'll ever come to heaven," says Fran Curtin.

Curtin was one of many residents of St. Mary's Court and the surrounding neighborhood who joined members of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and federal and local officials in dedicating the new apartment complex recently.

Located at 752 24th St. NW, St. Mary's Court is operated by the Episopal Diocese. It is designed to combine independent living for the elderly with convenient access to social services, cultural events and stores.

According to the Rev. John Wilbur, rector of St Mary's Church and a planner of the Complex, housing for the elderly frequently means either isolation or institutions, two extremes the new project tries to avoid.

St. Mary's Court includes 150 efficiency and one-bedroom apartments, as well as a variety of services for residents. A professional services center, operated by George Washington University medical school, is expected to open in August and will offer primary health care, emotional counseling and legal services.

A multi-arts program offers classes in dance, music and the visual arts. The housing complex also contains common areas such as a library, laundry, sundeck and dinning room.

St. Mary's Court was financed by a $4.2 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Laurence Simons, an assistant secretary at HUD, said St. Mary's Court attempts to provide a complete environment for the elderly. "We feel housing is more than just shelter."

People at least 62 years of age or the handicapped with low- to moderate-in-comes are eligible to live at St. Mary's Court. Under a federal rent subsidies program, rent is only 25 percent of a resident's monthly income. Residents are also required to pay for one meal per day in the dining room for a total of $80 per month.

The housing complex is presently full with a waiting list of about 75. HUD requires that at least 30 percent of the residents be of minority background [black or Spanish-speaking] but the apartments now consist of 45 percent minority residents.

For most residents, the modern apartments are a sharp contrast to their previous homes. One woman described her former apartment as "awful" since it needed numerous repairs. "The bathroom ceiling was falling down, and I couldn't even take a bath," she said.

Several residents mentioned the accessibility of events at the Kennedy Center, which is within walking distance of the complex.

Others commented on the friendly atmosphere, the sense of community and the social activities at St. Mary's Court. Emma Crow said she especially likes her dance classes. We'er getting younger every day," she said. "We dance the boogie woogie -- at lest until the arthritis get us."

Nona Boren, director of the planned professional services center, said the complex will benefit not only the elderly but medical and allied health students at George Washington who will help at the Center.

"It's been rare for students to work with healthy ambulatory elderly," Boren said. "Mostly they've worked with the institutionalized or the hospitalized so they often think of the elderly as frail, demented or dying. At St. Mary's, the students will have the opportunity to see the elderly in quite a different light -- and this is rejuvenating for the elderly as well." CAPTION: Picture, Episcopal Bishop of Washington John T. Walker at dedication ceremonies for St. Mary's Court. By Micheal Ford Parks -- The Washington Post