Rita Bravers returned home to the Colonnade late one night two years ago and watched as a group of dwarfs filed solemnly past through the sepulchral silence of the huge limousine, and sped off into the night.
It was only later that Bravers learned the dwarfs had been the dinner guests of Irvin Feld, their employer and impresario of the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus, in his penthouse condominium on the 14th floor.
"He used to do a lot of entertaining," Feld's son, Ken, said the otherday.
"But we never got an elephant into the elevator."
That's just as well. Logistics aside it is doubtful that the symbolic mascot of the Republican Party would be well-received by White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, or any other of the politically prominent Democrats who regularly ride the elevators at the 285-unit condominium building at 2801 New Mexico Avenue NW.
The Colonnade in the Carter administration has emerged as the Democratic equivalent of the Watergate in the Nixon administration, when powerful Republicans such as John Mitchell lived there.
The Colonnade now reigns as the Democratic residential bastion in this city, and for a variety of reasons.
"The Democrats have always liked it because it's close to Cleveland Park and all of their. . . friends there," said real estate broker Tony Scrivener. a
It is not the building lacks pretension. Behind its thick stone wall along New Mexico Avenue lies an ornate garden, complete with a fountain and gazebo, where residents can walk and ruminate in privacy.
The wooden panels that line its sweeping lobby include murals depicting people in long, flowing robes and aqueducts dotting halcyon horizons.
Amenities like a convenience store, selling beer, wine, and champagne, a beauty salon, a dry-cleaning service, a sauna bath, valet parking, and a swimming pool, have made the Colonnade attractive to famous Democrats since the late Senator John McClellan established a partison beachhead there in 1968 among well-heeled businessmen.
"It's the kind of place where you just have to pick up a telephone if you have a leak in the toilet and someone will fix it in 10 minutes,' said Bravers, a producer of the CBS Evening News and wife of Robert Barnett, former chief legislative aide to Walter Mondale and currently a law partner of Edward Bennett Williams.
"We also like it because it's off the beaten path," Bravers said. "It's not like Watergate. I've gotten into taxis and the driver won't know where the Colonnade is. I think that's great."
Bravers and other younger residents of the Colonnade were a good deal less enthusiastic about the Great Yellow Towel Affair of 1976, when the board of directors mandated that everyone had to use yellow towels, at the pool, so they would match the yellow awnings.
"We happened to have yellow towels to match our bathroom, but we went out and bought orange towels just for the hell of it," she said.
In true Democratic tradition, a grass roots movement of sorts emerged. Carol Berman, whose husband, Michael, is a top aide to Vice President Walter Mondale, became the new pool committee chairman. Bravers' husband now sits as a member of the board.
Decorated once again with a harlequin array of towels, the pool now attracts Jordan, his drinking friend and former Assistant Treasurer of the Democratic National Party John Golden, White House political operative Anne Wexler and her husband, Joe Duffey, who is chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, and other well-known Democrats who have moved into the Colonnade since Carter's election.
"That's where all of the cross-pollinization goes on," said writer Aaron Latham, who with his wife, CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl, abandoned the Watergate for the Colonnade two years ago.
Stahl refused to use the pool, though, because of building regulations.
"They wouldn't let my kid in because she's 2 years old and she's not toilet-trained yet," she said.
There are other rules at The Colonnade that rattle some of its tenants.
All dog owners are required to carry their pets while riding in the front elevators or else face the ignominy of using the service lifts. This edict creates problems for anyone with either a large dog or a bag of groceries.
No dog over 15 pounds is supposed to be in the building in the first place. Although no scales have been installed in the lobby, it is common knowledge among residents that four-legged creatures weighing more than 15 pounds pad over the building's red and blue rugs.
It is forbidden to walk the dogs in the garden. "I don't know what the rules are for squirrels and birds there, said poodle-owner Genevieve Mills, who used to sing on the Jack Paar show.
Senator Herman Talmadge took to the streets, rather than the garden, when he lived at the Colonnade before his divorce. "He was the first guy I have ever seen jogging with a cigar in his mouth," said Bravers.
Residents report that life at the Colonnade serene, which is the reason that Senator Harry Byrd (I-Va), a former Democrat, the late Senator Joseph Montoya (D.N.M.), former U.N. Ambassador Charles Yost, Mary Hoyt, press secretary to Rosalynn Carter, and Rep. Frank Annunzio (R-Ill.) all moved there.
The Colonnade has become a Democratic stronghold over the years at least in part due to the political and media grapevines.
"We were at the McClellans for dinner one night, and we loved their apartment," recalled Betty Talmadge. "We got the idea to live there from Norma."
Stahl and Berman both heard about the building from the Barnetts, and Jordon learned about it from John Golden.
Despite this word-of-mouth network, some of the prominent Democrats insist they keep their business at the office.
"No one brings their politics home," said Berman. "We see Ann (Wexler) and Joe (Duffy), but I'll bet I see Anne a hell of a lot more at the White House than I do at the Colonnade. There's not much socializing here."
Sometimes it takes an act of God to bring the poltical figures together.
"I remember during the big blizzard last year when we all had a pot luck supper at Bob Barnett's," said Angie Novello, former executive assistant to Robert Kennedy and later to Edward Bennett Williams. "The Republicans would never have done it. They'd have ordered from Avignon Freres."
Some have called the Colonnade "the poor man's Watergate." Democrats don't seem to mind, because, as legend has it, they aren't supposed to live in luxury anyway.
The colonnade's condominium units, which run from about $90,000 to $300,000, are cheaper than the co-ops at the Watergate. Nor can the Colonnade boast that Gucci has a store there, as Watergate can.
Its tenants are loyal, and turnover is low. "It's a beautiful building -- well kept, well-located, and well-made," said Margaret Blanken, who managed the Colonnade until it was turned from rental units to condominiums in 1974. "It was way above average for that era."
"It's kind of like the East Side versus the West Side in New York City," said Latham about the Watergate and the Colonnade. "It used to be solid Miami Beach here -- a lot of bluehaired ladies in the lobby. But there are a lot more younger people here now."