David Stahl commutes to work in 30 seconds.
After 10 years of spending 2 1/2 hours a day in the rush-hour madness along Maryland's Route 50, Stahl has parked the family car in the bowels of his high-rise apartment building and traded his Annapolis waterfront home for the convenience of walking across the street to his office in the District.
He and his wife, Carol, are among the first tenants of the first residential building to go up in this century along the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor between the Capitol and the White House. Actually, the 150-unit Pennsylvania is about a block off Pennsylvania, at Sixth Street and Indiana Avenue NW. But it is part of the federal government's 16-year-old master plan to renovate "America's Main Street" with office towers, an arts center, retail stores and, most important, housing in the city's oldest neighborhood. The area has been nearly void of housing for 40 years.
"I love it," said Stahl, executive vice president of the Urban Land Institute, who with his wife rents a gleaming white, one-bedroom apartment for about $1,000 a month. "It is great. Everything we want is right here: museums, restaurants and theater."
What isn't there is a traditional neighborhood of front porches, back yards, barking dogs and children at play. There is no supermarket, no school and no movie theater, at least not yet. No dogs are allowed in The Pennsylvania and, although children are, none has moved in so far.
This is essentially a startup neighborhood in a 20-block area dominated by federal monoliths and faceless office buildings, and its final shape as a place to live is still uncertain. The first few residents are urban pioneers of a sort, but unlike a new suburban subdivision, there are no postings of potluck dinners or get-acquainted coffees.
The Stahls live in a 14-floor, $87 million complex of brick and limestone with offices and shops planned on the lower floors and residential units above. There's also a basement exercise center and rooftop deck.
The lobby, with its marble floor and bank of brass elevators, looks -- and operates -- much like a hotel lobby. Need some shirts laundered? The concierge behind the custom-made marble-and-wood desk will take care of it. She also will order your groceries, send your shoes out for repair, make travel arrangements and even get your car registered.
"These are busy people who are pressed for time," said Ellen Sigal, the developer. "We want to make life as easy as possible for our tenants."
It is also surprisingly quiet. At night the streets are almost empty, the first tenants say, and on weekends they feel as though the town belongs to them.
"I feel like I have a hideaway," Terry Thames said. "Others go to Middleburg to get away. I already have that."
All of this is nice, Carol Stahl said, but she is still not convinced that living sequestered in a high-rise in a canyon of office buildings is what she wants now that their four sons are grown and gone. Four days a week, she drives to Annapolis for Bible study classes and to look after elderly parishioners at her church.
"I like to have grass around me," she said.
M.J. Brodie, executive director of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp., which is overseeing the area's renewal, called the finished portion the "most urban" of the District's neighborhoods.
"This is not a Capitol Hill, not a Dupont Circle," of three-story row houses, he said. "It is unique in Washington."
Three other buildings in the area will include residential units, Brodie said, and those buildings, which will contain 1,050 condominium apartments, should be ready for occupancy within two years.
The lifestyle will be extended farther north if the D.C. Zoning Commission gives final approval to a plan to require all downtown developers to include housing in their office projects.
The housing would be priced for middle- to upper-income people. So are units in The Pennsylvania: studios are $800 a month; two bedrooms with a view go for up to $3,000. And none has been rented to corporations.
Anne Hartzell, an official with the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp., said most of the early tenants are lawyers, doctors, architects and accountants between the ages of 20 and 40; 78 percent are single, a third moved from somewhere else in the District and half came from out of town. Almost all said they moved there to be close to work.
Thames moved from a rooming house on Capitol Hill. She can walk to work, as can Ming Hsu, a commissioner with the Federal Maritime Commission who moved here from New Jersey.
In promotional material supplied by the developer, President Bush is cited as the only other resident of the neighborhood. Overlooked entirely was Dominick Cardella, who has lived for 18 years over his African art store in a building at 641 Indiana Ave. NW that was erected in 1817.
"I have waited for a long time to have neighbors," said Cardella, who is as enthusiastic as David Stahl about living close to the Smithsonian and other downtown attractions. "But I'm not sure I like what has happened. Although there are new people living up the block, they are not neighborly. All they are interested in is being close to work."
As the old-timer around there, Cardella warns newcomers that life downtown has some drawbacks, such as dealing with government clerks who don't believe anybody really lives in the 600 block of Indiana Ave. NW.
"I couldn't get the census people to count me," he said. "I called and called, but they never came by."
Cardella said he thinks the presence of more neighborhood residents on the street will reduce crime in the area, especially burglaries. He said one of the reasons he moved into his building was to deter break-ins.
"If things get a lot better around here, I won't have to be so concerned about protecting my store," he said. "I think I might move to Adams-Morgan."