In her radio spots for the splashy dwellings of Somerset House, Carol Channing is busy chatting about how diamonds are no longer a girl's best friend -- real estate is.
Robin Leach barks out a pitch to "the rich and famous." Polly Bergen waxes elegant. And Steve Allen predicts that "This Could Be the Start of Something Big."
None of these celebrities actually lives at Somerset House, "the ultimate condominium address" in Chevy Chase -- where the bathrooms are "spas," the foyers are "entrance galleries" and the most opulent unit can cost $2.75 million. But nearly 300 millionaires call it home.
"We find that those ads on the radio have made us known by everyone in town," said developer Hermen Greenberg, one of four owners of the brass- and marble-filled complex. "I go to a lot of parties, as you know. I was at an embassy party last night, and they were all telling me about Carol Channing."
Pundits may be saying that the look-at-me decade is over, that '80s glitz is out and a certain gritty practicality is in. But the message apparently does not apply to the pampered residents of Somerset House. ("We spoil them," Greenberg said with a smile.)
The two green-glassed towers (the first opened in 1988; the second, last month) rise like giant geometric motels over that portion of Wisconsin Avenue Greenberg describes as "the Fifth Avenue of Washington." Cartier and Gucci are just down the street, and Greenberg declares that his group of shoppers "can look out their windows and see the display at Saks."
Nobody has to park his own BMW or Rolls at Somerset House or worry about how to get all that matched luggage down to the lobby when setting off, as many do, on a winter vacation to Florida or Palm Springs.
"Our goal is to answer your every need!" says the October newsletter for the complex. "You ask, we will do! From obtaining 'important' theater tickets to the 'right table' at the latest 'rave' restaurant to the on-time limo service to get you there."
It's all done in an atmosphere that some people find swank and others find excessive.
The buildings are decorated in a style that favors green and salmon marble floors, brass wall trimmings and chandeliers of cascading crystal. The salespeople reiterate how lavish the amenities are -- the two swimming pools, the three tennis courts, the 18 acres of wooded parkland, the security system anchored by blinking monitors at the front desk. There is a separate health club with card rooms and steam rooms and hydraulic weights and signs announcing a "Focus on Buttocks and Thighs."
"We do everything except polish your shoes and put a mint on your pillow at night," said C. Jay Simon, the resident manager of the new building, Somerset House II.
Somebody's paying for all that indulgence, but who that is is mostly a secret. "Nobody knows, I can't tell you," Greenberg said, smiling, to various questions about who lives there. " . . . You see a lot of people, and nobody even knows they're in Washington . . . . The State Department would kill me."
There is, however, a hint of royalty, of "foreign money." There also are doctors, lawyers, business owners and, perhaps, a few more moneyed retirees than the complex cares to advertise. "We have some daughters of famous people," Greenberg said. "They bought them places here, and they come and go."
Talk of a faltering economy apparently has not dissuaded the sort of people who would consider buying at Somerset House, where the condominium fees alone range from $600 to $1,000 a month. Greenberg said that 77 percent of the 307 units already have been sold, including 45 at the newer building. But he says that the process of selling -- the time between looking and closing -- is taking longer.
"We're still getting a tremendous amount of traffic," he said, "but it's hard to close. It takes from three to six months to close a deal from the first time they hit the door. They usually have a house to sell. They have to make a move. And then, it's a big purchase."
"Except for that man from Indonesia," said Ingo Thors, the administrator of sales. "We sold him the first time he came out. He bought one for his 20-year-old daughter."
Developer Stanley Westreich, of Arlington, recently purchased the ultimate condominium at "the ultimate address" -- a two-level extravaganza with almost 9,000 square feet and a $2.75 million price tag. Now being readied for his arrival, it features a panoramic view, a private service elevator and a spacious section that Greenberg described as "the houseman's apartment."
On the 16th floor live Hank and Charlotte Schlossberg. A sixth-generation Washingtonian, Hank Schlossberg is recognized as one of the region's leading divorce lawyers and is proud of having successfully represented Jeane Dixon's ghostwriter in a royalties case.
He and Charlotte, a former music teacher, "shed the responsibility" of their "lovely California rambler" in Bethesda in March 1989. Their new home is distinguished by mementos from their world travels and a grand piano in the living room.
"The location was superb," said Schlossberg, adding that his head wasn't turned by the various shopping opportunities. ("I only buy Brooks Brothers," he said, which also happens to be in the neighborhood.)
"It's a change of lifestyle here. It's an easy life," he said. "You leave the headaches up to the condo association . . . . There's a degree of camaraderie among the residents. And I really haven't seen many phony-baloneys.
"I'm in the business of suing people -- so if I didn't like it here, I would say so."