We find nothing ironic or amusing in the fact that while rushing to a Friday press event unveiling the new, driver-friendly address system in Crystal City, we get utterly, hopelessly lost.
Visitors to this urban canyon just south of the 14th Street Bridge have long been confounded by its maze of streets and similarly named office buildings (Crystal This, Crystal That) at murky Jefferson Davis Highway addresses.
Charles E. Smith Commercial Realty, which owns most of Crystal City, announced last week that the addresses on the buildings have been changed and now match the streets the buildings actually face. It's part of a planned $40 million upgrade to the 150-acre commercial and residential complex that many know as well for its underground Metro station shopping area as for its aboveground office and apartment towers.
The new look will include a "Main Street" of aboveground shops and restaurants to augment what's down under.
"We think it makes a whole lot more sense," said Mitchell N. Schear, president of the realty company.
So do we.
Our favorite part of the new "reimagining" of Crystal City hasn't happened yet. On June 26, the confusing one-way streets will be rerouted and become two-way, a move Smith is touting with the mischievous slogan, "Crystal City: Go Both Ways."
As of now, though, the one-way streets are still there. So when we try to find Crystal Square 4 office building -- which faces South 18th Street but for years has had a Jefferson Davis Highway address -- we get stuck in a seemingly endless loop off Crystal Drive on the north end of the development. The construction guy we pass three times -- the one overseeing the closure of South 15th Street for repaving, another complication -- has given directions to five other luckless souls already. And yikes, are we really going the wrong way on a one-way street?
We pull a U-turn and try navigating the roads on the other side of Route 1 to get to 18th Street. Finally we reach our destination by pulling another "U" and going in through the driveway marked exit.
A little breathless, we disembark, recalling a recent conversation with Marc Okrand. Okrand, president of the board of the Washington Shakespeare Company, is used to lost souls trying to find performances at Clark Street Playhouse, located in a remote industrial park in the north end of Crystal City.
"People will come in giggling and say, 'Oh, we found it.' It's like when you go on a roller coaster and get off and say, 'Boy, I made it,' " Okrand said, noting that it's been a little easier in recent weeks because some new directional signs have appeared.
Two workers in the basket of a truck crane high overhead are peeling the plastic covering off Crystal Square 4's new address, "241 18th Street." One polishes the coppery numbers with a soft rag.
"The idea is to realign the building addresses as you would with any urban grid system so the front doors face the street the building is standing on," says Mara Olguin, Smith's vice president of marketing, who is looking on. "So people can use their intuitive way-finding to find buildings."
One wonders why Crystal City's planners didn't think about "intuitive way-finding" in the first place, when they were dreaming up the space-agey concept of an underground city of shops and services back in the 1970s.
Olguin pauses thoughtfully.
"Hard to say," she says.