It was lunchtime, and James Suttles, defense contractor, was walking back to work with his Quiznos sandwich along Crystal Drive, somewhere near Crystal Mall and Crystal Forum, not too far from Crystal Gateway and Crystal Plaza, and, incidentally, a few steps from a shiny new Starbucks.

Around him rose the place known as Crystal City, a grid of 12-story beige-mauve and brown glass office buildings, about a mile from the Pentagon and within sight of the Capitol.

"I just feel sorry for the guy who owns this place," Suttles said, referring to those responsible for finding new tenants for perhaps 3 million square feet of office space if Thursday's federal base-closing commission decision stands. "I think it could be a ghost town for a while."

The place took a particularly hard blow from the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, which voted this week to move more than 20,000 jobs from Arlington and Alexandria, a good chunk of which would come from Crystal City.

For those who work there, it was difficult to say yesterday what might become of Crystal City, whether the possible exodus of military workers and defense contractors portends tumbleweeds or a gleaming era of new businesses, good shopping and swank condominiums.

"I used to work for NAVSEA here," said Bob Morrison, a defense contractor, referring in the language of Crystal City -- acronym -- to the Naval Sea Systems Command. "They moved, and everyone said, 'That's the end of Crystal City,' and it wasn't."

Crystal City has been targeted by BRAC before and managed to survive.

"There's the river," said Deborah Bair, Morrison's colleague at the defense contractor Computer Sciences Corp., pointing to the Potomac. "You have the Metro, there's plenty of parking, and now they've added all these new restaurants, which is appealing to young people.

"And they've got a Starbucks," she added. "What more could you want?"

For years, Crystal City, which was built in the 1960s and 1970s, endured a reputation as a sterile place where lanyard-wearing workers scurried to offices through underground tunnels and lunched in basement food courts.

There was always the appeal of the river, the squares of green and mounds of pink impatiens, but in general, the streets were rather lifeless except for noon on a pleasant day, people said.

That has changed quite a bit over the past year, however, as the old streetscape has given way to a slick gray and glass mall along Crystal Drive, where orange and red banners reading "Dine" and, somewhat cryptically, "World" now flutter overhead.

These days, people who make some of the most sophisticated weapons systems on the planet can grab a toffee crunch ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery or lunch on wings at Ted's Montana Grill.

Yesterday, notes of light jazz floated with the air conditioning out of the Crystal City Shops and onto the brick sidewalks, where workers, some in military fatigues, others in casual Friday attire, lunched on benches in the sun.

"I think it all depends on how they market it," said Robert Broadus, 35, of Alexandria, who preferred to keep his line of work a mystery. "I think the only reason people come here now is to work here."

Many of the shops close at 7 p.m., he noted. And although it's an improvement to have Bailey's Pub and Grille, there could be more restaurants.

"It's dead at night," Broadus said. "They need to put some clubs, someplace where people can spend money and have a good time -- they have to bump it up."

To some extent, that is what planners have in mind.

Charles E. Smith Commercial Realty, which owns more than 70 percent of Crystal City's 20 million square feet of office space, is marketing the area as a "brand new downtown."

At least two office buildings are being replaced with residential ones, and tenants such as the Public Broadcasting Service and the Bureau of National Affairs are moving into the area, said Terry Holzheimer, director of economic development for Arlington County.

With the Pentagon still there, with rent cheaper than in the District and with a location more convenient than office parks further out, Holzheimer said, he does not foresee difficulty signing new tenants.

Harry Velasquez, a project manager who has worked in Crystal City for years and said it used to be "a wasteland," more or less agreed. "I think it's just a question of turnover," he said. "With the war effort continuing, there's always going to be a need for space near the Pentagon."

Crystal City is "dead at night," says Robert Broadus, 35, of Alexandria. "They need to put some clubs. . . . They have to bump it up."Crystal City was long known as a sterile place, but recently it has become more pedestrian friendly. Its proximity to the Pentagon is seen as a plus.Deborah Bair and Bob Morrison work for a defense contractor in Crystal City. Bair cites the area's attributes, including the Metro and the river close by.