Although he has worked at Woodley Park Towers for 50 years, some of the residents almost didn't recognize Charles Woodson in his sharp, charcoal-gray suit as they streamed into the lobby to celebrate his career.
"They don't even know me because I'm wearing a suit and tie," he joked as someone did a double take.
Built in 1930, the art deco condominium building he maintains has been home to executives, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and newscasters. It has four pages dedicated to it in James M. Goode's 1988 book, "Best Addresses: A Century of Washington's Distinguished Apartment Houses."
But "Mr. Charles," as everyone calls him, probably knows more about the building than anyone else.
Not only does he know many of the residents by name, he also can identify every pipe and valve in the building, along with their functions.
"He knows every nook and cranny of the building" at 2737 Devonshire Place, NW in Cleveland Park, said David Taylor, condo board president and a former Mobil Oil executive. "He's a very gentle, capable man."
Residents sometimes ask Woodson to solve problems that are not technically his job, but he has always helped them willingly. One New Year's Eve, he was summoned to the building by Verizon executive vice president and former attorney general William P. Barr and his wife to help unlock a door in which they had broken a key. Woodson got the door open before locksmiths arrived.
Back in the old days, of course, the residents expected even more attention from the staff. When Woodson came to work at age 17, employees would gas up cars and pull them up to the door for residents, paint the hallways to impress party guests, and take trash out via small delivery doors that opened into the hallways. But, for the most part, Woodson's job has remained the same: maintaining the building's original boilers, fixing water and steam leaks, painting and plastering the 163 units.
"I've never thought about leaving for another job," Woodson said, adding that he has no plans to retire.
Residents are thankful that he wants to stay. "When he does finally retire, it'll be a great loss because of the knowledge he'll walk out the door with," said resident Donald Audette. Audette has been interviewing Woodson for two projects: an oral history of his memories of Woodley Park Towers and his personal history, which Audette plans to put into a book with co-author Martha Weiss. As Stanley Parent cleaned out his unit before moving, he described what makes Woodson so special to the community.
"Everything you'd want to sit down and talk about, Charles would have a story about," he said. "We swapped railroad stories about our fathers . . . We've probably talked for hours and hours. I told him my 32 years [here] didn't stack up to his 50 years, but it gave me time to get to know him as a wise man and a good friend and somebody who knew something about everything."
Residents inscribed similar comments in a notebook that was presented to Woodson at his party Sept 14, along with a check for about $5,000 from the condo owners.
Thomas Wilson, a front desk receptionist who has been there 12 years, said "Working with him has been a pleasure. In the 12 years I've known him, he's had the same attitude. He is part of Woodley Park Towers. He is Woodley Park Towers."