An elderly Glover Park woman gets annoyed because the Soviet children sometimes play noisily behind the black iron fence facing her back yard.
A 35-year-old medical secretary gets irritated because parking has become more difficult in the residential neighborhood now that Soviet diplomats' cars are occasionally parked outside her door.
A local lawyer says his television reception has never been the same since the Russians came to Glover Park.
Aside from those kinds of complaints, detente is apparently alive and well--so far--in the Northwest Washington neighborhood where the Soviet Union is building its massive new $70 million embassy compound, which will be the largest foreign presence in Washington when completed in 1985.
The United States, meanwhile, is simultaneously building an embassy compound in Moscow under terms of treaties that took more than a decade to negotiate. Because Soviet law prohibits foreigners from owning land, the Americans in turn decided that the Russians would have to lease federally owned land in Washington. The Soviet complex is at Mount Alto, formerly a Veterans Administration hospital site near Wisconsin Avenue and Calvert Street NW.
Begun in 1977 and partially occupied since 1980, the U.S.S.R.'s embassy complex is something of a mini-city for the roughly 500 Soviets, and their families, attached to the country's mission. The 10-acre compound includes a nine-story, 165-unit apartment building, an eight-classroom school, a gymnasium, an Olympic-size pool, a 400-seat auditorium, a four-story consulate and ambassador's residence, an eight-story administration building, a playground, underground parking garage and a spacious reception hall--all totaling nearly half a million square feet.
"It is kind of shocking to people how enormous it is, and you don't know what it all contains. . . . It's just kind of a monster presence that you wonder about more than anything else," said Phyllis Myers, who represents Glover Park on the Advisory Neighborhood Commission.
The construction of what one neighbor calls "the Kremlin on the Potomac" has meant the loss of about 20 parking spaces, an increase in noise and traffic, and some reported interference with television and radio reception, according to neighbors. But the most frequently heard gripe, they say, is about the appearance of the hulking white brick complex, surrounded by black iron fencing, surveillance cameras and floodlights.
"What most people complain about is the ugliness," said Milt Chamberlain, desk clerk at the 120-unit Tunlaw Park apartments, facing the compound on Tunlaw Road. "The general consensus is that it is quite an ugly building, a very totalitarian building." Residents also complained about TV reception after the nine-story Soviet apartment building went up, prompting Tunlaw Park to erect a larger antenna, he said.
In Glover Park, a pleasant and relatively quiet middle-class enclave of tree-lined residential streets and large apartment buildings, neighbors are also concerned because the Soviet compound is not subject to city zoning restrictions because it is located on federally owned land. In lieu of city zoning, the embassy building plan was reviewed and approved by the National Capital Planning Commission in 1975.
"I just have a basic gut feeling that this thing is going to develop into something more serious after the whole thing is completed," said Chester Sturm, a former ANC commissioner and chairman of a tenants association at Tunlaw Gardens apartments. "If we had a clear insight into what would be built , we could voice concerns, but not knowing specifics, we can't."
"As you continue to add more buildings, I just see the future becoming more cramped for us," Sturm said.
D.C. council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) said her most frequently heard complaint about the Soviet site is the loss of parking space in a neighborhood where space is alreadyat a premium. "With parking, there is not a thing we can do about it . . . it is the State Department" that oversees the development, she said. Shackleton introduced a bill five years ago to prevent new foreign chanceries in residential neighborhoods. The City Council approved it, but Congress killed it at the urging of State Department officials. Under the federal Foreign Missions Act enacted last year, embassies must receive State Department approval for plans to buy, sell or rent property in the U.S.
The only clear benefit of having an embassy in a residential area, according to residents of Glover Park, is the certainty of 24-hour police protection around the site, thanks to the Secret Service's uniformed division and the Metropolitan Police.
While neighbors have grown to accept the Soviet presence, the relationship has not been without its prickly moments. In 1980, the Soviets charged that the United States had planted eavesdropping devices in the embassy apartments during construction. A U.S. spokesman had no comment. In 1979, a group of Georgetown University students living nearby got a bit carried away at a back-to-school bash. The partygoers threw hot dogs and watermelon into the compound, while shouting anti-communist epithets. The Soviets called the cops.
Last year, the American Jewish Congress proposed changing the name of Tunlaw Road to "Wallenberg Way" in honor of the Swedish Red Cross envoy Raoul Wallenberg, who helped save Jewish refugees from the Nazis, but vanished in 1945 after the Russians took him into custody. Most residents, however, opposed the plan.
The Soviets' diplomatic, military, cultural and trade offices currently occupy space at six sites in Northwest Washington, including the embassy at 1115 16th St. NW, four blocks from the White House. They are expected to eventually consolidate all the facilities at the new Mount Alto site. In the meantime, a silver and blue bus with diplomatic license plates shuttles employes from their new apartment complex to their offices.
Construction of the new complex is being handled by American contractors, with Soviet supervision, under the treaty terms signed by the two countries. Similarly, Russian labor is being used to build the U.S. compound in Moscow.
George Hyman Construction Co. of Bethesda built the $12 million first phase of the Soviet complex, and found that "the Soviets were not easy to deal with," a former company official said. Hyman "chose not to bid" on the current second phase, said a Hyman spokesman, who declined to comment further. Whiting and Turner Contracting Co. of Baltimore is building the $44.4 million second phase, which includes buildings of white Taylor brick from North Carolina and marble from Georgia.
After the buildings are erected, both here and in Moscow, each nation will use its own workers to finish off the interiors. This was specified "for obvious reasons" concerning security, a State Department spokesman said.
To ensure that neither country hinders the other's building project, neither nation will occupy its chancery until the other's is also ready, an agreement called "reciprocal occupancy" in State Department jargon.
Meanwhile, Soviet officials declined a request for a tour of their facilities. "Why are you writing such a story?" a Soviet press officer asked. " . . . I am afraid we are not very enthusiastic."