The 70-year-old woman remembers the early days at Mayfair Mansions in the late 1940s when it was a fashionable address for many of the District's black professionals. She used to promenade on the landscaped grounds with her husband, walk the dog along the grassy mall that ran between the tidy, three-story buildings, and sit outside on warm evenings chatting with neighbors.
"It was gorgeous. There wasn't a bare spot to be seen -- trees everywhere, shrubs. There was a wading pool for the little ones," she recalled, smiling as she sat in her pin-neat apartment, decorated with plants and pictures of her family.
The area still seemed pleasant as recently as eight years ago, when 34-year-old Linnette Henry and her family moved into Paradise Manor, the apartment complex adjacent to Mayfair Mansions in far Northeast near Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.
"What attracted me was the playground for the kids, the park, the tennis courts, the swimming pool, the low rent. It's close to Metro and to stores," Henry said last week. "When I moved here, it was quiet. Parents were responsible for their children. There were rules."
Now, there are no rules.
Drugs have transformed their nice neighborhood into a little Beirut, according to police officials, community leaders, residents and managers of the complexes. It is a place where gunshots ring out nightly, where corpses crop up in breezeways, parking lots and abandoned apartments and where small children scramble away from gun-wielding drug dealers chased by police cars through playgrounds and courtyards.
Since October, there have been at least six drug-related killings in Mayfair-Paradise and scores of other shooting incidents, many of them never reported to authorities, according to police officials. More than two dozen search warrants have been executed, and police said they have seized millions of dollars worth of drugs and cash and dozens of firearms.
"You're afraid to let your kids out because there's shooting going on. And when the police come by they drive right into the yard and you're afraid the kids will get hit," Henry said.
"It's like a 24-hour-a-day drugstore -- people come from all over D.C. at all hours," she said.
Police and prosecutors said the mayhem at Mayfair-Paradise reflects the first major influx of drug dealers from cities such as New York and Miami, who are lured here by the high prices that cocaine and its potent derivative, "crack," bring in this area.
In the past two months, eight major narcotics distribution cases, involving at least 20 New York and Miami residents, many of them originally from Jamaica, have been brought in U.S. District Court here.
Henry and several other women said they and their children are forced to stay inside their apartments now, prisoners in their own homes.
They said they live in fear and move with caution, looking over their shoulders and speaking only to those they know. They signal each other to watch when they enter and leave their buildings and they dial 911 for police help more often, they said.
Beyond the violence of the drug wars, the women said they are waging a war of will to stay in the neighborhood where many of them have lived for decades.
Hoping to outlast the drug dealers, the neighbors have resolved to hold out for the better days promised by police, who vow to sweep the area clean of drugs, and by the plans of government and private developers to spend nearly $20 million to renovate the 1,266 units on the horseshoe-shaped slab of land.
"The good, decent people have to stay, otherwise the neighborhood goes all the way down. If you run every time your neighborhood has a crisis, there won't be any good neighborhoods left," said a 71-year-old woman who moved into Mayfair four decades ago.
"This is such a good neighborhood, with so many possibilities, I've got to stay," she said.
The dilemma faced by the residents is common to many neighborhoods in the District, where drug arrests and drug-related violence have soared in recent years. Stacked against their hopes for better days is the discouraging arithmetic of crime.
In one six-week period last fall, three men and one woman were found shot to death in Paradise Manor, according to police. Two of the men were found in hallways, the third in a parking lot. The woman's body was found stuffed in the utility closet of an abandoned apartment.
Earlier this month, the bullet-riddled bodies of two more men were found, one in a breezeway and the other inside an apartment, both in Paradise Manor.
The 6th District Vice Squad has executed more than 25 search warrants in the two complexes since October, seizing millions of dollars worth of drugs, dozens of weapons and stolen vehicles. Between April and June, police arrested 125 people at Mayfair-Paradise on drug- related charges.
On June 16, police seized nearly $1.5 million in drugs and a handgun from a 64-year-old Mayfair resident. The same day, they arrested one woman and 11 men who were operating an open-air drug ring around the complexes, and seized 10 guns, 109 rounds of ammunition, $5,274 in cash, two stolen cars, $6,340 worth of PCP and 233 vials of crack with a street value of $5,825.
Deputy Police Chief Jimmy L. Wilson, who took over as 6th District commander at the end of May, said that ridding the area of drugs, users and pushers is his top priority. He has ordered foot, car and scooter patrols and daily roadblocks.
Several residents and property managers said the measures have made a difference.
"The people out here were tired of calling the police and having them do nothing," said Carl Raab, vice president of CT Management Inc., which operates Paradise. "Wilson made a commitment that we could see the results of in a very few days."
But on two sunny afternoons last week, there were still many signs of drugs in the sprawling apartment complexes.
Young men and women, many of them vacant-eyed and behaving erratically, gathered in breezeways. When a police car approached, they glared, then disappeared quickly.
"When you see drug users and pushers gathering on the blacktop, that's called 'Cats on the Prowl,' " explained a 57-year-old retired civil servant who moved into Mayfair 17 years ago.
"The fence between Mayfair and Paradise, that is called the 'Berlin Wall.' When the police come down to Paradise, the whole crowd will run down this way. That's the 'Changing of the Guard,' " the woman said.
Drug transactions are conducted at all hours in hallways and breezeways at the complexes, but dusk to dawn on weekends is the busiest time, according to a 35-year-old man who said that since December he has been buying cocaine and crack from Jamaican dealers he called "Yo-yo" and "John-John." The man said he bought crack in a breezeway last week.
"The reason why the police can't hardly get to them is the place is so wide open it has its own alarm system. As soon as police come within a block, everyone knows," the man said Friday, adding that he is awaiting treatment for cocaine addiction at an area hospital.
Thin young women, their eyes sunken and red, milled around the breezeways and courtyards.
"It's really sad. Some of the people I've known by name, young girls, I've seen them dwindle down to skin and bones with the crack," said Henry, a seamstress, as she looked out the window of her tastefully decorated apartment.
On one exterior wall at Paradise Manor, there is a spray-painted warning: "You might not make it. Crack kills. Who's next?" Another message warns: "Serpo is gone. Stop drugs."
Dozens of apartments in the complex are boarded up, posted with "No Trespassing" signs, while the windows and doors are broken in many other buildings where people still live.
In one parking lot, an abandoned gray Cadillac with black, curlicue pinstriping rested on four flat tires, doors and hood propped open with other parts.
In another lot, two young men stopped to unscrew brake light covers from a dilapidated red pickup truck, its bed full of rusting auto parts, a rug and other debris.
Dealers stash drugs in such abandoned vehicles, according to police and managers of the properties, who said they have towed many away.
"Drug dealers don't like cleanliness and when you start cleaning up the community, they move away," said D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), whose ward includes Mayfair-Paradise.
Plans to rehabilitate the two low- and moderate-income complexes were stalled last year by investor uncertainty caused by tax law changes pending in Congress. But $1 million already has been spent and renovations of each complex are about to begin, according to Marilyn Melkonian, project coordinator for Telesis Corp., a housing consulting firm working on the renovations.
"The area in my view will be completely transformed over the next 24 months, and although this type of drug activity will not leave the city, it will leave Mayfair-Paradise," Melkonian said Friday.
Barbara Brown, an advisory neighborhood commissioner and Mayfair resident for 15 years, said that renovation of the units and removal of drugs from the neighborhood must go hand in hand if better days are to return for the residents of Mayfair-Paradise.
"What I want and what the residents want is a great and noticeable decrease in drug dealing and use in the community," Brown said. "We don't want to put millions of dollars into a property that can be saved and have it be destroyed by the drug element that still exists."