Critics derided it as "Flynn's Folly" and predicted that the housing cooperative wouldn't last in the farm country of upper New Hampshire Avenue NW in 1929. But the developers persisted and advertised the co-op's setting as "an environment of loveliness for those who appreciate beautiful surroundings."
Sixty-three years later, Hampshire Gardens Apartments Inc.--nine Tudor-style buildings on the block bounded by tree-lined New Hampshire Avenue and Emerson, Third and Farragut streets NW.--now is surrounded by red brick rowhouses and is one of the District's oldest cooperatives.
It also is perhaps the city's first garden-apartment complex, said James Goode, curator of the Smithsonian Institution's building. He is in the middle of a six-year research project on District apartment buildings and plans to publish his findings in a book in 1986.
After opening, the 102-unit Hampshire Gardens attracted the low-paid federal workers who were the target of the builders' advertising, recalled Edmund C. Flynn, son of one of the developers, Edmund J. Flynn, and now president of the District real estate firm that bears his father's name. The Flynns lived in Hampshire Gardens from 1929 to 1948.
The nine two-story buildings were to be the first phase of the cooperative's development, but the stock market crashed in 1929 and the Depression ended those expansion plans, Flynn said.
Hampshire Gardens formally opened about two months before the stocks tumbled, but the cooperative weathered the Depression with little problem, he said. Some residents fell behind in their shareholder payments, but rather than foreclose, the co-op had them move out and rented the units for them, he said. Once the owners were financially back on their feet, they were allowed to return, Flynn said.
Initial prices for the co-op ranged from $5,100, with monthly payments of $47.25, for a one-bedroom unit, to $8,900, at $62.25 a month, for three bedrooms. A brochure pointed out that the monthly payments were lower than those charged at comparable apartment buildings, noting that the co-op's one-bedroom unit had a rental value of $70 a month.
The low prices that drew the co-op's original residents--none of whom remains--are still an attraction for newcomers. Ben W. Armfield moved into Hampshire Gardens last summer after paying $21,000 for his one-bedroom unit. "I had just moved to D.C. and I was looking for a place to buy, and the co-op was much cheaper" than a condominium, he said.
Another newcomer is Dorita Sewell, an anthropologist, who bought into Hampshire Gardens in September 1981. "I think co-op living is wonderful," she said. "It's not so much the ownership as it is having some control over where I live."
She's particularly charmed by the co-op buildings' architecture and the materials and design of her apartment--the hard wood and tile floors, ceramic bath fixtures and Moorish arches in the hallway.
Sewell serves as an alternate to her building's representative to Hampshire Gardens' nine-member board of directors. "The board is a pretty good surrogate for yourself," she said. "It has your own interests."
In the 24 years G. Raymond Pelkey, president of the board, has lived at Hampshire Gardens, maintenance has been the cooperative's major challenge. In 1976, the buildings' roofs needed repair and, a few years earlier, gas-fired heating systems were installed in each building to replace a worn out central, coal-burning heating plant, he said.
The $150,000 cost of the new roofs was divided among the residents, with each having a choice of immediately paying off their share or making monthly payments.
Another challenge to the co-op came in 1973, when a condominium developer offered $1.1 million in cash for Hampshire Gardens, said a 41-year resident who asked not to be named. She said the deal tempted some tenants, but, at a stockholders' meeting, it was rejected by a 3-to-1 margin. The District's latest assessment put the co-op's value at $1.9 million, she said.
When the developer made his bid, she said, she inquired about other apartment buildings and "I found the prices appalling. I decided then that I had a pretty good thing here."