The art deco lobby, with shiny marble floors and elegant pillars, casts the first spell. Then it's the ample high-ceiling apartments that charm prospective tenants. Add to the potion an interesting location--multicultural Adams-Morgan--and one gets a taste of the zesty living available in the Park Plaza apartments, a District landmark.
Like the neighborhood, Park Plaza residents are a mix of all ages, all types. The majority are young professionals and students, but there are also senior citizens who have been living there for decades, and young couples.
Not much ever happened over in Capitol Hill, resident Marcos Hasbun said, so when he moved to Park Plaza a year and a half ago he was happily surprised by the liveliness and ethnic flavor of Adams-Morgan. "My main thing was space, though," he said. "People come here and they are always surprised" by the size of his apartment. "And they are more surprised when I tell them how much I pay," Hasbun said.
It was hard for Maryann McCool, who moved in last August, to find a charming apartment that fit her budget. But her efficiency at Park Plaza is not "like a little box," she said: It has personality. And the apartment's closet, almost as big as a changing room, makes some of her visitors feel jealous.
Park Plaza's construction began toward the end of 1921, which explains the art deco lobby and spacious apartments. A year later the first tenants occupied 229 apartments that then ranged from three to six bedrooms. The eight-story building was originally named the Argonne, after the World War I battle.
Jobi Magana, a resident for three years, and Robert Rosenblatt, who has lived in the building for more than 30 years, have researched the building's past and collaborated on a recent restoration that has brought back the early splendor of Park Plaza's lobby.
Magana and Rosenblatt's 1920s and 1930s newspaper clips testify to the glory of the old days at the Argonne--before the area started deteriorating. But by 1962, the building had been emptied, its apartments broken up into today's 276 units. New owners--"modernizers"--around that time plastered over the lobby's pillars, coated the downstairs walls with wallpaper and hid the marble floor with carpeting. The sweeping changes of the 1960s affected even the building's name: Telephone books from 1965 to 1967 just list "apartments" for 1629 Columbia Rd., Magana's research shows. Not until 1968 did the directory identify the site as Park Plaza apartments.
Park Plaza changed hands once again, in 1975, when Howard and Maxine Bernstein saw potential in the area and bought the building.
A family-owned business founded in 1968 and based in Bethesda, the Bernsteins' H & M Enterprises manages 15 other buildings in the area. H & M owner Craig Bernstein, the Bernsteins' son, calls Park Plaza the company's flagship.
"What sets us apart from all other apartments in the area is that we have a wonderful group of employees," Bernstein said. "There is definitely a family atmosphere."
Some Park Plaza residents have even chosen to work for the building. Magana, an artist, works part-time at the front desk. Cecily Ferguson, a resident for two years, started working part-time a little more than a year ago and now is Park Plaza's assistant manager.
Ferguson said she loves the opportunity to talk to people and listen to their stories. "I feel like Frasier sometimes," she said, referring to the radio psychiatrist in the TV comedy.
Personal touches aside, Park Plaza also is convenient. Several bus routes pass nearby, and in September, when the Columbia Heights Metro station is scheduled to open, residents will have yet one more option. The new station will be a five-minute walk from the complex.
For Kathy Gosselin, a Metro stop will make it a lot easier to get to George Washington University, where she is a graduate student. Visually impaired, she has to rely on buses to get to school. Gosselin is happy with her roomy efficiency and the apartment building's location, but she said she and two other visually impaired residents are still lobbying management for Braille numbers on the elevator buttons. H & M said there are plans to revamp the elevators, at which time Braille numbers will be added.
Should residents choose to turn their backs on lively Adams-Morgan, with its restaurants and bars--they have a lot of other diversions to choose from in their own building. The swimming pool and sun deck already are open and will stay that way past Labor Day. Then there's a new fitness room and three small businesses in the building's lower level: a coffee shop, a mini-market and, essential in this pet-friendly building, a pet-food store.
A florist will be available in the next couple of weeks, and a beauty salon, which recently signed a lease, plans to open in the summer.
"My husband and I patronize the coffee shop and the mini-market at least once a day," said Kelly Duffy, a resident for three years. She and Charles Duffy like the convenience stores and their large apartment, but mostly they enjoy the city living. "Suburbs are nice, [but] the city is much more of an experience," she said.
One-month-old Elizabeth, the Duffy family's youngest member and Park Plaza's only newborn, will have this experience, she said. "I want her to grow up in the city, so she won't get bored."
1629 Columbia Rd.
Washington, D.C. 20009
* Application fee: $25; $10 each additional applicant
* Security deposit: $250
* Lease term: 1 year; short-term options available
* Utilities: Included
* Amenities: Pool, fitness room, guest suites, coffee shop, mini-market, pet store
* Parking: Outdoors, $75 to $125 (double) a month; garage, $95
* Pet policy: Pets allowed; $25 to $100 refundable fees
APARTMENT SIZE QUANTITY SQUARE FEET MONTHLY RENTAL
EFFICIENCIES 111 475 to 650 $625 to $690
1BR/1BA 117 750 to 800 840 to 875
2 BR/2BA 48 1,200 1,275 to 1,400
CAPTION: Park Plaza tenants Jitesh Kerai, 24, Michelle Jacobs, 28, Guilherme de Oliveira, 24, and Brad Vannoy, 24, sun themselves by the pool at the building on Columbia Road in Adams-Morgan last Saturday.