Until the fat lady sings, Hunting Towers hums.

Smiles are everywhere. Seniors hold doors open for bicycle-toting young singles. The young carry groceries for the seniors. Cecilia Kowalik, a resident since 1955--when an efficiency cost $75 a month--faithfully tends her flowering contribution to a once-forgotten corner at the rear of the East Building. Cookies and fresh coffee await visitors to the rental office. And so it goes at the 49-year-old waterfront apartment complex just south of Old Town Alexandria.

Of the three eight-story buildings making up Hunting Towers, the East Building practically kisses the Virginia approach to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The pessimistic say the building--and maybe the complex--will be history within two years. The perpetually optimistic continue the fight to save Hunting Towers. And the realistic, cognizant that the uncertain future of the overcrowded, crumbling six-lane link between Virginia and Maryland--known as that bridge--has hung over the complex for 10 years, know that nothing is certain until it's certain. Life goes on.

A perpetual waiting list has new tenants signing leases as soon as vacancies occur. Five vacancies last weekend, five new tenants lined up to take occupancy. "This place is big with people new to the area," said Eric LeMoult, one of the many young, single, physically fit residents who bicycle daily.

Like other tenants, he raves about the convenience. Turn right and you can stroll along sidewalks of shop-lined streets or charming residential areas in Old Town. Turn left and it's only steps to that exercise haven know as the Mount Vernon bike path. Stand still, and a bus will soon come by to whisk you to the District, the Metro or points beyond. Walk under the bridge and enjoy concerts, fireworks or picnics at Jones Point Park.

Residents also applaud the reliable, unintrusive service provided by the staff. The grounds are immaculate. Longtime maintenance workers such as Lee Scales, who has been tending the property for 42 years, have no desire to go elsewhere. Need flowers delivered, a ride to the doctor or a prescription picked up? The leasing staff does its best to fulfill such requests. Once, a staffer retrieved a forgotten tax return from an apartment, getting it to the post office with hours to spare before the filing deadline. When resident Rosanne Murphy called to say she had fallen in love with an antique bed while visiting Ohio, a staffer quickly measured her room to ensure it would fit where she wanted it.

Described by residents as the best-built apartments in Alexandria, Hunting Towers recently won a service award from AOBA, a national property-management association. The early years found a cheerfully decorated package of jams and jellies at each of the 795 units on Christmas morning. There were a secretarial service, a yacht basin, rooftop decks and lots of parties.

The 1960s brought the Wilson bridge and new management--both leaving much to be desired and, after years under lax care, much to be repaired. In 1980 Kay Management began the revitalization of Hunting Towers. While change was inevitable--silt caused by the bridge brought an end to the yacht basin, and the secretarial service gave way to modern answering machines--the original spirit of Hunting Towers is very much alive and well.

Its tenants are an eclectic group. Mary Young served as concert master for the Alexandria Symphony and spent 25 years playing the violin with the Farland Piano Quintet at Washington Performing Arts Society programs. Gordon Chase, a 1947 architecture graduate of the University of Virginia, now has a passion for cooking. With 32 cast-iron skillets and 1,000 cookbooks sharing his apartment, a culinary delicacy is just a stove away. Residents also include a world-renowned harpsichord maker, an opera singer and a journalist who recently returned from Mount Everest.

When and if that bridge's fate is ever decided, Chase said his neighbors are "a pretty intellectual group" that "can make decisions quickly if they have to." As long as the final bridge scenario doesn't cannibalize Hunting Towers, those decisions lean toward staying put, and humming merrily along.


1204 S. Washington St.

Alexandria, Va. 22314


* Application fee: $25

* Security deposit: $300

* Lease term: Six months or one year

* Utilities: Included

* Amenities: Outdoor pool; tennis courts; fitness center; mini-market

* Parking: Free outdoors; underground garage, $35 a month

* Pet policy: Cats welcome


EFFICIENCY 376 400 to 500 $655 to $730

1BR/1BA 341 approx. 700 805 to 880

2 BR/1BA 78 approx. 900 1,020 to 1,085

CAPTION: Hunting Towers, a 49-year-old waterfront complex just south of Old Town Alexandria, has 100 percent occupancy and a waiting list, but an uncertain future.