Full disclosure first: I've rented an apartment in Massachusetts House for nine years--a fifth-floor one-bedroom with a terrace. My husband and I first lived in the building in 1986, for several months prior to our first overseas posting. When we returned to the District in 1990, it seemed natural to come full circle, back to our "downtown digs."
I may be slightly biased about what I call "my building," but I'm no different from many smart, restless, used-to-shopping-around Washingtonians, who are always on the lookout for a better place to live. I like to joke that I've been trying to move for nine years. But for all of my earnest searching downtown and in the surrounding areas, I've yet to duplicate the great location (in the Central Business District), my large bedroom, living room and kitchen (even the efficiencies here have big kitchens), cathedralesque view of the Ascension and St. Agnes Episcopal Church (Gothic Revival style, built in 1875) across the street--all at my $838 rent.
Staggering personal revelation: I like it here. I'm here to stay. I love the breathing-space-in-the-big-city feel of the building.
Massachusetts House is on the southeast corner of Massachusetts Avenue and 13th Street NW. It was built in 1968 by Stanley R. Zupnik of Majestic Builders in Chevy Chase; the developer was Harry Stimpson, and the architectural firm was Cooper & Auerbach. "The riots were going on then," Peter N.G. Schwartz, who has owned Mass House for 18 years, recalls about the building when it first opened. "The neighborhood was pretty bad then, dangerous, with no sense of community."
Longtime building resident Don King recalls the luxuriousness of Mass House in its early days. Developer Stimpson and family lived in the "penthouse" apartment when they were in town. The lobby contained antiques, switchboard operators directed calls, and each elevator landing had a lovely table and lamp next to it. Zupnik (who also built the former Vista Hotel nearby) told me recently that he was able to give the place higher-than-usual ceilings.
The area around Mass House has changed dramatically in the past nine years. Gone are the police bullhorns rousting the prostitutes and their pimps from L and 13th streets. A true "new downtown" has emerged. Thanks to the Downtown Business Improvement District designation--and the red-jacket-wearing men and women who pick up paper and chat with pedestrians, politely!--downtown is cleaner than ever.
Shopping and the museums of the Mall are within easy walking distance of Mass House, as are Safeway (17th and Corcoran streets NW), Giant Food (Eighth and O streets NW), Logan and Dupont circles, and the McPherson Square and Farragut North Metro stops.
Peter N.G. Schwartz Management operates Mass House, which has 15 full- and part-time employees and is undergoing a $1.25 million renovation, including a new roof, new roof deck, refurbished pool, repair of all three levels of the underground parking garage, new landscaping and new carpeting on all 10 building floors. The lobby will be fully reconstructed--with marble and carpeted flooring, a new receptionist station and new handicapped ramp. "The treatment," promises Roy Eppard, director of facilities, "will be world-class."
Rietta Turner, the building's assistant manager, has lived in Mass House for four years and is in charge of tenant services and rental inquiries. The building is 100 percent occupied, with a waiting list. When turnover occurs--which happens fairly frequently, given the large student population--kitchen cabinets and countertops are upgraded, if needed, and wooden parquet floors are refinished and buffed.
I'm not the only tenant with the Mass House homing-pigeon instinct. King, a showman who ran the old Keith vaudeville house downtown and remodeled Georgetown's Key theater, now gone, from an old bowling alley/photo studio, has lived here three times, first in 1972. The apartment sizes and spacious layouts are what he likes most.
"I've never seen an apartment house with rooms this large," he said. "You never have the feeling of being in an apartment--and the windows are huge."
Bob Ellis, a 25-year resident, is a decade-long Georgetown flea market vendor of collectibles and used furniture. I've bought every piece of furniture in my apartment from Ellis.
He loves the view of the Old Post Office Building from his eighth-floor one-bedroom. "The view is relaxing and meditative; the avenue is very pretty, very Parisian-looking," he said. He also likes the convenience of the courtyard, where he can load and unload his van.
Ellen Scott and her husband, John, a cook at the Tastee Diner in Bethesda, chose Mass House in the late 1970s because John's night hours necessitated a nearby Metro station. Ellen, who has worked at the front desk for many years, enjoys the sociability of the tenants. She has gone on shopping trips to local malls and on excursions to Las Vegas with fellow residents.
Mass House tenants like to gather to eat and watch Redskins games at Stoney's Bar & Grill, the landmark bar at L and 13th streets NW. Stoney's is the kitchen and living room away from home for many of them.
As for me, as I said, I keep looking, but I just may never move.
THE MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE
1234 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20005
* Application fee: $25
* Security deposit: One month's rent, refundable
* Lease term: Six months to one year; short-term options available
* Utilities: Included
* Amenities: Pool; 24-hour front desk and secretarial service; rooftop sun deck; valet dry-cleaning service; courtyard with temporary parking spaces
* Parking: Indoor garage, $100 per month
* Pet policy: Cats only
APARTMENT SIZE QUANTITY SQUARE FEET MONTHLY RENTAL
EFFICIENCY 146 445 to 597 $660 to $700
1BR/1BA 118 670 to 898 $775 to $950
2 BR/2BA 10 1,129 $1,200