For as long as anyone can remember, a prime lot on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest Washington has remained vacant, its steep slope a deterrent for many developers. But in the past year, a building has taken shape there--one with Italian limestone floors, maple-paneled elevators, 10-foot-high ceilings, expansive vistas and high-end rents.

The Park Connecticut is the first rental apartment house to appear along the popular Connecticut Avenue corridor in at least a decade. Charles E. Smith Residential Realty Inc. broke ground in summer 1998 and since then the stone-and-brick structure has drawn stares and inquiries, even in its unfinished state.

"We wanted to make a real statement with this building, to create a gem, a jewel box," said John Kurtz, senior vice president at Charles E. Smith. "Connecticut Avenue is a very prestigious address."

With rents ranging from $1,555 to $2,795 for one- and two-bedroom apartments, the Park will be of the same ilk as the Saratoga, Kennedy-Warren and Ambassador House, which cater to Washingtonians willing to spare no cost for the urban lifestyle.

"We are targeting affluent people who want downtown living with all the modern conveniences," Kurtz said. "They want all the latest appliances, furnishings, fixtures."

Thus, the Park resembles a boutique hotel. Tapestry rugs and overstuffed sofas are to adorn the foyer. A ground-floor "library" is to have a dining table and kitchenette so tenants can throw parties without having to tidy their own apartments. A business center is to offer computers, a fax machine, a copier and a conference room. And a 24-hour concierge is to be available to pick up the dry cleaning, make a dinner reservation or tend to other errands often neglected by workaholic Washingtonians.

For prospective tenant George W. Malzone, the building's round-the-clock front-desk attendant and tight security system--access cards, surveillance cameras--were draws. Since retiring, the recent widower has become a self-described world traveler. This year, he sailed to London and Paris on the QE2 and clocked 11,000 miles touring the United States. But he was constantly worrying about the alarm system, the yard duties and other nagging incidentals regarding his Colonial home near Chevy Chase.

"I wanted a great place where I could just close the door behind me and leave," said Malzone, a former Catholic priest and government worker. "It offers a sense of freedom."

Without seeing a finished apartment, Malzone selected a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit with a gas fireplace, a balcony and a sprawling view of Rock Creek Park, plus a sliver of Pier 1 Imports and Burger King.

The building is still under construction and will be completed in May, though tenants on the lower floors can move in by March. The leasing office opens next week.

Malzone based his decision on comparative shopping and by poring over enlarged floor plans and scouting the construction site from the sidewalk.

"I looked at some places in Cleveland Park, but they were too big and too impersonal. Or they were too dry, with no pizzazz," he said, sounding a bit like Goldilocks on her quest for the perfect bed. "With 142 apartments, [the Park] is smaller in scale, but it won't be lacking for anything."

Jacqui Zymowski, a district manager at Charles E. Smith, said the company receives about 40 calls a week from interested people. The demand comes, in part, from the real estate squeeze, but also, she said, from a resurgence in urban living. The migration is flowing from the suburbs as well as from other D.C. neighborhoods.

Bill Epstein, for example, lives on Massachusetts Avenue NW but has decided to move a few streets over. "Now, I have no shopping or Metro within a two-minute walk. I have to drive everywhere." So he signed up for a one-bedroom-plus-den at the Park.

The Van Ness Metro station is a few steps away. The 47-year-old economist will be able to eat a Whopper, buy wicker furniture, get a pedicure or rent the latest blockbuster movie without ever leaving the block.

With convenience comes noise--rush-hour traffic, pedestrians, rambling delivery trucks. In an attempt to muffle the honks and shouts, the Park is set back from the street. A pick-up, drop-off driveway will act as a buffer and, for aesthetics, a softly lighted fountain will grace the front entrance.

The building's layout--six street-side floors and 11 floors in the back facing the woods--and modern materials also will trap noise, a key concern for Epstein, a fervid pianist.

Epstein practices nights and weekends on his seven-foot Steinway. At his current residence, noise from the upstairs neighbors disrupts his playing. In his new top-floor apartment at the Park, Epstein is hoping for complete silence.

As for Malzone, peace of mind is what he seeks, whether at home or far away. "I always love to come back home, and I will really love coming back here," he said.

THE PARK CONNECTICUT

4411 Connecticut Ave. NW

Washington, D.C. 20008

202-363-3000

* Application fee: $45 per applicant

* Security deposit: None; $350 nonrefundable move-in fee

* Lease term: One year

* Utilities: Not included

* Amenities: Rooftop swimming pool and spa; fitness center; business center with computers, copier and fax machine; 24-hour front desk and concierge service

* Parking: $140 a month in covered garage

* Pet policy: No pets allowed

APARTMENT SIZE QUANTITY SQUARE FEET MONTHLY RENTAL

1BR/1BA 82 652 to 932 $1,555 to $1,945

1BR/1BA/DEN 5 1,070 $2,275 to $2,315

2 BR/2BA 55 1,070 to 1,235 $2,510 to $2,795