Like Washington, the Envoy apartment building has survived some dramatic swings over the decades, and now the building is sharing in the city's resurging popularity.
The Envoy, a 302-unit building on the fringe of Adams-Morgan at 2400 16th St. NW, was the most expensive apartment building ever built in the city when it opened in 1918. Then called Meridian Mansions, it quickly drew the attention and occupancy of the District's high society.
Its location along the "Avenue of Presidents" and atop the crest of Meridian Hill made it popular. Features including a public dining room, two ballrooms and rooftop pavilions with adjacent tennis courts set above a three-story garage made it prestigious.
Cabinet members from the Wilson, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover administrations entertained there. By 1921 no fewer than 11 senatorial families and the Embassy of Bolivia called it home. By 1956, tenants reportedly included representatives from 32 foreign governments. Today a plaque commemorates it as the onetime residence of Tomas Masaryk and Charlotte Garrigue, the first president of Czechoslovakia and his American wife.
But like the city in general, the building began to decline in the late 1950s. After the 1968 riots, which devastated long stretches of nearby 14th Street, the Envoy was used as temporary housing for displaced families. For a period it was owned by the federal government.
Twice developers unsuccessfully attempted to gut the building and sell the units as condominiums. In 1983 the New York investment partnership that still owns the building bought it and again established it as a rental property.
The tennis courts, art deco nightclub and rooftop pavilions have disappeared. But for the last few years, as demand for rentals in the neighborhood has once again increased, the building has been fully occupied. A relatively transient group of students and young professionals, however, keeps the annual turnover rate around 40 percent, resident manager Lisa Eden said. "The beauty of the building and the rental prices" keep the building full, she said.
The building's varied floor plans accommodate a variety of budgets: With 143 studio units, 13 lofts, 123 one-bedrooms and 23 two-bedrooms, the Envoy offers 74 rental prices ranging from $620 to $1,500 monthly. The building's skeleton-key-shaped floors originally allowed for apartments as large as six rooms, plus kitchen and two baths. But its conversion from the original 190 apartments to the current complement of 1 1/2 times that many has made for some unevenly sized, if generally distinctive, spaces.
"When I first moved, I'd looked all over," said Thomas Colohan, 29, assistant conductor of the Master Chorale of Washington, who came to the Envoy last year. "I'd lived on O Street for a couple of years, and I know the scene: I knew I didn't have much time [before another renter would commit], but as soon as I walked in I knew this was where I'm going to be as long as I stay in the city."
Colohan liked the Envoy's mix of beaux-arts design and modern conveniences, including a dishwasher, water heater and independently controlled heating and air conditioning in each apartment. His opinion was soon seconded by his twin brother, who rented in the building three months after he did.
Bethany Matsko, 27, was equally certain about wanting to live at the Envoy when she saw the building. Matsko, a book production coordinator at the American Geophysical Union Building nearby, said she found the Envoy "a pretty good deal and really good experience" when she moved in last month.
"I feel very grand just walking through the lobby," she said. That area has a marble floor and a 50-foot-long rug lined by seven pairs of large marble columns and ornate molding still intact from the original design.
"I saw the millennium fireworks from my window, and my baby daughter loves it, too. We'll be here for a while, I think," Matsko said.
Even a wait at the bus stop in front of the building offers grandeur--there is a view straight down 16th Street to the White House and the Washington Monument, with airplane takeoffs from Reagan National Airport in the distance.
Furthermore, said resident Ibiza Rodriguez, 25, "I walk a lot, or I drive and park on the street. Sometimes it's hard to find a spot after 10 p.m., but I always feel safe."
The proximity to the night life of Adams-Morgan, Dupont Circle and U Street is enticing to some. For others, the lure is the 12-acre, tree-lined Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, across the street. An early American example of Italianate architecture and Italian-French garden design, the park hosts ethnic and gay pride days, weekend pickup soccer matches, jogging and chess games played with costumed children as pieces.
Roland Roebuck, 52, a longtime community activist who works as Hispanic program manager for the D.C. Department of Human Services, has lived at the Envoy since 1974. Even though he and a dozen other tenants whose leases predate the current ownership are battling with the owners over a rent settlement, he still is attached to the building.
"This place is a microcosm of what D.C. can be cross-culturally," he said. "Without being intimidated by prejudice or locking themselves in the suburbs . . . our neighbors are people who have a commitment and appreciation of diversity."
Roebuck said, "The building itself has a soul of accommodation and community."
2400 16th St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20009-6646
* Application fee: $25
* Security deposit: $250 with approved credit or one month's rent
* Lease term: Initially either six months or one year
* Utilities: Water and gas included, electricity extra
* Amenities: Dishwasher, basement laundry room, 24-hour front desk
* Parking: $100 outdoors, $125 in covered garage
* Pet policy: None allowed
* APARTMENT SIZE: STUDIO
MONTHLY RENTAL: $620 to $775
* APARTMENT SIZE: LOFT
MONTHLY RENTAL: $860 to $950
* APARTMENT SIZE: 1BR
MONTHLY RENTAL: $800 to $1,000
* APARTMENT SIZE: 2BR
MONTHLY RENTAL: $1,250 to $1,500
CAPTION: When the Envoy went up in 1918, it was Washington's most expensive apartment building. Today's residents cite the units' modern conveniences.