The historic Kennedy-Warren, which sits majestically on Connecticut Avenue on the edge of Rock Creek Park, has been called the finest art deco apartment building ever built in Washington, with its imposing vertical facade and gleaming aluminum marquee entrance.
And now it's even finished.
A nine-story wing that was called for in the original 1930s design of the apartment complex has just been completed on the south side of the building. The new wing, which accounts for more than a third of the entire complex, was part of architect Joseph Younger's original plan for the Kennedy-Warren. The owners went bankrupt in the Depression, though, and the wing wasn't built. Now that it's complete, the building at 3133 Connecticut Ave. NW has a newfound symmetry.
"It's always been a dream of the Saul family to finish it," said David Newcome, vice president of the B.F. Saul Property Co., which has owned the Kennedy-Warren since taking it over after the bankruptcy of original owners Edgar Kennedy and Monroe Warren Sr. in 1931. "It took 73 years, but we did it." The new wing was built largely according to the original design, with features such as the aluminum spandrels, set between the windows, that help give the building its distinctive vertical feel. The bricks of the new wing were hand-made to match the tans and oranges of the existing building. Newcome said the new structure cost about $45 million to build, making it one of the most expensive apartment buildings in Washington.
Opposition to the addition from some of the building's tenants and neighbors delayed the start of construction by several years. The Saul company made concessions to the tenants, including rent rebates during construction and improvements to the old building such as roof repairs and new carpet, to get the project through government approvals.
The Kennedy-Warren Residents Association is still in litigation with the management over how replacement windows in the old building will be paid for. But even though some residents have a contentious relationship with their landlord, the old Kennedy-Warren is a place that makes even those tenants feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
The impressive complex was built in an Aztec art deco design, also known as pueblo deco, an architectural sub-style of the late 1920s and early 1930s that was used mostly in the American Southwest for movie theaters, hotels and public buildings. The Kennedy-Warren's features include Aztec eagles carved into limestone in the facade; the use of aluminum outside, in the marquee entrance, and for the railings and balustrades; elevator doors with inserts of brass, copper and other metals; a 20-foot lobby ceiling with beams painted in a zigzag pattern of gold and pastels; and a pyramid copper tile roof.
"There are two art deco buildings that are outstanding in Washington," said historian James M. Goode, author of "Best Addresses," a guide to Washington's most distinguished apartment buildings. "One is the interior of the Justice Department and the other is the Kennedy-Warren." "Best Addresses" lists the Kennedy-Warren as one of the top 10 apartment buildings in the nation's capital.
The new wing adds 114 luxury apartments to the complex, ranging from studios to two-bedrooms with dens. Rents are among the highest in the District, from $2,100 to $8,000 a month. Many of the new apartments are larger units, said Kennedy-Warren general manager Tanya Marhefka, because B.F. Saul found it often had waiting lists for the building's bigger units.
There is also a health club in the new building with an indoor heated lap pool, steam saunas and exercise rooms, a conference room, and a small lobby, which echoes the design of the building's main lobby.
As part of the project, the main lobby of the Kennedy-Warren was renovated and a piano bar added off the lobby. The main dining room, which seats 200, was restored as a room that can be rented out for large public functions. The building's art deco step-down ballroom, the only ballroom in an apartment house in Washington, remains unused.
At the moment, though, it's still the old Kennedy-Warren -- what the owners prefer to call the historic wing -- that holds a special place in the hearts of many residents.
"I love the ambiance of the place," said Lee Cohen, who has lived in a two-bedroom with his wife for 10 years and has no plans to move. "We have one of the nicest apartments in Washington."
The historic building, with its 319 units and 33 floor plans, has attracted such notable tenants over the years as then-Rep. Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson; Harry Hopkins, a personal adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt; and the wives of 29 generals and admirals stationed overseas during World War II. H.R. Haldeman, an aide to President Richard Nixon during the Watergate years, also lived in the building.
During the 1930s and 1940s, when it was considered "the" place to live in Washington, a dozen white-gloved elevator operators would ferry residents up and down in the building's three elevators; bellboys would walk a resident's dog for a quarter; and maids would answer call bells set in the dining room floors.
Many tenants are fervently attached to the building, even though it has never been remodeled and doesn't have central air conditioning or in-unit washer-dryers. Instead of central air, the Kennedy-Warren has several huge metal fans set in the building's sub-basement that pull cool air from adjacent Rock Creek Park into the building. This precursor to central air conditioning was considered highly innovative at the time.
Residents say they like that their apartments retain the pre-World War II charm. The units are spacious, with tall ceilings, hardwood floors, arched entryways, plenty of closets and quaint French doors leading into many kitchens.
The kitchens are vintage 1930s, with stainless steel countertops and big painted wood cabinets with glass fronts and latch handles. The door knockers are Aztec deco. The complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Peter Schwarz, president of the residents' association, and his wife moved into the Kennedy-Warren a year and a half ago after waiting years to be able to afford to live there. "I'm a real enthusiast of art deco architecture," he said.
Management can only hope the new wing will inspire the same kind of devotion.
Tenants praise the way the new wing matches the old, but they also miss what used to be: a parklike area with benches where they could sit outside in the afternoons. Some also say the new building lacks the character of the old Kennedy-Warren.
"In an effort to make it a tonier residence, I think it's lost a lot of its personality," Cohen said. "The apartments are fitted out with the 'right' appliances and flooring, but it's far more elegant on our side." Cohen said there is a smaller staff than in years past, too.
"You're dealing with a building where people would have carried your luggage to your apartment at one time," said Cohen, harking back many years. "People remember those kinds of amenities. But they don't exist any longer."
The new apartments are fitted out "like condos for rent," general manager Marhefka said. They have the same upscale finishes that new condos have, such as stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, marble bathrooms and new hardwood floors. Some come with Sub-Zero refrigerators, Jacuzzi tubs and private elevator entry. Units on the back of the building have cast-iron balconies, something the older apartments don't have.
"You don't see rental apartments with these kinds of finishes," Marhefka said.
Another difference between the two buildings is the rent structure. The older Kennedy-Warren wing is under D.C. rent-control laws and has quite a few residents who have lived in their apartments for decades, meaning management hasn't been able to raise their rents to market levels.
For example, Amy Henderson has lived in a 540-square-foot studio apartment since 1975. As long as she stays in Washington, she said, she has no plans to move.
"It's like living on the Queen Mary," said Henderson, who likes to entertain in her studio apartment, which is closer to the size of a typical one-bedroom unit. "It has that wonderful graciousness." And, Henderson said, she's "paying very little."
Newcome from B.F. Saul said about 15 percent of the units in the historic Kennedy-Warren building are occupied by long-term tenants who are paying below-market rents.
But there are already some new tenants who are as pleased as they can be about the new wing, even with the higher rents.
T.R. Ahlstrom, whose lease starts in mid-November, recently moved to Washington from New York and rented a one-bedroom apartment in the new wing of the Kennedy-Warren. "It's a very architecturally interesting building," Ahlstrom said. "The attention to detail of the restoration is remarkable." Ahlstrom said his 1,100-square-foot apartment is also "cleverly laid out."
"There's a marble entryway with an alcove built into the wall that's just inviting a sculpture," he said. "And I have a big terrace."
And compared with New York, he said, it's a steal.
"It's about $1,000 cheaper than what I was paying in Manhattan," he said. "I don't have to pay a lot of money to belong to a club here. I can just join the health club in the building for a lot less. And parking here is $150 instead of $400 a month. So it's a better apartment for a lot less money for me."