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Beekman Place:
A Look Past the Iron Gate

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 28, 1995

Beekman Place looks like a fortress overlooking the lights and sounds of the city below.

The development of brick town houses is bordered by a century-old stone wall that once surrounded a castle that once sat on that hill. The stone wall remains as a barrier to the outside world.

The only way into Beekman Place is through a black, wrought-iron gate that opens slowly to those who live there and to those who are invited. After the gate shuts, the sounds and elements of the city are left behind.

Beekman Place, which sits near 16th and Belmont streets NW and on the site of the old Henderson Castle, is now a village unto itself.

"It's very intimate. You have this very suburban feel. As soon as you pull off 16th Street into the community, it suddenly becomes very quiet," said Bill Klass, 45, a travel agent who has lived in Beekman Place for 11 years.

"It has a village atmosphere," Klass added. "All the neighbors know each other. You can walk your dog in the community. You don't have to lock your front door. It's almost like a little town in the city."

Among other amenities, Beekman Place offers its residents safety and convenience.

"Talk about location, location, location," said Don Bachenberg, community manager of Beekman Place. "That is really it. A goodly number of people who live there are folks who work in government. They all love the convenience."

The closest Metro stop is about four blocks away at 13th and U streets NW. There are two Safeway supermarkets within walking distance. Restaurants and nightclubs are within walking distance in Dupont Circle, Adams-Morgan and along U Street.

Among the 216 units in Beekman Place, there are some with three bedrooms, as well as two-bedroom and one-bedroom town houses. Most of the town houses, built in the 1970s, are two stories high, stacked together in sets of four. In some top-level town houses, the kitchen faces the front, a long walkway leads to a dining room and a spacious living room, and in most houses a patio door opens to a balcony.

John Hecker, a 46-year-old travel agent who owns a house with Klass, stepped out on his balcony and observed the scene.

"From upstairs, you can see the city skyline," he said, noting that it is particularly beautiful on snowy nights. "So many city residents don't know {Beekman Place} exists."

When one enters the bottom-level town houses, the bedrooms are on the first floor. Down a flight of stairs are the dining room, the kitchen and the living room. The bottom-level town houses have a feature the top-level units do not: fenced-in backyards, ideal for outdoor grilling.

The price of the units range from $140,000 to $180,000, according to Gilbert Stockton, a real estate agent for Tutt Real Estate, which currently has a house on the market in Beekman. The price depends on the size. Some residents have purchased garages, which sell for about $29,000, that sit in a separate row from the houses.

"Some have patios and terraces. Some have balconies, and some have neither," Stockton said. Most of the units have 2 1/2 baths and all have two parking places per unit.

"It's a very good deal for the neighborhood," Stockton said. "It's a very sought-after location for both rentals and purchasing. They don't last on the market very long."

Stockton said people often buy in Beekman Place for three main reasons. "First of all, the parking. That is No. 1. D.C. is terrible for parking. Two is security and three is location to Dupont. Our clients, if they want to buy in Dupont, we recommend this. It's very nice. There is a lot of foliage. Plus, as an investment, they are easy to resell because of the amenities they offer."

The monthly homeowners' association fee, which ranges from $149 to $247, pays for the electronic gate, the security post and the 24-hour roving guard.

"It covers all those things you would normally expect to do if you were a single-unit homeowner," Bachenberg said. "Everybody has to have a set of attorneys. It pays for that. It pays for repairs to common element, management of the place, collecting fees and making payments. It pays for the auditor and insurance. Social and recreational stuff. The payroll for site staff person. Janitorial, grounds work, plumbing repairs, paying all the taxes . . . replacement reserve."

Among the community's residents are doctors, lawyers, a priest and at least one congressman. For some, Beekman Place town houses are second homes for use while they are in Washington. "It's on the upper scale of socioeconomic group," Bachenberg said. "There ain't no poor folks living there."

The Henderson Castle was built by then-senator John Brooks Henderson in the 1800s and sat across the street from the mansion on Meridian Hill.

According to the book "Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington's Destroyed Buildings" by James A. Goode, before the castles and mansions were built, "16th Street was an area of small farms and scattered small wooden shacks occupied by freedmen."

After Henderson married Mary Newton Foote, 16th Street became an "Avenue of Mansions," Goode wrote. All along 16th street, Mary Henderson built mansions and rented them to foreign governments and embassies. According to the book, one mansion was a four-story Venetian building, known as the Pink Palace, at 2600 16th St.

Mary Henderson persuaded Congress to change the name of 16th Street to the Avenue of Presidents. But the neighbors objected "because they would have to change the writing paper, calling cards and charge accounts," Goode wrote. "The name was also considered too pompous.' " After one year, the name of the street was changed back to 16th Street.

Mary Henderson died in 1931 and her castle was razed in 1949, according to Goode. "Only the great stone entrance gateposts survived the wrecker's wrath and they still stand today," Goode wrote.

People passing by barely notice the stone posts that led to a house that was once so grand. "Today, apartment houses span much of 16th Street near the site of the Henderson Castle, a fact that would not have pleased Mrs. Henderson, who insisted that they be excluded from fronting on her' street during her lifetime."

Today, the hill is home to people like Klass and Hecker, who moved there for the location, the security and the convenience.

"Where else in town can you park at your front door?" asked Klass, who with Hecker lived in the Cairo building before buying a three-bedroom town house at Beekman.

"I wanted something older, but when I looked around and saw how much time it would take to put into something, I opted for getting something not as old," Klass said.

A contingent of dog walkers frequents Meridian Hill Park, across the street from Beekman Place. They've come up with a Doggy Play Group and a roster of dogs and their owners, which is alphabetized by dog names. There, people are known not by their names but by which dogs they belong to.

Vietta Dowd, 74, who has lived in Beekman Place 18 years, said she now enjoys the park since it has been cleaned up. "For a while, there was no way I would walk out or drive out at night when all that stuff was going on in Meridian Hill park."

Dowd said she moved to Beekman Place after years of commuting to the District from Virginia. Dowd said her boss liked having staff meetings in the afternoon, but she often had to leave early to catch her train to her house in Virginia.

Hecker says his neighbors look out for each other. His downstairs neighbor shares a small plot of land and doesn't mind him using his patio for dinners.

Occasionally, Hecker and Klass think of moving for more space and perhaps their yard.

"The only thing we miss is a plot of land that is ours," Hecker said. Sometimes Hecker and Klass go out and look at open houses. But those trips to look at other real estate only remind them of how much they like Beekman Place.

"We really come back home and say, we have it pretty good," said Klass.

"When you move to get something, you lose something," Hecker said.

© 1996 The Washington Post Co.

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