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The Cloisters:
Silence Is Golden

By Heather Salerno
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 19, 1995

With two high schools and Georgetown University practically next door, one might think solitude and privacy would be limited commodities in a neighborhood. But that appears to not be the case at the Cloisters, where residents regard their homes as refuges from the everyday commotion of the city, even though it's just a few blocks from the busiest section of Georgetown.

"The university students are sometimes noisy, but it's worth it to take advantage of what the college offers to the neighborhood," said Sidney Spencer, who moved to the area eight years ago from Wilton, Conn. "But usually, they and the high school students, we hardly know they're here."

Despite the proximity to seemingly endless traffic and thousands of tireless students, the Cloisters is aptly named. Tightly ensconced between Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School and Georgetown University, the 144 red-brick, Federal-style town houses seem sheltered from the commercial side of Georgetown, even though there are no gates or security fences enclosing the homes. The community's northern and eastern borders are formed by busy Reservoir Road and 35th Street, where the Duke Ellington School of the Arts is located.

"We thought the location had a lot to offer," Spencer said. While on a business trip to the District as a corporate finance executive for General Electric, he noticed the development as it was still being built. Anticipating retirement, he and wife Frances bought a town house and are unwaveringly satisfied with their decision.

"We hope to stay here for a long time," said Spencer, who serves on the community's board. "I really can't think of a thing I'd prefer differently."

The Cloisters was built in the mid-1980s on land bought from the nearby Georgetown Visitation Convent, where the Sisters of the Visitation reside and run a preparatory school for girls, hence the name given to the town houses.

But while the community seems to have inherited the sisters' solitude, property values are hardly in line with the nuns' vow of poverty. Depending on the particular home, prices can vary from $410,000 to $625,000.

Donna Shalala, secretary of Health and Human Services, is a Cloisters homeowner, as are several diplomats, although residents declined to name their neighbors. Winfield Lane, the quiet, cobblestone road that winds through the complex, is lined with as many Saabs and BMWs as it is with shady trees.

In some ways, the Cloisters' current residents are as sheltered from the outside world as the nuns who preceded them. When asked to list the Cloisters' worst problems, Max Sporer was hard-pressed for a response.

"Worst problems? Parking problems, I guess that's about it. But parking is a problem throughout Georgetown," said Sporer, a retiree and two-year president of the Cloisters West Homeowners' Association. "I would recommend living here to anyone. Nice small community, relatively new homes, convenient location. There's not much more to ask for here."

Spencer added, "In Wilton, you had to get into a car and drive everywhere. Here, you have easy access to museums, and we can walk to Holy Trinity Church on Sundays."

Within walking distance of Georgetown's top restaurants and shops, the luxury town houses range in size from two bedrooms with 3 1/2 baths to five bedrooms with 4 1/2 baths. Each three-level home has a garage and outdoor parking space, fireplaces and skylights. A mandatory fee of $75 per month paid to the homeowners' association takes care of any maintenance to common areas in the community, such as road repairs or caring for its cherry trees.

"Have you seen our {crape myrtle} trees?" asks Melo Fekrat, a four-year resident and an agent with AGS Realty. "They are really in bloom now. They are beautiful."

Fekrat, who moved from a Rockville home with a large lawn and swimming pool, said the low upkeep on her two-bedroom Cloisters town house is a blessing.

"Now we just turn the key and we're home," she said.

"It's like a village, very welcoming. Everyone looks out for everyone else," added Fekrat, who noted that the community has formed a Neighborhood Watch anti-crime group.

Mary Bergstrom agrees with Fekrat's assessment of its residents. "I have fabulous neighbors. For instance, now our streets are being repaired, so people have been sharing parking space with each other because of the repairs."

Bergstrom relocated from Chevy Chase to the Cloisters almost three years ago. An agent with Pardoe Real Estate Inc. on Wisconsin Avenue, Bergstrom had sold several homes in the complex and eventually decided it was the place for her.

"It's great. Everyone I've met here has been very friendly. I had someone come over the other day and ask to see my flowers," she said.

Added Fekrat, "I would rather live nowhere else . . . truly."

© The Washington Post Co.

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