Guest Post: Life at the Woodner by a Resident, Tony Lizza

by Prince Of Petworth February 1, 2010 at 10:26 pm 41 Comments


A recent Rental Option post provoked a lot of discussion about the Woodner, located at 3636 16th St, NW. A resident wrote in asking to share his experiences (both good and bad). The history is quite interesting. Tony writes:

“I hear people get raped and mugged in that building all the time.”

“I hear the entire place has bedbugs.”

“Aren’t you afraid for your safety there?”

I’ve heard all of the above when I talk about life in the Woodner, a massive apartment complex with its own bar, grocery store, dry cleaner, and hair salon. People look at me with a strange mix of pity and bemusement. They usually following those questions with this one: How did you end up there?

I was in the process of moving back to the District from the suburbs and had seen at least fifteen apartments already. I was short on time. One of the sales consultants at the Woodner, a fresh faced kid with Dixie in his voice, must have sensed this and after viewing a few units, I settled on a carpeted unit on the 12th floor. One of the other sales associates later told me over a drink at the downstairs bar that he (along with the entire sales staff) got shuttled in and out of town in six week intervals. Oh, the things I learn in that bar.

The Woodner was built as an apartment and hotel in 1952. The sales staff here is fond of saying that it was the largest air conditioned building in the world when it was constructed. The lobby looks like it hasn’t been renovated since. Cracked marble floors spread out in odd curves and patterns. The first floor has pictures of this place in all of its former splendor. Black and white photos of Bob Hope and Duke Ellington and Jayne Mansfield. My favorite one is that of a guy with a pervy smile on his face getting shot with fake pistols by a gaggle of women crowded around him dressed as cowboys. I swear to God, when I move from here, that picture’s coming with me. Everything, the hall of pictures, the cracked marble, the spiral staircases, the swirls of spackle on the ceiling, it all imparts a sense of deep history to the place. Makes you wonder about your surroundings. Who stayed in my apartment? Was it ever anybody famous? What were their lives like? Did they have kids? What were their hopes and dreams and fears as they slept under the same roof that I sleep now?


Odd sirens and alarms wake you out of your reverie. It’s common to come home and see multiple police cars parked in front of the building. We never find out why, except under the most grave of circumstances, like when Nori Amaya, co-owner of Coppi’s Organic Restaurant was strangled to death last November. Management informed everyone with a flyer near the elevator banks on each floor. The crime is still unsolved. It’s a bizarre thought, to think that you could be sharing an elevator with a murderer.

And yet, the residents here are resilient. Given the building’s reputation, you’d expect the residents here to be hard-edged but the thing that amazed and continues to amaze me is how much nicer the people are here than they ever were out in the suburbs. When I first moved in, one of my neighbors helped me move my mattress. We talked for a bit about her job and my job and how long she’d been living in the building. Our conversation lasted three minutes and yet that was two minutes longer than the sum of all of my conversations with all of my neighbors in Fairfax.

Because of the kindness of so many of the residents, It’s hard not to feel a kinship with every resident of the building, one borne out of the sheer exhilaration of so many lives pressed up close to one another. Some of us have just arrived, some of us have been here for years. One night coming home from work, I met a woman on the elevator who’d been living in the building for fifty years now. “This was a nice building back then,” she said, shaking her head. “It still is,” she continued quietly. “But not as nice as it used to be.”

  • Ohio Player

    Let me pen an op-ed on the Woodner. It is a dump.

  • Anonymous

    Spend a few extra bucks a month and be safe and clean. The type of person who lives in the Woodner is the same person that is willing to book their vacation at a Motel 7.5 right off the highway in the ghetto. Personally, my time at home should not be spent praying that I won’t be attacked (either by a person, a cockroach, a bed bug). If you are older than 20 and live in the Woodner, get some self respect and move out.

  • Chris

    When I think back to the first dive I took after moving to DC in ’99, the lack of bugs or any other critters is surprising to me now. I guess I got lucky.

  • Shawn

    Nice “comments” guys. I liked this post. I also like the restaurant/bar in the Woodner and think the place has some really cool history.

    I wouldn’t mind living there. It could serve as kind of a filter to make sure I don’t accidentally make friends with certain types of people who would never be caught dead in a building so far below their standards of luxury.

    • MBK

      Haha! Right on! Let’s go grab a drink together at the Woodner bar!

  • Susan

    My Auntie Mame lived at the Woodner in the 60s. It was a gorgeous building then and very upscale. (Everything Auntie did was upscale. She was quite the lady). Someone should restore this beautiful old place.

  • stavros

    Yeah, wtf first two commenters? Guy writes a thoughtful piece about a very interesting old building (we keep coming back to it, don’t we?) and that’s what you got?

    Why the anger?

  • Ohio Player

    Oh Shawn, please spare all of us the im a man of the people bit. Huey long just rolled in his grave. After I lived there I hustled my bed bug bed for 200 dollars to a kid like you moving from the burbs back into the district.

    • TaylorStreetMan

      Nice Huey Long reference.

    • dcsarah

      Nice that you foisted your scourge onto someone else.

    • L

      What dcsarah said, wtf? Do you also leave HIV-infected needles lying around?

  • Ping

    From what I understand this place is huge, so a large renovation project might be a tough go in this economic environment. Bed bugs are a non-starter for me. I wouldn’t go near it no matter how much history it has.

  • skeedattle

    i really dug this post. i had no idea this place was big enough to justify its own grocery store (watergate springs to mind) and bar. i need to go check this place out, just to see it for myself. hey, if it was cool in the 60s it must be worth a look, right cher? i won’t be moving in, of course, as bed bugs scare the crap out of me.

  • Lisatella

    I had been curious about this building for a while. Thanks for your thoughts, Tony.

  • saf

    It’s one of those buildings that could tell some stories. Ted Williams lived there when he managed the Senators. And who remembers Fio’s? I loved that place.

    It’s a grand old place, now faded and aging.

  • mphs

    This was a great post.

  • Isotopor

    That post seemed to only further entrench the notion that the Woodner is a poor choice to live in. Didn’t address, and didn’t refute, other peoples’ assertions of bedbug infestations. Plus, the place hasn’t been renovated in 60 years? Police out there all the time? The “bizarre” feeling that you might be riding the elevator with a murderer? Um, no thanks. If I want to experience a piece of history, I’ll go to a museum.

    • neener

      I’d have to agree with you there.

      The good life abounds, don’t live in someplace that could give you a disease.

  • Sully

    Kudos to Tony. I wish someone would do a post like this on my hood Shaw. So many times these comments beat it down when really it is one of the more interesting places to live and smack dab in the middle of DC (1 mile walk to everywhere)

  • I lived in the Dorchester (16th and Euclid) for 8 years. Apparently, it’s not quite as colorful as the Woodner, but it had its share of detractors. I liked the building, in spite of its rough edges and rodent problems….there was a community and a history there, and \real\ people who had been there for decades. It was city living for city people. I feel some affinity for the Woodner, although, at this point, I wouldn’t live in the Dorchester or the Woodner. I guess I’m moving up in the world….

  • Chris in Eckington

    I lived in a 12th floor one bedroom in the Woodner for over six years, until 2002 when I bought a place. It was great; good location, shuttle to the Giant Gourmet in Silver Spring on weekends, swimming pool, dry cleaner, conveience store, it’s own postman, weight room on the roof, no bed bugs, little crime, AND rent controlled. Everything you needed under one roof. Normally, if there was a police car out front, it was probably a domestic violence call. I was sad to see Fio’s go. I have been back a few times to visit the restaurant and have to say that I haven’t really noticed a decline in service or overall maintenance of the common spaces.

  • bugs

    All this talk of bedbugs – I guess no other building in DC has bedbugs. If you rent somewhere else I guess you won’t have bedbugs.

    • Yikes!

      Bugs- You, obviously, have never had to deal with an infestation of bed bugs. What you do is, pack up your life, move out, move to a new place and pay some extermination company around $600 (out of your own pocket) to come spray your new place and guarantee that you will be bed bug free for 12 months. After dealing with this, forgive me if I think your smart alec comment is a bit unnecessary.

  • Shenanigans

    I love this place too and have many great memories of it.

    I am very much hoping by “that picture’s coming with me” you mean you are going to take a nice photograph of the picture and make your own reproduction. Stealing it would be like robbing a museum, archive or library.

  • Krssy

    I’m with Stavros on this. Those first two comments… what’s with the anger?

    Especially the second comment. You anon 8:51 judge a person you don’t even know for choosing to spend less money on his living situation and more on, well something else. You dont know how much the writer of this post makes? You dont know how much people who choose to go on vacation at a “Motel 7.5 right off the highway in the ghetto” make. All you know is that you value putting your money towards something else. While I wouldn’t choose to live at the Woodner and I’ve often laughed at the place, the truth is, we all place our values, especially when it comes to money, and nothing gives you the right to criticize those people who don’t agree with you.

    And frankly, because you know nothing about the person who wrote the post, you have no right to attack his “self-respect”. You don’t know if he’d sooner live in the Woodner and donate his money to charity. You don’t know if he’s supporting a family, employed or unemployed. All you know is that he chooses to live in the Woodner for less money and that you feel have the right to attack his level of self respect because of it. And you do it while you hide behind an anonymous post so that you don’t have to be criticized for your small-mindedness.

    You’re the one who should have a little respect.

    • Nonny

      +1 Krssy. Well said.

    • Isotopor

      How about a little less self-righteous indignation all around? For better or worse, everyone has the right to mouth off on a blog with unqualified and poorly thought out judgments about others. Likewise, you have the right to be pissed about their public judgments and call them out on it. And everyone else has the right to not give any care or weight to anonymous blog posters mouthing off at other anonymous blog posters, whether either has a point or makes sense or not. The End.

      • stavros

        Nice one, Isotopor! Inspired. Now read your comment aloud into a mirror and get back to us with what you think.

  • Pong

    Convert it to condos! Mars needs condos!

  • A bedbug infestation in a large apartment building is a nightmare. The bugs easily migrate from apartment to apartment, and, as a practical matter, you can’t really ever rid the building of them.

    And bedbugs aren’t a minor annoyance. Once you have bedbugs in your apartment, you’re going to get bitten regularly. Getting rid of the bugs is a tedious, months-long, hit-or-miss process, which might involve throwing away much of what you own. Everybody who has been through the experience says it is Hell.

    So, if a credible source says that such-and-such a building has bedbugs, that’s enough for me to rule that building out.

    • Stephanie

      Agreed. I experienced an outbreak last year and sleeping has never been the same. The slightest movement and I lift up the sheet and turn on the flashlight.

      I took precautionary measures though double-covered my matress, bedspring, and pillows, and then bought my self a steamer (cuz those bedbugs hate the hot steam). It was very empowering watching them all die (as I laughed an evil laugh). Don’t sic PETA on me now…

    • Victoria

      How does one know a source is credible on such a thing? And if it isn’t credible, what does that do the reputation of a building? Is it really likely that 1000 or how-ever many people live there are actually all living daily with bedbugs? I don’t know the place and have no stake in this issue, but Google “The Woodner” and there is a link to this posting.

  • paully

    The Splendid Splinter lived there? This is awesome news.
    You’ve made my day.
    Saf, how did you know this?

  • I really enjoyed your post. When I first moved to DC I lived in the Envoy (2400 16th) for a year. I liked it because it had parking, a front desk guy, and I felt safe. The only problem was that there were always huge bugs in the laundry room. Most of the time they were dead (at least they were trying to kill them), but it still grossed me out.

    (And as a former guest poster, try not to let the stupid comments annoy you)

  • the poo’s dad

    i lived there from 2003-2004. no bedbugs, no problems. great people. great services (there’s a doctor’s office in the bldg. too, which is where i used to go, because it was convenient and very clean – i have aetna). the pool is so-so, and the gym is tiny, but always empty. it’s a blast from the past for those of us that like history and hardwood floors on the cheap. there are a bunch of state department employees that live there (i’m one too), but we’re not as prima donna as hipsters. when you live abroad enough, you don’t mind living with working folks. lots of latinos in the bldg. and grad students… and exchange students. i love that place. it’s also about a 10 minute walk to CH metro.

    sometimes i wonder why i bought a house, and didn’t continue living in a place imbued with history and tons of character.

    i think you’re lucky to obtain a pad in that bldg. it’s truly a gem.

    oh, and i knew everyone that worked in that giant complex. they’re always pleasant and take care of you.

    it’s like a village in dc.

  • JohnGalt

    I’ve heard so many stories like this…

  • Like another poster, I too lived in the Dorchester House (from about 1980 to 1996). I grew up in Adams-Morgan (basically the entire 20009 zip code). When I was ready to move from my parents house I hopped on the chance to rent in the DH. My rent was $240.00 – no, that’s not a misprint – $240.00. The aparment itself was huge by any standard and the location can’t be beat. I walked to work for many years and sometimes even walked home for lunch.

    My parents lived at 14th & Clifton so I could walk over and visit them whenever I wanted to. I was a young, single black female working in a law firm and going to college at night. I loved running in Meridian Hill Park across the street and walking down to Georgetown in the summers with my boyfriend. I’m told that when Jack Kennedy first moved to Washington as a young congresman, he lived in the DH. I think Harry Truman lived there at one time as well. These old aparment buildings along 16th have lots of history.

    A parking spot was $50.00 a month; we had a grocery store, dry cleaners, roof deck (which was amazing even in the 80’s). However, we did have huge cockroaches – in the laundry room and sometimes they migrated upstairs. Thank God I only had one in my aparment in all those years. The best thing about the DH is that it hasn’t been chopped up like the Envoy Towers and some of the other buildings in D.C. The apartments are still very large but they do have a lot of landlord-tenant disputes.

    Thanks for the fun and interesting post.

  • Em

    The Woodner is gross.

  • K-man

    I liked this post. It gives you a perspective that you don’t usually see. I think this place is eventually going to have a renaissance. Let’s wait and see…

  • Pako

    Nice work amigo ..


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