WASHINGTON — Presidential candidates work for years to move in to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. For 24-year-old Nicole Berns, moving in was much easier, requiring filling out a three-page form and paying $500 in fees.
Berns’ keys aren’t for the White House. They’re for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, a 77-unit apartment building that began leasing about a year ago. It is just about 3 1/2 miles from the White House, which has the same numbered address but is at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW on the city’s grid system. The addition of an address nearly identical to the nation’s seat of power has caused some confusion, but also some amusing opportunities for residents.
“I love telling people that I live there. I call it, ‘The Other White House,’” said Berns, who recently moved in to the building.
Before the apartment building was built, the lot housed a used car dealership whose address was 1550 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. But when developers bought the property they realized that no building had claim to the 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. SE address, which also made sense for the location. Figuring it would be fun and a way to get recognition, they successfully petitioned for an address change.
Residents say they often get funny looks or disbelief when they have to give their address or hand over their driver’s licenses. Carlos Gutierrez, 39, and other residents said they get asked: “You live at the White House?”
The address has produced headaches for some residents. One early resident of the building, Daniel Perry, 36, said Amazon.com initially wouldn’t take orders to the address, though that’s since been sorted out. Another resident said even now, she sometimes has difficulty ordering online. A recent order for a pair of summer sandals required calling the company, she said.
Residents have to make sure that anyone sending them mail puts the all-important “SE” after the address. The correct zip code — 20003 — is also key. The White House’s ZIP code is 20500.
A goof means the mail might eventually get to the correct recipient, but because the president’s mail gets extra security screening, any resident’s mail with an incomplete address could be significantly delayed.
Mail mix-ups happen the other way, too. Errant letters for the first family arrive at the building every so often and sit unopened by the residents’ mailboxes until the U.S. Postal Service redirects them. There’s also what property manager Cameron Mahjoubi calls “prank mail” — letters sent to past presidents including Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and George Washington.
The building itself doesn’t provoke any double takes. Its tallest part is six stories high and it’s mostly brick. There are no white columns in sight, though an American flag does fly out front. The lobby has an American flag, too: a white-on white mural, with one star added for the District of Columbia.
The developers behind the building contemplated other nods to the executive mansion including naming several townhome units after presidents, but they settled instead for the names of local parks, names that still include Garfield and Lincoln. An initial design for the building included plush blue carpet intended to mirror some in the White House, but that was ultimately scratched. The building does, however, have an east and west wing, said Greg Selfridge, managing partner of NOVO Properties, the property’s developer and manager.
“We tried to be tasteful and witty,” Selfridge said of nods to the White House, which is about 10,000 square feet smaller than his group’s building.
Other differences abound. The Oval Office is over two times the size of the smallest studio apartments. And instead of views of the Washington Monument like the White House, the building has views from its top deck of the Potomac River and historic Congressional Cemetery, the final resting place of scores of former members of Congress. Then there’s the fact that, unlike the president, residents pay rent: $1,400 to $3,000 a month.
The building does have one thing in common with the more famous mansion, however. No occupant is an owner, and residents are always moving in and out.