Who Lives Here:

May 21, 2015

Dubbed the “Queen of Laser” last year by the Washington Post, celebrity dermatologist Tina Alster lives in Georgetown with husband and lobbyist Paul Frazer. Their Federal-style townhome on N and Potomac Streets has been featured in the pages of Architectural Digest and the Wall Street Journal. In various earlier decades, it was a hideout for British spies, persons escaping from slavery and Confederate soldiers. One of its most famous owners was Herman Wouk, author of “The Caine Mutiny,” “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance.”

Owners after Wouk, Alster and Frazer redesigned the interiors to be simple, modern, elegant and sunny. The N Street house has been on the market for a few months, since Alster and Frazer purchased the penthouse in the Anthony Lanier-developed condo building on Wisconsin Avenue next to the C&O Canal.

If Alster and Frazer end up moving closer to the canal, they’ll be neighbors with National Public Radio CEO Jarl Mohn, who just moved into the same building. Mohn began his storied media career with almost 20 years as a radio DJ, then jumped to an executive position at MTV in the mid-1980s. Years later, he became president and CEO of E! Entertainment Television, best known these days for “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” He served stints on the boards of XM Radio and the Southern California ACLU, and currently sits on the boards at ComScore (a web analytics company), KPCC Southern California Public Radio and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Another media powerhouse, Fred Ryan, has been living in Georgetown for several years. Ryan, who served as chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan and helped found Politico, transitioned to a new role as publisher of the Washington Post at the end of 2014. He last made news in the neighborhood when he bought the Guards sign that used to identify that famous restaurant, which closed in 2012. The Guards was located at 2915 M St. NW, now the address of Maxime. Ryan lives on Q Street near 30th Street.

A Frank Conversation with Years & Years Frontman Olly Alexander

April 8, 2015

Years & Years are rising fast in the pop world, with a slew of hits and the BBC’s coveted “Sound of 2015” poll under their belts. (Previous “Sound of” winners include Sam Smith, Haim and Ellie Goulding.) The band’s newfound fame owes much to Olly Alexander, Years & Years’ charismatic if a little too youthful frontman, who croons over bandmates Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Turkmen’s synthpop productions with emotive force and intensely intimate lyrics. The band played a raucous show full of dancing, sing-a-longs and, of course, Alexander’s stirring vocals at U Street Music Hall on March 29. The Downtowner had a chance to catch up with Alexander backstage after the show to discuss his childhood, dysfunctional relationships and what it’s like to be a gay musician in the post-Sam Smith era.

Q: When did you start singing? Were you into it as a kid?
Olly Alexander: My mom says I was always singing as a toddler. Just talking and screaming with this horrible voice she said. Then, as a teenager I always wanted to be a singer.

Q: The story goes that Mikey heard you singing in the shower when you’d both slept over at a mutual friend’s after a party and then asked you to join the band. Was that all set up by you to get into the band?
[Laughs] Yeah, it was like my audition. If you’re looking to make it into a band and maybe someone in it stayed overnight, I’d recommend doing that.

Q: It seems like all your songs are about dysfunctional relationships. Is that coming from personal experience or is that just how you think pop music should be?
That comes from experience, you know. I just have had a lot of dysfunctional relationships, Peter. I’ve really gone from one to another to another. I’ve been stuck in a cycle of being addicted to rejection in some fucked up way and always choosing someone who is going to reject me. But, I’m in a less dysfunctional relationship now. I’d say it’s relatively functional.

Q: In “Memo”, you sing and write from a gay perspective about romance and heartbreak between two men.
I’m definitely writing from that perspective. There’s a choice when you write a song with how you talk about someone else. I watched Joni Mitchell do this interview where she said songwriting became easier when she started writing about “you and me.”

Q: I would think that writing and singing about some other experience that isn’t your own would be hard.
Yeah, that would suck. I wouldn’t know how to do it.

Q: So are you going to pull a Sam Smith and have a big interview to come out, or will you just let people listen to your songs to figure it out?
This has only been a thing recently. I’ve done a few interviews and been like “I’m gay and I’m singing about my boyfriends.” I guess for a lot of people you need to say something before they’re really accepting of it.

Q: Do you think you being gay might disappoint the female fans fawning over you?
There are a lot of gay artists with a lot of young female fans who love them just as much after they’ve come out.

Q: You guys have swag. What influences your style?
Emre doesn’t care about what he wears; we have to dress him. Mikey is into dapper clothing and printed button-up shirts and like Alexander McQueen and fashion label stuff. I dress like I’m a teenager in the 90s or like a 90s west coast hip-hop rapper or something. We are each our own individual Spice Girl.

Q: [Laughs] You’re like retro Sporty Spice and Mikey is like Posh?
Yeah, exactly. Mikey is absolutely posh.

Q: So what’s Emre?
I don’t know what he is. Emre is more like Scary [Spice].

Years & Years’ debut album “Communion” comes out on June 22 on Polydor Records.

Who Lives Here

March 11, 2015

Ambitious Georgetown resident Frances Holuba is one of the youngest staffers on the National Security Council at the White House. Holuba is a genuine Jill-of-all-trades as a policy expert, fashionista, athlete (she used to play lacrosse), philanthropist and more. Jack to this Jill is Giuseppe Lanzone, co-owner of the Peruvian Brothers food truck and a U.S. Olympic rower. Holuba resides on Q Street near 31st. When she’s not in Georgetown, she can be found bustling around downtown near the White House or dining at one of her favorite haunts, Estadio, near Logan Circle.

Power couple Michael and Susan Pillsbury live close by, near the corner of O and 30th Streets. A seasoned foreign-policy expert, Michael recently published “The Hundred-Year Marathon,” a book on China’s superpower ambitions, while Susan has become well known in the community for her philanthropy. The couple’s home has been a mainstay of the Georgetown Garden Tour and has been featured, along with the Asian art collection within, in Washington Life magazine.

According to the New Republic, Robert Allbritton “reshaped the way we follow politics” as a founder and publisher of Politico.
Chairman and CEO of Allbritton Communications, the media mogul sold a number of ABC stations in the D.C. area and elsewhere last year. Allbritton also served as CEO of Riggs National Corporation, the parent of D.C.-based Riggs Bank, which merged with PNC in 2005. Robert and his wife Elena, a dermatologist practicing with Braun Dermatology, live in the Bowie-

Servier House on Q Street near Tudor Place. The couple hosts a garden brunch at their home around the time of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner every year, drawing in some of the most powerful players in national politics.

Roadside Development: A Different Kind of Commercial Real Estate

December 17, 2014

One of the biggest names in Washington, D.C., real estate, Roadside Development was established 17 years ago by Smithy Braedon alums Richard Lake and Armond Spikell, who recruited longtime client Todd Weiss to join them. All three are well acquainted with the D.C. metro area. When he was growing up, Lake worked at the Zebra Room, a Wisconsin Avenue business owned by his family.

The name Roadside Development was inspired by the company’s first projects: CVS locations in the D.C. suburbs. After doing 17 stores in and around D.C., Armond said, “We build things along the road. Why don’t we call ourselves Roadside Development?” Lake says he and his partners have thought about changing it, “because who wants to live in an apartment built by Roadside Development…[but] it has really stuck.”

According to Lake, there are a lot of developers who build housing well, and others who build retail well, but Roadside’s mission is to “marry the two.” He offers Roadside’s City Market at O in Shaw and its Cityline in Tenleytown as examples and calls them his favorites, saying that the projects “captured what was necessary for those neighborhoods.”

He talks glowingly about City Market. “It was an early form of grocery store in the 1800s when it was built. It made sense to incorporate the market and make it the centerpiece of the entire development.” But, Lake says, Roadside wanted to “design something that sets that building off and apart from more modern construction.” The company looked at different shapes, materials, colors and windows and came up with a design that pays homage to the original market while maintaining modernity.
Lake also talks passionately about the need for affordable housing in the District, calling such housing “imperative.” He adds, “We all fail if we don’t provide safe and quality housing for everyone.” In that vein, during the City Market construction process, Roadside promised area seniors 78 affordable units, eventually constructing 90 that rent at below-market rates.

Lake is looking forward to future Roadside projects, such as renovating Frager’s Hardware, a Capitol Hill institution that burned down in 2013. He calls the project a “smaller version of [City Market at] O Street” and says that Roadside is seeking to add vitality to the block and bring people in to live at the site.

In Georgetown, Roadside has the old Neam’s Market site under contract. Lake says: “We don’t own the property. We aren’t talking about plans yet because we haven’t formulated them completely. It’s a really cool corner with a lot of history. The corner is a Washington institution. It’s a small piece of property, but we want to do something neat there if we are able to.”

Lake calls the pipeline the “single most complicated part of the business,” explaining: “We just finished building $400 million worth of stuff, but you have to make sure there’s something else in the project pipeline for the future when you are in the final stages of other projects.” He adds, “There are so many variables in the types of development we do, always something that can trip us up, whether it’s zoning, the market or changes in attitudes.”

The company “has been pretty fortunate to find projects to keep us active.” Lake says he worries sometimes about overdevelopment and “too many of the same thing being built,” but says Roadside works as hard as it can to differentiate its product by bringing in retail, office space and, when feasible, housing.

So far, that mix and Roadside’s vision have brought great value to the District while restoring and enhancing its architectural character.

Who Lives Here…

October 22, 2014

Maureen Dowd couldn’t have been happy with our editorial last week urging voters to support recreational marijuana legalization in the District. Back in June, the Georgetown resident and New York Times columnist visited Colorado to report on legalization. After eating far more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced edible chocolate, Dowd criticized legalization. On the experience, she wrote in her column, “I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours… I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy… As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.” Sounds like a pretty bad trip. No doubt
Dowd will proceed carefully, if at all, when marijuana edibles come to Georgetown. Although, her place near the corner of Potomac and N streets NW is probably a better place to experiment than a Denver hotel room.

Head east across Georgetown on N Street, then north on 28th and you might bump into Walter Isaacson, the renowned author who just released a new book on the digital economy called, “The Innovators.” The book is a follow-up to Isaacson’s hugely successful Steve Jobs biography and talks about some of the most innovative companies in tech, including Apple, Microsoft and Georgetown’s own IBM.

The Nats’ playoff performance must have disappointed team owner and Washington Harbour resident Mark Lerner. There’s always next season, though. Until then, Lerner can continue working on the family’s real estate empire and supporting area institutions and causes like the Georgetown Day School, the Holocaust Museum and the Scleroderma Foundation.