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On Jan. 20, Geraldine Ferraro, Fred Thompson, Bob Novak and a few lucky others will own the world’s best real estate for a day.

There are several features Geraldine Ferraro loves about her Washington, D.C. condo. Chief among them is the view.

“If you look straight ahead as you walk in my door, you will see the Capitol all lit up,” she says. “I have to tell you, it’s been 24 years since I got the nomination, and 24 years since I worked there—but when I walk into my apartment at night and I see the Capitol lit up, I just get so excited about it, and I think ‘I can’t believe I used to work there.’”

Come inauguration day, the Capitol will be a supporting player to the inaugural procession starring Barack Obama. And the 1984 Vice Presidential nominee will have a front-row seat for that, too—from the balcony of her home at 801 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

Ferraro’s residence is among fewer than 200 D.C. homes with views of the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route. Their owners and renters are the lucky few who do not have to face the crush or pack bags of snacks or stand for hours hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama through the hairdo of the person in front of them.

As a woman who has been a mover and a shaker, Ferraro’s in familiar company at the Residences at Market Square West. Her neighbors and friends were the late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan—“Pat”—and his wife Liz. Political columnist Bob Novak lives there now, as does former senator and presidential candidate Fred Thompson.

From the roof of the building, Ferraro and her neighbors can see the broad eight-lane stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol all the way down to the Old Post Office Building. Across the street is the National Archives; below is the Navy Memorial—a circular plaza with an image of the world on its broad floor that will undoubtedly be covered by eager crowds Jan. 20.

Across the square is the Residences at Market Square East, an identical building. Both have 105 units—although a few of them have been combined over the years, says Jo-Ann Neuhaus, head of the Pennsylvania Quarter Neighborhood Association, and someone who has been involved in Pennsylvania Avenue’s development since the 1970s.

Neuhaus estimates that some 150 units provide views of the inaugural parade. These are spread among only a couple of buildings: The Residences at Market Square have roughly 100, she says (a resident’s estimate puts the number closer to 135). The Lexington at Market Square at 8th and D Streets NW has roughly 10 units that glimpse the street. And 601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW—which actually faces Indiana Avenue—has fewer than 10 units with some parade views, she says.

“More units had a view before the Newseum was built,” she adds.

The Newseum Residences, opened in 2007, is a 135-unit high-end apartment building with rents running from $1,700 to $6,500. Building manager John Sancho estimates that about 20 units have Pennsylvania Avenue views.

The view from the roof of the Residences at Market Square West

“We’ve got quite a few residents that basically want to bring in 20 to 30 guests,” says Sancho. His building has a second floor lounge with open windows, and a great rooftop area with a capacity for 500. The only problem: If snipers are posted there, no residents will be allowed to join in their view.
Sancho was first contacted by Secret Service five or six months ago—just to provide a “heads up” about possible restrictions. As of Jan. 6, he did not have the final plans.

“Basically, what they’ve told us is: ‘I wouldn’t promise the residents anything as of right now. If they come by asking questions, you just don’t know. We’re still working on finalizing all the details.’”
Residents don’t seem worked up about the lingering questions. Tenant Rachel Bail hopes to be on her neighbor’s balcony, the roof, or the second floor lounge followed by a dinner with family at a swanky restaurant. And she won’t have to traverse closed streets and barricades to get there, since the restaurant is The Source, Wolfgang Puck’s place on the backend of her building.

The view from the building’s enticing, but Newseum tenant Jeffrey Malet, for one, is considering abandoning it for street-level excitement. After taking an early retirement and moving to D.C. in May, he’s thrilled about the inauguration and plans to be with the people. “My only qualm is what’s the weather going to be like?” he says.

Over at Market Square West, Nancy Sellers, who has lived on the 11th floor since 1994, can see a solid swath of road from her condo. From that spot, she watched inaugural parades in 1997, 2001, and 2005. Not all of her neighbors joined her; several balconies have been empty over the years.

“It all depends because some people are Republicans and some people are Democrats. I mean, it’s a bipartisan building,” she says. “I do expect there to be more this time.”

She’s banking on that. This year, Sellers is offering her spot to someone else—for $1,499 a night for at least three days around the inauguration. No takers thus far, she says.

Her neighbor, Darlow Botha, 83, has lived in the building since 1998. He’s registered Republican, though he never voted for George W. Bush and did vote for Barack Obama. His memories of two previous parades aren’t filled with images of joy and patriotism. “There was a lot of demonstrating going on up and down,” he says, recalling 2005. “There were a lot of loudmouth rednecks that haven’t had an original thought in their lifetime, and they were shouting ‘Get out of here, you commies!’ at the people who were demonstrating against the war. And then there were people shouting ‘What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!’”

Ferraro, his neighbor, didn’t watch that parade from her perch, but is not planning to miss her chance this time around, now that Democrats are moving back in.

She, of course, had a pivotal fundraising role in the campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton, which she resigned after making controversial remarks that suggested Obama received special attention based on his race. Ferraro says any thoughts of the incident are behind her.

“A campaign is a campaign. Democrats win, I’m thrilled out of mind!” she says.

This first chance to watch from home may be her last. Her unit, purchased in 1998, is up for sale. She spends most of her time in New York.

“Yeah, it’s been on the market for a couple of months,” Ferraro says. “I figured it’s a good time to sell with all the new people coming into Washington.”

Geraldine Ferraro photo by Mari-Posa, Flickr Creative Commons

Fred Thompson photo by bmcvey, Flickr Creative Commons

View photo by Darrow Montgomery