Passages: Long halls, but lots of light

ADDRESS: Unit 414 at 511 N. First St.

ASKING: $199,900

SIZE: 1211 fin. sq. ft.


NEIGHBORHOOD: North Downtown


LISTED BY: Margaret Seal at Roy Wheeler Realty Co. 979-2323

Several years ago, a friend of mine, aimlessly drifting as his marriage was ending, was happy to be able to rent a small apartment in this building. The place was ideal for his needs: maintenance free, comfortable, close to his work and his children's schools and activities, and quiet and private without being sterile and lonely.

Now that the building has been converted into condominiums (as of 1981), all those advantages are still available, and your marriage doesn't have to be ending for you to benefit from them.

Most downtowners are familiar with this large edifice mid-way down First Street. Built in 1968, it reflects the sensibilities of that era. "Urban functional" fits. It's monolithic without being imposing, with small concrete and iron-railing balconies outside sliding glass doors, and a nondescript but serviceable entrance lobby behind a secured front door. (Like most apartment buildings, visitors have to be "buzzed in" by a resident.)

The building is surrounded by a sprawling asphalt parking lot, but– probably because it's been there so long– it doesn't give the impression of a sea of black; tiny little garden spots outside ground-level units, foundation plantings, and neighbors' big trees soften the effect of all that tar.

This three-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor also benefits from the surroundings. It's an end unit spanning the width of the building, which translates into maximum light– windows on three sides– and a feeling of openness that's probably missing from some interior units. The sliding doors open to the balcony from the living room/dining area; the view is to a pleasant enough backyard next door. Each bedroom has a window, and the view from the master suite includes distant mountains beyond the cityscape.

The apartment itself is perfectly acceptable, with average size rooms and parq uet floors throughout. A few things such as missing outlet plates and the tattered gas stove belie its age, but an offset is that the whole place has just been painted. The two full baths, while small, have honest-to-goodness tile around the tubs.

The kitchen is extremely compact, but it has the essentials, including a dishwasher, apparently a rarity here. No units have their own laundry facilities. Everyone uses state-of-the-art washers and dryers in a communal laundry room in the basement– quaintly situated next to a "library" complete with lockers. Not sure what that's about.

Now for the most unusual feature: Because they stretch across the end of the building, all the end units have to be accessed by a long narrow passageway. That means you open the door to a shotgun hallway, which the current owner has styled an "art gallery." It's a bit snug for actually viewing pictures, but it's as good a use as any for the trade-off for windows on three sides. (In addition to the gallery gimmick, the owner installed a little Zen-ish waterfall in an alcove mid-way down the hall, an inspired touch which a new owner might want to copy.)

Like all condo units, this one has a monthly fee ($294) that covers utilities and taxes– everything, in fact, except phone and cable. So one likely buyer might be a scatterbrained professional who wants to dispatch pesky monthly obligations with just one check. Another possible buyer is a single lady of a certain age– we saw several in the lobby– seeking the peace of mind provided by a secure building and enough bedrooms for visiting grandchildren.

It's probably more than a single young person wants or than a single very old person can keep up with. But this apartment could be an attractive option for hip downtown scenesters (without dogs– only cats are allowed) who like being able to walk home, worry-free, after an all-night pub crawl.

Or who, like my friend, need a comfortable lair to retreat to in between marriages.