Quicksilver Times was one of the Washington’s alternative newspapers in the 1960s. The following is from Angus Mackenzie’s Secrets: The CIA’s War At Home
ANGUS MACKENZIE One of Ober’s top agents, who excelled at analyzing divisions between political camps, was Chicago-born Salvatore John Ferrera, a diminutive young man with black hair, black eyes, and (according to his girlfriend of the time) a frightfully nervous stomach. He was recruited by the CIA while studying political science at Loyola University in Chicago. From his studies, he developed an ability to navigate the ideological, strategic, and tactical differences of the antiwar groups in the United States and abroad. Only a few bare facts of Ferrera’s story as a domestic spy have surfaced, lines here and there in scattered news reports. The full story is still classified as secret, but what is now known provides a noteworthy illustration of Ober’s operation at work.
Ferrera’s first assignment was to infiltrate a group of antiwar activists who were setting out to publish a tabloid newspaper in Washington, D.C. Their leader was Terrence “Terry” Becker Jr., a former college newspaper editor and former Newhouse News Service reporter. Becker was struggling to assemble the first issue of Quicksilver Times when Ferrera walked up the stairs of a recently rented white clapboard house that was to serve the group as both home and office. With Ferrera was a friend, William Blum, who introduced Ferrera to Becker. Blum was an old hand in Washington’s dissident circles. He had recently resigned from the State Department and in 1967 helped found the Washington Free Press. Becker welcomed Ferrera as Blum’s buddy, and Ferrera offered to help Becker with the task at hand: building frames for light tables. Once finished, they inserted the bulbs and got down to the business of pasting together the first issue of Quicksilver Times.
Ober was kept well informed about Quicksilver and hundreds of newspapers like it. According to CIA officer Louis Dube, Ober soon learned that Quicksilver was “just making it financially” and that the newspaper “was not receiving outside financial help, foreign or domestic.” Again, however, despite the lack of any evidence of foreign funding, Ober kept investigating. At Quicksilver, Ferrera made himself indispensable as a writer and photographer. His articles and photographs appeared in nearly every issue, in more than thirty issues altogether. After writing one piece under his own name — on June 16,1969, in the first issue of the paper — he assumed a pseudonym, Sal Torey.
Ferrera made an ideal domestic CIA operative: young and hip-looking, with a working vocabulary of the Left. . . One of Ferrera’s early targets was Karl Hess. An influential conservative Republican, Hess had headed the party’s platform committee in 1960 and 1964 for Barry Goldwater, but by the late 1960s he had strayed from his party into the ranks of antiwar radicalism. He was editing a libertarian-anarchist newsletter, The Libertarian, and was about to launch a new publication, Repress, intended to document the growing repression of liberty in the United States. Hess was especially interested in uncovering police espionage and surveillance. Repress was never published, but Ferrera spent quite a lot of time working on it, all the while reporting back to Ober about Hess’s activities.
Ferrera also sent Ober reports on the Youth International Party, better known as the Yippies. When the U.S. Justice Department indicted Yippie leaders Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman and other antiwar activists for conspiring to cross state lines to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Quicksilver staff got parade permits for a protest march in front of the Justice Department. The subsequent “Chicago Eight” trial turned into a major courtroom confrontation between the Nixon administration and the antiwar movement. (The case became known as the “Chicago Seven” after defendant Bobby Seale was removed and tried separately.) Ferrera befriended the defendants and interviewed their lawyers, William Kunstler and Leonard Wingless, providing the CIA with inside intelligence about the most important political trial of the era. Ferrera’s pose as a newsman allowed him to ask questions, take notes, and photograph his targets, and his pose as a friend of the movement let him insinuate himself into meetings where antiwar actions and legal strategies were planned.
Ober and FBI counterintelligence chief William Sullivan employed one special agent, Samuel Popish, just to carry thousands of daily reports by hand between FBI and CIA headquarters, and at least seven FBI informants were deployed around Becker, Ferrera, and Blum at Quicksilver. New volunteers at Quicksilver’s staff meetings sowed opposition to the paper’s founders, which led to a shutdown of the newspaper at a critical moment. Several of the super-militant newcomers took control of the Quicksilver office and literally hurled Becker’s allies out the door and down the stairs. A white female supporter of Becker was called a white racist by the black leader among the newcomers, who threw her to the floor and hit her in the face. Becker’s allies did manage to get some of their production equipment out of the building, including their homemade light tables, and moved everything to another apartment building, but publication had to be suspended just as Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia. The answering protests were a high-water mark of the antiwar movement. College students conducted a nationwide strike at more than three hundred campuses, but Quicksilver was unable to print one word on the action.
In an FBI report about Quicksilver, since declassified, the FBI special agent in charge assured headquarters that he was continuing to use his agents to create dissension within protest groups. In his words, he was “continuing attempts to develop plans to utilize sources to promote political differences in New Left organizations.” He also reported that he was planning to produce a newsletter to counter Quicksilver.
On May 8, 1970, Quicksilver Times resumed publishing and Salvatore Ferrera sent Ober several reports on the reconstituted newspaper commune. Terry Becker had been shaken by the earlier influx of disruptive volunteers. Because of the democratic form of Quicksilver meetings, meetings, the newcomers had each been accorded one vote and so were able to overthrow him. But now Becker was beginning to suspect this had been a government-directed coup, and he took steps to tighten his control of the paper and keep out dissenters. Becker would no longer accept people who simply showed up on his doorstep, posing as helpers. As it turned out, Ferrera also was eased out, even though Becker had no inkling that Ferrera was a CIA agent. “We collectivized at that point,” Becker says. “If you worked on the paper, you had to live in the house. No outside income. If you had outside income, you pooled it. No outside jobs. The paper paid everybody’s bills. We were criticized for being too closed, but it was the only way to avoid a repetition of what had happened.”
Ferrera wrote that the collective was so tense and introspective he found it difficult to tolerate: “No male or female chauvinism is tolerated. Both sexes at the Quicksilver collective assist in all aspects of the commune. There is . . . plenty of sex and this causes problems.” Ferrera reported that one woman was spending less time with the father of her child and more with another man. Ferrera told Ober that he could not imagine living so close to the people he was spying on, day in and day out. “He wouldn’t even consider staying there,” a CIA agent later reported.
EDWARD IWATA, USA TODAY – Federal regulators filed civil charges against former Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines and two other former executives, accusing them of manipulating Fannie Mae’s earnings to jack up their bonuses. In a complaint with an administrative law judge, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight detailed 101 charges from 1998 to 2004 against Raines, former chief financial officer Timothy Howard and former controller Leanne Spencer, who all resigned in 2003 as the Fannie Mae scandal worsened.
OFHEO is seeking $100 million in penalties and $115 million in return of bonuses. The regulator also seeks the return of legal fees, and to bar the former executives from any future business with Fannie Mae. . . Fannie Mae was run by Harvard University graduate Raines, former budget director in the Clinton administration and one of the first black CEOs of a major corporation.
[It is worth noting that this is a bigger scandal than the Washington Teachers Union one or anything that happened during the Marion Barry administration.]
KATHLEEN DAY WASHINGTON POST, 2006 – Fannie Mae engaged in “extensive financial fraud” over six years by doctoring earnings so executives could collect hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses, federal officials said yesterday in a report that portrayed a company determined to play by its own rules. . . They portray the District-based mortgage funding giant — a linchpin of the nation’s housing market — as governed by a weak board of directors, which failed to install basic internal controls and instead let itself be dominated and left uninformed by chief executive Franklin Raines and Chief Financial Officer J. Timothy Howard, who both were later ousted.
THE REIGN OF RAINES FALLS MAINLY WITHOUT PAINS
ALTHOUGH FRANKLIN RAINES was one of those Washington figures who could do no wrong in the media’s eyes – especially the Washington Post – he has plenty to account for, and not just about Fannie Mae. The capital colony of DC was a major victim of the dubious activities of Raines and his institution.
RAINES’ NAME has long been associated with a local combine that hopes to take over Washington’s new baseball team now that the half-billion dollar scandal known as the stadium deal is complete. The proposed purchasers can now boast two partners who have run into serious problems, the other being Nixon aide and Jew-hunter, Fred Malek. A press account reported some time back: “Malek and Kimsey’s Washington Baseball Club LLC took form 3 1/2 years ago when attorneys Stephen W. Porter, on behalf of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, and Paul M. Wolff, as chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission’s baseball committee, approached Malek. He recruited Kimsey, Joseph E. Robert Jr., whose company deals internationally in commercial real estate, and Fannie Mae chairman and CEO Franklin Raines. According to papers filed with the city, Malek, Kimsey and Robert own equal equity in 85 percent of WBC. Raines, Wolff and Porter own five percent each. . .”
HERE’S ANOTHER little known sidelight to Raines:
GREG PIERCE, WASHINGTON TIMES, OCT 23 – Donations from 23 executives of mortgage buyer Fannie Mae helped New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer raise more campaign funds than any of his colleagues in the past quarter, Bloomberg News reports, citing disclosure forms. Mr. Schumer raised $1.7 million in the three months ending Sept. 30 and has $18 million cash on hand for his 2004 re-election campaign, forms filed with the Federal Election Commission show. As a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, Mr. Schumer is helping to write legislation that affects Fannie Mae, the largest U.S. mortgage buyer, and rival Freddie Mac. A bill designed to strengthen the government-chartered companies’ regulation by shifting their oversight from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Treasury Department is stalled in Congress. Fannie Mae Chief Executive Officer Franklin Raines and Chief Financial Officer J. Timothy Howard, with 21 colleagues, gave a combined $13,750 to Mr. Schumer from July through the past month. Mr. Raines gave $1,000 to Mr. Schumer on July 18, the day after the banking committee held hearings on the company’s regulation, FEC records show.
OF COURSE RAINES is small potatoes compared with the leader of the ball team combine, Malek, who has also had his troubles with the SEC:
WASHINGTON TIMES – Prospective baseball team owner Fred Malek and his District-based investment firm, Thayer Capital Partners, yesterday received $250,000 in fines as part of a settlement with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission to resolve a series of fraud charges involving the Connecticut state pension plan. The SEC said Malek and his firm did not disclose the 1998 hiring of a consultant, William A. DiBella, to assist with the investment of $75 million from the Connecticut Retirement and Trust Funds into a private equity fund managed by Thayer. Such hirings must be disclosed by SEC rule to original fund investors, in this case the Connecticut pension plan. Malek received a $100,000 fine and Thayer a $150,000 fine.
PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, AUG 2004 – Frederick V. Malek, the man behind the DC baseball bid, was an active member of the Nixon combine, serving among other things as deputy director of CREEP, the aptly named and notorious Committee to Reelect the President. In 1988, Bush chose him to run the Republican Convention but he later had to resign from the campaign after it was learned that he had compiled a list of Jews in the Labor Department as part of a Nixon investigation of a “Jewish cabal.” As Nixon’s special assistant for personnel, he also was charged with finding ways to use the federal civil service to help Nixon get reelected, for which he was later censured by the Senate Watergate Committee. As the Post reported in 1991, “In a number of memos, some of which he later repudiated, Malek proposed organizing the White House staff and ‘politically reliable’ officials throughout the federal government down to the sub-agency level.” Among his 1972 memos was this choice bit: “All major grants and construction decisions for the next fiscal year were reviewed prior to the finalization of the budgets to ensure to the extent possible they impacted on politically beneficial areas.”On August 16, 1971, a memo was drafted at the White House, headed “Dealing with Our Political Enemies. It read in part: “This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active their opposition to the administration. Stated a bit more bluntly – how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.”One of the agencies to be used in this manner was the IRS. One of its targets, Pentagon whistleblower Ernest Fitzgerald, would later write, “The agreed-on solution was to lay down the (illegal) law to IRS chief Johnnie Walters. From now on he was to cooperate with White House hatchet man Fred Malek to ‘make personnel changes to make IRS responsive to the President’ and was to take on discreet political action and investigations himself.” The plan didn’t work so well with Fitzgerald; his audit showed an overpayment of $1,835.46.Malek also served on the board of the DC-based Palmer National Bank, a private bank with an even more private history. It board included a number of other familiar GOP names and a man known as the “godfather” of the dirty Texas S&Ls. PNB served as banker to the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty in its fund-raising efforts on behalf of Oliver North’s gun-running operations in Nicaragua and Iran.Malek has continued to do well, turning up as an advisor to the Carlyle Group, a sort of fiscal home away from home (especially in defense matters) for the well connected In 1990, George W. Bush was asked by Carlyle Group to serve on the board of directors of Caterair, one of the nation’s largest airline catering services which it had acquired in 1989. The offer was arranged by Malek.
MARC FISHER WASHINGTON POST JAN 5, 2002 – If either Washington or Northern Virginia is ever to get a team – downtown is where sports teams generate the best economic kick, but beggars can’t be choosers -we must take four quick steps. . . 3. Get rid of Fred Malek, the main moneyman behind the Washington Baseball Club, the District’s ownership group. Malek has the advantages of being hugely rich and hugely connected in both business and politics, including having been co-owner of the Texas Rangers along with President Bush. But Malek is also the guy who did Dick Nixon’s anti-Semitic bidding back in 1971, when the unimpeached co-conspirator ordered up a list of members of the “Jewish cabal” who worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Malek, the good soldier, produced the list, and soon enough, some of those Jews found themselves transferred. Malek says that he’s no anti-Semite and that he actually refused Nixon’s first few requests to produce the list. Maybe in his book that’s backbone, but he has no business representing this city in any capacity.
AMAZINGLY, during the current furor over the stadium deal, we have not seen a single media mention that future beneficiaries include two individuals – Raines and Malek – who have such troubled records.
WHAT IS ALSO NOT widely known was Raines’ role in stripping DC of much of its limited home rule powers during the heavily hyped financial crisis of the 90s, which in fact was about the same in real dollars as what the city faced when it first got home rule in 1974. Clinton administration official Raines was at the heart of such schemes as cutting off the city’s control over its own prisoners and ripping off its pension fund balance to make the federal budget look a few billion dollars better.
DC NEWS SERVICE, 1997 – President Clinton is proposing a financing scheme for DC that would replace a formula based on the equities of the city’s relations with the federal government with one based on major and permanent dependency. The Clinton plan would remove the possibility that the city could gain true self-government again and certainly not statehood. It proposes that DC ever more be a financial ward of the national government.Demonstrating that no humiliation is too great to bear provided they are not stripped of their salaries and token status, many elected DC officials are lining up behind the scheme.Two of these plans — the tax haven scheme and the latest White House proposal — bear the imprint of Franklin Raines, now the president’s budget director but formerly head of Fannie Mae. Fannie Mae is the city’s biggest deadbeat thanks to an enormous congressional tax exemption. Raines is close to [DC Delegate] Eleanor Holmes Norton who is already cheering the federal takeover plan.Under the current system, the federal government makes an annual payment that theoretically reflects the cost of services provided by the city and revenues lost due to the federal presence. In 1993 the city estimated this cost to be nearly $2 billion dollars a year. The actual federal payment is one-third that amount and a smaller percentage of the city’s revenues that at the beginning of home rule.Because the federal payment is a payment in lieu of taxes rather than a subsidy for servitude, it could easily survive even the granting of statehood. The Clinton scheme, on the other hand, would do away with the federal payment and replace it with a hodgepodge collection of federal takeovers of local functions. The IRS would collect local taxes, the feds would maintain the local road system and the Justice Department would be put in charge of the courts and prisons. Felons would be sentenced under federal guidelines and the convicted would be sent — in a manner reminiscent of Soviet penal practices — to federal installations that might be a couple of thousand of miles away from families and friends.
[Only the prison change actually occurred – TPR]
DC NEWS SERVICE, 1998 – Clinton and [Alice] Rivlin’s successor, Franklin Raines, ripped off funds contributed to the DC pension fund in order to create the impression that the federal government had taken over responsibility for this fund. In fact, the feds will spend nothing until they have drained existing contributions down to zero. After that the city is at the mercy of a Congress and a White House that once also promised that Social Security would never be touched and that home rule was forever. . .Not surprisingly, the Clinton plan is being pushed by the erstwhile vice chair of the city’s biggest tax deadbeat: Fannie Mae, whose congressional exemption from local taxation costs the city several hundred million a year. Clinton’s budget director Franklin Raines, while running Fannie Mae, perfected a scheme for stifling protests against his firm by spreading charitable donations around the city with special attention to those organizations that might make formidable opponents of FM’s tax exemption. Raines was also the unofficial budget advisor to the fiscally disastrous [Mayor] Sharon Pratt Kelly, whose one term was harder on the city’s finances than all the Barry administrations combined.THE NATION’S DEFENSES COME LATERWe will protect your purchasing power — Budget director Franklin Raines to a meeting of high-level Pentagon officials.
WASHINGTON ICONS AND THE FANNIE MAE SCANDAL
WASHINGTON POST, SEP 26 – There are signs the gilt-edged resumes, and political futures, of three former Fannie executives have already been tarnished, because of findings they profited from manipulation of financial results in 1998. Former Fannie Mae chief James A. Johnson, who holds a top post in the Democratic presidential campaign and headed the Kennedy Center and the Brookings Institution; Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lawrence M. Small, who was Fannie Mae’s chief operating officer; and Washington lawyer Jamie Gorelick, a former Fannie vice chairman, who has served as deputy attorney general, the Pentagon’s top lawyer and a member of the 9-11 commission, joined Raines and Howard in receiving sizable bonuses that year. Regulators allege they were paid after the company improperly deferred other expenses.
Johnson, who headed the vice presidential selection process for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), could be the first to feel the fallout. Democratic Party insiders say that Johnson is no longer considered the leading candidate for treasury secretary in a potential Kerry administration. His role as leader of Kerry’s transition planning for the White House might also be in jeopardy unless the regulators’ allegations are convincingly disputed, they add. “It strikes me those are the most likely outcomes for Johnson,” said a senior economic adviser to Kerry, who sought to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals within the campaign. Johnson declined to respond to requests for a comment.
Small’s mention in the OFHEO report is another in a series of personal missteps that have come to light recently. Earlier this year a federal judge sentenced him to two years’ probation and 100 hours of community service for the purchase and possession of 206 art objects made with the feathers of protected species. As the director of the nation’s largest complex of museums, Small was also ordered to write a public letter of apology and explanation for his actions. Small, who was Fannie’s chief operating officer for eight years, declined to comment on the regulators’ report.
Gorelick has told friends that she would seriously consider an offer some day to serve as defense secretary, an aspiration that could be harder to achieve if OFHEO’s allegations pan out. In an interview, she said, “I have no desire to go back into government in the near term.” She added that she had “knocked herself out” on the 9/11 commission and for the time being is “very happy” working as a D.C.-based partner of the law firm Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr. At the same time, Gorelick might be spared because, unlike many of the other former or current officers, her responsibilities at Fannie did not specifically include financial matters.
Raines is in the most difficult predicament. In the wake of the regulators’ study, Fannie’s stock fell 13.4 percent in three days More than any other time in its 36-year history, the District-based company with 4,100 employees in the area finds itself under the microscope. Besides the board-ordered independent internal probe by Rudman, the Securities and Exchange Commission has begun an informal inquiry. Members of Congress have promised to look into the matter. And OFHEO has hired Stanley Sporkin, a former federal judge and senior SEC enforcement official, to help them in the continuing examination of Fannie Mae. Raines, budget director in the Clinton White House and chair last year of the Business Roundtable’s committee on good corporate governance, now finds himself being criticized by regulators for permitting a corporate culture that made the accounting problems possible.
RAMIREZ, LOUISE FRANKLIN
Louise Franklin Ramirez, born in 1905, who took part in her last anti-war demonstration February 2003 at the age of 97. Her activism began at the age of 12 when she helped to raise money for Armenian children. In 1946 she wrote Harry Truman warning him of the dangers of atomic power and in her 80s she was gassed while taking part in a demonstration on behalf of an American Indian tribe.
She was born in DC, attended DC Central High and graduated from Wilson Normal School in 1927 with a teaching degree. She received her Bachelor’s degree from DC Teachers College in 1936, and her Master’s degree from Columbia University in 1943. Franklin Ramirez did postgraduate work at Georgetown University, George Washington University, the University of Chicago (where she studied under Bruno Bettelheim), The University of Virginia, Catholic University, and the University of California at Berkeley. She also studied two summers in Mexico under the radical educator Ivan Illich. She taught in the DC school system until the mid 1940s.
But she is best remembered for her endless activism which included being arrested dozens of times for nonviolent acts of conscience, including at the Nevada Nuclear Test site at age 91. Louise’s most recent arrest was at the Supreme Court in 2000 at age 94 against the death penalty.
Joe Rauh died on September 3, 1992, at the age of 81. For more than half a century, he devoted his life to the fulfillment of the Constitution’s great promise of equal justice and freedom for all. No one has ever fought harder or longer for the rights of minorities the disadvantaged and the underdog. Joe Rauh’s lifetime of work in the public interest began immediately following his graduation at the top of his class from Harvard Law School and his service as a Supreme Court clerk to Justices Cardozo and Frankfurter. Joe then joined the Roosevelt Administration, where he played an important role in America’s mobilizations at the beginning of World War II, until he joined the Army as a commissioned officer in the Pacific. Following the War, Joe entered private law practice with the conviction that “the legal profession affords those who will take it, the opportunity to work in the public interest and the joy that comes with such work.” Promptly seizing that opportunity with both fists, Joe was elected as a delegate to the 1948 Democratic National Convention, where he drafted the civil rights plank of the Party’s platform for Hubert Humphrey. The concepts embodied in that plank became the foundation for all of the human rights and equal protection laws that have since been enacted.
From that time forward, Joe was on the front line as a leader in all of the historic battles to enact those laws and ensure their enforcement. With Clarence Mitchell, Joe represented the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in all the major congressional civil rights battles. He also served for years on the Board of the NAACP and as General Council to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Throughout his long and distinguished career, Joe’s view of the legal profession never changed: that it should, “Place public interest above private gain”; that its tools should be used “for progress and equality above the defense of the status quo;” and that its guiding principle should be to “make the law a vehicle for righting social wrongs and not perpetuating them.”
For Joe, the law was just such a calling. No one has ever held himself to a higher professional code or lived life more in keeping with it. Nor has any lawyer bestowed greater honor on his profession. Selflessly and wholeheartedly, Joe practiced law as an instrument of beneficent change, whether seeking justice for minorities, women, senior citizens and children; defending individual liberties against the encroachments of McCarthyism; fighting for union democracy or vindicating other infringements of basic human rights. In these historic battles, Joe appeared before the Supreme Court 16 times during the course of his 40 years of public interest law practice. But Joe did not limit his public interest work to court battles. He fought for equal justice in legislation, in the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominees, in labor unions and in the Democratic Party. – From a letter signed by 25 prominent Americans proposing Rauh be given the American Medal of Freedom
During the 1920’s and 30’s J. Edgar Hoover used to send a G-man over to pick up his favorite chicken sandwich. Bess Truman swore by Reeves’ tantalizing strawberry pie in 1940’s and early 50’s.Lady Bird and Lynda Bird Johnson made wedding plans over tomato surprises in the 60’s.
Reeves Restaurant and Bakery, was established in 1886, and originally located at 1209 F. Street, N.W. Today it is AT 1306 G NW but remains a Washington institution as well as a strategic source of chocolate chip cookies. Originally opening as a grocery store, Reeves then changed to a teahouse, and finally transformed into its current status as full service restaurant and bakery.
Reeves was illuminated with Tiffany lamps and chandeliers above a 100 – foot long cherry wood counter. After closing its doors due to fire Reeves reopened its doors in 1985 only to fall victim to downtown development in 1988. Loyal and some life long customers showed up by the hundreds to say goodbye and savor their final tasty morsels. The original Reeves building was demolished later that year. Reeves was reopened in 1992 two blocks from its old location. The bakery closed in 2007
ROCCO ZAPPONE, WASH POST Frumpy, dumpy old RFK Stadium was, next to my boyhood home, the dearest place in the world to me. I knew every crack in the ramps leading up to Section 516, and no place felt more comfortable. . .
RFK is no Ebbets Field. No one will ever call it a “lyric little bandbox of a ballpark,” John Updike’s classic description of Fenway Park, though many people thought RFK was quite beautiful at the time it opened. In its current state, though, with its wonderful physical and technological limitations, a game there can be something more than the delivery system for merchandising and promotions that it is at the retro parks. Its blessedly narrow concourses allow for minimal pushing of souvenirs and food, while the low-tech scoreboard permits relatively little between-innings foolishness — and what there is I can tune out completely by sitting in one of the pathetic old public address system’s marvelous dead spots. The overall effect is the opposite of slick. . .
Saturday games at RFK were supposed to be played in the afternoon. Through 1968, Saturday games started at 1:30. They were relaxed, intimate affairs with the upper deck closed. Because my father worked on Saturdays, my mother would take me to those Senators games. My mother didn’t claim to be a big fan, but she was curious about this interest that had taken over my life and eager to share it with me. . .
With my father and uncle, I observed how men interacted with each other when there were no women around, and I made my own tentative attempts to imitate them. Saturday afternoons with my mother involved no initiatory rites; they were just about baseball. Mom could tell that nothing made me happier than a day at the ballpark, and we rarely missed a Saturday game, although it meant she would get a late start on our Saturday night dinner, steak pizzaiola, a labor-intensive dish.
After buying the Senators between the 1968 and 1969 seasons, Robert Short proceeded to end Saturday afternoon games. So, I hated him long before he moved our team. I hated him before his trades wrecked the franchise. I hated him before the Senators had played a single game under his ownership. . . .
Under the Short regime, general admission was restricted to the upper deck outfield seats. While we occasionally broke down and paid Short’s price for seats in the now-reserved 516, we were general admission people, and we usually followed the other lost souls to those awful seats in the outfield, where you couldn’t see most home runs or warning-track plays by the outfielders. Those seats made us feel like second-class citizens. What’s more, Short posted ushers, sentry-like, at the foul poles to make sure you didn’t give yourself an unauthorized seating upgrade. It was the beginning of the kind of rigid stratification now found in the retro parks.
Thinking back on the Short era forced me to acknowledge to myself just how sad the last two years of the Senators had been. We paid exorbitant prices for bad seats to see a pitiful ballclub with an owner we despised, and lived under the constant threat of losing our team. Nevertheless, the Senators were still our team, and when their departure hit the news, none of that softened the blow.
JEFF CLABAUGH, WASHINGTON BUSINESS JOURNAL – Riggs traces its history back to 1836 when its predecessor opened as a brokerage house, an early form of banks in the United States. By 1840, businessmen William Wilson Corcoran and George Washington Riggs formed a partnership called Corcoran & Riggs and began offering depository and checking services. Its first presidential customer was Democrat John Tyler, who opened at account at Corcoran & Riggs in 1842.
The bank invested heavily in railroads and land and by the mid-1840s had moved its headquarters to buildings across the street from the U.S. Treasury. Riggs also served as the sole federal depository in Washington.
In 1847, the bank loaned the U.S. government $16 million for the Mexican War and covered the loan by selling bonds to financial companies in London.
Corcoran left the bank in 1854 to devote his life to charitable causes, most notably the establishment of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which had as its nucleus Corcoran’s own art collection. Subsequently, the bank became known as Riggs & Co.
Shortly before the start of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln opened an account at Riggs, just weeks after Confederate president Jefferson Davis closed his account there. Riggs also supplied $7 million in gold bullion to the government for the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1868.
[Unnoted is that Corcoran was a southern sympathizer who spent the war years in England just to be on the safe side]
CULTURAL TOURISM DC – Beverly Snow was one of a number of black entrepreneurs who owned businesses in the downtown area. His success was evidence of the strength of Washington’s free black population. One of the sparks for the riot may have been an assault by an enslaved man against Anna Maria Thornton, wife of William Thornton, white architect of the U.S. Capitol. Snow may also have been a target because it was alleged that he spoke disrespectfully about the wives and daughters of white Navy Yard mechanics (working men). One historian suggests that rioters associated Snow with his regular patrons, the wealthy white men who wielded considerable power over the white working classes. Whatever the reason, Snow was forced to flee as an angry white mob took over and ransacked his restaurant. White mobs also attacked school houses and other structures associated with the free black population.
ANDREW ZONDERMAN – The peak of Maryland’s Know-Nothing gang violence was the election riot of 1857. The riot started on election morning when one of the fire company gangs, the Plug Uglies, took the early morning train from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. The Plug Uglies chose a few polling places to intimidate voters and beat up immigrants especially Irishmen. A few voters stood up against the gang and fought back; some local Know-Nothings joined the gang’s destruction at the polls. The mayor, who was walking a few blocks away, arrived with a group of policemen and tried to calm the mob. President Buchanan was told of the situation. He called for soldiers to quell the disturbance, but was told that there were only around 100 marines that could be summoned fast enough. The next closest force was an artillery company at Fort McHenry. The marines assembled and marched to the riot, where they were surprised to find a group of teenagers and men standing around an old cannon loaded with debris aimed at them. The commander of the marines stood right in front of the cannon and ordered the mob not to fire. The marines then formed three sides of a rectangle and fired on the crowd. The mob pulled back but did not retreat. After the volley the marines quickly fixed their bayonets and charged the mob. The Plug Uglies ran to the train station where there was a train waiting with the marines close on their heels. After the Plug Uglies left, the polls were set up again and by early afternoon voting has resumed.
S J ACKERMAN describes the Plug Ugly riot in the August 2001 edition of American History. He summarizes it thus:
The riot occurred on an Election Day, at Mount Vernon Square, when there was extreme tension between the American Party and the immigrated Catholics. The American party was a anti-foreigner and anti-Catholic Party that became popular in the United States after only one year of being formed. The American party (AKA “know nothings) referred to their opposition as “anti-Americans.”
At 9:30 in the morning on Election Day, voters spotted an angry mob of people armed with guns, knives, awls, and slingshots. The mob was formed to scare off non-supporters of the American party. Violence broke out after a member of the Plug Uglies, a gang hired by the American party, asked an Irishman if he had any citizenship papers on him, and the man replied “No, but I have a brick in my pocket.” Finally, the party’s candidate for assessor called off the mob because they were beginning to scare their supporters. As the Plug Uglies walked the streets, residents began to come from their homes armed and ready to fight.
The Mayor Magruder called in troops to help control the riot. He explained to the voters that he was calling troops in to protect the voters, not to harm them. The plugs threatened the mayor and voters with a cannon they had, and placed nails, rocks and bullets into the cannon. The Plug Uglies became threatened by the marines, and fled Washington. The rest of the day was peaceful, however 5 people died and 15 were wounded.
STEVE ACKERMAN, VOICE OF THE HILL – Pelted by bricks and sniper fire, the Marines lost discipline when corporal was hit in the jaw with a musket ball, but Tyler managed to stop their retaliatory fire. Then [Marine Commandant] Henderson signaled that it was time take the cannon. Infuriated at the assault on their beloved “Old Man,” the Marines charged with bayonets and took the cannon. Tyler formed them into a phalanx to sweep the intersection with gunfire.
Northern Liberties Market was a shambles of sheds on present Mount Vernon Square. At the southeast corner, the Plugs placed the cannon, loaded with shrapnel, trained on the polls across 7th Street. Affecting an old-man act, Henderson maneuvered his way toward the fieldpiece, slipping in front of its barrel just as the Marine column marched into range. There he stayed until his men were out of danger and in position. His belly to the muzzle, armed only with an umbrella, Henderson cautioned the Plugs-with noteworthy understatement-“Now, boys, I would think twice before firing on the Marines.” . . . All hell broke loose. Three Plugs fired at him. “I don’t know whether to consider it a compliment or not,” he later quipped. Another thrust a pistol into his face and pulled the trigger. MORE
PETER PERLE, WASHINGTON POST – Nobody knows precisely how or where it started, but on a steamy Saturday night, July 19, 1919, the word began to spread among the saloons and pool halls of downtown Washington, where crowds of soldiers, sailors and Marines freshly home from the Great War were taking weekend liberty. A black suspect, questioned in an attempted sexual assault on a white woman, had been released by the Metropolitan Police. The woman was the wife of a Navy man. So the booze-fueled mutterings about revenge flowed quickly among hundreds of men in uniform, white men who were having trouble finding jobs in a crowded, sweltering capital. . . The rampage by about 400 whites initially drew only scattered resistance in the black community, and the police were nowhere to be seen. When the Metropolitan Police Department finally arrived in force, its white officers arrested more blacks than whites, sending a clear signal about their sympathies.
It was only the beginning. The white mob – whose actions were triggered in large part by weeks of sensational newspaper accounts of alleged sex crimes by a “negro fiend” – unleashed a wave of violence that swept over the city for four days. Nine people were killed in brutal street fighting, and an estimated 30 more would die eventually from their wounds. More than 150 men, women and children were clubbed, beaten and shot by mobs of both races. Several Marine guards and six D.C. policemen were shot, two fatally. . .
The Washington riot was one of more than 20 that took place that summer. With rioting in Chicago, Omaha, Knoxville, Tenn., Charleston, S.C., and other cities, the bloody interval came to be known as “the Red Summer.” Unlike virtually all the disturbances that preceded it – in which white-on-black violence dominated – the Washington riot of 1919 was distinguished by strong, organized and armed black resistance, foreshadowing the civil rights struggles later in the century. . .
OLIVIA CADAVAL, EL TIEMPO – In the Latino community of Washington, D.C., the 5 de mayo has become a commemoration of civil resistance. The celebrated battle date coincides with the 1991 disturbances, or riots as some would argue, starting in the Latino neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant. The incident that set off the disturbances was the shooting by a rooky police officer of a Salvadoran man who some witnesses say was staggering toward the officer with his hand raised holding a knife, yet he had just been arrested and handcuffed for drinking in public. A crowd of curious onlookers turned into a bottle- and rock-throwing mob. Police vehicles were set on fire, stores were looted, the police used tear gas and the Immigration and Naturalization service was reported to be on the scene, ‘assisting’ the police. . .
The incident clearly touched a nerve in old and new neighborhood residents who remember the sixties, or who can associate this experience with the Central American turmoil, or who resent the rapidly growing immigrant population, or who live in day-to-day marginality hassled by the police. The Latino community leaders actively challenged the city. They formed the Latino Civil Rights Task, they involved the National Council of La Raza and the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, and the the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. [They] did not miss the significance of the Mexican 5 de mayo, where a ragtag militia resisted an the army of an empire to commemorate civil resistance.
LA Times – When he started the Museum of African Art in 1964, Robbins had never been to Africa, never worked in a museum, never been involved with the arts and never raised money.
His vision of a museum of African art for Washington grew out of a trip he took in the early 1960s, when he was a cultural attache with the U.S. Embassy in Bonn, Germany. He and Sen. S.I. Hayakawa (R-Calif.) were visiting Hamburg one day and strolled into an antique shop where a collection of African sculptures caught Robbins’ eye. He bought 32 pieces. . .
Six years later, he heard that a former Capitol Hill home of Frederick Douglass, the 19th-century abolitionist icon, was on the market. Robbins raised $13,000 — his first foray into fundraising — and took out a $35,000 mortgage to buy the house, where he put his pieces on display as the Museum of African Art. Later he purchased other houses on the block — nine in all — as his collection grew. . .
“With little money, through the largesse of friends and collectors, and an undeterred dream, Robbins established what would become one of the world’s preeminent museums for exhibiting, collecting and preserving African art,” said Sharon Patton, director of the National Museum of African Art, in a statement.
“He has a handsome facial structure, decorated with a Mephistophelean beard and enough black hair to show he’s an artiste,” Sarah Booth Conroy observed in the Washington Post in 1979. “He is a hunchback, not that it’s kept him from piloting planes, skiing or collecting a number of ‘longtime relationships’ with women.”. . .
Initially, he had to confront resentment against a white man running a black museum. He had a ready answer: “I make no apologies for being white. You don’t have to be Chinese to appreciate ancient ceramics, and you don’t have to be a fish to be an ichthyologist.”
GULLBUY NEW SOUND REVIEW – Root Boy Slim (real name Foster Mackenzie III) graduated from Yale in 1977. Later that same year he debuted his Sex Change Band in DC and the following year, Warner Brothers released his debut album. While never really garnering more than “novelty act” status nationally (due to repeated spins by Dr. Demento), Root Boy Slim had a fiercely loyal (and large) cult following in the DC area. Mackenzie passed away – suffering a fatal heart attack at the age of 47.
Though the story is probably apocraphal, john Quincy Adams is supposed to have been the first President to give an interview to a woman. Adams had repeatedly refused requests for an interview with Anne Royall, the first female professional journalist in the U.S., so she took a different approach to accomplish her goal. She learned that Adams liked to skinny-dip in the Potomac River almost every morning around 5 a.m., so she went to the river, gathered his clothes, and sat on them until he answered all of her questions.
ST. ELIZABETH’S HOSPITAL
NIH – Established in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane, St. Elizabeths Hospital has had a distinguished history in the treatment of the mentally ill. The Hospital’s early mission, as defined by its founder, the leading mental health reformer Dorothea Dix, was to provide the “most humane care and enlightened curative treatment of the insane of the Army, Navy, and District of Columbia.” During the Civil War, wounded soldiers treated here were reluctant to admit that they were in an insane asylum, and said they were at St. Elizabeths, the colonial name of the land where the Hospital is located. Congress officially changed the Hospital’s name to St. Elizabeths in 1916. By the 1940s, the Hospital complex covering an area of over 300 acres housed 7,000 patients. It was the first and only federal mental facility with a national scope.
In 1987, the federal government transferred the hospital operations to the DC Department of Mental Health, while retaining ownership of the western campus. The original 1850s building has been designated a National Historic Landmark, but it is not in use because of its state of disrepair. On the grounds of St. Elizabeths, there is also a Civil War cemetery where 300 Union and Confederate soldiers who died here are buried. The Hospital complex is located on a hill in southeast Washington, overlooking the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. However, it is closed to the public.
ANGELA VALDEZ, CITY PAPER, 2007 – In 1987, the federal government foisted the struggling [St Elizabeth’s] hospital upon the District of Columbia. As compensation for the $120 million yearly cost of running the facility (offset by a declining federal contribution), the feds promised to bequeath to the city the rights to more than 150 acres of the western campus, which could be a valuable parcel in the blooming business of redevelopment. The land was supposed to change hands in 1991. But the feds managed to hold onto the property through a series of land swaps. The Department of Homeland Security is expected to move there in 2011.
The 1987 hand-over marked the beginning of a dark period for St. Elizabeths’. Because of a court order requiring a move toward community care, the patient population had plummeted from highs reaching 8,000 in the ’60s to fewer than 1,000 in the late ’80s. With dwindling funds, the District could barely pay to maintain the crumbling campus. Five different commissioners helmed the faltering system before the hospital went into receivership from 1997 until 2001.
WIKIPEDIA – The hospital, founded by Congress in 1852, largely as the result of the efforts of Dorothea Dix, a pioneering advocate for people living with mental illnesses. It opened in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane, and rose to prominence during the Civil War as it was converted temporarily into a hospital for wounded soldiers. In 1916, its name was officially changed to St. Elizabeths, the colonial-era name for the tract of land on which the hospital was built. The hospital had been casually known by this name since the time of the Civil War, when-in their letters home to loved ones-patients of army hospitals temporarily located on the grounds were reluctant to refer to the institution by its full title.
It is speculated that St. Elizabeths has treated over 125,000 patients, though an exact number is not known due to poor recordkeeping. Additionally, thousands of patients are believed to be buried in unmarked graves across the campus, but, again, records for the individuals buried in the graves have been lost. More than 15,000 known autopsies were performed at St. Elizabeths between 1884 and 1982, and a collection of over 1,400 brains preserved in formaldehyde, 5,000 photographs of brains, and 100,000 slides of brain tissue was maintained by the hospital until it was transferred to a museum in 1986. In addition to the mental health patients buried on the campus, several hundred Civil War soldiers are interred there as well.
At its peak, the St. Elizabeths campus housed 7,000 patients and employed 4,000 people. Beginning in the 1950s, however, large institutions such as St. Elizabeths were being criticized for hindering the treatment of patients. Community-based healthcare, which included local outpatient facilities and drug therapy, was seen as a more effective means of allowing patients to live near-normal lives. The patient population of St. Elizabeths steadily declined.
By 1996, only 850 patients remained at the hospital, and years of neglect had become apparent; equipment and medicine shortages occurred frequently, and the heating system was broken for weeks at a time. By 2002, all remaining patients on the western campus were transferred to other facilities. Although it continues to operate, it does so on a far smaller scale than it once did.
The campus of St. Elizabeths sits on bluffs overlooking the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers in the southeast quadrant of Washington. . . It has many important buildings, foremost among them the Center Building, designed according to the principles of the Kirkbride Plan by Thomas U. Walter (1804-1887), who is perhaps better known as the primary architect of the expansion of the U.S. Capitol that was begun in 1851.
THE HOSPITAL’S EARLY MISSION, as defined by its founder, the leading mental health reformer Dorothea Dix, was to provide the “most humane care and enlightened curative treatment of the insane of the Army, Navy, and District of Columbia.” During the Civil War, wounded soldiers treated here were reluctant to admit that they were in an insane asylum, and said they were at St. Elizabeths, the colonial name of the land where the Hospital is located. Congress officially changed the Hospital’s name to St. Elizabeths in 1916.
SAM SMITH, WHY BOTHER? – In the wake of the Civil War, this area north of Washington’s downtown — originally occupied by both whites and blacks — experienced a building boom. With Jim Crow and the coming of the streetcar, whites moved beyond the center city and blacks increasingly found themselves isolated. Until the modern civil rights movement and desegregation, this African-American community was shut out without a vote, without economic power, without access, and without any real hope that any of this would change.
Its response was remarkable. For example, in 1886 there were only about 15 black businesses in the area. By 1920, with segregation in full fury, there were more than 300.
Every aspect of the community followed suit. Among the institutions created within these few square miles was a building and loan association, a savings bank, the only good hotel in the Washington where blacks could stay, the first full-service black YMCA in the country, the Howard Theatre and two first rate movie palaces.
There were the Odd Fellows, the True Reformers, and the Prince Hall Lodge. There were churches and religious organizations, a summer camp, a photography club that produced a number of professional photographers, settlement houses, and the Washington Urban League.
Denied access to white schools, the community created a self-sufficient educational system good enough to attract suburban African-Americans students as well as teachers from all over the country. And just to the north, Howard University became the intellectual center of black America. You might have run into Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, or Duke Ellington, all of whom made the U Street area their home before moving to New York.
This was a proud community. “We had everything we needed,” recalls one older resident. “And we felt good about it. Our churches, our schools, banks, department stores, food stores. And we did very well.”
The community shared responsibility for its children. A typical story went like this: “There was no family my family didn’t know or that didn’t know me. I couldn’t go three blocks without people knowing exactly where I had been and everything I did on the way. It wasn’t just the schools. We learned from everyone. We learned as much from Aunt So-and-So down the street, who was not even related to us.”
All this occurred while black Washingtonians were being subjected to extraordinary economic obstacles and being socially and politically ostracized. If there ever was a culture entitled to despair and apathy it was black America under segregation.
Yet not only did these African-Americans develop self-sufficiency, they did so without taking their eyes off the prize. Among the other people you might have found on U Street were Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston, laying the groundwork for the modern civil rights movement.
Years later, while serving on a NAACP task force on police and justice, I would go to a large hall in the organization’s headquarters on U Street — at the same address that was on the 1940s flyers calling for civil rights protests. In that hall, except for the addition of a few plaques, nothing much has changed over the decades. We only needed two tables pushed together so there was plenty of room for the ghosts of those who once sat around such tables asking the same questions, seeking the same solutions, striving for some way for decency to get a foothold. Basic legal strategies for the civil rights movement were planned along this street. Did perhaps Thurgood Marshall or Clarence Mitchell once sit at one end of this hall and also wonder what to do next? Just the question lent courage.
With the end of segregation, as free choice replaced a community of necessity, the area around U Street began to change. The black residents dispersed. Eventually the street would become better known for its crime, drugs, and as the birthplace of the 1968 riots. The older residents would remember the former neighborhood with a mixture of pain and pride — not unlike the ambivalence found in veterans recalling a war. None would voluntarily return to either segregation or the battlefield but many would know that some of their own best moments of courage, skill, and heart had come when the times were at their worst. Some of the people in this community were only a couple of generations away from slavery, some had come from Washington’s early free black community. But whatever their provenance, they had learned to become self-sufficient in fact and spirit even as they battled to end the injustices that required them to be so.
From an interview
with Alexander “Boss” Shepherd
uncovered by Mark Richards
Now Governor, what about the charges that there was fraud in the contracts for these improvements and in some of the improvements themselves?
Every such charge is a mistake or a lie. As for me, I have a wife and six babies in the house here. I don’t purpose that my children shall ever have to acknowledge their father a thief. In point of fact there was no stealing, in my belief, by anybody. Notwithstanding the reckless charges made, no one accusing me has put his finger on a single specific fraud. For three years all the papers relating to the work in every part of the district passed through my hands. I frequently examined more than one thousand papers a day. Thus I kept myself familiar with every detail. In that way I was able to prevent fraud or theft, and to choke scandals which were not kept alive by sheer falsehood….
In former years, when the railroad tracks ran right across Pennsylvania avenue in front of the iron fence which surrounded the old Capitol Park, I had seen the approach to the Capitol blockaded repeatedly by cattle trains, so that carriages full of people in waiting occupied a whole square. So, one night, I organized a gang of men and tore up the track. I did that without authority of law, but it was the right thing to do, and the nuisance would not otherwise have been removed. With similar disregard of red tape I did away with the wretched old market building which stood in the center of what is now Mount Vernon square, at the junction of Seventh Street and Massachusetts Avenue….
The damned old shed was so hideous that it had to come down, and I so notified the proper authorities. They immediately engaged counsel and arranged for an injunction the next day. I heard of this in season and got a friend to take the old judge then in the city out for a drive. I told him to return late. The judge went with my friend. While they were away I pulled the market down.”
REMAINS OF BOSS SHEPHERD’S HACIENDA IN MEXICO
COPPER CANYON – Batopilas is considered the “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” because of it’s historic past and present beauty. . . The silver mines of Batopilas were some of the richest in Mexico. In the 18th and 19th century both Spaniards and Mexicans gained great wealth out of the area. American John Robinson purchased an old claim in 1861 which turned out to have a large, hidden vein. He decided to sell the claim to fellow American Alexander Shepherd for $600,000 US in 1880.
Alexander Shepherd was the last mayor of Washington, D.C. and had been ousted under unproven corruption charges. Once Shepherd moved his family to Batopilas, he filed over 350 mining claims and formed the Batopilas Mining Company. His mines became some of the wealthiest in the world at their peak.
Noting the difficulty and time (over eight days) of transporting the silver ore to Chihuahua, Shepherd opened his own facilities and foundry along the river at his Hacienda San Miguel. Over 20 million ounces of silver were extracted from the mines, and this great wealth allowed Shepherd to bring cultural events and technological advances to this once sleepy town. Batopilas was the second city in Mexico to have electricity. His hydroelectric works provide the towns power still and he also built an aqueduct which is still in use today. So famous for it’s wealth were Shepherd’s mines that Pancho Villa once robbed a mule shipment of $40,000 US in silver bars.
Alexander Shepherd died in 1902, leaving the mines to his sons who ceased operation in 1920, although other miners would later try unsuccessfully to restart the old mines.
[From a discussion on the DC History bulletin board]
FRED JORDAN, WOODBERRY FOREST SCHOOL, VA – As a secondary school teacher, a student of mine asked today whether Washington D.C. had ever had any political bosses along the lines of William Marcy Tweed or George Washington Plunkitt in New York or James Michael Curly in Boston. I had to confess my ignorance, coupled with the speculation that since the system of local government which Tweed and his like dominated was largely absent in the federal city, bosses like him would not have appeared. (One might, I suppose, consider the Congress to have been dominated by its own political bosses at the time, thus making someone like Marc Hanna the de facto “boss” of Washington D.C., but that struck us all as a bit of a stretch.) However, I thought it worth the time to pass his question on to the list. Can anyone help me out here?
KATE MASUR – The most famous, and maybe the only, “boss” in Washington’s history was Alexander Shepherd. He was a contemporary of Tweed’s, and many people compared the two men. In fact, a lot of Washingtonians who didn’t like Shepherd claimed he was WORSE than Tweed. Shepherd was basically run out of town after he spent gobs of money on municipal improvements and was embroiled in a corruption scandal. Then his reputation was revived at the end of the 19th century, when people began to believe that he had been a visionary urban planner and point out that he had never actually been convicted of any wrongdoing.
MICHAEL WASSERMAN – I agree with what Kate Masur wrote on this subject. For clarity, though, I think it is important add that before the so-called “Territorial” government, residents of the cities of Georgetown and Washington each elected their own local governments, including the legislative and executive branches, without federal involvement. While those municipal governments did not have quite as large powers as the 1871 government were given, they were still significant. The 1871 Act abolished all the local governments of the District and devolved somewhat expanded powers upon officials who mainly appointed by the President. It is something of misnomer to refer to the 1871 Government as “Territorial”–the act establishing the 1871 Government does not contain the word “Territorial” and the word was in fact stricken from an earlier draft of the bill. Moreover, as enacted, the law gave the new government powers that were substantially more limited, as well as divided among more boards and officials, than in the case of real Territorial governments.
SAM SMITH – Like so many things with DC, we are underrated on our bosses. . . .Alexander Shepherd was in many ways in the 19th century urban political tradition of Tweed and Plunkett et al. . . . A big difference, however, was the lack of a new immigrant population from which to draw his base. Further, the Shepherd period was of minimal democratic opportunity and thus the relation between the citizen and the boss was quite different.
But the spirit and many of the techniques were the same, including public works helping both one’s friends and the city, and a populist appeal that did not go well in elite circles. At least one paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, thought Tweed and his gang were ‘stupid sneak thieves’ next to Shepherd.
Here’s something I wrote about it some years back for the City Paper:
SAM SMITH, CITY PAPER – DC’s territorial government was short-lived, but misconceptions about its nature thrive to this day. Many of these center on the powerful Board of Public Works. This body was not part of the territorial government at all, but a separate entity reporting directly to Congress. Its chair was actually the governor, but Henry Cooke was not interested enough to attend meetings, so power devolved on the vice chair, the famous Alexander Shepherd who functioned as CEO. Shepherd, the single most interesting political figure in DC history, had an instinctive flair for the use of power, with or without the law to back him up. With a combination of style, chutzpah, political instinct, decisiveness, charm, friendship with President Grant, amorality and arrogance, he would become the father of modern Washington planting thousands of trees, laying miles of sewers and paving more miles of streets over them.
Governor Cooke had the title but lacked the inclination to compete. A joke at the time said the governor was like a sheep because he was led around by “A. Shepherd.” Boss Shepherd’s persuasive skills were such that upon being called to account by the president of a railroad whose tracks on the Mall had been torn up one night by 200 of Shepherd’s men, he left the meeting with an offer to become the line’s vice president. His cunning was such that when he heard reports of a planned injunction against the removal of what he called a “wretched old market building” on Mt. Vernon Square, he got a friend to take the one judge currently in the city out for a long ride in the country while the Boss accomplished his mission. He not only makes Marion Barry’s later efforts at urban manipulation seem amateurish, he with at the top of American city bosses. As the Cincinnati Enquirer of the time put it: “Boss Tweed and his gang, to whom Shepherd’s enemies are so given to comparing him, were vulgar villians [sic], stupid sneak thieves, by the side of this remarkable man.”
Cooke eventually resigned as governor and Shepherd took his place. Shortly thereafter, in 1874, Congress replaced the territorial government with a system of absolute non-democratic control under three appointed commissioners.
Once again, the proximate cause of this change involved the coalescing of issues of purse and prejudice. To be sure, the city had run up a cost overrun of $13 million — Shepherd said he assumed the federal government would take care of it — and the national financial panic of 1873 had put everyone on edge. But Shepherd had also demonstrated the considerable nascent political clout of black Washingtonians with a referendum on the right of the territorial government to issue bonds. The vote wasn’t necessary — the courts had already given the territory authority — but Shepherd encouraged the referendum anyway. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, to the displeasure of the city’s white property owners. Just to be on the safe side, according to later recollections by the boss’s own secretary, blacks were brought in from Prince George’s County to add to the tally. The secretary said that despite their ignorance of the issues involved, the seconded voters had done the city a great service. “The darkies were always good friends of mine,” Shepherd boasted to the New York World.
The local white establishment, however, felt otherwise and while only a few — such as the Georgetown newspaper — would say so publicly, many felt that loss of enfranchisement was a necessary price to pay for what a southern senator would later describe as getting “rid of this load of negro suffrage that was flooding in.”
Incidentally, Shepherd, according to Nelson Rimensyder, wrote the president of Howard in 1871: “I am lopposed to any discrimination on account of race or color in the schools or elsewhere.” And in 1877, Frederick Douglass said in a speech, “I want to thank Governor Shepherd for the fair way in which he treated the colored race when he was in a position to help them.”
ALAN LESSOFF, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF HISTORY ILLINOIS STATE UNIVERSITY- In 2002, I published a profile of Shepherd. . . I also tried to clear up a few myths, for example why Shepherd’s reputation recovered so quickly when his program was so wracked by influence peddling and reckless, unaccountable management and how he ended up managing silver mines in Mexico. It is flat untrue that he fled there. He went to Mexico in 1880, temporarily he imagined, in an effort to rebuild his fortune after going bankrupt in DC real estate in November 1876, well over two years after his ouster as territorial governor. Until he left, he remained visible and active in DC politics. He and his supporters felt that he had nothing to be ashamed of, let alone flee from — on the contrary. He was never seriously threatened with indictment, even in the so-called Safe Burglary Conspiracy of 1874, which got his associate and Grant’s aide Orville Babcock indicted, though never convicted.
Political scientists have long debated what defines a “boss” by comparison to other sorts of politicians. I have always argued that Shepherd was not really a boss in the political science sense of the term, since the term implies, in my view, someone who is primarily a politician, when Shepherd was a promoter and developer whose ambitions for Washington’s physical embellishment led him into city and national politics. More important, the term “boss” implies a power-broker with a base in ward-level electoral politics, and the whole point of the territorial government Shepherd helped to devise and mainly ran was to free public works, his main interest, from electoral pressures, especially at the neighborhood level. I think from a political science perspective Marion Barry would count more as a boss than Shepherd, since Barry devoted enormous attention to using DC jobs, services, and contracts to building a reliable electoral base. That’s more typical boss behavior. For Shepherd, public works were the main show, and his electoral manipulations were meant to facilitate them. . .
On the other hand, the impulse to develop a disciplined model of the urban boss and of machine politics is a product of political science from the early-twentieth century. In the 1870s “boss” was a loosely used political epithet that implied widespread influence peddling and cronyism, generally through the vehicle of party. Shepherd certainly qualified on that score. In my book I attempted with mixed success to trace the proportion of projects under the Board of Public Works that went to close associates; I came up with 20% as a very low figure, a great deal, considering the huge scale of Shepherd’s Comprehensive Plan improvements and the fact that they drew contractors from around the country. Partisan politics and Republican factionalism largely explains the application of the term, “boss” to Shepherd, since Democrats were gleeful to have a chance to distract attention from Tweed, in his period the prototype of urban boss, while anti-Grant Republicans wanted to emphasize what they perceived as the irresponsibility, crudeness, and corruption that flourished within Grant’s circle. . .
In sum, I would not try to explain Shepherd to students as an example of boss politics, because that, I believe, distracts from the urban, fiscal, governmental, and racial issues that produced him and encouraged his methods. “Boss” makes him a figure of a colorful past, but the recent experience of DC’s default and the Control Board emphasizes how the structural problems that Shepherd attempted to overcome through bullying and influence peddling remain very much alive.
FURTHER FUN FACTS ABOUT BOSS SHEPHERD
Improvements by Boss Shepherd’s Board of Public Works
– 260 miles of road grade; 118 paved
– 3,800 gas lamps installed
– 50,000 trees planted.
– 215 miles of sidewalk paved
– 123 miles of sewers installed
– 34 miles of water mains installed
– 39 miles of gas mains installed
Cost overrun on projects: 320%
Cost overrun on Metro construction: 400%
Amount spent by city on capital improvements 1802-1871 – $13,000,000
Amount spend by Congress on capital improvements 1802-1871 – $2,000,000
Governor Shepherd supported and advocated laws that prohibited
discrimination in places of public accommodation. These laws were never
codified and later governments ignored them until their rediscovery in the
1950s when they were used as the basis for a major desegregation case.
Shepherd also opposed the segregation of public schools, but Congress
insisted on it. Said Shepherd, “I am opposed to any discrimination account
of race or color in the schools or elsewhere.” He also supported equality
[Nelson Rymensnyder: Governor Alexander Robey Shepherd]
Here are some slang or local expressions believed to be unique to DC or to have been invented here:
– ‘Bama, an uneducated, southern black immigrant to city
– Break camp – to leave
– Bumpin’ – terrific
– Bustin’ loose – having a great time, acting crazy
– Ceevees i.e. CVS
– Chocolate City
– Crackin’ – Moving on someone to get to know them better
– Freak – stepping out or partying
– East or West of the Park
– Feather duster – name given local legistlators in the late 19th century
– Foggy Bottom (also sometimes called Froggy Bottom)
– Hill rat
– Hittin’ and holdin’ – right or perfect
– Home fool (for home rule)
– Hooker (named after Civil War general whose responsibility included the red light district)
– Ig – to ignore someone so they know it
– Let’s get small – let’s get down
– Love boat: marijuana laced with PCP
– Zone system
– Go Go
– Good to go – approved, ready for action
– Murder Bay
– Near and Far NE, SE or SW
– Numb to the max – full blast
– The plan
– Research and destroy
– Safe – all right
– Slug – someone who commutes from Northern Virginia to Arlington or Washington by accepting rides to predetermined points from strangers who want to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes on congested highways. Slug can also be used as a verb.
– Swampoodle (neighborhood near Union Station)
– Technique someone (invented by public housing activist Lucille Goodwin in the 1960s)
– Thrown down – get down
– What’s up like that?
– Yoke i.e. mugged
RUBY L. BAILEY, DETROIT FREE PRESS – In all, 400 Africans held in slavery made up roughly half of the workforce that built the White House and the Capitol. . . During the construction, enslaved Africans lived in shanties and huts on G and F streets, today major downtown streets. veryone worked from dawn until dusk, everyday except Sunday. Instead of pay, enslaved blacks received a blanket and cornmeal, which was used to make bread, historians said.
SLEEPY SOUTHERN TOWN
Description used by strangers who don’t know DC history. See “Swamp” for more.
SLUGS DO NOT TALK. This is not completely true, because there are times when conversation is acceptable, but normally slugs must wait for drivers to initiate it; otherwise, there is no talking. One note about this rule. Even though it may sound impolite not to initiate conversation, there are some good reasons why this rule exists. The driver (and sometimes the slug) isn’t interested in getting to know the other person. On the contrary, all that is wanted is a quiet ride home. For many riders, it’s a chance to think, sleep, or read the paper. For the driver, it may be the only chance to listen to the news or relax to his or her own music. The last thing both riders and drivers want is to feel obligated to carry on a 30-minute conversation.
NO CONVERSATIONS OF RELIGION, POLITICS, OR SEX.
NO MONEY, GIFTS, OR TOKENS OF APPRECIATION ARE EVER OFFERED OR REQUESTED.
CELL PHONES – Slugs, do not carry on a conversation while commuting. The very short, “Hey, I’m on my way” is okay, but do not have a long conversation about what you did last weekend!
THE LINE DOES NOT LEAVE A WOMAN STANDING ALONE. Call it chivalry or simply thoughtfulness towards the safety of others, but this rule has certainly helped many women feel safer.
A SLUG DOES NOT ASK TO CHANGE THE RADIO STATION OR ADJUST THE HEAT OR AIR CONDITIONING. Normally, the slug does not open or close the window.
BOTH SLUGS AND DRIVERS USUALLY EXCHANGE A “THANK YOU” BEFORE AND AFTER THE RIDE.
SLUGS SHOULD NEVER TAKE A RIDE OUT OF TURN. Slugs have the right to pass or forfeit a ride if they do not like a particular car
NO “BODY SNATCHING.” If the line of cars picking up slugs is too long, many times drivers will cruise the commuter parking lots, attempting to pick up slugs walking to the line.
DRIVERS SHOULD NOT “STOP SHORT.” Stopping short happens when the driver decides not to take the slug all the way to the agreed-upon destination.
SEAT BELTS – It’s understood that both drivers and passengers should buckle-up.
PATRICIA SULLIVAN, WASHINGTON POST – John Carlton “Butch” Snipes, 71, the unofficial “mayor of U Street” who for three decades owned and operated businesses on what was once the commercial hub of black Washington, died of cancer June 23 on his way home from Washington Hospital Center. A stocky, well-dressed man who looked like the haberdasher he was, Mr. Snipes spent his entire life, except for a stint in the Army, living and working in the Shaw neighborhood near U Street. He caught the 40-cent afternoon shows at the Howard Theater as a schoolboy and rubbed elbows with the black cognoscenti — Thurgood Marshall, Miles Davis, Satchel Paige, Stokely Carmichael — on the busy sidewalks of the Black Broadway during the era of segregation. . . Mr. Snipes experienced the 1968 riots that devastated Shaw and the subsequent middle-class abandonment of the area. He started his own business near the Lincoln Theatre in 1969, a deli and convenience store that lasted more than 13 years. He also owned and operated a jeans store, then Snipes Shirt Shop, which sold custom-made menswear.
During a time when drug dealers invaded the area and Metrorail construction tore up the streets, Mr. Snipes sponsored canned food drives for the needy, supported the Boys Club, volunteered at schools, coached athletic teams and founded and served as president of the Shaw Business and Professional Association. Somewhere along the way, people began calling him “the mayor of U Street.”. . . After he retired in 1997, the outgoing and loquacious Mr. Snipes often made appearances during historic tours of the Shaw area.
THOMAS V. DIBACCO, WASHINGTON TIMES – The blizzard in March 1888 marred a Washington weekend, with Sunday as the focal point. . . The 1888 storm was swift. By midnight it was over. . . A heavy northwest wind dropped the temperature to 20 degrees, and the scene moved one writer to write: “Ice-laden trees … looked like huge ghosts as they waved their withered branches violently in the wind. A more cheerless night could not have been imagined.” Everything seemed to come down. First, the electric wires, leaving Pennsylvania Avenue “as dark as a suburban street.” Then the telegraph lines snapped, crackled and popped, especially on B Street, from Sixth to Ninth streets. . . Associated Press stories could not be transmitted, and testy reporters got the cold shoulder from telegraph employees. Said one, “If you have been outside, you know as much about the weather as we do.” . . . The only train from New York City that made it to Washington was a record 12 hours late.
1910 – City commissioners estimate that it will take 12,000 men to clear away a 3 inch snowfall from an estimated 550 miles of paved sidewalks.
1917 – City commissioners estimate that it will take 50,115 men and 19,162 horse teams to clear a six inch snowfall. The Street Cleaning Department has 350 men and 90 teams.
1922 – As more than two feet of snow fell on the city, collapsing the roof of the Knickerbocker theatre at 18th and Columbia Road during the performance of a George M Cohan comedy. The Washington Post reported:
“Only this is known: There was applause and laughter following a particularly clever comedy situation- There was a crash that struck terror into the hearts a-trill with merriment There was a gust of wind, a rushing of air that blew open the closed doors of the theater – and then, after one concerted groan, there was silence – and Crandall’s Knickerbocker theater, previously the temple of mirth, had been transformed into a tomb.”
WASHINGTON POST, 1979 – The greatest snowstorm in more than half a century left the Washington area smothered under almost two feet of snow yesterday — a magnificent white menace that virtually imprisoned the city and sent road crews battling to reopen streets for this morning’s commuters. A total of 18.7 inches of snow fell Sunday and early yesterday — the greatest single snowfall since a 28-inch storm collapsed the roof of the Knickbocker Theater in January 1922. Wind-blown drifts piled up to three and four feet deep in the District and to six and seven feet in the suburbs, covering familiar landmarks in a white blanket. The storm came on top of additional snow already on the ground, bringing the total accumulation to 23.6 inches. . .
The near blizzard, its ferocity miscalculated by stunned forecasters, triggered mammoth disruptions. National, Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International airports all were closed. Amtrak trains limped in hours late. Metro abandoned city bus service early yesterday, and Metro trains never ran at all.
Hospitals were short staffed. Some were running low on food and other supplies. Cars were marooned, turning to shapeless white hulks on the streets. Police and other emergency vehicles could not answer some emergency calls, and had great difficulty answering others.
Food stores were jammed with customers stocking up. Looting of some liquor and grocery stores was reported in both Prince George’s County and Northeast Washington. D.C. police had made five arrests by mid-afternoon. . .
A massive snowball fight involving some 500 people erupted at Dupont Circle. It ended on a sour note, however, when a truck driver confronted the crowd, complaining that members of the crowd had smashed his windshield with snowballs loaded with stones or other weights. Police arrived and dispersed the crowd. . .
Mayor Marion Barry was in Florida on vacation yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
MILTON COLEMAN, WASHINGTON POST, February 22, 1979 – Mayor Marion Barry sat casually in the back seat as his chauffeured black sedan rambled along the streets of northwest Washington yesterday to the clumpety-clump accompaniment of the tire chains on the rear wheels. Barry stared straight ahead. He rarely looked down the occasional snow-clogged side streets. He appeared to hardly notice the truck in front whose rear end wigwagged in the slippery slush. He did not glance at the occasional pedestrians who lined up at downtown street corners to tiptoe along the narrow footpaths through the banks of snow. The mayor is not dealing with this snow problem personally. He said he is confident that the chore is being capably handled by his two right-hand men — city administrator Elijah B. Rogers and general assistant Ivanhoe Donaldson. It is not a job for the city’s elected leader.
“What’s to lead? It’s not a crisis,” Barry said. “That’s why you’ve got all these staff people around. “There are more important things for me to worry about than snow — housing, (the) supplemental budget. When you have a good team, you don’t have to get involved in everything. . . If people got as excited about the housing problem and about unemployment as they did about snow, maybe we’d get something done. This is going to go away in some days.”. . .
What about the people who could not dig out their cars, or tried digging once only to have the cars plowed back in? the mayor was asked. How would they get to work? “Take a bus,” he said gruffly. The buses were not running in the morning. “They can walk.”
1. Jan. 27-28, 1922 – 28.0 inches
2. Feb 11-13, 1899 – 20.5 inches
3. Feb. 18-19, 1979 – 18.7 inches
4. Feb. 5-6, 2010 – 17.8 inchees
5. Jan. 6-8, 1996 – 17.1 inches
6 Feb. 15-18, 2003 – 16.7 inches
7. Feb. 11-12, 1983 – 16.6 inches
8. Feb. 15-16, 1958 – 14.4 inches
9. Feb. 7, 1936 – 14.4 inches
10. Feb. 16-18, 1900 – 14.3 inches
11. Jan. 29-30, 1966 – 13.8 inches
A HISTORY OF DC SNOW MANAGEMENT in Washington History, Spring/Summer 1996
FIRST CHURCH SHELTER – Mitch Snyder invested nearly twenty years of his life in an effort to draw public attention to the iniquitous distribution of resources in our society and the devastating human consequences of that distribution. . .Snyder, when asked how one could make a contribution to the elimination of destitution, would quickly suggest that the person quit what ever it was that they were doing at the time and become part of the work being done with, and on behalf of the poor, at the Washington, D.C. based, Community for Creative Non-Violence of which he was a member. . .
Snyder’s singular commitment to the nation’s poor and homeless put him on a collision course with then President Ronald Reagan. Snyder and CCNV gained access to an abandoned, federal building, eight blocks from the Capitol and used it for what was intended to be a temporary, winter shelter for the homeless. When CCNV and those homeless staying at the shelter refused to leave in the spring, a confrontation lasting nearly a year began. It culminated with Snyder engaging in a fast which he declared would be “until death” or until the federal government agreed to provide sufficient funding to operate a shelter in the nation’s capital that would be model for the rest of America.
Snyder’s fast lasted over fifty days. The public sympathy resulting from it convinced President Reagan to approve funding for the shelter Snyder and CCNV demanded.
The story of that confrontation was eventually produced as a made for T.V. movie, Samaritans: The Mitch Snyder Story, in the Spring of 1986. . .
In October of 1989 the movement that Snyder helped create brought over 140,000 people to Washington to demand increased federal support for affordable housing.
Less than a year after that march on Washington Snyder was dead. He committed suicide in July of 1990.
Most agree that Snyder took his life because of a string of defeats-locally in D.C. and nationally-which left him depressed and disillusioned about the prospects for success for the movement he helped create and guided.
[Here are a few of the groups of people, businesses, and other institutions that have been chased from DC thanks to city policies, along with some of their causes]
CHILDREN – Declining quality of schools and recreation combined with gentrification.
DOWNTOWN SMALL BUSINESSES – City zoning and planning policies stripped downtown of a varied commercial district.
MODERATE PRICED HOTELS – The city government was long disinterested in hotels, especially the cheaper ones, and weighted its planning towards office structures that could replace them, even though the hotels made far more economic sense. Metro also encouraged these hotels to move out of town.
TOURISTS – They followed the cheaper hotels out of town.
BUSINESSES – Metro, although touted as an economic boon, actually helped the city lose businesses which could relocate on cheaper land in the suburbs and still have easy access to downtown.
GENERAL POPULATION – Metro also encouraged the general depopulation of the city since you could use it when you wanted, but at less cost, by moving to the suburbs.
CHINATOWN – In the process of being eradicated thanks to the development around the MCI center.
CHURCHES – Being forced out due to inadequate parking caused by nearby overdevelopment.
MAGGIE HALL, HILL RAG – Capitol Hill is getting a new “top cop.” [Andrew Solberg] has a degree in theology, a master’s in philosophy, is a big fan of Aristotle and his idea of a good read is Greek poetry. . . Turns out he was a late entrant into the police force because he was busy bumming-out in Mexico, Guatemala and earning a dollar as a New Orleans-based deck-hand on a Mississippi tug. Broke and wandering what to do with his life he arrived in DC with $40 in his pocket and promptly had his beat-up old van clamped and towed. . . Spent a year, as a high school student in Bologna, Italy, followed by a season playing basketball for Moscow University, and then traveled in India.
Next month, Inspector Solberg celebrates his first year at the First District sub-station, opposite Marion Park, on E Street, SE. Because he refuses to spend much time behind his desk, he’s become a familiar figure on the Hill. . . Every Wednesday morning he’s on special-duty. He reads to fourth graders at the Friendship Edison Charter School, on Potomac Avenue, SE. Currently the book is Alex Hailey’s classic Roots. . .
He confesses that he and the kids, are not making a lot of progress, in the reading department that is. Much of the hour is spent chatting, as he pauses often to ask the children what they think of what they’ve just heard. They express their views and in so doing open-up to him. He listens, he talks, they have a giggle and exchange knowing nods. He believes what he’s doing is an investment in the future. . .
After his gig on the mighty Mississippi, he decided that the fire service was his future. But the city was not hiring. So he switched his attention to the police department. But it was no-go there too. Not because it didn’t need officers – but because he was “medically unfit.” Strange jargon, for a strange “condition” that initially got him barred from the force. Solberg was too tall! At 6’8″, he exceeded the cut-off height by three inches.
He set about changing the archaic, bizarre, peculiar-to-DC, law. He wrote to every member of the City Council, pointing out the stupidity of the situation. He recalls: “I told them: you know what, I could be a police officer if I was gay, Jewish, left-handed, Hindu, or whatever. But you’re discriminating against me because I am tall. There’s no purpose to this law. In the end they said I was right. But it was a convoluted process.” It was 1987 before Solberg was allowed into the police academy. . .
Raised in Urbana, Illinois, Solberg’s father lectured in American history, his mother taught fifth grade, his older sister is an art historian in Italy and his younger sister a criminal-defense lawyer. . .
He got a degree in religion from Haverford College, a liberal arts college outside Philadelphia. With no burning ambition in any special direction he went to New Orleans, simply because he had a pal there he could crash with. . .
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS – After the heartbreaking death of his son Willie, Abraham Lincoln and his family fled the gloom that hung over the White House, moving into a small cottage outside Washington, on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home, a residence for disabled military veterans. In Lincoln’s Sanctuary, historian Matthew Pinsker offers a portrait of Lincoln’s stay in this cottage and tells the story of the president’s growth. Lincoln lived at the Soldiers’ Home for a quarter of his presidency, and for nearly half of the critical year of 1862, but most Americans (including many scholars) have not heard of the place. Indeed, this is the first volume to specifically connect this early “summer White House” to key wartime developments, including the Emancipation Proclamation, the firing of McClellan, the evolution of Lincoln’s “Father Abraham” image, the election of 1864, and the assassination conspiracy. Through a series of striking vignettes, the reader discovers a more accessible Lincoln, demonstrating what one visitor to the Soldiers’ Home described as his remarkable “elasticity of spirits.” At his secluded cottage, the president complained to his closest aides, recited poetry to his friends, reconnected with his wife and family, conducted secret meetings with his political enemies, and narrowly avoided assassination attempts. Perhaps most important, he forged key friendships that helped renew his flagging spirits. The cottage became a refuge from the pressures of the White House, a place of tranquility where Lincoln could refresh his mind.
WASHINGTON POST – The Source Theatre Company, which provided a home for experimental plays and fledging artists for more than 28 years, has ceased operations and agreed to sell its building. Source had been struggling financially for several years and has received almost $1 million in public funds. . . In 1977, Source was one of the first arts groups to move back to the 14th Street corridor. . . In its active years, Source produced five plays a season. It created the annual Washington Theatre Festival, which has developed more than 700 plays since 1981. . . Over the years, Source was nominated for 30 Helen Hayes Awards. 2/06
SOUTHWEST URBAN RENEWAL
SAM SMITH, MULTITUDES – I was sent to interview a woman who was refusing to move out of her house in the Southwest urban renewal area. Hundreds of acres had been leveled around her and still she clung on like a survivor of the Dresden carpet bombing. The project, the largest in the nation, had begun in April 1954 and five years later some 550 acres had been cleared. Only 300 families remained to be relocated. More than 20,000 people and 800 businesses had been kicked out to make way for the plan. Some 80% of the latter never went back into operation.
The design was hailed by planners and liberals; a 1955 report for the District was titled No Slums in Ten Years. Not everyone was so sanguine, however. In a 1959 report of the National Conference of Catholic Charities, the Rt. Rev. Msg. John O’Grady said, “It is sad. It is not urban renewal; it is a means of making a few people rich. Instead of improving housing conditions, it is shifting people around from one slum to another.”
The Supreme Court disagreed. In 1954 it had upheld the underlying law and in a decision written by none other than William O. Douglas, declared:
It is within the power of the legislature to determine that the community should be beautiful as well as healthy, spacious as well as clean, well-balanced as well as carefully patrolled . . . The experts concluded that if the community were to be healthy, if it were not to revert again to a blighted or slum area, as though possessed by a congenital disease, the area must be planned as a whole.
JUDY COLEMAN, DCIST – Berman v. Parker, challenging this slum-clearing initiative, reached the Supreme Court in 1954, nine years after the plan was announced. A black storeowner in the area challenged the action as unconstitutional. The claim, though, was not related to racism or equal protection violations. Instead, the plaintiff sued because slum-clearing didn’t pass muster as a “public use” under the Fifth Amendment. We all want pretty neighborhoods, the plaintiff argued, but you have to show something more to take my property.
The court rejected this argument and, in doing so, blew the door wide open for future uses of eminent domain. As long as the government could show that it was improving the public welfare, it could use the hammer of eminent domain to nail just about any land it wanted. . .
Further, the court found it plausible, as many policymakers did at the time, that the problem of urban blight could be solved by nothing short of a total redesign. “Public use,” under the Fifth Amendment meant a “public purpose,” which in turn meant just about anything government wanted to do.
BIRD: The thrush
American Beauty Rose
TREE: The scarlet oak
A DC TRANSIT SNOWSWEEPER
We have established a swamp police squad whose job it will be to reduce the epidemic of press mentions of Washington once having been a swamp-filled town. The first violator apprehended by this squad is Ann Gerhart of the Washington Post who, in the course of a crudely chipper Style article on Bush’s war against the civil services, describes its founding in 1883 adding that it “built Washington, helping to transform a swampy, mosquito-infested river town into a colossus of power.”
Not only is there no evidence that the 19th century civil service drained any swamps or sprayed DDT within them, the swamps didn’t even exist. Those places were marshes, typical of river shorelines, and precisely the sort of setting people who call Washington “swampy” pay large sums of money to put their weekend condo next to or contribute to environmental groups to save elsewhere around the country.
These legends seem to be promulgated mainly by those who believe that Washington did’t amount to much until they got here. We also suspect that those from New York City are heavily to blame, having to find something derogatory about Washington once it got some bagel shops. Our position has always been that a city that has to brag about its bagels doesn’t have much going for it.
For the record, one way you tell a swamp from a marsh is that the former has trees as in Pogo’s Okeefenoke Swamp. There was nothing like that in DC. – The Review, 2/05
The neighborhood was called Swampoodle and the Irish who lived there apparently picked the name because they thought they were living in a swamp but the Irish didn’t have any swamps in the homeland and so can be forgiven. In fact, it was just a bit marshy around the Tiber Creek.
As Richard Layman has described it in the Voice of the Hill: “The area was first settled in the 1850s by immigrants fleeing the Irish potato famine. Sketches of Swampoodle in its earliest days show a collection of modest frame houses. There were stretches of common land where cows, goats, and horses were pastured, despite city prohibitions against roaming animals, and the pound master was not a welcome visitor to the neighborhood. Proximity to the B&O Railroad that ran nearby had advantages for new immigrants and low-skilled residents. Short-term, piecemeal work could be readily obtained from both the railroad and freight-related businesses in the area. . .
“Swampoodle developed a reputation as a rough neighborhood with harddrinking inhabitants, gangs of unruly boys, and an unsavory nightlife. Civil War soldiers were supposedly warned away from the gamblers and loose women who resided there. But John Clagget Proctor concludes that the area ‘was not as black as it was painted,’ as evidenced by the city leaders who grew up in Swampoodle.”
MATT SCHUDEL WASHINGTON POST – From the age of 5 until he was out of college, Washington was [Billy] Taylor’s home. His father was a dentist, his mother a teacher, and everyone in his extended family played music. A piano student by 7, he was especially taken with the jazz his Uncle Bob would play. “He introduced me to Fats Waller,” Taylor recalls, “and he introduced me to the music of Art Tatum. The first time I heard Tatum, I just couldn’t believe anyone could play that beautifully, that cleanly and with that much vigor. It was just an enormous way of playing the piano.”
At 13, Taylor played his first professional date at the Republic Gardens on U Street . . .
At Dunbar High School, he played saxophone and piano. His high school music teacher, Henry Grant, who had taught Duke Ellington 20 years earlier, lived across from the Taylor family on Fairmont Street NW and became something of a model for what Taylor would do on larger scale. . . Saxophonist and flutist Frank Wess, who was a year behind Taylor at Dunbar, often played with him in those early days. . . Wess recalls all-night jam sessions at an upstairs after-hours spot at Seventh and T called Freddy Woods’s Footlight Club. “All the windows were painted black,” he says, “so you wouldn’t know if it was day or night.”
MATT SCHUDEL WASHINGTON POST – We thought he could go on forever. For decades he has been the public face of jazz, the man with the high-beam smile and big, black-framed glasses who could speak in a tirelessly eloquent voice about the joy of jazz. And when Dr. Billy Taylor wasn’t talking about jazz, he was playing it, as a pianist who had shared the stage with almost everyone who has ever mattered in the long history of jazz.
If not exactly youthful — even as a kid, he was a model of professionalism and sober responsibility — Taylor seemed to resist the passing of time like the ageless standards he’s always loved to play. But in December 2001, he awoke one morning unable to blink. He has been working his way back ever since, recovering from the stroke that affected the right side of his body, including the right hand that once danced across the keys like Astaire.
Less than a year after he was stricken, Taylor was performing again, relying mostly on his mighty left hand. . . Today, he still speaks in his familiar torrent of words, his handshake is solid and, to judge from a few arpeggios and chords he played on an electronic keyboard in his room at the Watergate Hotel, much of the old dexterity in his right hand has returned. But at 83, he’s finally let the word “retirement” creep into his vocabulary. On Thursday at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, after 70 years on the bandstand, Billy Taylor is giving his farewell concert. 2/05
DC ART NEWS – Thomas, who lived most of her life (and taught art to children for many years) in DC, didn’t even have her first solo show until she was 68 years old, and still managed to fit in retrospectives at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and what was then called the National Museum of American Art, and then became the first African American woman to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC. She died in 1978, and many of the Thomas’ paintings in the Hirshhorn collection were gifted to the museum after her death.
In January and February 1950, Mary Church Terrell, a human rights activist in her late eighties; Rev. W. H. Jernigan, pastor of Mt. Carmel Church; Geneva Brown, treasurer of the United Cafeteria and Restaurant Workers Union; David Scull, member of the Society of Friends; Rev. Arthur Fletcher Elmes, pastor of the People’s Congregational Church; and Essie Thompson, United Cafeteria and Restaurant Workers Union went to the Thompson’s Restaurant, at 725-14th Street, NW, to eat. They were refused service. No surprise. In fact, they counted on it. They were all members of the Coordinating Committee For the Enforcement of the D.C. Anti-Discrimination Laws. The CCEAD was organized in 1949, spearheaded by Annie Stein, to bring to the attention of the public and city officials the local 1872 and 1873 laws that made discrimination in public places in Washington, D.C., illegal. The “lost laws,” as they were known, had been removed at the turn of the twentieth century, after Reconstruction ended and racism escalated in Washington, D.C. Once rediscovered in the 1940s, CCEAD sought to have the laws reinstated.
Joseph Forer and David Rein, National Lawyers Guild and CCEAD members who had an adjacent office at 711-14th Street, NW, filed the case. (Charles Hamilton Houston, whom Thurgood Marshall called “Mr. Civil Rights,” was one of the additional signers to the case.) After a loss in the Municipal Court, the case was taken to the Municipal Court of Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Thompson’s Restaurant case was in litigation for three years. Between 1950 and 1953, CCEAD members continued their direct action campaign, including picketing the Hecht Co., at 7th and F streets, NW, in 1951. On Monday 8 June 1953, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1872 and 1873 laws were still valid, declaring that segregation in public places was illegal. The Supreme Court decision was a major victory for the CCEAD and the city.
According to legend, an Indian village on the Virginia side of the Potomac was under siege by other tribes and had run out of food. The three sons of the chief went out fishing in the Potomac but were attacked and killed in full view of the village. Three young women who loved the brothers – all daughters of a shaman – decided to use their father’s powers against the enemy. They got on a raft to cross the river but the current was too strong and they were forced downstream. Confronting their failure, they shouted a curse saying no one could ever cross the river at this point again – and then leaped into the river to join their lovers. That night there was a wild storm and the next morning three large boulders appeared in the river where they had drowned.
The rocks became known as the Three Sisters. Police report that many have died at this location and old timers report hearing mournful cries during storms.
In 1972, a storm swept away the framework of a freeway bridge that was being built at this location over the strong objection of local activists who finally won their case in court. The Three Sisters Bridge was never finished, further evidence that the curse is still in effect.
[Source: City of Magnificent Intentions]
BEN SISARIO, NY TIMES Robert Reed, who played keyboards in Trouble Funk, one of the definitive groups of go-go music – a raucous, high-intensity dance style that flourished in the 1970s and early ’80s – died in Arlington, Va. He was 50 . . . The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his brother Taylor, who played trumpet in the band.
Go-go grew out of the dance clubs of Washington in the 1970s, when live bands competed with disco D.J.’s for gigs and dancers’ attention. As pioneered by Chuck Brown, the bands kept a taut, midtempo beat for marathon sets and threaded steady rhythms through the breaks between songs, so that dancers never had a chance to sit down.
Influenced by Sly Stone, the Ohio Players and other leading funk bands of the era, Trouble Funk had a playful, futuristic style that brought go-go closer to the rap sound . . . Mr. Reed, whose stage name was Syke Dyke, toyed with his keyboards to create flashy electronic noises that could resemble science-fiction sound effects. Tony Fisher, Mr. Reed’s childhood friend who was called Big Tony, played bass and acted as the “talker,” sing-speaking repetitive, call-and-response phrases to whip up both band (“Hey, fellas, do you want to take time out to get close to the ladies?”) and crowd (“Get on up!”).
Early on Trouble Funk was adopted by tastemaking D.J.’s like Afrika Bambaataa, who played its records alongside rap and electronic tracks. The group worked with ’80s rap stars like Kurtis Blow, and certain Trouble Funk songs have become among the most sampled sounds in hip-hop history, used by LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, Boogie Down Productions and Will Smith, among many others.
Trouble Funk’s first album, “Drop the Bomb,” was issued in 1982 on Sugar Hill Records, the New York label that dominated early hip-hop. Along with other groups like E.U. and Rare Essence, Trouble Funk outlasted disco, and for a time in the ’80s, go-go was poised to become a mainstream hit. The group toured the globe and was signed to Island Records, home of Bob Marley and U2.
TROUSER PRESS Trouble Funk belongs to Washington DC’s go-go scene. Go-go is a throwback to percussive, endless-groove funk that sacrifices structure, production and slickness for loose feeling and community involvement. The bands – basically fluid rhythm sections with a few added frills – do their thing while the musicians and audience yell a whole lot of nonsense (like “Let’s get small, y’all” or “Drop the bomb!”) The funk is solidly Southern, with a strong James Brown flavor and tons of sloppy percussion. In no other North American music does the cowbell play such a major role.
Chuck Brown, father of go-go, developed it from drum breakdowns which he used in clubs to link Top 40 covers. Not surprisingly, he found people were grooving more on these bridges than the songs. Go-go has grown concurrently (though not as popularly) with hip-hop, and offers a spirited group alternative to beatbox isolationism
AFRICAN ATLANTIC GENEOLOGICAL SOCIETY – In 1865, Sojourner was in court. . . . pressing assault charges against John C. Weeden, a conductor on the public horse-drawn streetcars, of Washington, DC. A precursor of Rosa Parks, Sojourner was the first to conduct a “ride- in.” It was during one of her attempts to ride a streetcar, in Washington, DC that the conductor, Mr. Weeden, “seized her with such violence as to injure her shoulder.” Confident that justice would prevail, Truth promptly sued him, and won. In all, she conducted six “ride-ins.” She usually rode alone, but on two occasions she was accompanied by white, female abolitionists; one was Laura Haviland, the other was Josephine Griffing. In one instance, a conductor told Sojourner to get off the car, or he would throw her off. To which she proudly and forcefully responded, that she was neither a Marylander nor a Virginian, but “from the Empire State of New York” and he could throw her off, if he dared. Two conductors were fired, for their mistreatment of her, and her persistence encouraged other African Americans to ride the streetcars, thereby leading to the demise of the “Jim Crow” cars in Washington.
[Washington’s streetcars remained among the few unsegregated public places in the city before the civil rights movement]
DC INDYMEDIA – In 1865, one year after visiting President Abraham Lincoln in the White House, Sojourner Truth worked to desegregate the horse car system in Washington, D.C. It was during one of her attempts to ride a horse drawn streetcar in Washington, DC that the conductor “seized her with such violence as to injure her shoulder.” Confident that justice would prevail, Truth promptly sued him, and won. In all, she conducted six “ride-ins.” She usually rode alone, but on two occasions she was accompanied by white, female abolitionists; one was Laura Haviland, the other was Josephine Griffing. In one instance, a conductor told Sojourner to get off the car, or he would throw her off. To which she proudly and forcefully responded, that she was neither a Marylander nor a Virginian, but “from the Empire State of New York” and he could throw her off, if he dared. Two conductors were fired, for their mistreatment of her, and her persistence encouraged other African Americans to ride the streetcars, thereby leading to the demise of the “Jim Crow” cars in Washington. Washington’s streetcars remained among the few unsegregated public places in the city before the civil rights movement.
IN 2006 ESQUIRE named Capitol Hill’s Tune Inn one of the Best Bars in America. . . THOSE DARK TREES: When I lived in Washington, DC, I was a regular – insofar as I could be during law school – at a bar known as the Tune Inn. The Tune Inn was a classic fifties era bar [with] walls covered in taxidermied animals, a jukebox that played both kinds of music (country and western. . . It was also one of the hangouts of the Marines from the I Street Barracks, the men and women responsible for a lot of the security at the Capitol and the White House. . . They were also inveterate scrappers, the sort of men who would, on a monthly basis, turn the Tune Inn into a den of violence that I found particularly amusing. Amidst the chaos of “jarheads” fighting, I would sit at the bar, chatting with the bartender (another New Jersey native, although, as a Mets fan, he was of questionable character), careful to make sure I didn’t spill one ounce of barley and hops. . . I once took a friend of mine, a sociologist working for the Federal Elections Commission, to the Tune Inn. He was a delicate fellow, a Fulbright Scholar and former NCAA fencer. . . The sociologist looked around the bar, at the “high-‘n’-tight” haircuts and steely eyes, and asked if I was trying to kill him. . . MARYANN HAGGERTY, WASHINGTON POST – There are eight mounted deer heads on the walls of the tiny Tune Inn — and, more important, two mounted deer butts. The butts are a lot more emblematic of this raucous neighborhood joint. . . An historical note: This is where James Carville and Mary Matalin went on their first date. They left quickly. . . AMERICAN SOCIETY OF NEWSPAPER EDITORS – A business copy editor said she consistently runs into people from the Post at the Tune Inn. . .
DAVID PITTS, USIA – One day, in the early 1930’s, a black woman of slight build and iron will, got mad. Her husband, Berthea Tucker, lost his job as a Pullman porter because of her role in organizing his railroad union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the nation’s first black union. She marched into his boss’s office, banged on the table, and commanded, “You put my husband back on his job, or I’ll be back.” Next day, her husband was back on the trains.
Not many women, especially black women, did things like that in the 1930’s. But Rosina Tucker was hardly ordinary. . . In 1982, after decades of laboring in anonymity, Tucker became a celebrity. At the age of 100, she narrated the award-winning, PBS documentary, “Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle.” The film chronicled the story of the Pullman porters’ struggle to form a union. . .
Tucker often recalled that in the early days, “we would have to act in secret because if the management found out, they would fire people. That’s why, in one sense, it was easier for the wives to do the work. That’s how I got involved.” She traveled widely, recruiting members for the union at railroad centers all over the country. She said that she, and the other organizers, were determined to change the conditions under which Pullman porters then worked — “long hours, low pay, and zero job security.”
“But it wasn’t only the pay and hours that were bad,” Tucker remembered. “Pullman porters were all black. They were called ‘George’ and could be fired just for not smiling frequently and not looking happy.”
Progress was slow, but in 1937 the effort paid off. The Pullman company recognized the union and signed an agreement, the first ever between a large U.S. corporation and a black union. In September 1938, the union wives established the International Ladies Auxiliary. Tucker became its first secretary-treasurer.
In those days, the efforts of the women were not always welcomed, even by their husbands. “The role of women in the struggle has not been appreciated until recently, because too often the efforts of women were discounted and not seen as important. It is hard even to document what the women did,” said Paul Wagoner, the producer of the television documentary on the Brotherhood.
The formation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was important historically not only for the railroad porters, but also for all African Americans, Wagoner added. “The union laid the foundation for the modern civil rights movement. The importance of the Brotherhood was that it proved blacks could organize, and it gave all black people hope. The civil rights movement (of the 1960’s) would probably have happened without the Brotherhood. But it would have been more difficult.” . . .
he knew many of the great civil rights leaders of our time, including A. Philip Randolph whom she remembers “as a determined, but quiet man,” Mary McLeod Bethune, “a great speaker, but not very personable,” and E.D. Nixon, “who deserves more credit than he gets for helping to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott.”
Rosina Tucker was born in 1882, on 4th Street in northwest Washington, less than two decades after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves. The daughter of former slaves who had nine children in all, she said her parents “never talked to us about their days as slaves. Very few former slaves talked about it. I overheard them talking to each other. But they didn’t discuss it with the children.”
One story Tucker overheard her father telling involved the meager amounts of food he was given as a slave, even on special occasions. “On Thanksgiving, he and the other slaves were not allowed to have any turkey, but they were allowed to chew on the string with which the turkey was tied,” she said. Tucker’s mother, however, fared better. “She worked in the master’s house and took the food she needed when nobody was looking.” . . .
Nevertheless, her memories of her childhood were “mostly happy.” Her father, who learned to play the organ, “passed on his love of music to us. I became a church organist at the age of 12.” . . .
In 1902, when Tucker was 20, blacks effectively were prevented from voting in Virginia, the state where her parents had been reared in slavery. For more than five decades until well into the mid-twentieth century, segregation would become a way of life throughout the former Confederacy.
Tucker remembers it “as a sobering experience. The new century brought crushing new burdens for us, instead of freedom and equality.” But she recalled that she felt insulated, to a degree, by her close-knit family and because she lived in Washington, where, even then, there was a sizable black population. “The block on which we lived was fully integrated — more so than today. While we didn’t run in and out of each other’s houses, there was a certain amount of respect between the races,” in the capital city, she said.
“But life got harder immediately you left Washington,” she remembered. “You could get on the streetcar in Washington, and they couldn’t ask you to move to a Jim Crow section. But once you got to Alexandria (in Virginia), they told you to go to a Jim Crow car.” . . .
RIGHT ON RHYTHM – For 18 years, Washington DC has been treated to the rich baritone voice of Nap “Don’t Forget the Blues” Turner on Pacifica Radio’s WPFW, 89.3 FM. An institution within the DC jazz and blues scene, Nap has been performing in the area for over 50 years. Nap moved to D.C. with his family from West Virginia in 1943 when he was 12 years old. Although he came from a family of shoemakers, he knew early on that it was music that would be his consuming passion. Sneaking out of the house so he could hang out around the clubs that featured bebop along 14th and U Streets, he was inspired to become a musician by the likes of Slam Stewart and Oscar Pettiford. At age 14, Nap built himself a home-made bass from a five gallon Pepsi cola syrup can, a five foot wood floorboard and a clothesline and started playing. He and his friends would go into the listening booth of one of the record shops along 7th and T Streets, to check out the latest hits, actually sticking a matchbook in the turntable to slow it down so they could hear each instrument’s part. Then they would hurry across the street to one of the clubs to practice what they heard. Still playing his homemade bass, Nap turned pro. As a young man in the 50’s, working and hanging around 7th and T, Nap jammed with the likes of Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons,and Webster Young. He also saw Percy Mayfield for the first time. But music quickly led Nap into the fast lane. Being hip, playing music, doing and dealing drugs, he was hooked on the hard stuff before he was out of his teens. No one, not even Charlie Parker, could convince Nap he was headed for trouble. When Nap met “Bird, ” he told him, “stay away from the drugs, they’re just no good.” In Nap’s words, “Back then, that was like water off of a ducks back.” . . . Back in D.C. in the early sixties, an arrest and conviction lead to three years of confinement at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and his first formal instruction in music. While hospitalized, Nap was allowed to work with the featured bassist of the National Symphony Orchestra as part of his treatment. . . While in jail, Nap often sang to himself what was later to become his signature song, Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love.” During the 60’s the call for acoustic bass players ebbed with the rise in popularity of the Hammond B3 Organ. Nap credits singer Mary Jefferson with encouraging him to come forward as a singer. Her words were something like, “you’ve got a good voice, use it. Oh and keep the f**** hat, you look good in it.”
MARC FISHER, WASHINGTON POST One night in 1953, Charlie Parker was playing the Club Kavakos at Eighth and H streets NE, and Turner and a Washington cabbie who served as Parker’s chauffeur in town tagged along. The doorman informed the legendary saxophonist that his black companions were not permitted to enter the segregated club. “Parker said, ‘If they can’t come, I don’t play,’ ” said Muhammad. “So they let Nap come in and sit close to the kitchen and listen to Bird.”
DC PRESERVATION LEAGUE – Most Endangered Places for 2002: Uline Arena (Washington Coliseum) Between 2nd & 3rd and L & M Streets, NE. It was built in 1941 and operated by Miguel L. “Uncle Mike” Uline for the Washington Lions of the Eastern Hockey League. The building would seat 9,000 people. This concrete vaulted building was the site of the Beatle’s first North American performance and also noted as the home of Go-Go music where noted local musicians such as Chuck Brown, Trouble Funk and Rare Essence performed. Political rallies and speeches were a tradition in the Arena including a rally staged by Fight for Freedom, Inc. in support of the US involvement in WWII a month before Pearl Harbor and a speech by Nation of Islam Founder Elijah Muhammad in 1959. Since its construction in 1941, the arena, later known as the Washington Coliseum, has been a place for figure skating, jazz, wrestling, ballet, basketball, Washington’s Go-Go music style, midget auto racing, rock, hockey, karate, politics, tennis, boxing, and Indian ragas.
MIKE LIVINGSTON, WASHINGTON BUSINESS JOURNAL, 2001 – At first, Uline sold tickets only to white patrons — except for boxing matches. A 1943 editorial in the Washington Tribune called for a boycott of a school athletic fair at the arena: “If Mr. Griffith [proprietor of the Redskins’ and Senators’ home stadium] “will not permit colored to play against white teams, at least he does permit them to sit where their money entitles them, whereas Mr. Uline will not permit them to sit anywhere at the ice shows. He denies Negroes admission completely.” The arena remained segregated until January 1948, despite pickets and boycotts. . . Ironically, Uline once suspended his official racism because a rival venue wouldn’t suspend its own. Just a few weeks after the Uline Ice Arena opened, Paul Robeson was scheduled to perform in April 1941 at Constitution Hall during a benefit for the Washington Committee for Aid to China. But the Daughters of the American Revolution canceled the event. However, Cornelia Pinchot, wife of Gifford Pinchot, who served as chief forester for President Theodore Roosevelt, negotiated a deal with Uline. She told the Washington Tribune, “not only will colored people be welcome at the concert but there will be no discrimination in the seating arrangement.” The segregated venue did launch the career of the first National Basketball Association coach to work with African-American players. . . Red Auerbach
The political arena Racial politics returned to the arena in 1959, when Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad gave a speech to a crowd he estimated at “well over 10,000.” The seating capacity for the floor was around 9,000. Muhammad told his followers: “Never in the history of human evil have so many asked for a just pittance, so loud, so long and received in return so little, if anything at all. … You have not received justice from any quarter. As prophesied, you, my fellow black men, are as sheep among wolves… .”
In September 1944, the War Hospitality Committee set up 572 cots on the floor to provide affordable lodgings — 50 cents a night — for soldiers passing through Washington. . . In May 1971, the arena was used as a holding cell for many of the 12,000 people arrested during protests of the Vietnam War. . . The Woody Herman Orchestra and the Ink Spots played there during World War II. Charlie Parker and a 10-piece band split a $1,200 fee as headliners in 1951. Later, Ravi Shankar, the Rolling Stones and even the Scots Guards bagpipers made the arena the D.C. stop on their tours. . . Bob Dylan played the Uline Arena in 1967, and a photo from the concert appeared the following year on the cover of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits. . .
Rock concerts at the arena were banned later in 1967 after a riot broke out at a Temptations concert. Five people were injured, six were arrested, and “roaming bands of youth broke 33 windows in nine stores, four car windows, and one window in the Coliseum,” according to the Washington Afro-American.
CHARLES GLENDENNING – When I was 12 years old, my parents took me to the old Uline Arena in an area of Washington, D.C. that now looks like the streets of Srebrenica – post ethnic cleansing. Sol Hurok had brought the Royal Marines and the Highland Fusiliers to town. I sat in slack-jawed awe in the spot lit darkness of that arena and watched commandos rappel from the ceiling, James Bond’s Aston Martin firing blanks from the front grille while doing donuts in the center of the arena and the pomp and flash of Her Majesty’s Own Royal Marine brass band.
Union Station – Opened on October 27, 1907 and completed in 1908, Union Station is considered to be one of the finest examples of the Beaux-Arts style of architecture. Architect Daniel Burnham designed the bulding. . .
At the time it was built, the station covered more ground than any other building in the United States and was the largest train station in the world. The total area occupied by the station and the terminal zone was originally about 200 acres and included 75 miles of tracks. In fact, if put on its side, the Washington Monument could lay within the confines of the Station’s concourse.
Seventy pounds of 22-karat gold leaf adorned the 96-foot barrel-vaulted, coffered ceilings. The cost was monumental as well – $125 million for the station and its approaches.
At various times it employed a staff of over 5,000 people and provided such amenities as a bowling alley, mortuary, baker, butcher, YMCA, hotel, ice house, liquor store, Turkish baths, first-class restaurant, nursery, police station and a silver-monogramming shop.
As train travel was the mode of transportation for even U.S. Presidents in the early 1900s, a presidential suite was added to Union Station (now B. Smith’s Restaurant). Over the years many dignitaries were officially welcomed here. The last president to use the presidential suite was President Eisenhower. . .
The advent of air travel led to a decline in railroad passengers, and Union Station began to fall into disuse. In 1968, in anticipation of the Bicentennial, the decision was made to transform the Station into the National Visitor Center. The ill-fated project opened in 1976 but failed to draw sufficient crowds to sustain its operation, and was closed in 1978.
Following three years of renovation at a cost of $160 million, Union Station reopened on September 29, 1988. In addition to over 130 unique shops and restaurants, Union Station is the hub for Amtrak’s headquarters and executive offices.
Today, Union Station is still the most visited destination in the nation’s Capitol with over 32 million visitors a year.
Joe Korner Net – On the night of January 14, 1953, Train #173, T, left Boston on time for its scheduled arrival at Washington Union Station, 459 miles and 9-1/2 hours away. This was one of many trains bringing people to Washington for Eisenhower’s first inauguration.
A minor brake problem was corrected after the scheduled station stop at Providence, RI. . .
The train was about 56 minutes late due to the inspections, but the engineer made up about 11 minutes on the run into New Haven. There, the diesel engines were changed for electrics and the trainline brakes again checked. Everything seemed in order. . .
The train arrived at Pennsylvania Station, New York only 38 minutes late. The brakes had been used 14 times between New Haven and New York with no recurring trouble.
At Pennsylvania Station, GG-1 class electric locomotive #4876 replaced the New Haven electric for the remaining trip to Washington. The new engineer was Harry W. Bower, who was not told the reason the train was late, but did make the prescribed terminal brakes checks before moving the train.
The Federal made stops at Philadelphia and Wilmington with a total of 14 more brake applications with no problems. . . After clearing the Baltimore Yard Limits, Engineer Bower notched the controller up to 80 MPH for the run into Washington. He had no reason to apply the brakes until the train reached signal #1339 about 2 miles from Union Station.
Bower shut the controller and applied a 17 pound brake this should have slowed the train considerably, but did not. He then realized that the train could not be stopped in time. He dropped sand and put the brakes into emergency. This should have brought the train to a jarring halt, but did not.
All of the members of the operating crew realized the train was in trouble, but could do nothing about it. Bower stayed at his post and held the horn valve open to warn everyone away from track 16, where the Federal was due to stop.
Bower knew that the engine brakes and maybe those on the first car had applied, but the other 15 cars were pushing them.
The train director at K Tower at the entrance to Union Station called the station master and said “There’s a runaway coming at you on track 16 – get the hell outa there!” The train smashed through the station master’s office behind the end of track 16. . .
The clock in the Station Master’s office stopped at 8:38AM – the FEDERAL was only 18 minutes late.
Because of the quick action of a few railroaders and a little luck, no one was killed and only 87 were injured. Property damage was estimated at $1 million.
By 7:00 AM the next day all of the cars were removed from the station, leaving only #4876 in the baggage room. A temporary floor was built over the engine and the station was open as usual within 72 hours of the accident.
After the inauguration, #4876 was cut into a number of pieces and shipped to the Pennsylvania’s engine shop in Altoona, Pa. and was rebuilt and placed back into service.
The seeds of higher education for the District were planted in 1851 when Myrtilla Miner founded a school for colored girls. In 1879, Miner Normal School became a part of the public school system. Similarly, Washington Normal School, established in 1873, as a school for white girls, was renamed Wilson Normal School in 1913. In 1929, by an act of Congress, both schools became four- year teachers colleges, Miner Teachers College and Wilson Teachers College, and the only institutions of public higher education in the city.
Years later, after the long awaited Supreme Court desegregation decision, the two colleges united in 1955 to form the District of Columbia Teachers College. However, for many residents who did not wish to become teachers or who were both black and poor, the opportunity for advanced technical training or study for liberal arts degree was an unattainable goal. Years of persistent lobbying for comprehensive public higher education by District residents and others caused President John F. Kennedy, in 1963, to appoint a commission to study the Districts needs. The commission’s report stimulated congressional action. Under the leadership of Senate Wayne Morse and Congressman Ancher Nelson, two schools were established; Federal City College and Washington Technical Institute.
There were so many applications for admission to Federal City College that students were selected by lottery. The Washington Technical Institute received its accreditation in 1971 and Federal City College in 1974. In 1969, the District of Columbia Teachers College, the city’s oldest teacher training institution, was placed under the jurisdiction of the Board of Higher Education. In 1974, the Board established a joint administrative support system and placed the District of Columbia Teachers College and Federal City College under a single president. After Congress granted limited home rule to the District of Columbia, a new law provided for the consolidation of the three schools in 1975. [UDC]
BY 1974, however, the increasingly political leadership of the city began pressing for the presumed prestige of a university rather than a mere college and so FCC, Washington Technical Institute and Washington Teachers’ College were combined into the University of DC. But big state universities seek out politically connected fund raisers rather than educators as leaders and the early spirit of FCC disappeared as a succession of presidents fumbled with the new creation. The university really suffered in the 1990s, after the federal takeover of the city. A third of the faculty was cut, enrollment drastically reduced, 56 degree programs eliminated and the university’s radio station sold in a sweetheart deal to CSPAN.
THE FIRST BLACK YMCA
WASHINGTON’S SECRET CITY
In the wake of the Civil War, the area north of downtown experienced a building boom. Originally occupied by both whites and blacks, with Jim Crow and the coming of the streetcar, whites increasingly moved beyond the center city and blacks increasingly found themselves isolated. Until the modern civil rights movement and desegregation, this African-American community was shut out without a vote, without economic power, without access, and without any real hope that any of this would change.
Its response was remarkable. For example, in 1886 there were only about 15 black businesses in the area. By 1920, with segregation in full fury, there were more than 300. Every aspect of the community followed suit. Among the institutions created within these few square miles was a building and loan association, a savings bank, the only good hotel in the Washington where blacks could stay, the first full-service black YMCA in the country, the Howard Theater (opened with black capital twenty years before Harlem’s Apollo was converted to black performances) and two first rate movie palaces. Pearl Baily called U Street the “Black Broadway.”
There were the Odd Fellows, the True Reformers, and the Prince Hall Lodge. There were churches and religious organizations, a summer camp, a photography club that produced a number of professional photographers, an indoor swimming pool, settlement houses, and the Washington Urban League.
Denied access to white schools, the community created a self-sufficient educational system good enough to attract suburban African-Americans students as well as teachers from all over the country. Jazz musician Billy Taylor recalls five teachers at Dunbar High School who had doctorates. And just to the north, Howard University became the intellectual center of black America. At the movies or on the street, you might have run into Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, or Duke Ellington, all of whom made the U Street area their home before moving to New York. Locke once wrote an article declaring Washington to be “Negro heaven.”
This was a proud community. “We had everything we needed,” recalls one older resident. “And we felt good about it. Our churches, our schools, banks, department stores, food stores. And we did very well.”
The community shared responsibility for its children. One of the most familiar stories went like this: “There was no family my family didn’t know or that didn’t know me. I couldn’t go three blocks without people knowing exactly where I had been and everything I did on the way. It wasn’t just the schools. We learned from everyone. We learned as much from Aunt So-and-So down the street, who was not even related to us.”
Then came what city councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, daughter of Dr. Charles Drew, called the “paradox of integration.” New choices opened for the residents of Uptown and as residents moved to take advantage of them the neighborhood went into decline. The riots of 1968, which began in here, hastened the disintegration until, recalls Virginia Ali, her restaurant, Ben’s Chili Bowl, supplied about the only light to the street at night. In recent years, this has changed dramatically and U Street is once again one of the hippest places in town.
Washington Post, 2009 – The Washington Blade, the weekly newspaper that chronicled the coming-out of the capital’s gay community, was born amid the idealism of 1960s street protests. Monday, the paper died, victim of the unforgiving realities of the nation’s sagging newspaper industry. . . .
Last month, the Blade celebrated its 40th anniversary at a swanky downtown Washington party. The paper’s nearly two-dozen employees arrived at their downtown offices Monday to start a new work week, only to be ordered to clear out their desks by mid-afternoon.
Steven Myers, co-president of the paper’s owner, Atlanta-based Window Media, said the company also ceased operations at its other gay-oriented publications, which include the Southern Voice newspaper and David magazine in Atlanta, and the South Florida Blade and 411 magazine in Florida. . .
“It’s a shock. I’m almost speechless, really,” said Lou Chibbaro Jr., a Blade reporter who has written for the newspaper since 1976, covering the full arc of the country’s gay-rights movement, from early marches through the rise of AIDS and on to the latest battles over legalizing same-sex marriage.
The Blade, born in an era when most gays lived in the closet, grew in size and stature as Washington’s gay population blossomed and became more politically active and influential. Chibbaro, who wrote his first front-page story for the Blade under a pseudonym at a time when publicly stating one’s sexual orientation could be dangerous, felt the change in dramatic fashion this year, when, while covering a presidential news conference on health-care policy, he was directed to a seat in the front row.
The Blade’s closing comes at a moment of extraordinary optimism for many gays in Washington. The big story Chibbaro and the paper’s other writers have been covering is the bill supported by nearly all of the D.C. Council’s members that would legalize same-sex marriage in the city. . .
This week’s edition of the free weekly, which had a circulation of 23,000, won’t be published. The Blade’s Web site, which reported about 250,000 visitors a month, went dark Monday morning.
NATIONAL TRUST – In 1806, the first public hospital in Washington was established in a square between 6th and 7th Streets, and M and N Streets, NW. Called Washington Infirmary, it provided for “the poor, disabled, and infirm persons.” In 1842, Congress authorized the conversion of the old jail in the Judiciary Square into a hospital for disabled seamen and soldiers and the insane. Two years later, however, Congress decided that the building was not suitable for that purpose and assigned it to the medical faculty of Columbian College (later became George Washington University). Also named Washington Infirmary, this hospital became the city’s first teaching hospital as well as the city’s first general hospital. At the beginning of the Civil War, Washington Infirmary was taken over by the military, and it received the first war casualties in May 1861. But the facility burned to the ground in November 1861 and was later replaced by the Judiciary Square Hospital
SAM SMITH – OF ALL THE POLITICIANS with whom I have disagreed, Walter Washington was among my favorites. I was not alone. Walter could walk into a room in which two-thirds of the people were angry about something and before leaving he would have reversed the odds. He once told me that he thought he and I wanted the same things but had just gone about it different ways.
Walter was part of a generation of black Washingtonians who had created a community filled with the grace, decency, and honor so lacking in the one from which they were excluded. In Walter Washington’s case this was reflected in charm that left him with few serious enemies but also courage, as when he told J. Edgar Hoover that, no, he would not shoot looters during the 1968 riots. It was apparent as well in the sort of integrity that tipped me to the possibility that he might not win reelection. Coming out of the crowded basement hall at the Washington Hotel where the mayor had launched his campaign, I noticed a row of double-parked expensive cars, many with his bumper sticker. . . and each with a parking ticket.
Later in that campaign – in which Washington was challenged by Sterling Tucker and Marion Barry – I ran into at a community event. “I want you know, Walter, that I’m telling people that if they can’t vote for Marion, they should vote for you,” I told the mayor. He responded, “I know you are, Sam. I don’t mind taking seconds.” I would never hear a politician ever say anything close to that again.
VOICE OF THE HILL – The Division boasts more than 25,000 books and other printed materials ranging from a relatively new acquisition, “Deaf Girls Rule,” a photographic essay of the 1999 champion Gallaudet University women’s basketball team to a rare antique book from 1866, “The Etiquette of Washington,” to several crudely bound self-published books by local authors. Washingtoniana’s rich and comprehensive archives are well known among the community of Washington historians, but the general public maybe unaware of the collection’s impressive scope. . . The Division’s extensive collection of maps dates back to 1887 and gives researchers a glimpse into the origins of their homes and neighborhoods. The building smells a lot older than its 31 years. The lack of climate control and musty odor aside, the library offers a gem on the third floor. Visitors should bypass the one working elevator, which is unnervingly slow, and dash up the stairs where history awaits them.
MARC FISHER, WASHINGTON POST – Jazz 90 was a radio rarity, a place where deejays chose their own music, where personal taste meant more than audience testing, where you didn’t need a perfect voice to be an announcer, just an infectious love for the music. “People built their collections based on what I played,” said Whitmore John, who kept nightbirds company on his midnight-to-6 shift for 11 years. “Students at Howard University would call me at 2 a.m. and talk about the music they were transcribing for the university band.”. . . Even as the Federal Communications Commission approved the sale this week, FCC Chairman Reed Hundt worried that the loss of Jazz 90 — in the most expensive transaction ever for a public station — could presage a dramatic reduction in the number of public radio stations around the country.
WASH POST, 2007 – Jake Einstein, a colorful radio innovator who launched the Washington area’s first alternative rock station, WHFS-FM, which left a lasting mark on the region’s music scene in the 1970s and 1980s, died Sept. 12 at his home in Potomac from emphysema and complications from an aneurysm. He was 90. . . In 1971, WHFS — then broadcasting at 102.3 FM — became Washington’s first 24-hour rock station and quickly blossomed into a cultural force. Mr. Einstein gave his young DJs freedom to broadcast whatever they wanted, and for the next 12 years WHFS was at the center of Washington’s progressive music scene, attracting a loyal following of students, musicians and young urbanites. It was the first local station to play such bands as REM, U2, Simple Minds, Depeche Mode and the Cure. It furthered the careers of then-undiscovered stars Bruce Springsteen, George Thorogood and Emmylou Harris, who sometimes showed up at the studio. WHFS played the records of many local groups as well, including Tru Fax & the Insaniacs, the Bad Brains and Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band. . . The station’s rock-and-roll DJs — who included Mr. Einstein’s sons David and Damian as well as Tom Grooms, Adele Abrams and Josh, Cerphe and Weasel — became known for their shrewd and esoteric musical selections drawn from the station’s 20,000-volume record library. They explored the byways of rock, blues, jazz, reggae and even classical music but seldom included tunes from the Top 40.
In 1960, Georgetown University received the broadcast license for FM frequency 90.1; it was one of the first on the FM signal granted by the Federal Communications Commission in the D.C. area. Throughout the ’60s, from the basement of Copley Hall, the station broadcasted on a five-mile radius and played regular religious programs and top-40 music. By 1970 however, the focus of the station had radically shifted to left-wing politics and music, blasting the Nixon administration instead of broadcasting Masses and pumping Frank Zappa instead of Tony Bennett. This alteration in programming gained a large following in the D.C. area especially in the Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle areas. But the staff’s rampant drug use and on-air language caused considerable tension between the administration and the station. The rift grew larger in 1974 when the station hired out space on American University’s radio tower, increasing its wattage to 6,000 and widening it’s broadcasting radius to 50 miles, all without toning down the content. Although the station was temporarily shut down twice in the ’70s, it was not put out of commission until 1979 when then-University President Timothy Healy, S.J. washed his hands of the station and donated Georgetown’s tower and broadcasting license to the newly established University of the District of Columbia for $1. UDC eventually sold that license in 1997 to C-SPAN Radio for $13 million.
DON ROUSE – In the 50s, Whelan led the band at one of the most popular jazz venues in DC, the Bayou. “Wild Bill” Whelan and his Dixie Six were locally famous and packed the place nightly. . .
In the 1940s Whelan was one of a group of kids at Western High (now Duke Ellington School of the Arts) in DC who turned to playing jazz. Fellow students who went on to play locally were Wally Garner, Charlie Howze, Larry Eanet, Jimmy Hamilton, Walt Coombs, Walt Gifford, and more. They wereready jamming in the band practice rooms at Western.
Whelan’s first long term successful venue was at the Charles Hotel (Willis Conover emceed). The Charles proved to be a venue so popular that the band outgrew it, leading Whelan to gravitate to the cavernous ancient warehouse on the Georgetown waterfront that eventually bore the name “The Bayou” (its name and ownership got changed after a murder there). . .
One night at the Charles, Bill recalled, a pianist sat down and played during intermission. Ever gregarious, Bill went over to him and said, “You know, you sound good. Keep it up, and I think you’ll make it.” Shortly after, Duke Ellington, the pianist, was introduced to the audience. Later Duke went over to Bill, smiled, and said, “So, do you really think I’ll make it?”.
Architect John Wiebenson died the way he lived – helping somebody and fixing something. He had gone to Martha’s Table to check out a fumed filled space below an old auto garage planned as part of the organization’s expansion. The fire department said later that only 16% of the air down there was oxygen, not enough to keep someone alive. In fact, for several hours the only people who went in wore gas masks and hazmat clothing.
But Wiebenson was not easy to dissuade once he decided something needed to be done. And he had imported to this capital of risk aversion some of the casual affection for adventure of the Colorado in which he had been raised. Wieb, as everyone called him, simply did what he thought had to be done.
Which is one reason there was housing for Resurrection City in the 1960s and the Old Post Office is still on Pennsylvania Avenue and some of the niftiest maps of DC were published and Bread for the City got a new headquarters.
Wieb was also one that tiny party of architects who really understand that buildings are meant to serve people and not the other way around. He also understood that one of the ways this happened was with spaces that made you happy. Joanne Leonard wrote in the Washington Post, “With cutout paper letters stuck to the window of his Connecticut Avenue office, John Wiebenson identifies himself and his partner, Kendall Dorman, as ‘basic’ architects.”
I knew that office well because for 23 years I was a subtenant in a back room at ridiculously low rent. It was a complicated arrangement because while I was Wieb’s tenant, he was my cartoonist, and I had the only fax machine on the floor. And the only bathroom. Wieb created for the DC Gazette (now the Progressive Review) the first urban planning comic strip in the country, Archihorse, a subtle blend of his professional and geographic background.
One of the things I noticed along the way was how comfortable Wieb was with something that either bores or baffles some architects – the details of making your dreams actually function. There was just no conflict in Wieb’s mind between imagination and results. It had to be different and it had to work.
His house was right around the corner on S Street where he lived with Abigail – his wife, anchor to windward, enthusiast, calmer down, brightener up, and head of Lowell School – plus three sons striving to outdo their father in independence, competence, and humor. They lived in an anarchistic mélange of styles, but mostly in a place that, while lacking the look, still somehow had the feel of a western cabin that you had just entered after a long ride in the snow.
It was there that Wieb had presided over Wild Man Nights, Friday meals at which he and his young sons would prepare and eat a meal without any utensils or normal table manners, picking up steaks in their hands and smashing baked potatoes with their fists while reading and discussing the latest comic books. Like most of what Wieb did or built, Wild Man Nights had several primary characteristics: they were different, they were fun, and they worked.
What you have read here over the years has been deeply affected by my proximity to this remarkable man who loved freedom and common sense and helped me to cling on to them. I hope I can still do it without his encouragement and laughter. – SAM SMITH, OCT 2003
Sam Smith, 2008 – One of the Wilson Building’s more honorable moments in its one hundred years currently being celebrated was the time in the late 1980s it was used as an emergency homeless shelter.
Tom Sherwood, then with the Post, described the situation in 1988:
When D.C. officials temporarily opened the District Building to the homeless during last week’s bitter cold weather, the compassionate move made national news. Mayor Marion Barry stood before television cameras last Tuesday and said, ‘While it’s cold, a warm building is better than a grate.’
Behind the scenes, however, the move came close to creating a public relations nightmare because city officials, citing logistical problems, later told advocates for the homeless that the building would be open only one night.
Advocate for the homeless Mitch Snyder threatened promptly to ‘march on the District Building’ in protest the next day, according to one city official. Barry then ordered aides to keep the building open two more nights-long enough to indicate that the symbolic move to help the homeless was also meaningful. . .
Aides to the mayor confirmed yesterday that some officials were concerned that the crowd of homeless people-about 50 to 60 each night-had created access problems for the officials who use the building. The District Building houses the mayor’s office, the D.C. Council and other high-level city offices.
“There were some concerns raised about the continued use of the building,” said John C. White, the mayor’s press secretary, “but the mayor overrode that because the mayor thought it was important . . . that the homeless were afforded shelter at the seat of government.”. . .
Homeless persons and families who cannot get into the city’s regular shelters, which often are full, are being taken to the Randall School at First and I streets SW, a converted school building used for government offices that can accommodate up to 200 persons, Streeter said. A bus has been stationed outside the District Building from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m. each night to take homeless people to other shelters.
Barry opened the public buildings to the homeless after the council enacted emergency legislation introduced by Council Chairman David A. Clarke, who had proposed that the city use the expansive D.C. Armory near RFK Stadium. Although Barry and his aides had initially been critical of Clarke’s idea, they moved quickly to have the mayor sign the bill and then take credit for opening up the city’s principal public building.
I can’t recall how many nights the District Building was used, but I do remember the stunning sight of the long first floor corridor off of 13 1/2 Street filled with bunks that were set up late in the day and removed the next morning. It wasn’t enough, but one can’t imagine Fenty or the current council doing anything remotely similar.
The beds came back the next winter and that was the end of it, as reported by the Post on Christmas Day, 1989:
The District Building will no longer be used as a women’s shelter, the result of a Superior Court judge’s order last week, city officials said. The building, which had been used to provide beds for 54 women, was closed as a shelter beginning last night.
Sue Marshall, the mayor’s coordinator for homeless services, said the women will be moved to the Crummel School shelter in Northeast Washington. She said the trailers at Crummel meet the standards of an eight-month-old court order decreeing that the District improve conditions in its shelters. Last Thursday, Superior Court Judge Harriet R. Taylor ruled that the city has ignored the order and should be fined $30,000 a day, beginning tomorrow.
Sam Smith, Mutlitudes – Before long, I knew Washington and its environs like a cab driver and could quickly compute such arcane calculations as the shortest route from the White House to a six alarm fire in Upper Marlboro. I also knew every press room in town.
My favorite was at the District Building, which one entered through swinging doors reminiscent of a frontier bar. Inside were three desks, a center table and a worn-out sofa. The stuffing was coming out of the sofa and the covering was greasy and black from years of resting heads. After Watergate, a sign was posted above the press room sofa. It read, “Carl Bernstein slept here.”
The desks belonged to the three dailies. The Post and the Star desk were manned by men who looked much like other Washington journalists. Their suits were due two weeks ago at the cleaners, cuffs worn and pockets pulled out of shape by too many stenographer’s notebooks and too many news releases stuffed into them. The Daily News reporter had spent his morning and early afternoons in the District Building for more years than anyone including the gray-haired elevator operator at the end of the long hall could remember. Nothing frightened, surprised, upset or bewildered this man. Like a vintage bar room piano player, there were no new tunes in life. And if there were, he could fake them.
Much of the time the News man played solitaire. When his companions weren’t busy he would silently amble over to the center table, clear away the scrap paper and news releases and deal three hands.
The pale green walls had accumulated a half century of miscellany, written with bold copy pencils and fine pens, in illegible script and distinct printing. There were quotations from city officials of things they wished they hadn’t said. Clichés, malapropisms and by the telephone there were numbers running in every direction. Sometimes the numbers had a name beside them but most often there was nothing but the exchange and the digits. Not even the News man could have told you what more than a half dozen of them signified. They were the grave markers of stories long dead.
WOODWARD & LOTHROP
Washington Post – It was the total experience of being in a large urban department store — the impressive main aisle that ran from the G Street entrance to the F Street entrance. I remember the always crowded area by the row of elevators, the very cool Down Under section that connected the two buildings when Metro came to town in 1976; the stamp and coin department and the large, luminous chandeliers above the endless perfume, makeup and jewelry areas on the first floor.
One Saturday a month, my mom, sister and I would go in from our house in Silver Spring and meet my aunt for a fabulous lunch in the full-service restaurant upstairs in the South building. I remember the potato skin appetizer, the French onion soup, the Reuben sandwich and the glorious hot fudge sundae we were allowed for dessert. On special occasions, my grandmother would treat us to the special chocolate fudge cake only available at Woodies.
It wasn’t just the food. It was everything about this grand department store. I spent hours in the book section in the North building. It had a portrait studio, where the three of us kids went to have a surprise portrait taken for my parents’ anniversary present. It had great clothes and reasonable prices; a whole sewing and fabric section; a food and bakery section; and a cool toy department.
At Christmastime, to stand on the steps looking down at the G Street entrance and see the beautifully decorated store was breathtaking. It was always a treat to see the windows decorated with puppets and all the holiday trimmings. When we were very young, my brother, sister and I would shop in Santa’s Secret Shop to purchase the finest Christmas presents a dollar or two could buy us. For my family and me, Woodward and Lothrop is at the center of our memories of our downtown experience. — Michelle Brennan, Ellicott City
Washington Post – WPFW is the fifth station of Pacifica Radio, a progressive network founded in 1949 by maverick broadcaster Lewis Hill. WPFW began in 1977, in a very modest facility – a single room, divided into four segments. WPFW’s Blues man Nap Turner recalls the day he first came to the station. He was surprised to find that such a “big sound” was coming out of a corner where the turntables rested on crates.
From the beginning, WPFW has been the voice for alternative programming in the Washington metropolitan area. Since its inception, volunteerism has been at the heart of WPFW. Our own Von Martin, a volunteer, was the first voice to sign the station on a quarter of a century ago. Von began his first broadcast with Duke Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” and we’ve been the “Jazz Messenger” ever since.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the Yenching Palace was one of the meeting sites of the personal intermediary of President John F. Kennedy and the Emissary of the Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev. It was at the last of these meetings held at the Yenching Palace that final terms were agreed upon which ended the crisis and avoided war. The ABC television hour-long documentary, “The Cuban Crisis,” was filmed and narrated by reporter John Scali (later ambassador to the UN) at the Yenching Palace. Then, in 1971, when President Nixon initiated rapprochement discussions between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, the Yenching Palace was chosen for diplomatic and social exchanges between Secretary of State Kissinger and representatives of the Chinese delegation
MATT SCHUDEL, WASHINGTON POST – For almost 40 years, [Harry P] Zitelman owned and operated Bassin’s with his brother and sister, transforming it from a delicatessen serving sandwiches and hot dogs to a seven-room restaurant that became a Washington institution. As the colorful frontman, Mr. Zitelman presided over a varied clientele of politicians, journalists, government workers and actors from nearby theaters. The sprawling restaurant complex, which had four entrances, curved around the corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW and was within two blocks of the White House, the District Building, three newspaper offices and the National Press Club. . . Bassin’s didn’t offer the most challenging cuisine — corned beef sandwiches remained a staple throughout its 37-year reign — but it had a certain bustling panache, much of it supplied by Mr. Zitelman’s open-armed presence.
In 1959, he launched a determined effort to get sidewalk cafes approved by a skeptical D.C. government. Naysayers said that food served al fresco would be contaminated by grime and attract vermin. But, after more than two years, Mr. Zitelman won his victory. When he opened his sidewalk cafe Aug. 8, 1961, Washington instantly acquired a more sophisticated air, as more than 500 would-be boulevardiers crowded Bassin’s outdoor tables.
A year later, Mr. Zitelman persuaded the city’s alcohol control board to relax its Depression-era laws prohibiting the drinking of “any alcoholic beverage in any city street.”