Friday, July 07, 2017

Washington D.C. My Hometown -The Musical

Once upon a time not so very long ago, John Landers, a song collector was wandering the land of Google when he tumbled across this blog and sent the above picture. He wondered if I was hip to the swinging version of "Washington, DC.  My Hometown."


Yes, D.C., there is a song. Made for our area radio station WWDC to be exact.

Back in the early 1960s, the mad men of the Production Advertising Merchandising Service came up with the bright idea of making customized "My Hometown" songs for local radio stations. The musical format for each town is basically the same with local attractions plugged into the lyrics.

"The Red Sox and Celtics have both brought Boston fame.
Drive on in on Route Number Nine, you'll be glad you came."

Terry Lee Jenkins seems to have done all the vocals, and I swear to god the band could be our own Hula Monsters, but these ditties were produced long before their time. Thanks to Youtube you can hear the ones made for PAMS BirminghamWCAO Baltimore,  WPLO AtlantaKXOL Fort Worth, Chattanooga, and WCOP Boston.

Sadly Washington's version seems to be lost in the mists of time. I contacted WWDC, but had no luck with their archives. Please let us know if you have the digital or the vinyl. Otherwise we'll have to make up our own words....

Monday, April 03, 2017

Take Me Out

It might be Opening Day 2017, but in 1929 my mother and her little brother Roger lived in the Broadmoor on Connecticut Avenue. Their parents were the building's first managers, and that brought unexpected perks. The first floor had a beauty shop, and a big dining room. My mother had never had sherbet, and it wasn't served as dessert, but between courses. She was down with that. Then there was a private little school bus to take the kids to John Eaton. And sometimes free passes for movies at the Avalon. But best of all, my mother remembers a lot of Senators. Not so much politicians, but real live baseball players. In the house! The whole family got to go to games at Griffith Stadium. (By the way that dude in the tie is her grandfather, John Bailey, who was born in 1868.)

I grew up trooping up to Baltimore for games since DC lost its team in 1971. I still have a warm spot for the "O's," and miss Memorial Stadium where Earl Weaver tended his tomato plants when he wasn't coaching the team. And it was affordable. If memory serves me, I think it was a dollar for a bag of peanuts on the way in and five for a bleacher seat.  WHAT? Even I can't believe it. Things have come full circle now with a team back in town and a new ball park on the Anacostia.  Last year my son was lucky enough to land Nats tickets from a friend and rode his bike to the game. but, boy, got to save up for that hotdog.

Go Nats.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Ghost of Christmas Past

Every year I think this is it. This is the year I will actually do it. Sit down and write those pesky Christmas cards. I save the return address labels. I have a box of blank cards, but I never seem to get past perusing the previous year's mail. Poignantly,  I just found a card from Billie Stathes, my father's oldest friend who died about a month ago. They met around 1922 when she was five, and he was six.

Billie at five

Billie lived at 1832 8th Street NW with her parents James and Cleopatra Stathes, her baby brother John and her Uncle George. She called her neighborhood "the village," and her world was anchored by her favorite place, the Carnegie Library. She remembered four gas stations, a variety of shops and the original St Sophia's Greek Orthodox Church. Billie could also recall the days when the congregation rented space from the Adas Israel Synagogue on 6th and G. This is where she met my father - a zany little boy who loved playing the clown.

Billie and George were lifelong friends; both lived to see ninety and beyond in good health. Even when Billie moved to Florida and became a teacher, they still stayed in touch. She was always beautifully turned out and took no guff.

When Billie came to my dad's funeral in 2008, she gave me a detailed map of her long lost village drawn from her memories and rendered by her cousin Nick Chacos. I was so excited that I took it to the Carnegie Library, but the staff wasn't really sure what to do with it. Feeling the need to share this cool little piece of history, I wrote about it, and six years later, thanks to historian Mara Cherkasky, that posting would lead to Billie's picture landing on a new sign commemorating the old neighborhood near where the Greek church stood at 8th and L NW.

 In 2014, a busload of St Sophia's current parishioners and clergy went on a crazy little field trip to an empty and seemingly soul-less convention room. The only furnishing was a makeshift altar which took on a deeper significance when the crowd discovered they were standing as closely as possible to where the old one was. (Not an easy trick considering this block of 8th Street is part of the building now.)  After a few prayers, Father Steve led the group , all chanting, through the front hall and out the door to the new sign. He thereby sealed the deal by flinging holy water and olive branches around as Greeks are wont to do.

Father Steve Blessing "Billie's" Sign

Billie was thrilled to find out she was included in the project.  On that last Christmas card she thanked me for sending her pictures of everything- including the display which included a photo of her and Uncle George. She was ninety seven when she wrote: " I wept for a week when I received my village long ago. I became seven again, getting ready to take my gang to the library for a couple of hours." She was nearing one hundred when she died, still as independent as ever and living at home in Coral Gables.

Next time you are near the convention center "village," look for Billie and her Uncle George and say hello to this little ghost of DC's past.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


Memorial Day plan?

Thinkin' Lincoln I am. Lately I have been steeping myself deeply in family history which leads me to the Civil War and Kentucky. Kentucky like Maryland was officially a "neutral" state, but "Dixie" was being hummed rather vigorously under many a man's breath. Not one Yankee is to be found in my family tree including John Shelton who was born in Calloway County, Kentucky in 1846. He wasn't a slave holder, nor was his father. He was just a boy like countless others off to fight for "the cause."

I doubt my ancestors were fans of their sad and determined president, but as time goes on I have learned to admire one who so thoughtfully dreaded war and grieved deeply for blood shed on both sides of the conflict.

"Lincoln's Cottage" was built in 1842, high on a hill, originally as a summer retreat for banker George Riggs. In 1851 the property was sold to the U.S. government to become the Old Soldiers' Home. Once the fellows were relocated to a newer building, the cottage was offered to President Buchanan, and once again became a summer get away.  Lincoln was eager to escape the pressures of the White House in the early 1860s although, ironically, he was an eyewitness to both the recovering and the dead buried on the grounds. He would ride there unaccompanied by guards if he could swing it, and survived having his hat shot off by an unknown assailant one evening during a moonlit commute. I was told by a tour guide that travel time then was shorter by horseback than it is today by car.

For years afterwards, the cottage was pressed into service for a variety of uses including as a bar for the inmates, but in 2008, it finally became a part of our National Trust and a non-profit historic site opened to the public.  This Monday there will be a free wreath laying ceremony at 10 a.m. and tours of the cemetery a bit later. I am happy to report bringing a picnic is encouraged.  Might be my Southern heritage, but lunch in a grave yard has always appealed to me. I also highly recommend getting tickets for the tour of the house where the views of Washington from the original windows let your imagination run wild. Grasp the same railing Lincoln used to walk upstairs and commune with the man who tried his best to keep the Union, our America, together as one country.
No easy task then or now.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Thanks to My DC Dad

Father's Day. A time to reflect. My dad was born at home on 9th Street Northeast to Greek immigrants in 1916. He grew up here and never left the DC area except to travel. We didn't sight see unless we had out of town guests. We didn't go to the Smithsonian or other museums,  but he did leave me an appreciation for living in Washington, and I'd like to thank him for many things like:

Taking me to the zoo.  A lot.  Sometimes just on spur of the moment, sometimes for a birthday.  It was uptown and it was free.  I remember parking right near the elephants, partly on the sidewalk. I know we weren't supposed to leave the car there, but his home made sign with he stencil "Modern Linen -Making Delivery" left in the windshield of our station wagon seemed to do the trick.

Taking me to the circus at the DC Armory. The circus was great, but I have always felt it was my fault we left so late because I couldn't make up my mind about a souvenir. As we walked down the now mostly deserted streets, it became increasingly obvious that the group of older boys behind us didn't want us in their hood in 1969. We crossed the street, and they followed. One threw a rock that hit my dad. It was at that moment that he turned around and froze, hands clenched at his sides, and he stared them down. He was five foot six, but he may as well have been the biggest guy in the world. We turned the corner, and the boys walked on.

Telling all those DC stories about how the Italian statues got into AV's yard on New York Avenue, or how Ulysses Auger ("Blackie") got his start after World War Two when everyone was craving meat after years of rationing. Blackie sold steaks from his trunk and worked his way up to a roast beef sandwich cart... which led to a lifetime in the restaurant biz.

ntroducing me to DC centric food by asking for a half smoke over a hotdog or a fried chicken wing sandwich at the Florida Avenue Grill. Bones n all.

Teaching me how to drive with impunity in Washington which included passing slow pokes, mind bending lane changes on the Beltway and bold U turns on avenues in the city. Even though he constantly scared my mother,  he gave me a lot of confidence behind the wheel.

Taking us to see a concert on that floating barge on the Potomac River. It was the same venue the kids went to in the movie "Houseboat." with Cary Grant, and it's a good thing they caught that era on film because few people can imagine stopping traffic for anything like that now.

Once it was called Watergate, but now it's just a strangely marvelous out of place staircase on Ohio Drive.

photo from Library of Congress

Introducing me to the irrepressible Lola Revis and her daughters at Sherrill's Bakery on Capitol Hill. Local film maker David Petersen almost won an Oscar capturing those crazy personalities and the scene there in a documentary- another place that is long gone. The "girls" as he called them always made a warm fuss, pinching cheeks and handing out cookies.

David Petersen's Film Title

Showing me how the linen service works and taking me in the back doors of restaurants all over town to meet the people in the kitchen. He gave me my first job pulling weeds for a penny a piece, and another one at the laundry when I was in older. Then when I wanted to be an artist my senior year in high school, I'm sure he thought I was crazy, but he let me paint the laundry trucks. 

Both my mother and father let me be me, which is often a hard thing for a parent to do, but was definitely one of the biggest gifts they ever gave me. Thank you.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Soliloquy for St Sophia

St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral has always been a part of my life. It's the church my family didn't go to. At least, not very often. My grandparents- they were in it from the get go and rarely missed a Sunday, but my parents may have dodged that bullet partly because my mother was not Greek and partly because  they worked in a bar and grill until 2 a.m. However my dad paid his dues, and we did go there for all those important rituals like christenings, funerals and bazaars. A lot of bazaars. My dad always bought raffle tickets for the Cadillac even though in over fifty years he never won and had to buy his own.

Driving down Wisconsin Avenue it's easy to miss Saint Sophia sitting quietly in the shadow of the National Cathedral on Massachusetts Avenue. The bigger cathedral has held many a state affair, but St Sophia has waved over her share of presidents starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower who laid the cornerstone in 1956 including a time capsule to be opened in 2056. ( I'm probably going to miss that event just like I missed this one.)

She has seen the likes of Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Clinton- even  a few football players.

(That's Father John- the one without a football or plaid pants)

St Sophia began humbly enough back in the early 1900s when a few hundred Greek immigrants scraped together enough coinage to rent a room downtown and to hire an itinerant priest. A Washington Star article in 1904 reported "In the heart of the Nation's Capital dwells a community of nearly 500 souls whose lives, customs, religion...are utterly alien to our institutions. It is the Greek colony. They are among us, but not of us."

Wonder where they got that idea?

By 1908 the parish was organized enough to have its own priest and to rent the upstairs of the former Adas Israel Synagogue at 6th and G NW where it remained for 13 years awaiting the construction of their own digs at 8th and L NW.

Though the congregation was small, differences of opinion soon brought on strife courtesy of the Balkan Wars. Father Alexopoulos asked the congregation to take a stand by separating- the Loyalists  had to sit on one side of the church and the Royalists on the other. (talk about division in the aisles) This is why even before St Sophia had its own building, another church, St Helen and Constantine came into being in at 6th and C Street SW.

St Sophia finally did land at 8th and L in 1921 and stayed put for 34 years. The convention center has swallowed those blocks now- including part of 8th Street.  A commemorative marker stands nearby on 7th Street and was blessed by Father Steve last fall in a ceremony held in room 140A exactly where the original nave of the old St Sophia's was.

Even the sign got baptized.

photo by Bill Petros
This weekend St Sophia will celebrate its 60th year on Massachusetts Avenue and will be consecrated with as much hoopla as only Greeks can muster complete with saint's bones, incense and a whole lot of chanting. (if you have ever been to a Greek ceremony you know this will take all weekend.) It truly is a beautiful place built with a lot of contributions, hard work and dreams.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Skipping School

As soon as the weather turns nice, John Payne, one of my local heroes and the prefect of discipline at the Duke Ellington School, is on the move. He does't just sit in his office- he goes out and tracks down his prey whether the errant students are in Georgetown or enjoying a park just down the street. A lot of people in my family have attended DC public schools including my parents, and during my son's tenure at Ellington, I noticed another theme running through our family: truancy.

First there's my mother and father- they met at Western High (now Duke Ellington) in the 1930s. My mother remembers skipping school to have picnics with my father. He had a a Model A Ford for a quick escape, and more importantly,  two sandwiches in his bag because my Greek grandmother was sure he would starve while away at school all day.

For my oldest brother, Peter, skipping school in the 1950s meant he and his buddy Pete Stone would head for the movie theaters like the RKO, the Capitol and the Palace. Back then going to the movies also included not only a newsreel and a cartoon, but often a stage show, and my brother swears he once saw Peggy Lee. Unfortunately for my brother, our father's spies were everywhere, and he was caught more often than not, but despite the consequences, it was worth it to him. 

My sister also remembers skipping school with Pete Stone, Wilson's expert truant at the time. This is what she remembers:

"Back in the day, skipping school was easy if you knew the right people. Pete was a senior, and I was a lowly freshman. He plotted with me one evening to go to Fletcher's Boat House, and the next day, he handled the attendance records by commandeering the girl in charge. She erased my name and his from the absentee list. We then drove to the boat house, rented a canoe, and down the Potomac we went at lightning speed.

That should have been our first clue that things would end badly.

We spent the rest of the day trying to paddle back against the current. Finally, somewhere around the Tidal Basin, we were able to get the canoe out of the water. We carried the friggin' thing all the way back to Fletcher's. Returning home much later than usual and in agony with the aches of hauling a canoe over my head and a fresh sunburn, I now had to explain to the parents where I had been. I was astonished when they accepted my tall tale about too much sun during the field hockey game, but I never risked skipping school again."

Finally in more recent years, the very first time my daughter, Zoe skipped school at Wilson, she became a victim of Homeland Security. She and a friend had snuck out out,  just for a quick run down the block to get a soda, but during her very brief absence the entire city went into lock down mode. (Remember the Bush Administration?) Getting out was easy, but to Zoe's horror, when she returned the doors were locked, and she couldn't get back in. That's when the truancy officers picked her up, took her downtown and made her call her parents. This cured her until senioritis set in, but I am happy to report that all of the truants in this story recieved their diplomas.