Saturday, December 29, 2018

Part Three: The Cokinos Brothers Go Their Separate Ways

Hain's Point abt 1920 Pete, Pota, Katy, Adam and little George

The Cokinos Brothers came to Washington, D.C. from Greece in the early 1900s. My grandfather Pete and his brothers Adam and Alec lived above the various candy shops they ran until they had enough money to do other things. Adam and Pete both bought homes for their families near the shops on 9th Street NW and H Street NE, but those two had very different ideas about their retirement gigs.

In 1922 Adam bought a fifty acre farm on the Rockville Pike at Montrose Road in Montgomery County, Maryland. Today high rises and shopping centers have replaced the barns and fields, but in those days the site was known as the National Vaccine and Anti-Toxin Property

Here is a picture of the original house which was built with rammed earth and stone by Rudolph Gaegler in the 1850s or so.

Adam wanted to have a farm to table kind of place which would supply restaurants with fresh produce. Unfortunately his property manager smoked in bed and burned the place down.

At least that’s what my father always told me.

I discovered another somewhat harrowing explanation in a Washington Star article from July 1925.  John Cooley, the property manager and his 35 year old son Jesse were living in an outbuilding on the farm because Adam had already sold off the Gaegler house and eight acres in 1924. According to the article, poor Jesse was pumping the kitchen's coal oil stove when it exploded. His clothing caught on fire, and a neighbor severely burned his hands trying to get Jesse’s clothes off. In desperation, Jesse ran to a nearby creek to douse himself, but it was no use. A passing motorist took him to a hospital where he died.
Adam never did move to the farm, and after this unhappy event, he sold both the property and his candy store. He moved the family up to Philadelphia where his wife Katy could be near her folks again. 

In 1920 Pete bought property on Macomb Street back when the street car turned here off Wisconsin Avenue and trundled on to American University. Pete filed a permit in 1925 to build a two story building with storefronts and apartments above the shops.  He and his wife Pota moved here from H Street NE in 1926.

Pete and Pota
Catherine, Nick and George on Macomb.

The first tenants were a druggist, a grocer and a hardware man. Today the whole building houses one restaurant- Cactus Cantina. Pete opened another candy store, but most of the customers were construction workers from the National Cathedral looking for lunch. Pota would run upstairs and get them soup or a sandwich.  Here's my grandmother hanging out the window of her apartment.

By 1929 Pete and Pota converted the candy shop into a lunch room. They called it Macomb Cafeteria although it was more like a diner with a few stools and booths. Their ad might send mixed signals, but whatever the dining experience, the room was fairly small and only one storefront wide.

Unfortunately Pete found out a bit too late that his apartment manager liked to gamble. Pete had to sell part of the building to pay the back taxes. Two Amy's Pizza occupies this space these days. You can see the painted dividing line. 

Meanwhile Pete's brother Alec had moved uptown with them. Alec was still a lonely bachelor, but happily for him, the Haramkapolos brothers had just brought their sister Koula over from Greece.  (Not to be confused with my grandmother Pota who was a Haralampakos which might explain why my father was always confused about her maiden name.) 

Alec and Koula were married in 1926 and lived in an apartment over Burka’s Liquor Store for about six years. Their daughter Catherine was born in 1927. Here they are right in front of the building on Macomb with Wisconsin Avenue behind them.

In the early 1930s, another baby was on the way, and the apartment wasn't getting any bigger. Alec and Koula became the caretakers of St Sophia's church which was on 8th and L Street NW at the time. The church provided them with their own digs right next door, and that is where they brought up  their family.  Their door was always open for friends and family.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Part Two: How the Cokinos Brothers Found Love

Adam Cokinos, batchelor
The Cokinos Brothers came to America for opportunity. They may not have planned to stay, but by 1911 they had three candy shops going, and I'm thinking it made sense to get married and settle here for good.
Adam was the first of the brothers to find a bride. Greek women were scarce in Washington at the time, but luckily he found Kalliope Condrackos (Katy) in Philadelphia- probably through a candy store connection. He married her in 1912 and brought her back to Washington where they raised a fine crop of girls named Jean, Mary and Thetis.
Pete was the next brother to get hitched. My grandmother Pota Haralampakos had lost her father in Greece and was sent to live with her brother Tom, another candy man, in New Jersey.  My dad always told me that Tom's wife Christine was none too thrilled about the arrangement. I'm guessing none of them were judging by this photo from about 1912.
Fortunately Pete found Pota through the confectioner's grapevine. In July 1914, he took a train up to Elizabeth, New Jersey to get hitched. The two were married at 3 p.m. and promptly took the 6 o' clock train back to D.C.  So much for a honeymoon. No time for wedding pictures either, but this might have been the picture that caught Pete's eye in the first place.
Pota and Pete lived above the candy shop on H Street NE. Their first baby Catherine came along in April 1915- a respectable nine months after their marriage.  In 1916 they bought a nearby row house on 11th Street NE. George was born at home that same year in April, nine months after his parents' first anniversary. Their last child Nick was also born in April a few years later which tells you a thing or two about their matrimonial schedule.

Back at the candy shop,  the children weren't allowed to sample the wares, but George had a powerful sweet tooth. He took to wearing a bulky overcoat with lots of pockets- both during the winter and suspiciously summer, too. This get-up allowed him to become an intrepid shoplifter. He claimed he lost all his baby teeth to his voracious sugar habit, but despite my father's thievery, the stores were a success, and he grew up to have a fine set of choppers.

Cokinos Family on H Street NE abt 1920

Monday, December 10, 2018

Part One : How The Cokinos Brothers Came to D.C.

Once upon a time nine children grew up in a large house in a tiny Greek village called Agulinitsa. The village was very close to the sea and not far from Olympia where the ancient games were held. The family had olive groves and farmland nearby, but three of the brothers, including my grandfather Pete, and his brothers Adam and Alec decided America held more opportunity. 

The first time I visited Agulinitsa in 1988, it just boggled my mind to think of how Pete and his brothers got out of Dodge in the early 1900s. I pictured them riding donkeys or perhaps walking over the mountains, carrying their things in a rucksack. My vivid imagination and horrible sense of history both overlooked the fact of a railroad.  Years later I realized I had missed seeing the tiny station the first time I was there. It was the size of a bus stop. Pete and his brothers only had to walk a few blocks to catch a train to the port of Patras.

Digging into history, I discovered that our cousin James was actually the first Cokinos to arrive from Agulinitsa.  He landed in Wilmington, Delaware in 1903  and worked in the candy business there until his cousin Pete joined him two years later. They moved to Washington soon after and opened a confectionary called the Sugar Bowl at 721 8th Street SE. The two lived above the shop and made candy and ice cream in the basement by hand until there was enough money to bring over more family. In 1908 they sent for Adam and opened another store at 1203 H Street NE. The next year Pete and James moved to H Street to make room for James' brother Daniel and Pete's brother Alec. 

Business was booming.
Alec and Pete at 1203 H Street NE abt 1910
The crew soon opened another candy store at 909 41/2 Street SE which I have now learned was not a typo in the DC street directory, but an actual thing. Creative math was part of a 1905 plan to further organize the city on an alphabetical and numerical grid. This street and the neighborhood were eventually wiped out in the 1950s in the name of “urban renewal,”  but now the area has a new baseball stadium and a revitalized waterfront. A nearby historic plaque remembers 4 ½ Street as a major shopping destination in its day. 

4 1/2 Street SW  (Library of Congress) 
In 1910 the Cokinos Brothers opened the last store of their empire.  This one was at 924 9th Street NW - a block from where the ever growing Greek community had just bought property to build St Sophia's church at 8th and L. (Smart cookies, eh?)

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 "PAMS," 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 many of 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

In 1929 my mother Bebe and her little brother Roger Jr lived in the Broadmoor Apartments on Connecticut Avenue. Their parents were the building's first managers, and that brought unexpected perks. Bebe remembered a lot of Senators at the Broadmoor. Not so much the politicians, but  real live baseball players. In the house! The whole family got free passes for games at Griffith Stadium and the great pitcher Walter Johnson and my grandfather Roger became friends when he came back to coach the team. 

In 1972, we lost our team to Texas, and my parents never converted to Baltimore.  I don't love sports, but I do like the pace of baseball which allows plenty of time for eating and talking in between (and during) innings.  I will always have a warm spot for the "O's," but  I definitely miss Memorial Stadium where Earl Weaver tended his tomato plants.  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, and I could always find my friend Dan Elwood commandeering an entire section with a bunch of friends and Budweisers.

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 score Nats tickets from a friend. He rode his bike to the ball park on a balmy Tuesday night, perhaps starting another tradition of keeping baseball in the family. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Ghost of Christmas Past

Every year I think this is it. This is the year I will sit down and write those pesky Christmas cards. I save the return address labels. I have a box of blank cards. I have a pen, 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 were all part of her hood. 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 close as possible to where the original altar stood. (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 chanting through the front hall and out the door to the new sign. Here 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, and that a picture of her and her Uncle George are on the sign.  On that last Christmas card she thanked me for sending her pictures of everything. She was ninety seven when she wrote: "I wept for a week when I saw my village from 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.

"Lincoln's Cottage" was built in 1842, high on a hill, originally as a summer retreat for local banker George Riggs. In 1851 the property was sold to the U.S. government to become the Old Soldiers' Home, but once the fellows were relocated to a newer building, the cottage was offered to President Buchanan and subsequent presidents as 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 back then was shorter by horseback than it is today by car which tells you something about just how bad our traffic has become.

For years afterwards, the cottage was pressed into service for a variety of uses including as a bar for the retired soldiers which I'll bet Mary Todd tried to haunt with disapproval. Finally in 2008, the house became part of our National Trust as a non-profit historic site open 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. 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 save the Union.
No easy task then or now.