Friday, December 07, 2007

Remember Bernice Calvert

In our family, we learned to remember Pearl Harbor early in life thanks to my grandmother Bernice Bailey Calvert. But first a little background. In 1933 Bernice was a young widow with two children, managing the Broadmoor Apartments on Connecticut Avenue without her husband Roger who had been killed in a car accident. This is where she met Frank Bernard Schultz. "Bernie" had a gig playing violin at the Broadmoor's afternoon teas which earned him a little extra dough while he finished up medical school at Georgetown.

Bernie was a charming and talented guy. (Maybe too charming.) He did this sketch of Bernice on the back of his business card.

They married in 1936 and moved to a house on Broad Street in Falls Church in 1937. Originally built as a cottage in 1790, in later years a Union sympathizer, Almond Birch bought the property which backed up to the original Falls Church and enlarged the home. During the Civil War two Union officers were caught there in June of 1863. Shortly thereafter, Birch sold it to Henry Lynch, a convicted Confederate spy. Around 1900 the building became a doctor's office which made it the perfect home for Dr. and Mrs. Schultz. (Sadly the place was torn down in the late 1960s.)

But where does Pearl Harbor come in? ( Okay, it was a lot of background.)

When Bernie graduated from Georgetown he accepted a commission in the Medical Corps Reserves and was called into active service in April of 1941. He was stationed in the territory of Hawaii-which seemed like a great assignment and adventure at the time. Bernie and Bernice climbed in a car and drove to San Francisco where they were stalled for weeks waiting for a transport ship. They made the best of this time though sailing down to Los Angeles where they hung out with movie stars thanks to a MGM studio pass Bernie had from past musical connections. They rubbed elbows with Marlene Dietrich and had lunch with "Spencer and Gable." Bernie also mentions running into Charlie Chaplin and his sons at the bird zoo in Catalina. Bernie chatted up Chaplin and was allowed to take his picture as well as one of Paulette Goddard. (Boy, I wish I could find those!)

Finally a ship became available and they arrived on the Matson line in Honolulu in early July. Back then most ships were greeted by Hawaiian women with armfuls of leis, but their vessel also saw waves of P-40s and bombers dipping their wings to say "hello" to their new crew. As the ship docked, the Royal Hawaiian band played "Aloha Oe" and other native songs while crowds below shouted and waved. it was love at first sight.

Bernie wrote in a letter early after watching a sunset near Diamond Head, "It was like having walked all your life in a haze and in muck- then suddenly breaking through the mist and seeing a great panorama in front of you."

Then the attack came.

A neighbor woke them pounding on the door. Bernie turned on the radio to confirm the news. "The island of Oahu is under enemy attack...all officers report...all citizens stay off the streets. Keep calm." (no kidding) Bernie got dressed and, still not quite believing he was awake, left for Tripler with the captain who lived next door. On the way there they saw three low flying planes, and the scene now became all too real.

At the hospital wounded civilians and soldiers alike poured in all morning. One victim was even carried in on a street sign. A bomb dropped so close to the hospital that a convalescing patient died from shrapnel wounds. Towards midday Bernie went home to collect more medical supplies and surgeons' tools, but a frightening sight awaited him.  The front of their house was demolished. There was a hole in the roof, and all the windows shattered by shrapnel.

The concussion of the bomb had knocked Bernice to the floor, but she amazingly enough, she only suffered a twisted ankle. Bernie found her at a neighbor's house and took her back to the hospital where they both continued working.

Almost all the Army wives and children would leave the islands as soon as possible, but my grandmother wanted to stay despite the curfews, blackouts, and a life which included gas masks always at the ready. Bernice made this happen by becoming a censor at the post office and volunteering with the Red Cross.  Bernie later remarked how ready the Red Cross was on December 7th- not on that afternoon nor the next day- but within ten to fifteen minutes of the attack.

By February 1942 Bernice was a full time paid member of the Home Service of the Red Cross, working as a social worker for the next three years. Her evacuation was deferred. Before the USO made it to Hawaii, she and Bernie organized a theater group and gave performances throughout the islands. (I wonder if she was rethinking her decision in this shot taken I think in their living room probably around Christmas of 1942.)

Bernice stayed in Hawaii all through the war right up to the end- literally. She was aboard the USS Missouri when the Japanese surrendered. (Another one of her hats included being the only woman correspondent to cover the War in the South Pacific.)  One woman's journey through those turbulent years.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Ambassador Theater and How It Rocked DC

Around 1927, my mother remembers walking with her Dad from Mozart Place to the Ambassador Theater on 18th and Columbia Road to see something new. It was "a talkie" featuring Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. Now flash forward forty years to 1967 when the shuttered theater became a home to something new again - an amazing place to see rock n' roll. I, unfortunately, was only about eight at the time, but this past weekend, yet another forty years forward, I went to a reunion of those who made it happen. Jeff Krulik our local film maker (and hero) helped bring these guys together from all over the country for this event.

In 1967 Tony Finestra, Court Rodgers and Joel Mednick were three young guys selling fire extinguishers of all things when they heard about the Summer of Love out in San Francisco. Out there they went, and when they came back to D.C., they came with a vision to make things happen here. They rented the Ambassador Theater, fixed it up, and booked The Grateful Dead. The Dead's equipment arrived, but unfortunately the city pulled their permit at the last minute not wanting a hippie project to move forward when things were getting touch in the anti- war movement. But our boys fought back and finally opened on July 28, 1967 with a local band, Natty Bumpo, and headliner The Peanut Butter Conspiracy.

The Ambassador was an enormous space. All 1500 seats had been removed. The Psychedelic Power and Light Company took over the balcony and used multiple projectors and black lights to fill the room and cover the walls with colors and images- a stand alone show of its own. Tickets were $1.50 on week nights, $2.50 on weekends.

The mezzanine level boasted a head shop selling lava lamps, posters and well, you know, hippie stuff. What a scene it must have been. Not only was it a concert hall, but neighborhood kids were invited for special matinees. It was also used as a staging area for the march on the Pentagon. Even Norman Mailer showed up on stage

A young guy named Jimi Hendrix had been touring with The Monkees that same summer, but his style didn't quite fit that double bill. His manager begged The Ambassador folks to let him play there for 5 nights that August, and Pete Townsend of The Who came to see him. (I'm not making this stuff up- ask Nils Lofgren) This all happened here.

More From Nils Lofgren:
"The room was humming, not only with the expectation of seeing the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but that Pete Townshend was in the audience, and it was just an extraordinary pivotal night for me. Hendrix came out and said he was going to dedicate the first song to Pete Townshend and he was going to do a rendition of 'Sgt. Pepper.' Now being naive, and being a huge Beatles lover, a lot of us thought 'well, you're only a three piece band, how can you play 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,' there's all these other guitars and strings.' We just didn't have a clue of what Hendrix was really about. He counted off the song and I remember he kind of disappeared, he just did one of those things where he fell to the floor, sitting on the floor rocking with the guitar between his legs kind of doing a 'Purple Haze/ Sgt. Peppers' riff, then he sort of bounces back up and does an insane version of 'Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.' And when he dropped to the floor everyone just jumped up to try to see him, and from that moment on everyone was standing and mesmerized by obviously the greatest rock and roll guitar player that ever lived... There were just a lot of inspired moments like that at the Ambassador; it was this dark, beautiful, haunted, inspired room that you could go to and get lost in the light show and friends and the camradarie and the excitement of being in the audience discovering all this great new music; it was this real pivotal place in Washington, DC for all of the music scene, young and old."

Canned Heat, Moby Grape, John Lee Hooker, Vanilla Fudge, The Fugs, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and more all appeared at The Ambassador. Our own Joe Dolan of The Beatnik Flies mopped the floors there. His cousin, Patty made this hoe-down poster.

The sad thing, as often happens in this realm, the scene wouldn't last. It was partly a matter of bad publicity and partly the atmosphere of the times. (Even I remember how threatened people were by the hippie thing.) At the reunion, stories were told about police who gave parking tickets to legally parked theater goers and waited outside to arrest kids who had violated the D.C. curfew.

The experiment ended about six months later, and the theater was torn down not too long after. Today the site is occupied by a vapid, non descript plaza. The next time you are in Adam's Morgan, you might want to walk by there-and remember Jimi plus all the others that once played music or danced in the light shows.

Remember the ghosts that once were dreams.

P.S. Speaking of ghosts: The Ambassador once stood on the site of The Knickerbocker Theater which collapsed under the weight of snow in 1922. Ninety eight people were killed.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

It's A Family Affair

Our family has had a decent showing at Wilson High School going way back almost to the very beginning when Wilson first opened its doors in 1935. My uncle, Nick Cokinos who graduated in 1939, was a running back on Wilson's inaugural football team in the fall of 1936 and helped win their first exhibition game against St Alban's in the pouring rain. The team had only one experienced player that year, but somehow managed to win two games before their lack of experience caught up with them later that season. Never one to be to be daunted, once Spring came, Nick picked up the baton and played baseball as well.

Leaping forward my brother Pete Cokinos was a Tiger in 1952, another big year for Wilson. The football team had plenty of experience by now which brought them an undefeated season. Next they beat Western for the Inter-high Title which took them to Griffith Stadium in December. In front of a crowd of thousands, Wilson trounced St John's 24-6 for its one and only City Title.

(Go team.)

Pete Cokinos #37

And now daughter Zoe is a Wilson Tiger, too.

Thus the reunion of the champions of 1952 and the Homecoming game this year became a family reunion of sorts for us. Brother Pete drove in from Michigan, while my parents (Western), my sister (Wilson), and my daughter all dug up their green and white gear. We convened in the bleachers at a school which structurally hasn't changed much since 1952 although Chuck Brown wasn't playing over the PA during time outs back then.  The bleachers and the field are in the same place, but a new "press box" has been somewhat awkwardly erected, and everyone tripped over the footings.

Pete, and what was left of the team paraded out at half time.  Even a cheerleader was able to make it back. A lot may have changed over the years, but what hasn't changed is a stand full of kids cheering on their teams.

What has changed are the cheers and the cheer leaders. At one point a cheer war broke out complete with air horns. Not exactly sportsmanlike. And it didn't help us win either. Wilson was defeated 34-13. But winning isn't everything as the school motto goes: "Haec olim meninissee juvabit." ("In days to come, it will please us to remember this"-from Vergil's Aeneid)

Good thing Wilson still has a Latin teacher.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Sad State of Affairs


Not to beat a dead horse, but it just got up and walked around today when the story came out that Mayor Fenty fired the contractor for the Hardy Middle School renovation. I guess it's one of those bad news good news things. The bad news is that Hardy Middle School, formerly Gordon Junior High and my kids' alma mater, is a year behind and a gazillion dollars over budget. The good news? The contractor was fired, but I'd heard they were doing a good job whenever they could get out from under DC's bureaucracy.

The renovations were supposed to be done in stages while the students remained at the school, but with all the delays the decision was made in 2005 to move the entire population out to a swing space so that the project could be completed on time- within a year. My son graduated last June in the half vacant Hamilton School, and this year's class will certainly not be graduating in the new building either. The truth about the delays, I'm sure is in its usual position- nestled down just out of sight, somewhere in the neutral ground between all that finger pointing.

The thing is I still can't help -once again- but look across town to that new baseball stadium.
I love baseball as much as the next guy, but groundbreaking there was in May 2006- a long time after the Hardy project was well under way. Of course it's all politics... and economics and apples and oranges. But can someone explain how all that works to the children of this city?

(And when they are done, could they explain it to me?)

(Hardy' s Moving Day 2006)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Go Tigers

Wilson's back to school night got off to a rough start yesterday. The doors stood open, and the auditorium was very warm- not having the benefit of air conditioning. The first speaker urged every one to move up as there was no PA system. The principal seemed to be running a few minutes late. Lights kept blinking, and if you looked up, you noticed the large areas of plaster rotting up there in the ceiling. But then, with no press, photography or fanfare, up popped our new mayor, Adrian Fenty.

Fenty's voice was clear and strong while he gave the mandatory short spiel on making school improvements. It was such a morale booster that it really didn't matter what he said. The most important thing to me was that he was there-and that it was not the first time he had been here in this auditorium. It is somewhat comforting that he is from this town-generally only people who are from here can understand here, and even we find it A Challenge.

The rest of the night went well. The teachers, for once, were not complaining about a lack of books or other glaring oversights. There was even a glimmer of optimism. The stadium and field have been renovated, and the pool is finally under reconstruction.

Wilson was a brand new school back in the 1930s, when my dad's brother, Nick Cokinos went. You can literally feel its age going up the stairs which are concave now like the steps of a Roman coliseum. It's still a beautiful building despite its years and deterioration- but it desperately needs improvement- as do the vast majority of our city schools. There is a tiny light now- maybe- just there at the end of this long dark tunnel, but it sure is amazing how fast that new baseball stadium is getting built.

It's enough to keep you guessing.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rodman's Rocks

With all the construction going on up there in Friendship Height's, it's comforting to me to see Rodman's still going strong at 5100 Wisconsin Avenue. It started in 1955 as a drugstore; today it's a landmark, an institution, I'd even call it a phenomenon. As Arlo Guthrie said in Alice's Restaurant- "You can get anything you want" but there is a minor drawback or two.

The first problem with going to Rodman's is getting out of there. You might go in for one quick thing like LU's Cinnamon Sugar Biscuits which Safeway doesn't carry anymore, but there, just as soon as you walk in, are fireworks at the door- 30 percent off- right next to the BBQ sets and the Toblerone bars. This is the back entrance which is a narrow, one small cart aisle created by stacks and stacks and stacks of food and drink: tomato sauce, olives, chutney, baby clams, BBQ sauce, wine, vinegar, sardines, curry paste, Parmesan cheese and stuffed peppers-(wait is that a topping or a side dish?) jams, marinated artichokes, and olive oil. OK, now I'm actually IN the store and officially past "the entrance".

The second problem is which aisle to run to first?
Wine? Snacks?
Look- there's those Italian cookies, the ones in the big red tins, Lazzaroni's that used to have the wrappers you could  light on fire and make a wish on as they rose to the ceiling. And those weird chocolate cigar type cookies someone bought for us in Greece once, not to mention digestive biscuits, whatever they are, and those cinnamon things I just remembered I came in here for.

Oh, and they have Lady Grey Tea. Safeway doesn't seem to stock that anymore either. Fritos, Doritos and crystallized ginger. I don't what to do with it, but I'm intrigued. Squirt bottles of Kalamata olive puree under a sign that says "dessert toppings".  And something that looks like shrunken heads over there in the produce aisle turns out to be celery root. Celery root? O look- they've got a great deal on lemons. Does anyone need a scratch off ticket? A baguette would be good for later. And do I have enough tuna fish?

Over in the beverage aisles, I am befriended by DC native, "Hoppy Dave" who educated me as best he could on the amazing variety of beers he stocks-a happily bewildering experience that almost involved me getting a second cart. (Warning-one cart is bad enough in there- something akin to navigating a Hummer through the back streets of Georgetown.) By the time he was finished with me, my cart was full of stuff I'd never heard of, but couldn't wait to try-including Bell's Batch 8,000, a commemorative ale which only gets made every 8,000 years. ( I might be wrong there, but my head only holds so much info.) He also filled me in on my high school teacher, Bob Tupper who went on to produce Tupper's Hop Pocket Ale, an excellent adult beverage courtesy of Old Dominion Brewery which, Dave tells me, has been bought now by Budweiser. What? That's why there was no Tupper's in sight as the Tuppers don't do "bud."

Now I've solved the problem of leaving Rodman's. My cart is full, and so is my head. But I didn't even make it downstairs to the other floor where the household products are, the coffee makers, the watch repair, play-doh, hair brushes and oh, yeah, it is Rodman's Drug after all. Don't forget the pharmacy and the time.

Thanks, Dave.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

OLD School

Track Team '31. '32, '33; Football '32
IS: Very amusing and talkative
Famous FOR: His stunning "car"
and for his skill at taking cars apart
and putting them together again.

My son Kit just started Duke Ellington School for the Arts- which used to be Western- the high school his grandparents attended. He's a bit disappointed that their athletic program is somewhat limited, but with his school day ending at 5 pm, he won't have time for sports anyway.

People think that high school sports are competitive now, but back in the day, they were just plain tough. My father doesn't like to brag, but he was the fastest kid he knew and could beat anyone his age. When he got to Western, he joined the track team, in hopes of crushing the competition. He couldn't understand why the other guys were beating him. Then he found out- there were no age limits for teams back then. He was 15 and his competitors could be 19 - even 21. The same was true on the football team. He remembers "Turk" Sheahan whose father had a restaurant in Georgetown. Turk was on the football team in 1933, and he was 23 years old when he graduated with Dad. He also remembers Bill Payne, the baseball player who was half bald before he graduated.

Maybe it's a good thing my son's not doing sports.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mat Thorp "Cokinos"

Because "exclusive" is not in my family vocabulary please welcome my neighbor, Mat Thorp into the fold of this blog. Although Matt is not from here, he has spent enough time here to have plenty of street cred. since his arrival after serving in World War Two. Here is Mat's "inclusion":

"To make sure that I get included in your, obviously exclusive, blog; here are my Greek bonafides: The second photo from the right margin on the top line is Lynn`s mother, Lynn, with Nick Gaston owner of the Old New Orleans night club on 18th St at Connecticut Ave. This was taken by the Old New Orleans cigarette/photographer girl. On Lynn`s and my first date,in 1949, she asked me to meet her at Nick`s house on the VA side of Key Bridge where he had Sunday poolside parties. Nick`s main business was brokering restaurant deals. When Lynn and I were married the second time, Nick had the wedding group to the Old New Orleans before opening time."

Thanks for the memories, Mat!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Great Cake-- Great Party

Thank you to all those in the Stone Family
for including the Cokinos Clan in the
wonderful party last Saturday

Ray, smiling
just before George
stuck his finger in the cake,
and blew out his candles.

Stacy, Sterling and George

Some things NEVER Change.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Birthday Ray

(Jeanne and Bebe 1952)

Once upon a time a woman named Jeanne Lightbound went to Western High School for just one year and became good friends with a Greek guy named George Cokinos. Jeanne went back to Bethesda Chevy Chase High school, but she never forgot George. And if she hadn't kept up that friendship with George, we never would have met all her BCC pals like Charles Bernard, whom she married and Ray Stone who is celebrating his 90th birthday today.

(Irene, Bebe and Ray 1945)

The gang, Ray and Irene Stone, Roy and Marge Cross and Charles Bernard met George and Bebe just before World War Two, but then the guys had to go off to fight. (except for George who had thought ahead and already had three children) After the war everybody started having children; thus the Bridge Party was born which went on for thirty years or so. George, Ray and Charles even were in business together before Ray started Bethesda TV. The friends went to the beach together and traveled together, and The Cokinos and Stone families almost lived together- well, near each other anyway. And they loved to vacation together, too.

(Peter and Roger Cokinos w/ Ray Stone1950)

(Trip to Bermuda 1970 back when everybody got dressed up to get on a plane)

In the late sixties, after countless beach trips and travel, George suggested that they build cottages together in South Bethany. Lots were available again after a huge storm had hit the coast on Ash Wednesday in 1962.

Bethany Beach after the storm

The lots were so cheap they bought three. Two to build on, and one for an investment. The two houses ended up being so close together that we could communicate with an intercom. That failing we could use sign language since we didn't have phones.

One time George summoned Ray in desperation, telling him a fire had broken out. Ray rushed over only to find George standing over a griddle full of pancakes. (Only problem was they forgot to tell Irene, who was waiting next door, that it was only a joke.)

Bebe recalls the time they went out on Ray's boat and their friend, Nadine spilled a cocktail down her front. She went below and took her bra off, and they hung it on the rigging to dry. When they went to dock for dinner, they made quite the entrance with Ray coming in a bit fast and the red bra flying.

Happy birthday, Ray. You still have your good looks, not to mention that winning personality.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hot Hazy Humid Then and Now

picnic at mayo beach 1940

It's hot which is nothing new here in Washington, DC. What is new is the heat index telling us how hot we FEEL. I could live without this. I have been living through these sweltering summers almost all of my life, but it's disconcerting now to know small children and older people should not even be breathing the air. On these hot summer days all eyes turn toward the Eastern Shore.

Way back when, before the Chesapeake Bay Bridges, a trip to the beach was most likely by car or ferry and did not necessarily mean the Atlantic Ocean. Ferries could take you to places like Betterton or St Michael's- once thriving communities. Now you can still find sleepy piers on either side of the bay while the traffic swarms down Route Fifty towards Rehobeth or Ocean City.

My parents used to go to beaches on the DC side of the bay like Chesapeake Beach, Mayo, and Woodland. There were nets to catch the nettles that didn't work very well, and the water was shallow, but it was wet and there might be a breeze. Cousins Koula and Thelma had a cottage in North Beach, and their friend, Johnny Monaco had a place in South Beach. Johnny would catch soft shells or fish for dinner. Sometimes Mom and Dad would sneak into the dances at Beverly Beach where no "immigrants" or "mediterraneans" were allowed, but Dad was light haired and blue eyed and got away with it.

The heat may not be new, but at least some things have changed.

Friday, July 27, 2007

dc space reunion/benefit for Tom Terrell

DC Space, 2005
Originally uploaded by IntangibleArts
There is a home town party this weekend at the new 9:30 Club in the form of a dc space reunion party/ benefit for Tom Terrell beloved deejay and a friendly familiar voice to many a dc night owl. The 9:30 Club and dc space were located in what once was a forlorn F Street shopping district during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. The Hecht's Departent Store is now a Macy's, and Woodies is going to be an outlet for Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. The 9:30 Club has since moved to V Street, near Howard University, and now that area, too is coming back.

dc space, once on the corner of 7th and E, closed in 1991, but it's spirit is still alive. ( Yes, it's a Starbucks, but at least they didn't tear it down.) Workers found an old office upstairs that once belonged to Clara Barton and maybe that helped save the place. There were shows there where I was nervous about the dancing crowd on the second floor which was not built for mayhem.

Over fifty artists, including the founders of both 9:30 and space, are gathering to celebrate 9:30/30 anniversary, and in the spirit of the ole place, many are donating their talents this Sunday, July 29th. Doors open at 4. Twenty dollar donation. Performances including music, poetry and film going on until 1 a.m.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Farewell A.V. Ristorante

(photo by bethhowe1 @ flickr)

Augosto Vasaio opened his landmark Italian restaurant in July 1949 on New York Avenue, and it became magnet for everyone from stars to well, everyone who loves to eat. My cousin, Peter adored it for the large portions of comfort food, Italian style. He was in heaven when we had cousin parties there. I remember him ordering platter after platter until we all left groaning. We would be sure to be a little bit messy because the restaurant was a customer of Modern Linen which my Uncle Mimi and Dad ran throughout the 1960s. "Modern" kept them supplied with tablecloths and napkins for many years.

cousin party circa 1985

My father was a fan of the restaurant and remembers that Augusto used to fill a big old station wagon full of stockings, toothpaste, cigarettes- whatever he thought would sell overseas. He (and the car) would get on a boat to Italy every year, and come back with a new load of olive oil and pasta and cheeses. Not to mention that Italian yard art that A.V.'s is so famous for in the courtyard.

Another piece of Washington history is slipping away. The doors close July 28.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Real D.C. Fourth of JulY

Happy Fourth of July
From the Real D.C. Not Federal,
but the Territory, District 
the we the people...