Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A 9:30 CHRISTMAS by Mark Opsasnick

It was Christmas morning 1999. After a Silent Night I awoke in a Silent House, greeted only by weak strains of sunlight that filtered through the tattered curtains of my bedroom window. I lumbered down the stairs and found no fancy presents under the plastic tree, but my self-induced holiday cheer remained intact. This time around I had made special plans to gift-wrap my own little treat – with the on-coming Washington, DC holiday season filled with waves of joyful tourists energetically visiting the various monuments, gaping at the magnificent Capitol and deftly dodging daredevil cabbies, I would get a jump on the multitudes and intrepidly embark on a special pre-noon pilgrimage to the remains of an inner-city rock and roll den that still harbored ghosts from DC’s musical past. It would be a Cool Yule indeed.

I hopped in my big black Buick and departed for the city, keenly aware that not many people realized that the nation’s capital stands still on Christmas Day. The kids stay in their homes and break their newly-acquired toys, most adults hide indoors and either prep for church services or ponder visits to nearby relatives, and miscellaneous others remain holed up in their bedrooms until the visions of sugar plums have had their final dance. As a result, the inner core of the city is left to slumber underneath covers of glass-and-concrete structures that tower over empty streets. On this one day of the year, Washington rests in peace, if only for a short while.

I wheeled the Buick down 10th Street NW past the MLK Library and instinctively swung right at the next intersection. At the middle of the block I cut the engine, noted the exact time – 9 a.m. – and stepped out of the vehicle to take a long look at my strangely serene surroundings. Never in my life had I experienced a more eerie sense of calm then on this particular morning. The sun was shining brightly and the sky directly above was a piercing bright blue. I could feel the light winds gently swirl about in the freezing city air. Office buildings, some old, some new, all speckled with green and red decorations, lined both sides of the fairway. I looked around and the 900 block of F Street was desolate and motionless – no traffic, no Metro buses, no people, no noise – a forgotten world completely devoid of life. It was Christmas morning and not a creature was stirring, not even a rat.

The quiet calm around me was broken only by the sound of my heavy boot steps as I scuffled my way to the middle of the street. Suddenly, my vision focused on the object of my quest: the ancient, now-boarded-up Atlantis building and its grimy, ground-floor doorway that once welcomed the masses to the original 9:30 Club. Gallantly it stood, its most famous tenant having relocated to other quarters, now a fading temple to a segment of Washington, DC’s 1980-1995 rock and roll scene that will hopefully live on in the memories of those who had reveled within. I took a seat in the middle of F Street, legs crossed hippie-style on the pavement, oblivious to the frigid surroundings. Before me a procession of musical ghosts who had worked the 9:30 Club came and went: local favorites like Tiny Desk Unit and the Slickee Boys, legendary punk bands like Minor Threat and the Bad Brains, future superstars like REM and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, dinosaurs like Iron Butterfly and Blue Cheer, and on and on and infinitum.

An eternity passed and it dawned on me that in the nation’s capital, every decade seemed to have had its own distinct musical trends, hot spots and highlights. Guitarist Tommy Keene appropriated the term “Places that are Gone” for one of his album titles and I could think of no better way to describe the ties that bind the music-oriented hangouts of one era to another. The Casino Royal, the Blue Mirror, the Hayloft, Kavakos Grill, the Lotus, the Merry-Land Club, Rand’s – all names from DC’s distant nightclub past, all removed from the landscape, all leaving entertainment legacies that evolved, expired, and experienced cultural reincarnation in modern-day places like the 9:30 Club, the Black Cat, and the Velvet Lounge.

Contributing to the cycle, the 9:30 Club had moved on. It was Christmas morning, 1999 and here I was, frozen in time, staring at an empty building in the heart of the nation’s capital. For someone who loves the city’s rock and roll history, I could not think of a more appropriate gift.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

At Least DC'S Got Key

Of all the schools-both public and private in the entire U. S. of A. chosen to receive Blue Ribbon status this year only one was chosen within the confines of the District of Columbia-Francis Scott Key Elementary. It's both an honor and a disgrace that one public school here in the district has achieved so much in a city wide system that has achieved so little. On one hand, we have a great little school like Key where over half of the students are advanced in math- according to test scores. In fact, when the Obamas were school shopping, Michelle Rhee told us that her office crunched the numbers, and Key came up on top.  On the other hand, our system still supports social promotion and retention, meaning, for example, you might be held back a year or two, but eventually- you will still be moved up to high school-reading or not.

I am really proud of Key school's award. It was well earned by teachers, students, parents and staff alike- all working together, but during the furor of the Obama's school search, I heard more than one voice question why the Obama family should "sacrifice" their children to the cause of DC public schools. The Blue Ribbon award program is part of the No Child Left Behind act, and I can't help but roll my eyes at the irony. Maybe one day-though maybe not in my lifetime- DC will be the Blue Ribbon town it could and should be.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why The Briefcase Fell Out of Favor by Marshall Keith

My family moved up from Louisville, Kentucky to Rockville, MD after Kennedy was elected. We were barely settled here when he got assassinated. I went down to the mall with my family to see his casket go by. We waited all day, and into the night, and I remember it was cold.

My father got a job with the Atomic Energy Commission. He wrote PR stuff for them. I was all about space travel, moving sidewalks, and hovercrafts. My favorite show was "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." It had a great theme song ("Mission Impossible" TOTALLY plagiarized it). I imagined myself growing up and carrying a briefcase. But not just ANY briefcase, Oh No! It would have all kinds of hidden compartments, surveillance equipment, and secret weapons. The Jackie Kennedy-esque women I would encounter would find me irresistible. I ask you: What woman can resist a cool briefcase and a crew cut?
I was a scared little skinny kid in Rockville. I couldn't get  with the program. A teacher lectured me for hanging out with kids from the "wrong side of the tracks".  I think I was more comfortable with the "wrong side of the track" accent. They were trouble, though. I smoked cigarettes with them, and this one kid had already had sex. (We were ten!) 

To me, coming from the South, it seemed like people were rude up here. When they addressed you, it was like they were always saying "you're an idiot" with their tone of voice and body language, and don't you dare try to contradict them!  I didn't get the whole "the South is prejudiced" thing either. There was a KKK march right down Montgomery Avenue in front of our house. My sister had an African-American friend, and some kid at school saw her playing in our yard and asked if we were N-lovers (but he used the N-word). Welcome to Rockville! I'm glad I lived long enough to see Obama elected. Progress seems so excruciatingly slow. It's nice when there's a quantum leap like this.

Somehow, even though my family was in the middle of a huge never ending financial crisis, I managed to talk them into getting me a bass for $80. My father was furious when he figured out that I would need an amp, too, which of course was not forthcoming. I got an adaptor so I could plug it into the hi-fi. I did that for a couple of weeks and discovered distortion. WHEEEE! 

Then I blew the speaker. 

This started my whole D.I.Y. approach to music. Well, actually, for awhile it was more of a "use/destroy" approach. I stopped practicing my clarinet. I just left it at school. I had fallen in love with this girl, and I figured she would want me to be cool like the Beatles. She had beautiful skin and eyes and hair, and she was all dressed nice and everything. I was wearing ill-fitting hand me downs, but I was hoping the combing down of my bangs would be my new defining characteristic.

OK, after you see "A Hard Day's Night", and you realize how cool the world can be, a field trip to the Smithsonian is- well...underwhelming. They had one kinda cool thing with these cave-people in a glass display case. But apparently cavemen didn't necessarily beat cave women over the head with a club and drag them off by their hair and have their way with them- so yeah, it was boring. (I was hoping for: "yes, not only is it THAT true, we've also learned that cave women were very crafty, and would often stab the cave men, and it is believed that while mating, they liked it 'rough'.")

On the bus ride back to Rockville, I was in the back of the bus with this other kid. We saw a cop at a light near Wheaton Plaza, and the kid says,"I dare you to give that cop the finger." So, for the first act of my new career as a ne'er-do-well, I gave the cop the finger. Big mistake! He had no sense of humor about it at all. Stops the bus. Points at me. "You! Stand up!" Takes me off the bus and makes a big scene. So then I'm supposed to write all these apology letters, and wear a shirt with a scarlet 'F' on it.

After that, the whole "briefcase" thing didn't appeal to me anymore.

By 1970 we were living in DC- just over the line from Silver Spring, in Shepherd Park. My Ma was the secretary at the Takoma Park Presbyterian church. My siblings lived in communes in Takoma Park, and my sister worked at a head shop there called Maggie's Farm. I was transitioning from irritating little brother to fellow party-er. I gave up on school. I just stopped going. Eventually, to appease my elders, I transferred from Coolidge to Wilson. I got sick of the bus ride which included a transfer and a long wait, so I started hitch hiking. After school, sometimes I would just walk from Military Rd, up 16th St, 40 blocks to home.

My parent's place in DC was a nice stopping off point for my friends coming down from Rockville to do stuff in DC like anti-war demonstrations and free concerts. None of us ever had any $$$. A couple of friends and I climbed the fence at Carter Baron to see BB King play. He was great. I went to shows at Fort Reno that summer. I remember seeing some really good bands there like Claude Jones. It was nice just being free with a bunch of people having a great time. But home life, and school were bad. The summer of '70 was the second time I ran away from home. I was 16.

I was desperate for something else besides going to school at Wilson. I heard about a school called The New Educational Project. Some hippies managed to put together an alternative to public school and get it accredited. It was for kids who would otherwise be truants, like me. That fall, I started going there, but actually there was no "there." Sometimes, we would meet at the Friends Meeting House on Florida Ave, or sometimes we'd meet at student's houses, or sometimes at the teacher's pads in Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle or Georgetown. We didn't call them "teachers"- they were resource persons. We did stuff like building models of geodesic domes or reading books on altered states of consciousness-or chanting perfect 5ths (musically a perfect 5th, supposedly has mystical healing properties when chanted). It was somewhat interesting, but the hitch-hiking/arranging for rides was bumming me out, man. All I wanted to do was play music.

Since I was unschooling myself, my Ma weaseled a job for me - being the janitor's helper at church. After janitoring, I was free to play an electric organ in the little wedding chapel, or a big ole pipe organ in the sanctuary. That pipe organ was totally cool! You could step on the bass pedals, and make a huge sound come up from the basement. The upper keyboards could be all fluty, or huge - like a big band horn section..and the sound was everywhere. It rocked! I started f-ing around with the chimes up in the bell tower, so they eventually banished me. In those days, I loved all the atmospheric stuff that groups like the Doors and other psychedelic groups did. I tried to get organ lessons, but the teacher at the church told me I would have to learn piano first. The teacher had a briefcase. So I told him to forget it.

(Marshall may have ditched the briefcase, but he is still a working musician. Check out his myspace page.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I hate to agree with George Bush on ANYTHING, but I have to say even though I live on a shoe string myself- now is the time to go out and shop! Not at the mall-not for a car, but at all the little places that make this town unique. I'm not too worried about our beloved Ben's Chili Bowl (1958) as they can afford to feed the Obamas, and I'm glad they're getting the publicity, but I am thinking about Sullivan's Toy and Art Supply (1954)  on Wisconsin Ave. in Cleveland Park and the Magruder's chain (1875). By the by the Magruder's near Chevy Chase circle has the BEST liquor prices around and incredible weekend wine and booze tastings/sales. Then there's "Hoppy Dave" over at Rodman's (1955) trying to keep the free world (and DC is almost free now isn't it?) stocked in the best beers available on this side of the pond. And Paul's Liquor is still right across the street- both conveniently located near Gawler's Funeral Home (1850)- another DC institution.

I often write about places that we've lost, but we still have chances to keep places like this going.
Look for postings on local favorites soon.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

DC's A Music Town by Mark Noone

In 1964 I went to Lafayette Elementary. This was a different time; DC public schools were places where learning actually happened. I still remember much world geography from Mrs. Jenkins’ fourth grade class, and English grammar from Miss Fernsner. When I started Lafayette, a couple of years earlier, the school still sported the ‘civil defense’ posters left over from the Cuban missile crisis. There was a bomb shelter in the basement of the school, which I illicitly explored, undetected. At some time in the year of sixty four, I also explored the attic of the school. I was 10 and incorrigible. Most DC public schools have a functionless, albeit appealing, steeple atop the building. I went up the tiny ladder to the very pinnacle. My name should still be up there. Upon returning to school in that Fall of ‘64, the black top conversation was mostly of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but during the summer, a British TV show had replaced some forgotten usual show. It was also a hot topic of conversation. But it was not the show that had everybody’s consideration; it was the show’s theme song. I remember talking to Maury Abraham (who by the way sported a Beatle Cut) about the opening guitar lick. Maury and I were “in a band”. At the time I wasn’t sure what that meant. Maury did. Since I was clueless, he later banded together with a singer named Andy Williams, (not of Moon River fame) and a focused individual who played guitar, named Josh Bolton. They were called The Ocelots. Mr. Bolton is now the Whitehouse Chief of Staff. That kind of stuff happens in DC.

A DC greaser who lived on Legation St near Lafayette played guitar and taught me that opening lick. I wish I knew who that greaser was, he probably became someone famous. Maybe he was Link Wray. The opening riff, of Johnny Rivers’ hit of Secret Agent Man, should be in every rock and roll guitarists’ arsenal. That opening lick is still a staple lick for every guitar player. All this went through my mind yesterday as I taught the lick to Charlotte, who is one of my many high school aged guitar students. She actually practices. She writes songs.

Every town in America had kiddy bands back in those days, mostly inspired by the Beatles, DC was no different. I like knowing that playing the three chords on my acoustic Sears guitar in Maury’s basement was the beginning of something I might call my music career. Maury is just as much a part of that as Charlotte is. DC is not just the government or the political machine, or the law, or the murder capitol, or whatever anyone else knows it for. Most importantly, especially for me, it is the home of Link Wray, Trouble Funk, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Peaches and Herb, Duke Ellington, Minor Threat, Good Charlotte, Danny Gatton, The Flying Shards, Grin, Scream, Rummy and the Upsetters… This list can go on and on for days, and it will go on and on for years to come, because first and foremost DC is a music town. But don’t tell anybody, that’s our little secret.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

There Are Fifty States But There Should Be Fifty-One by Lynn Thorp

In honor of my big birthday, here are 50 thank-you notes and random thoughts about Planet DC and its satellites:

  1. I feel like I am really home in DC when I am at Ben’s Chili Bowl.
  2. When we were buying our house in Mt. Rainier, we were also spending every night protesting the first Gulf War at the White House, so 2 year old Nicole thought we were buying the White House.
  3. May 1993 – got arrested right there while handcuffed to Martin Sheen. Before he was President.
  4. The pedestrian thing is okay, but I miss driving by the White House.
  5. If it weren’t for one of DC’s homegrown industries, there would be no West Wing- television as an art form.
  6. Thank you for MacArthur Boulevard.
  7. Thank you for Fletcher’s Boat House.
  8. I could drive MacArthur Boulevard with my eyes closed.
  9. Newcomers can’t really understand what the Boulevard was like 30 years ago. But the spirits are very loud if you listen for them.
  10. The squatters just can’t get the Marion Barry thing.
  11. The Awakening belongs to DC, but at least my adopted county has it.
  12. I can’t find anybody who remembers Hamilton Arms in Georgetown, but I am 95% sure it’s not a Brigadoon-type thing that I imagined.
  13. The first time U2 came here they opened for the Slickee Boys. Three months later they were famous, and Slickees opened for them.
  14. The first time the Clash played here, opening act Bo Didley asked me to introduce him to some girls.
  15. Thank you for Garrett’s.
  16. Thank you for DC rock and roll.
  17. Thank you for The Raven.
  18. In the days of DC Space, people were scared to go down to what is now the Gallery Place “whatever it is.”
  19. Thank you for Lyn1.
  20. Lots of people don’t know that the guy who wrote the piano solo for Layla is a DC guy who was in Nils Lofgren’s first band, even before Grin, and he has a bit of a sordid history. Look it up.
  21. You could learn all you need to know about life at the People’s Drug Store lunch counters.
  22. Sitting in DuPont circle with a coffee and a book is one of my favorite things.
  23. I was taught to drive on the Beltway because there was so little traffic on it.
  24. Because they grew up around here, my kids don’t see color, and they can spot b.s. a mile away.
  25. Thievery Corporation could only come from DC.
  26. The sign at the Wisconsin Ave. Little Tavern said “Buy ‘em [chunk of sign busted off] the Bag.”
  27. My cat Kyoko and I used to share a roast beef sandwich across the street at the Georgetown Roy Rogers on pay day.
  28. My sister Maude built Washington Harbor.
  29. One year the Bullets won the championship, and the Kinks played. ( I thought the hollering and hoopla in the streets was for the Kinks.)
  30. Sky King was jealous of me because he wanted my old friend Dan all to himself.
  31. Thank you for all the local bands and the guitar heroes.
  32. The best 4th of July fireworks are the ones rescheduled due to storms. Rare but priceless.
  33. Piggy really did jump off Key Bridge and survive it.
  34. Mom and her women friends lived above Duke Ziebert’s downtown in the last year of WWII. They would go on group dates with the few men left in town, and someone would stay behind to pocket the excessive tip for spending money for the week.
  35. During WWII many women who were liberated ahead of their time came to DC and did all the jobs usually reserved for men, most of who were off in the military. These became some of our local and national heroes and paved the way.
  36. My mom had an apartment at 14th and Harvard in the late 1940’s. Dad lived his teenage years at 16th and Harvard. My parents lived together at 18th and Kalorama in the 50s. They lived in McLean next to Robert Kennedy’s estate in the late 50s.
  37. Thanks from a grateful nation for Chuck Brown.
  38. If Congress would stop meddling with DC, it would have more enlightened laws than many.
  39. My friend Dan never stopped considering NJ his home, but he loved DC as much as any native.
  40. Half smokes are our thing.
  41. Streets that are called “Roads” are the old farm routes used to deliver food to various parts of the area. MacArthur Blvd. was Conduit Road. There are still Canal Road, Loughboro Road, etc.
  42. Baltimore has Mencken but we have Pelecanos.
  43. Bistro du Coin is not a bad thing to inhabit the space of Food for Thought, karma-wise.
  44. Pizza and bagels are a shortcoming, I have to admit.
  45. It’s too bad you can’t sleep on the beach in Dewey anymore.
  46. Someone must have a photo of the old House of Wig on F Street that I can buy.
  47. Adams Morgan on weekend nights is like Time Square on New Year’s Eve. Rather frightening, not my thing but worth trying out now and then.
  48. The hullaballoo over snow days is a deliberate way to get a mental health day. Don’t knock it, join it.
  49. Until there was widespread AC, tons of people slept in West Potomac Park.
  50. Flying into National (don’t call it the other name), is awesome every single time.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Bishop's Garden

Thanks to Alice with that last posting, I'm reminded that The Bishop's Garden behind the National Cathedral is one of my favorite places in DC. You can reach it by a series of steps leading up from the parking lot , or through an opening near the top which features medieval castle type doors set in a stone wall. I like to come in that way and walk the smaller winding paths down. One side features a large green lawn lined with trees where a dog can squirrel watch for hours on end. The rose garden on the other side combines open spaces and more private spots to sit- my favorite being an out door room which feels like an ancient stone chamber- always cool even on a sweltering day in August.

We used to take the children there for elaborate games of hide and seek. Depending on the time of year and day, it can be crowded with tourists or you might have the place almost to yourself. I remember one day being there with my father and mother and probably the rest of the family. We had all scattered a bit- exploring the herbs or looking for the fish in the little man made stream. A young couple was standing in front of the rose garden-having their picture taken by a passerby when my father, who was probably getting bored, jumped into the scene. The person holding the camera, having no idea that he didn't belong, went ahead and snapped the shot.

The couple was startled at first, but soon started laughing when they realized my father was harmless. He had that effect on people. I like to think that they still have that picture stuck in an album somewhere- and maybe they still laugh when they see that funny little man in the green checked suit standing in between them.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Mobile Party Unit by Alice Despard

photo by happy monkey

When I set my mind back to my early teens, it seems to me that live music shows were at the center of my life. In the early 1970s there were plenty of places in DC for the young hippies to congregate and hang out. Cheap wine was plentiful, but you wanted to stay away from Strawberry Ripple and Boone's Farm Apple wine--those sickeningly sweet concoctions would make you ill in a heartbeat. (Marketing alcohol to the young is no new thing!)

I attended--somewhat sporadically and between bong hits-Maret School- but all my friends were from Sidwell Friends and St. Albans. We were all preppy hippies. We hung out at the
St. Albans coffeehouse every Friday night. Our "Mobile Party Unit" (as we dubbed ourselves)
would go to the local liquor store and buy a gallon of cheap Chablis wine. No problem, even though we were only fourteen years old! Times were much more relaxed back then. We would head for Bishop's Garden gazebo on the Cathedral close, and it was a perfect place to get high: hexagonal benches in a stone structure with arched open windows all around overlooking the rose gardens.

After awhile, we'd wander over to the coffeehouse in the parish hall at St. Albans where a light show was already sending wild patterns onto the ceiling, and the band was in full swing.
The light show artist was really into mixing the oil, water and food colors and swirling them around on the overhead projector. Wow, man! (This is how we entertained ourselves before the video age arrived.)

I remember the Alice Cooper cover band called Tinseled Sin playing there many times.
Other bands, I don't recall their names. It wasn't important because the main thing was just hanging out together with friends and enjoying the whole scene, and maybe snaking around a little bit (hippie dancing--I call it "snakin")

I remember a St. Albans student setting up a candelabra on the piano downstairs in the parish hall basement, and playing Keith Jarrett-style improvisation for hours. I thought he was brave to play solo by the seat of his pants like that. Nowadays, I'm so jaded, I'd rather be shot in the head than listen to pseudo-jazz improv on the piano. Back then, it was all new and full of wonder: "Wow, he's just playing music without any sheet music or even songs to hang onto!"

During the endless, muggy DC summers, we'd hang out at Ft. Reno Park-a major destination for the underage and street-wise. Bands cranked while we sat in the grass or boogied on the basketball courts, wine and weed travelling constantly through the sweaty, hazy throngs of youth. I heard many, many R&B and roots rock bands there---countless Little Feat and Grateful Dead hits were covered. Everyone knew all the same music back then, as it was much more homogeneous than it is now. DC was a Little Feat town, no question.

(Alice may be a reformed party unit, but she's still a wonderful musician.
See her at the Galaxy Hut October 12.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Life For Old Blog

There's that old saying that familiarity breeds contempt, but living in and around DC for most of my life has just led to... more familiarity. I run into someone at a party, and if they are of a certain age and demeanor-given fifteen minutes or so-I can usually find some connection. Just the name Cokinos can do it as my large Greek family has lived here since the early 1900s.

Then there are the circles. My friend Lynn grew up a block from where I live now.
(I actually met her Dad, Mat Thorp independantly of Lynn- he is a very active guy in my neighborhood and not hard to spot taking care of business in his summer suits with the pants cut down to shorts, plaid slip on shoes and yellow happy face socks.) In Lynn's circle there is a couple from her Georgetown U. days who I already knew as parents from my son's school. Lynn said one of her Mt. Rainier neighbors was in a band, and when I saw him I realized I knew him from dc space days. Yet another friend of hers, a junk dealer, was a college housemate of mine. I was at a party a month ago, and I talked to a woman I'd never met before. After the aforesaid fifteen minutes or so she suddenly asked me- do you know Lynn?

That kind of thing.

So this blog started out as a homage to my parents and my hometown. It will continue on in that vein, but with the loss of my father it has become harder to keep on writing. So after turning this thing out to pasture for the summer, I hope to bring it back stronger with fresh horses so to speak with DC based guest writers. 

Look for the first guest post tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Long Lost Cousin Nat

F. Bernard Schultz in Hawaii

Strange and interesting things happen now that we have the internet to connect the planet. For example, once upon a time, a man in Tennessee decided to trace his family history. He did not know very much about his paternal grandfather- only that he was not in the picture- and had left his grandmother to raise her children alone.  In fairly short order, however, through the miracle of "google", the man landed here, on this very site. Why? Because my grandmother was the one his grandfather ran off with.

Here's the story from my new found "cousin" Nat:

"As you know, I didn't know much at all about my grandfather, barely his name. After my father's death, I decided to take a "shot in the dark" and googled it. Surprisingly, the first link was to a memorial from the Mamiya Medical Heritage Center in Hawaii. The article itself talked extensively about his professional history but very little about his personal history. At the bottom of that article, though, was a reference to his step-daughter, Mrs. George Cokinos.

After reading that article, I went back to the same Google link pages and came across your blog, giving a Pearl Harbor tribute to your grandmother. Wondering how the name Schultz was related to her, I read the article and found that the two of them had been married. Seeing that your last name was the same as the one in the Mamiya article, I decided to take a chance and to "introduce" myself to you to see if you might know about our family history. I now probably know my grandfather more than my father ever did thanks to a lead that I found on the internet."

 And so I found my new (step) cousin, Nat and was able to pass along not only information, but also letters and souvenirs from his long lost grandfather who had spent all of World War Two as an army doctor in Hawaii. Dr Schultz was quite a character. Tall and handsome, he was an accomplished musician who played with Paul Whiteman. He was also a talented actor, artist and writer,  and quite the lothario. He left my grandmother for greener pastures as well.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mount Vernon Place Once Upon A Time

My father, George Cokinos and Billie Stathes became friends when he was six, and she was five years old. That would've been 1922. Greek immigrants had put down serious roots here in Washington,  raising families and funds for a church of their own named for St Sophia.  But that was a future dream. Billie remembers when the congregation gathered upstairs in a room rented from a synagogue on 6th and G NW.

Billie  (front and center)

As she tells it, my father loved to entertain the Sunday school class when the teacher had to step out. He would make silly faces and wag his fingers- anything to make everyone laugh. They remained good friends for life. My brothers lived with her after she moved to Florida to teach school. She became my sister's godmother, and she took it upon herself to make sure my children had books every Christmas.

George with the bow

Billie is 91 now, and she recently attended my father's funeral here in Washington. She flew in from Coral Gables where she is retired though she still found the energy to translate Greek verses and publish a book. She gave me this remarkable map of the St Sophia neighborhood - drawn specifically from her memories by her cousin, Nick Chacos.

 Billie also included this narrative:
From 1922 until 1933 I called the two blocks of Eighth Street near Mt. Vernon Square where I lived-"the village.".Mount Vernon Square with its beautiful park and library was our landmark for an every day visit after school.

On the corner of 8th and L was the Greek Orthodox Church. There was a social hall in the basement where dances for teenagers were held every Friday night. You had to be fourteen to attend. 

 Next to the church was a small two story house where the caretaker, Alec and his wife, Koula Cokinos lived. Their home was always open for cookies and a visit.

All of the houses on the right were brownstones, three or four stories high. On the left was a row of small homes where the colored folk lived. We all played together.
Dr. Fred Repetti, the village doctor lived on 8th and L, too.  Every family went to him for advice and medicine. During prohibition, he would give prescriptions for bourbon, Four Roses and rum. The drugstore at the other corner gladly filled them in medicine bottles. We made wine in our basement every year, and even the policemen would be waiting for it. Around the corner on M street was the grocery store and the Chinese laundry. 

Our pride and joy was the corner of 8th and M where there were four gas stations. We were very very proud of them. No one on our blocks owned an automobile. We would go to the corner every day to look at the marvelous cars which stopped for gas. Two blocks were torn down in the late 1930s taking our village with them.

(9th and L today)

Most of the neighborhood is gone now, although the 1905 Carnegie library is still in tact. The new convention center has obliterated blocks of Billie's history with only signage at 9th and M to remind people of the past and preserve a few pictures and anecdotes of the way things were.


St. Sophia moved uptown in 1951- just off Massachusetts's Avenue where it stands today.
Click on the maps above to see details of the gone away village.

Monday, February 18, 2008


When my nephew and I proof read the death notice for my father, George P. Corkinos, we both missed that extraneous "r" at first. Everything we have done as a family this past week has been in a collective state of disbelief. It is hard to accept that this man is no longer here with us. Usually when a human reaches the age of 91, people shake their heads and say how sorry they are, but the word shock does not usually come up as it has this week. My father was so vivacious and charming- no one believed he was as old as he was. He had a great run.

His name, of course, was George P. Cokinos. The 'p' is important. There is my cousin, George A. Cokinos, my nephew, George S. Cokinos and and my cousin Mark, who is actually George M. Cokinos. (He has a son named George as well- George Nicholas.) ( Or maybe it's Nicholas George) That's just off the top of my head. Believe me, I could go on.

My father was out cruising when he fell. He had been in Florida since New Year's Eve, tanning on the roof of his condo every day that the sun shone. The ship was in port in Mexico when he tumbled down the stairs, and was airlifted to a hospital in Cozumel, then to Fort Lauderdale, but he never recovered.

He went out doing something he loved- traveling with my mother and my sister, tanned and vibrant, but not able to overcome the blow. And it is a blow to us all- everyone who knew him- whether it was a brief meeting or a lifetime of friendship, he always made an impact on everyone who crossed his path.  (I've actually felt sorry for a car salesman in his presence.)

My Dad 's life touched a lot of people. He was kind. He was funny. His sense of humor was one of a kind. His special name for me was Gunga Din. "Gunk" for short. What could be funnier than that?

Only about a million stories which I hope to keep adding here.

Thanks, Dad. It was a blast.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Do You Know What It Means To Miss...

Here we go again. Another wild and crazy DC area landmark will soon become a memory.
Tom Sarris' Orleans House is still afloat, a sort of lost island from beyond the 1960s caught for the moment in the maze that makes up deepest darkest Rosslyn. A mega skyscraper will soon take its place- and what a place it was. Tom Sarris took a Giant food store and transformed it into a New Orleans fantasy. Inside you stepped into his world--two stories of wrought iron, Tiffany style lamps and a salad bar modeled after a riverboat. But how did this tribute to The Big Easy get here?

According to my father, Tom Sarris grew up in Washington with Blackie Auger who created his own landmark "Blackie's House of Beef." The Augers went down to New Orleans one year to celebrate Mardi Gras, and Blackie's wife, Lou Auger presided as a queen. When they returned, an addition to Blackie's was created around the dress she wore and dubbed "The Orleans Room." Blackie's success prompted Tom Sarris to make his own "Orleans House," and his old friend gave him advice on the beef end of the restaurant biz.

For years Tom Sarris' bargain prime rib with an all you can eat salad bar was the big attraction here. Both the rich and famous as well as the little guy on a budget liked to dine here. Blackie thought giving away salad was a bad idea, but Tom stuck to his guns. My father always raved about the salad bar and called it "beautiful."

When we heard it was closing, we wanted to go back once more. Everything was frozen in time including one of the waitresses who had been there over 45 years. The salad bar was still "beautiful." The food, I have to admit, just okay, but it was well worth the trip down the rabbit hole. A clock from the Willard Hotel is here. A knight in armor as well. The Orleans House officially closes 0n January 15th so make your plans now.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Cokinos Brothers on H Street

Here it is - the oldest photo so far of the early local chain of "Cokinos Brothers." This particular candy shop was owned by my grandfather, Pete Cokinos (pictured right) at 1103 H Street Northeast. This photo was taken probably around 1919- after his brother, Alek (pictured left) came over from Greece to join him.