Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Mother Slept Here (and here)

I don't know where exactly George Washington slept around here, but I do know that my mother, Bernice Bailey Calvert, gave him a run for the money. Her family moved at least eight times while she was growing up, and all of those addresses were within the confines of the District of Columbia starting with the old Sibley Hospital on North Capitol Street where she was born on November 18, 1917.

Wednesday was my mother's birthday, and I'd planned a tour of all her former residences, but first we needed sustenance. We stopped in at my favorite place for soul food, the Hitching Post near the Old Soldier's Home, for a fabulous fried chicken feast thanks to the proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Carter who have held the fort here since 1968.

After the birthday lunch, we headed just down the street to 1346 Quincy Street in Petworth- one of the many addresses I have for the Calvert family. The three of them lived in one of these four bedroom row houses, squeezing in my great grandfather Papa Bailey, his two teenaged daughters Mary and Johnnie Pearl, and a lodger to help make ends meet.

Built in 1918, these homes must have been fairly new when my family lived there in 1922. As far as I can tell this was the second place the family lived- the first being 2107 F Street-"near the gas works" according to my mother. This picture was probably taken in 1919.  George Washington University owns the building now.

At that time Roger was running "Calvert Commercial Service "opening doors" for newcomers to Washington who were hoping to see their representatives. (Roger himself came  to town in 1916 to work for Senator Sharp Williams of Mississippi.) The company motto?  "We do not pretend to know everyone, but we know someone who does." The office was at 1402 F Street and in a letter home, he mused to his mother that he could walk two blocks to the White House and see the President, but he was yet unable to get home to the family farm in Mississippi. Sure enough he also mentions a photograph of President Harding with his wife and child in August 1921 with "little Bernice holding the President's hand."

My mother's little brother Roger Jr. was born in late November of that year also at Sibley Hospital. They called him "Sonny."

The family was outgrowing F Street when they moved up to Petworth and then to Mt Pleasant where they would settle for a few years. Sonny was baptized at Mt Pleasant M.E. Church by Brother Ray. Their  next address, 1370 Irving Street is now "new luxury condos," but the Argonne Apartments- built in 1921 at 1629 Columbia Road- are still standing. The family lived in two different apartments there.

They also lived in the Chalfonte- built in 1918 on Argonne Place- right behind the Argonne. Mom remembers lying in her bed at night hearing the lions roar at the National Zoo down the hill.

In early 1929 they lived at 2606 Motzart Place. The house is still there although the big side yard where my mom climbed a tree has given over to a parking lot just like Joni Mitchell predicted.

She remembers the floor plan of this place- having a fireplace angled between the living room and the hall to the kitchen. She could walk out her back door to HD Cooke Elementary which was on the other side of the block.

Cutting across town we passed by the rather grand Broadmoor on Connecticut Ave. My grandparents were the first managers when it opened in 1929- just before the Big Crash. They lived in at least 4 different apartments there. (Is anybody keeping count?) Here's Bebe age 16 hanging out with a few friends in front of the lamp post.

And here she is a few years later. Didn't realize I took this picture in almost the same spot until I found the old one.

Back out on the Avenue, I thought we were finished when Mom started waving at yet another building on the corner of Connecticut and Ordway. I veered over to the curb and found out that she lived there  late in 1934 when she was about seventeen. She graduated from Western High School that year in 1935, and it was from this place that my mother left "home" for good.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Do You Remember the Broadmoor?

My grandfather, Roger Louis Calvert, was the first manager of The Broadmoor Apartment Building on Connecticut Avenue when it opened in 1929 which was a long way from the farm where he grew up outside of Meridian, Missisissippi. Here is a clipping from the Washington Post:

Today the Broadmoor is a modern co-op, but still has the details of grandeur. A friend of mine is a current resident and is looking to gather history about it. Recently she found out about a restaurant there (pre-1948) called The Marguery.

If you have any stories or memories, please write or leave a comment here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

So Long Old Friend by Chip Py

I bought this TV in 1986 at the Peoples Drug Store on Old Georgetown Road for $129.00. It was a wedding gift to my sister. For the last ten years, it has been my basement TV. Something to turn on while I painted furniture, strung up my fishin' poles or any other basement project. It has no remote, the channels are changed with a knob, and it gets UHF! (that round thing on top is a UHF Antennae) I have chosen not to buy it a conversion box because it just doesn't seem right.

I will miss my basement TV. It will probably sit in my basement for a few more years until I take it to the dump. Or perhaps, like LPs, I could wait for the analog TV comeback! That High Def is probably just a fad. One day my TV will be retro cool, and I'll be cutting edge!!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Georgetown by David Arnson

I always loved Georgetown. I remember going for the first time with my parents when I was about 8 or 9 years old and marveling at the hippies. Boys and girls strolling down the sidewalks with their bare feet and guitars, the lava lamps in the gift store windows, and the psychedelic poster shops. I still have my "White Rabbit" poster from the East Totem West Company! Georgetown was such a hip and fascinating place. In junior high and high school, I would take the bus down Wisconsin Avenue on weekends. I might eat an amazing sandwich at The French Market atop the hill across from Dumbarton Oaks, and then stroll down to the bookstores at Wisconsin and P or the one down by the brick Canal Street mall, between M street and the river, to search for science fiction and Conan books.

I would always check out the record stores, the one on Wisconsin above P had, to my teen eyes,  the unnerving poster of John and Yoko nude, but my fave was Orpheus Records on M street. I remember (I'd read reviews in Rolling Stone or Crawdaddy) asking the bearded hippie hipster behind the counter whether I should buy the new LP by Bob Weir or Blue Oyster Cult. He started to mock me by loudly chanting (his coworkers chimed in) "Blue Oyster Cult! Blue Oyster Cult! Blue Oyster Cult!" which to them clearly seemed like a joke band. I went home with Blue Oyster Cult, and damned if I didn't like it! So what if it wasn't hippie music? Orpheus would host cool Halloween parties, and the most eccentric people would show up, my fave being the striking blond with the albino lil ' ferret climbing around her neck. I remember me and my buddy buying Mott the Hoople's Mott and Johnny Winter's Still Alive and Well on Halloween night 1973. I think I was in 10th grade?

We all knew it was uncool to hang out at Blimpie's on the corner of Wisconsin and M, because "that's where the narcs hang out." Ikaros Pizza on M (where I learned what a gyro was) around the corner was way cooler. Also on M you could see cool arty movies at the Biograph and at the Cerberus with its cool art deco neon numbers 1/2/3 in its window. Also notable was the always amazing Key theater that would screen Rocky Horror Picture Show and Eraserhead. Both were among the best of midnight movies in town.

We were barely (actually maybe not really) old enough to go see Patti Smith at the Cellar Door in 1975, but she was like no other performer I'd seen before: cracking jokes, spitting, arching her back upside down on all fours while doing a yoga bridge on Ain't it Strange.

Across M street from the Cellar Door was Desperados, a great club that mainly featured roots music, but later hosted lots of new wave acts like us Insect Surfers. Next door was a multi level army surplus store where I kept myself attired in Italian and Belgian army jackets. If you walked further west, you could find the famous Exorcist stairwell that the priest tumbles down in the movie. And let's not forget The Bayou, at the end of Wisconsin where it hit the Potomac, had some of the best club shows in DC.

(photo by David Nuttycombe)

WGTB, broadcasting from Georgetown University, was the absolute coolest station, and I remember attending a rally (unsuccessfully) to keep it on the air. (The Jesuit administration evidently didn't like them running an ad for a clinic that sponsored abortions.) I got turned on to such a wide array of music from WGTB. Georgetown U. had the most beautiful campus with its medieval looking buildings and courtyards. In between college semesters, I worked at the university hospital while punk rock was slowly taking the city by storm. You could go to Haagen-Dasz Ice Cream and talk to a slightly goofy Henry Garfield behind the scoop counter before he joined Black Flag as "Henry Rollins" to became a professional angry guy. (photo by Alan Kresse)

I still miss the old Little Tavern Hamburgers ("Buy 'em by the bag!") on the east side of Wisconsin and P, with its white and green 40s style architecture and teeny burgers with oniony lumps o' meat. The Little Tavern chain was a late-night mainstay for me, and I sadly saw them slowly disappear from D.C., then Bethesda, Wheaton, and finally, the last store in College Park.

Also let's not forget: The Brickskellar, a great student haven for a myriad of beer varieties and the sadly mundane tasting buffalo burgers. Commander Salamander- the shop where the punk world clashed with the poser fashion world. AND Kemp Mill Records, The Crazy Horse, Poseurs, Olssen's Record and Tape Exchange, Blues Alley, Up Against the Wall-I know I'll think of more later! All of these places have stories.

I drove through Georgetown recently, and it seemed to have become a lot more upscale and definitely less interesting, but I will always have great memories of its vibrant pop-cultural past. BCC High School Yearbook 1976

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Nick's Valet by Nick Ruggieri

My name is Nick Ruggieri and I am a second-generation Italian-American raised in the Washington, DC area. My memories of growing up in Washington have strong roots with my Sicilian grandfather, Nonno, as he was affectionately called by my family. Nonno was born Nicola Ruggieri in Fiumadinisi, Sicily in 1896 and came to America in his early twenties. Fiumadinisi was a small town where crime was relatively non-existent due in large part to a town center that engaged in public displays of its own form of civil law. Those caught stealing got a finger chopped off in front of all to witness. It was that simple…you do the crime, you pay the price.

Nonno’s travel experience to this country was never discussed and we gather his time at Ellis Island was quite unpleasant. Legal entry to the United States required a sponsor from one’s country and $50 cash in one’s pocket. In years to come, my grandfather sponsored other Sicilian immigrants who followed his lead in making a new start and finding work in America.

In the early 1930s Nonno launched his business, Nick’s Valet on 14th and Irving Streets NW. He set out to establish himself as a shoe cobbler and haberdasher of sorts, providing shoe repair and design, as well as tailoring, dry cleaning, and shoeshine services. The back of the shop housed living quarters in which he and my grandmother, Nonna, raised two daughters and one son - my dad. All were born with the assistance of a midwife in this tiny little apartment. The family later moved a few blocks away to 3805 13th Street NW. They lived in a beautiful row house with three floors, each having long narrow rooms that seemed to stretch on forever. Planted in the backyard were wonderful fig trees that many Italians seemed to cherish back then.

As kids growing up in the 6os my brother and I had the wonderful opportunity to work in Nonno’s shop performing the more menial tasks - sweeping floors, working the cash register and greeting the customers, but our greatest joy came in observing and talking with Nonno’s employees. By the time we started frequenting the shop, most of the older Sicilian workers had either retired or passed on. They were replaced by African-American men hired by Nonno. Two guys I will never forget were Joe the shoeshine man and Louis the tailor.

The shop shoeshine stand, quite in vogue back then, consisted of five leather-cushioned chairs that sat high upon two steps of smooth white marble. Joe would grab his tools of the trade and begin slapping shoe polish directly from his hands to the shoes. With a brush in each hand, he’d go about polishing the shoes in a rhythmic pattern that sounded quite like a jazz drummer playing with brushes. Next he used his buffing cloth to draw a brilliant shine out of each shoe. When he snapped that cloth three times over each shoe, you knew his work was complete. Man, in all my then-eight years of existence that was the coolest music I ever heard coming out of a human being! I truly believe my interest in drumming came from watching Joe do his thing.

Louis the tailor, on the other hand, was a character to say the least. By week’s end, when Friday rolled around, Louis was already half in the bag and spinning more yarns than cloth. He shared wild stories with my brother and me, staring at us with his gleaming madman eyes, while his wicked smile proudly showed off his two gold teeth. He often argued with Nonno, and I can recall one incident in particular in which Louis threw a shoe at my grandfather beaming him right on the head. My grandfather wasn’t the kind of guy to take crap from anyone, and many times my dad had to jump in between those two to keep the peace. One Saturday morning I accompanied my dad to the DC penitentiary, which at the time was located next to the DC Armory. I distinctly recall waiting in the car while my father trudged through the gates to bail Louis out from yet another Friday night venture that landed him in the drunk tank. (My father said it was the eeriest feeling to have those gates slam shut behind him, and I often recalled those words when growing up - they helped me in choosing between right and wrong on many an occasion.) After what seemed like an eternity, my dad finally re-emerged through the gates with Louis staggering behind him, sporting a fat shiner on his right eye and reeking of cheap booze. We drove Louis straight to the shop to start his work day not even stopping for a cup of coffee. Louis may have had his shortcomings but he was a good man and I loved him dearly, as did all who came into contact with him.

Not only were those two guys a constant source of wonder to me but the endless stream of persons who walked through Nonno’s door on 14th Street were like none other I had ever experienced in my lifetime. But I’ll save those stories for another time.

Nonno’s shop burned down in the ’68 riots and for years there was an empty lot where Nick’s Valet once stood. From time to time I would drive by and just stop and stare, remembering what once was. I would still have the same special feelings that I once had as a kid on that block. Some memories are just etched in time.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Last Valentine

My parents George and Bebe were born and raised in Washington DC, but this isn't really a DC story so much as a love story that happened here. As far as I know my mom and dad have always tried to celebrate Valentine's Day. Maybe it was because they had a rare sort of love- the kind that lasts. They met while still in high school at Western and weathered deep family disapproval over their multicultural backgrounds. My grandfather forbid all his local business friends to hire his son in an effort to thwart the young couple's chances long enough for my father to come to his senses- which he never did. He stayed in love with my mother for over seventy years. And it's not too dramatic to say that only death could part them.

That's a lot of Valentines.

Though my father was a warm and funny man, he rarely showed his romantic side, but I have written proof. (Get the Kleenx now) Here is a note my father wrote sometime in the last 10 years when he was in his eighties:

"Dearest One,
Why can I not say the words I can write. At least once a day and sometimes more often I think how much I love you, not only as a wife, but as a friend and companion....My love is 60 times stronger as each year has gone by."

Or this one written when they had been married over 65 years:

"As we sit night after night watching T.V. I often think what a beautiful woman you are not only in body, but also your mind."

Most of these he signed "George", but I liked the one that ends "Love, Your What's His Face- GPC"

My father died shipboard one year ago today, but he had thought ahead and bought my mother a valentine before they went on what would be their last cruise. We found it unsigned. It was one of many such trips that my father worked hard for all his life. On one of their first cruises, my mother spotted a clause in the contract that stated a child could stay in their room for free. I was the baby of the family, but in my early 20s I wasn't up for bunking in with the parental units. My older sister, however, had raised a family and divorced by then and was happy to go. (She was here after known as "the child.") On their last cruise, my father tripped on the stairs and that was pretty much that for him. My mother blames the sneakers he was wearing. We still find it easier to pretend he isn't really gone, but he is.

My dad loved many things- his family first. He loved dogs, and cars and Home Depot. He loved to travel especially to Greece. He loved the beach. He loved chocolate, Tootsie Rolls, half smokes and Greek chicken with macaroni. He loved to tell stories. He sang and sneezed loudly and could make a great egg sandwich. He loved practical jokes, and getting a bargain. He loved to make people laugh.
And now I know he loved my mother with a fierce and steadfast heart that continues to inspire me even after he is gone. That unsigned valentine speaks volumes now.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Report From The Front by Lynn Thorp

(the scene over @ Hugh and Sylvia's)


I am in my living room in my pajamas at 11:17 a.m. on Inauguration Day crying my eyes out. There are many reasons to be moved today, but I am overwhelmed by an email I just read from my Dad, Mat Thorp, DC native, World War II veteran and long-time Republican voter. He was commenting on an email I sent him last night about all the things I had been doing this weekend and my plans for today. He wrote: “Our new President would be proud of your diligence.”

“Our new President” did me in because those three words tell you so much about my Dad. My Mom and Dad believed in voting and in contributing however you could. They were not activists the way we think of them in my world, but I have learned to see how their influence shaped my life. They saw government and military careers as a noble calling. They raised us to watch NASA launches because they were enormous human achievements by some of our brightest minds. They always voted, even when they had to vote absentee because Mom was not able to get around. As a DC resident most of his life, Dad couldn’t vote until 1964 so he takes the privilege seriously. In 1976, the first year I was eligible to vote, he said “I don’t care what Communist you vote for, just vote.”

Despite being a McCain supporter, Dad spent this election season – all 2 years of it – proud of the enthusiasm and effort on the part of my friends and his, too. Right now he is at the home of my college buddies and our dear friends-like-family Sylvia and Hugh partying with friends who live in that part of town – Democrats all. He’s the one who taught me the beauty of the peaceful transition of power. In his Parade magazine letter to his daughters this weekend, Our New President said “ ...it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.” Now I know where I heard that idea before.

The foundation of the democratic system is that today, Barack Obama is indeed “Our President,” no matter who you are. My Mom, Lynnette Wilson Thorp, born and raised in Yell County, Arkansas would be beside herself. Thanks Dad for being a role model for all of us. You are a class act.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Why I Miss the Places That Are Gone

One after one they fall, those old dusty places that no one will ever be able to replace because they belong to another time. The Market Inn is the latest casualty in the name of progress. I know I'm a little weird, attached as I am to the rock holes and restaurant relics, but I also recognize when history is being obliterated, and that the value of these lost places has no price tag. (Well, maybe pieces of it have a price tag which is why I was able to liberate the upright piano when the Roma auctioned its contents. It's a great old work horse that needs to be put out to pasture according to Bobby Lee Birdsong, but I can't bring myself to do it and so it sits, moldering in my living room- still reeking of cigarettes on hot summer days.) The Market Inn auction will be later this month.

The new trend towards reviving the town center is a good idea, but how did we stray so far from the originals? Silver Spring, Rockville and Hyattsville were towns in their own rite, but now their new "down towns" have an interchangeable feel. And I just can't imagine people working their whole lives in a Baja Fresh as they did in the old family run places. Hyattsville now boasts an arts district which is a great idea, but part of this includes the most sterile "urban row homes" to house bohemia that I've ever seen in the new town center behind PG Plaza. Somebody needs to go in there with a case of spray paint. And I doubt any of the new restaurants will be collecting nudes, or full suits of armour or hunting trophies like they did in the Market Inn, the Orleans House and The Roma. Ulysses Auger, of Blackie's House of Beef once built an annex called Lulu's which was dedicated to his wife's one time experience as a Queen of Mardi Gras. Now that's what I call a theme restaurant!

Sprinkled here and there the old and odd places are still clinging to life- like Martin's Tavern, Tastee Diner, Crisfield's, Vincino's and god bless Roger Miller's African Restaurant. Franklin's is a great blend of new and old- housed in an old hardware store and serving some of the best beer in the area. And one of my all time favorites is The Hitching Post where you can get a fried chicken sandwich which boasts at least 5 pieces of bird and almost as an afterthought two pieces of Wonder bread on the side. Here's a picture of my mom on her ninetieth plus birthday ( you heard me) and her chicken sandwich. It just doesn't get much better than this.