Oral History Project
INTERVIEW: Patricia Myler
WHEN: 18 December 2017
WHERE: home of the interviewee
INTERVIEWER: Carl Lankowski
CL: Thanks for doing this interview with HCCDC, Patty. Let’s start with you. When and where were you born?
PM: I was born at Georgetown Hospital on November 20, 1946. My parents had recently moved into Chevy Chase DC. They lived on Rittenhouse Street.
CL: How did the family get to Rittenhouse?
PM: After my father returned from World War II, and his 4 ½ years of army service, they briefly rented an apartment located at the corner of 16th Street and Military Road and then they bought our house on Rittenhouse street.
CL: I noticed the plaque on your current house on Quesada states that it was built in 1935.
PM: That is right. I think the houses on Rittenhouse were built a little bit later than the ones on Quesada but I am not sure. These 8 colonials were all built by the same builder, Muhleman & Kayhoe out of Richmond VA, between 1931 and 1935, his development was called “Williamsburg Row”. I believe my parents were the third owners of their Rittenhouse home.
CL: Have you any idea who the previous owners were?
PM: I do not, although my father always said that the previous owner must have been important during the war, because they had all kinds of special electrical and telephone wiring running through the basement.
CL: Certainly likely in wartime Washington. Where was the family settled before they came to 16th and Military?
PM: My father grew up in Southwest DC, when it was called “the island.” My father’s family has deep roots in DC. I am the fifth generation living here on my father’s side. Our roots go back to about 1634 in St. Mary’s County, MD. My great great grandfather, Richard Wimsatt, moved his family from St. Mary’s County to Washington after the War of 1812, in 1817. He lived in Washington for another 50 years and their children all stayed in the Southwest area where there were many large beautiful homes. The family was involved in the lumber business. They had various lumber yards in SW DC on the banks of the Potomac River. There was Wimsatt & Uhler, Smith & Wimsatt and Finally Johnson & Wimsatt, all owned by family members.
CL: Where did they get the lumber?
PM: Well, in the early years typically, they hauled rough sawn lumber from timber tracts in North Carolina, out of Wilmington, NC and points on the Albermarle Sound up to Washington by barge, ram or schooner, as the firm owned a fleet of sailing vessels and it was at one time the largest operation of its kind in the region. Operations later transferred to the West Coast, transporting lumber products by rail. They owned a fleet of sail boats, a schooner- the Josephine Wimsatt and two rams, the Kinkora and another whose name I do not have record of. Rams were single-masted work boats common on the Bay and the Potomac in that time. They would sail them to North Carolina loaded with fertilizer and bring lumber back. They would take treated sewage from the city system for use on the Carolina farm fields.
CL: Used for fertilizer, I presume?
PM: It was distributed to farms in North Carolina, as fertilizer! They didn’t want to sail empty ships down to North Carolina.
CL: The SW lumber yard was not far from Alexandria?
PM: It was across the river from Alexandria. In fact, some of my family did live in Alexandria back when Alexandria was still part of the District of Columbia as Alexandria wasn’t retroceded to Virginia until 1846 and by then they had moved to Southwest Washington.
CL: A booming town then.
PM: That’s right. The family there was on my grandfather’s mother’s side. They were Clearys.
CL: Do you know anything about their perceptions and attitudes about political life then?
PM: This little book was written by my great grandmother about her life as a young child during the Civil War.
Her family tended to “have sympathies with the southern cause,” and she refers to herself as “a little rebel.” She states that she didn’t believe that they had to go to war to solve the slave issues. She discusses her life during the war in her little book, “Recollections” which she wrote for her children and grandchildren. Her family was then living on 7th street SW between C St and Virginia Ave. That home was later torn down to make room for a Southern Railroad Station.
After the outbreak of the Civil War, her father lost his government position when it was known that his sympathies were with the Southern Cause. The family fled Washington hastily and secretly, in the spring of 1864. Shortly later, the home was surrounded by northern sympathizers who declared “they would kill anyone named Cleary they could find,” fortunately they could find none! They then ended up moving first to Longwood VA then to White Sulphur Springs VA and finally to Charlottesville VA, where they remained until the end of the war. The war followed them wherever they went, and the battlefield was often close enough to hear gunfire. After the war ended they returned to Washington.
My great, great grandmother’s brother, Wilmer McLean, owned the farm where the first Battle of the Civil War was fought, the First Battle of Manassas. He then moved his family to a farm not far from Appomattox Court House, ironically this house was later used as the location for Lee’s surrender to Grant. It has often been said that the Civil War began in Wilmer McLean’s backyard and ended in his front parlor!
CL: When was Recollections published?
PM: As I said it was self-published and undated, but research shows that it was published in 1926 and that it was copied and digitalized by the University of Virginia in 2008 . She wrote it for her children and grandchildren. It is impossible to find copies of the book, as very few were printed. Fortunately, I have one and have made copies of it for our children.
CL: Describe it for us.
PM: It is a little red leather-bound volume with the title: RECOLLECTIONS, by Josephine Cleary Wimsatt. She was the youngest of 10 children. Josephine and her sister, Genevieve Blanche Cleary, are pictured in it as children during the time of the Civil War. It appears that my Great Grandmother was about 9 or 10 in the picture. The two sisters ended up marrying brothers. My maiden name is Wimsatt, the sisters married Wimsatt brothers. Genevieve married Samuel Harris Wimsatt and Josephine married William Abell Wimsatt. Consequently, they were very close throughout their lives and always shared the same last name!
I believe Josephine was about 5 when the war began. She had five grown brothers at the time of the Civil War. One brother, William Bernard, was in the Jesuit seminary at the time and he was conscripted by the Union Army, though her family tended to be Southern sympathizers. It was felt by the family that this was spite work. The Jesuits paid $300 to procure a substitute to go to war instead of him, a custom that was often followed at that time. Three of her brothers served in the Confederate Army and all survived the war. Her other brother was just a schoolboy at the time. She also had 4 sisters.
Records show that her brothers were attending the Washington Seminary in 1848, the precursor Of Gonzaga College High School and that her brother entered the Jesuit order in 1852 at the age of 16.
CL: The Jesuits?
PM: Yes, he became a Jesuit priest and went on to teach Philosophy at Georgetown University and Boston College, he also served on the Board of Directors at Georgetown University and after finishing his fourth year of theology he was appointed Minister and Vice -President of Gonzaga College, Washington. At the same time, he gave help as preacher and confessor at St. Aloysius Church.
CL: What was his name?
PM: William Bernard Cleary, SJ. His nickname was “Button”. He was my great grandmother’s oldest brother. Her grandfather, William Cleary, had a sister, Catherine Honara Cleary who became a Visitation sister, Sr. Mary Augustine Cleary, who was elected superior of the Visitation Convent in Georgetown for two different terms as well as being elected to serve for years as superior at both the Visitation Monastery in Frederick MD and the Visitation Monastery in Abingdon VA. William Cleary also had a son Reuben who died while he was in the novitiate studying for priesthood in the Jesuit Order.
CL: The family was already running the lumber business in Alexandria?
PM: No, it was not in Alexandria but on the Washington waterfront in southwest. The Wimsatt side of the family operated lumber yards - between 7th and 9th streets along the wharf. Until they were forced out by Urban Renewal in 1960. There is evidence of at least three different lumber operations that were active during the mid to late 1800’s, there are records for Wimsatt and Uhler, Smith & Wimsatt and finally Johnson & Wimsatt. It seems that at various point in time the Wimsatt brothers were all operating lumber companies. In 1883, William Abell Wimsatt, my great grandfather, joined with a brother-in-law, Johnson, and they established a wholesale lumber business that was incorporated in 1883 as Johnson & Wimsatt. This company also later operated lumber yards in Georgetown, DE and Newport News, VA as well as a buying office in Eugene, OR. This is the company my father worked for, for the better part of his life.
My great great grandfather had a home at 208 8th Street SW, my great grandfather’s home was at 215 8th Street SW, which was right near 8th and Independence Avenue and my grandfather’s home was at 1st and C Streets, SW. The remaining homes were all demolished during the “Urban Renewal” of Southwest to make way for what is now the abominable L’Enfant Plaza! During the period between 1954 to 1960 over, 20,000 SW residents were forced to relocate as southwest was leveled, only St Dominic’s Church was spared!
CL: Let’s go back further now. Fill us in on the period in St. Mary’s County.
PM: Family history has it that the first family ancestors on my father’s side came to Maryland from England in 1634 on either of the vessels, The Ark or The Dove. Their status was apparently that of indentured servants. There was no ship manifest we could find listing the names of the indentured servants, only of the wealthier paying passengers. Our understanding is that the indentured servants came to the colony to work for whoever paid their passage for a period of five years and then they were given their own plot of land. The Wimsatts must have been a pretty prolific family though, because there are lots of Wimsatts when you go back through the early Jesuit History in Southern Maryland as well as the St. Mary’s County records, where there are a number of Wimsatt soldiers listed as serving in the War of 1812. You can find their names in some Saint Mary’s records back as far as 1665. Favorite given names were Richard, Robert, Dorothy, Isabel, Samuel, William, which has often caused some confusion for later generations researching our genealogy as the same names kept being passed along, sometimes with brothers sharing the same “given” name with different middle names.
CL: Did they live in the town of St. Mary’s?
PM: Probably in the nearby vicinity, our family tree states that their land was about 1 mile from what is now Leonardtown, MD. I have a book of the history of “The Jesuit Missions of St. Mary’s County, Maryland” which contains history of the early settlement plus parish records of many births, deaths and weddings. My 4th Great Grandfather and his wife Dorothy are listed a number of times, as being Godparents to various children. Their Jesuit Parish was called Newtown and later it became St Francis Xavier Church, Newtowne, MD, now called Leonardtown. This is still an active church in St Mary’s County MD.
CL: Were they farmers?
PM: I presume they were originally farmers just to support their owners and feed their families, in our family tree someone is listed as being a carpenter and joiner, but at some point in time they apparently got into the lumber business. They would have early on probably transported lumber by boat from Point Lookout MD, where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay, but I have no record of that operation, just family lore.
CL: Did they own slaves?
PM: Apparently early on they did, as did most of the farmers and gentlemen in the area.
CL: Do you know how many?
PM: No I don’t, but book, The Jesuit Missions In St. Mary’s County contains records of some recorded marriages, births and baptisms of their slaves as well as of their children. By the time the family moved to the District of Columbia there is no record of any slaves.
CL: Were the slaves brought up in the Catholic faith?
PM: Yes, at least some of them seem to have been, I don’t know whether all were but as I said there are recorded deaths, baptisms and weddings of slaves.
CL: How far back does the Jesuit connection go?
PM: Good question! I know that the Jesuits were financially behind the venture of The Ark and The Dove, the ships which came to St Clements and then St. Mary’s in 1634. They came seeking religious freedom. The senior Jesuit figure on board was Father Andrew White, along with Father John Althom and a Jesuit Brother- Thomas Gervase. This “Company of Adventurers” had a goal of “establishing a State dedicated to freedom of conscience and a government by the people.”
CL: Jumping ahead, when the family came to DC, it was a new entity. They were among the earliest settlers in the new federal city.
PM: That is right, my great great grandfather, Richard Wimsatt, died in Washington in 1867 and his obituary referred to him as being “one of the oldest residents of the city where he had lived for 50 years,” that would have put him in the city of Washington in 1817. He was also listed as being a member of the “Oldest Inhabitants Association,” which had only been in existence for 2 years at that time.
CL: That organization still exists, I think.
PM: It does indeed, and I recently joined it, just to be able to say I am a member of The Oldest Inhabitants Association! Under their current rules, one only has to be “over 50 and live in Washington.” In the old days I believe you had to have been a longstanding, continuous inhabitant of the city. My great, great, grandparents are buried in Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill; my great grandparents are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown; and my grandparents and a brother are buried in Rock Creek Cemetery. My parents and a brother are buried in Fredericksburg VA where they moved in 1968.
In 1891 my great grandfather purchased a country home in Lorton, VA, it was a 258 acre estate which later became part of the property that Lorton prison was built on, the “Barrett House,” as the home was called, was eventually used as a residence for the superintendent of Lorton prison. He sold Barrett House in 1903 and purchased another country estate and farm that he named “Kinkora” this 200 acre property was located in Hillandale, MD. I have a picture of his family sitting in a gazebo on the property, my grandfather was about 16 in the picture. My father told me that the property had a 9 hole golf course on it! The area, now Hillandale MD was at that time divided into three large tracts of land, the “Wimsatt property”, the “Hutchinson property” and the “Rapley property”.My great grandfather sold his property in 1930 to the Xaverian order of priests and they built a seminary there, the property eventually became the AFL-CIO / National Labor College.
CL: So, well rooted here, as it were…
PM: Yes we certainly are. Now, my parents weren’t living in Chevy Chase DC until 1946. My father’s parents both died when he was young—his father died when he was 7, and his mother died when he was 15. As a result, he then lived for a brief time in Chevy Chase, MD on Dorset Avenue, just one block off Chevy Chase Circle. He lived there with an aunt and uncle and their children until he married and went into the Army. He attended and graduated from St. John’s College High School, which at that time was in downtown on Vermont Avenue.
CL: Tell us more about your father’s generation.
PM: Well, as I said before, my father grew up in SW DC and when his mother died, he and his two brothers moved in with his father’s sister and her family in Chevy Chase MD, they were right off Chevy Chase Circle. That would have been in 1929.
CL: That was during the heyday of the construction of our neighborhood.
PM: The home he lived in is still there. It’s a beautiful house with a red clay tile roof and a porch that goes all the way across the front. I have a picture of my dad and his younger brother standing on the front porch with their aunt and another with his older brother in their St John’s uniforms.
CL: We know that there was a trolley car that ran up and down Connecticut Avenue. Is that how he got to school every day?
PM: Good question, he never talked about how he got to school. There were two brothers that attended St. John’s and a younger brother who attended Georgetown Prep, as he could board at Prep. I presume my father used the trolley. He was a man of few words about his childhood.
He was away 4 ½ years in the Army, including the wartime years from 1941-1945. He entered the military before Pearl Harbor. He was inducted in March of 1941 and was shipped to El Paso TX for his training as an anti-aircraft gunner.
CL: He lived with his aunt until he graduated from St. John’s?
PM: Yes, while he attended St. John’s and in the summers, he worked at the family lumber business. It was a given that when he returned from the war, he would go back to work there.
CL: Who was running it before 1946 when your father returned from the war?
PM: It was started by my great great grandfather, William Abell Wimsatt and it was located on Maine Avenue, right along the water. He was the founder and president, after his death in 1929 the lumber company became family owned and his son, William Kurtz Wimsatt became president. The family members eventually sold the company to Mr. W..H, Leachman and he later sold it to Boise Cascade.
The company was forced to move from SW when the area was being redeveloped in the late 50s. The company built a new facility in Springfield, VA, which at that time was a pretty rural area. My father threatened to move us there and there was nearly a family riot in protest, you know who won fortunately!
Over the years Johnson & Wimsatt suffered 2 major fires. The most recent fire was a seven alarm fire on May 6,1957 and the fire was the banner headline, of the Washington Post front page, as well as the front of the City Life section. It also was covered heavily by the other city papers, the Evening Star and the Daily News! The front page pictures included pictures taken from the top of the Washington Monument of the fire and smoke. The fire was started by two young boys playing with “zip guns” shooting matches and was considered arson!
CL: When did the Boise sale occur?
PM: It was somewhere in the early 60’s. Presently, the Washington Post’s printing operation operates on the site that was formerly the home of the lumber yard, it is alongside the beltway in Springfield, VA The Post’s current operating address is listed as Wimsatt Road. The lumber yard was the first large commercial operation to locate in the Springfield area. Back then, before the Capital Beltway, my father would commute down through Rock Creek Park and out what was then called Shirley Highway to Springfield.
CL: Do you have any idea about how he spent the 1930s?
PM: My father was born in 1918 and died in 1982. So, he was 8 when his father died in 1926. His father had been working at the lumber yard and he died as the result of an infection after having his Appendix removed at Georgetown Hospital. His mother died in 1933—In the 1930s, my father was a teenager. He used to talk about the Tidal Basin being a beach when he was young and that they would go there to swim. They lived close to the Smithsonian Museum and he talked about how he and his brothers and their friends would play in the basement of the Smithsonian; they considered it their playground. CL: The Castle?
PM: Yes, the Castle. In those days you didn’t have all the current security and such. Dad always liked speed and he used to race bikes. He told me once that he was one of the first in the city to have a real racing bike that was actually designed for racing. As a young man, first it was bikes he raced around town, later he moved on to cars and motorcycles! He loved speed.
He also once told me that he had carrier pigeons he kept behind their home, but I don’t know what, where or to whom they carried anything! He also talked about visiting Florida. The family would travel to Tarpon Springs to visit his grandmother, whose husband had started the sponge diving industry in Tarpon Springs. I believe that my grandfather met his wife, Alma Cheyney while vacationing in Tarpon Springs, FL.
He loved living in downtown Washington. They were parishioners of St. Dominic’s Church, which is still located in SW DC. St. Dominic’s suffered several fires over the years and being in the lumber business his family was called upon to help rebuild the church. The Baptismal Font in St. Dominic’s was donated to the church in memoriam when my Grandfather’s sister died at 21, her name was Emma Wimsatt, and her name is etched in the Baptismal font that is still used in the church today.
At the time he was inducted, my father was newly married, and they were expecting their first baby who was born the May after he was drafted. As I said before, he was sent to do his training in El Paso, TX and near the end of his training period, my mother took the train to Texas, with my infant sister, to visit him before he shipped out in September of 1942. He first went to Greenland and then to the European theater.
He was overseas in wartime duty for a long time, as he was one of the first GIs to be sent to the European theater. He was inducted in March of 1941 and during his time overseas participated in Normandy, northern France, the Ardennes, and the Rhineland theaters. He suffered an injury towards the end of the war, in April of 1945. He had been tapped to run a mission as a courier, because he could ride a motorcycle. While navigating a curve, he landed in a bomb crater, breaking his leg in three places. So, for the last few weeks of the war, he was back in the states convalescing at a military hospital near Staunton VA, where he was Honorably Discharged on October 5th of 1945. He was basically away from Washington from March of 1941 until October of 1945, a period of 4 ½ years!
Though a man of few words, he did tell me a story once about his first weekend home after his discharge. He, my mom and her parents went out to dinner at one of the nice restaurants downtown to celebrate, he had no coat jacket and the restaurant wouldn’t seat him without one so they had to lend him one. He said that this situation left him feeling humiliated, as he had very few civilian clothes at that moment in time.
CL: Do you know his unit?
PM: His discharge documents say he was an anti-aircraft gunner. Looks like the 414th AA Battalion. I do remember him saying that many in his unit hailed from DC. His military record shows that he shipped out for the European Theater on September 25th, 1942. His discharge lists his Battles and Campaigns as: Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland and Ardennes. He was awarded the European African Middle East Theater Medal and the American Defense Service Medal. It also notes that he had yellow fever in 1942 and was in sick bay for 45 days and “received a lapel button,” whatever that was!
CL: I wonder where he was sent first. Normandy was much later. Was he deployed perhaps to North Africa?
PM: I am quite sure he was first sent to Iceland. He was there with his antiaircraft unit watching for a possible invasion of England by sea and protecting major shipping routes. He once told me a story about he and a few friends “commandeering” a jeep one evening, after imbibing a few drinks. When they were caught there was talk of pressing charges for “stealing” the jeep however they talked their way out of serious trouble with their defense being, that “it was an island, where were they going to take it?” He always had a bit of a wild streak in him!
CL: The Ardennes/Rhineland portion places your father in the bloodiest campaign of the European war for the Americans, just below Aachen in Germany’s western extremity. Aachen was the first German town liberated by us. I wonder if he was part of that.
PM: His military record indicates that he was involved in all of those campaigns, but like most veterans returning home from the war, he did not want to talk about it and he tried to put it behind him. He used to joke that his one military claim to fame was that he entered the Army as a private and he left it as a private!
CL: What can you tell us about his marriage. How did he meet his wife and how did she and his first-born fare during his absence?
PM: My mother was a student at Dumbarton College when they met. My mother also grew up in Washington and I am a 4th generation Washingtonian on her side. Her maiden name was Holloran. Her father, Charles Edwin Halloran, was from DC and he was an electrician and a maintenance engineer at the Bureau of Printing & Engraving. My mother used to talk about going there and “playing” with money! Her mother grew up in Lowell MA, her name was Beatrice Doherty, she moved to Washington during World War I. Like many women of the era, she and her sister were drawn here to work in the federal government.
My grandmother used to tell us the story that the day after my mother went out on a blind date with my father, the mother of the girl who had introduced them called her to apologize to my grandmother for her daughter introducing her to “that wild Wimsatt boy”. Shortly later they eloped and were married at St. Mary’s Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia on their way to a motorcycle race in Richmond! Ironically, many years later, after Johnson & Wimsatt was sold, my father bought a lumberyard in Fredericksburg. I have a copy of their marriage announcement it was in St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Many years later, my husband John and I were married in that same parish, but in a new church! My parents had moved to Fredericksburg in 1968, when I was in college, and I wanted to have a back-yard reception, so that’s where we also were married.
CL: What was your mom’s name?
PM: Her name was Betty Virginia Halloran, she was always called Betty.
CL: And what are her dates?
PM: My mother was born in 1921 and died in 1996. As I said her mother was originally from Massachusetts and her father was a Washingtonian. His family owned a grocery store at 318 K Street, NE and on my grandfather Halloran’s side, his mother’s brother fought for the northern navy during the Civil War and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The family lived over top of the grocery store. The store was very close to Gonzaga College High School, from where my grandfather graduated. His Grandfather had worked at a livery stable up the street from Ford’s Theater, it was this stable where Booth stole the horse to make his escape after assassinating President Lincoln. At the time everyone connected with the livery stable was questioned to assure no one was in cahoots, but the horse was stolen!
CL: Your mom grew up entirely in DC?
PM: Yes. She graduated from Roosevelt High School, followed by two years at Dumbarton College. After she got married she never worked, as was the norm in those days. During the time my dad was away at war she and her new baby moved in with her parents who lived on Emerson St, near Georgia Avenue NW. After moving to Chevy Chase my mom led a pretty simple life as a mom and homemaker, however she was a girl scout leader for many years—13 years at Blessed Sacrament. Later, after we 3 girls were all out of scouting, she helped a friend lead a troop at St. Gertrude’s School, then a school for developmentally disabled young women located in NE DC.
CL: When were your mom and dad married?
PM: They were married in June of 1940. My mother sometimes reminisced about her time during the war. She said they would save all their gas stamps so that you had enough gas to get to Rehoboth Beach, to stay at my father’s aunts beach house where they would spend most of the summer. You were subject to many wartime precautions then, at night you had to turn off outdoor lights and pull down dark shades on the windows to keep any interior light inside, because of the possibility of enemy submarines lurking off the coast. And you had to have enough gas to get back to Washington, so they walked everywhere once they arrived.
CL: The beach must have had a different look then.
PM: I am sure It did. The house we used to go to was surrounded by pines and was on Columbia Avenue three blocks from the beach. The property eventually was given to a cousin, who has lived there year- round since the mid 60’s.
CL: They were married in 1940 and there were children before you.
PM: They had a daughter, Jacqueline Cheyney, she was born in May of 1941, while my father was doing his military training. Right after the war, they had a son who was born on February 20, 1946. Their son died when he was seven days old after a blood transfusion. They were advised by one doctor that they should refrain from having any more children, since they had incompatible blood types. Another said have a child right away! I was born nine months to- the- day later, on November 20, 1946. I was born six weeks early! We were actually both born in the same year, as I was born 9 months to the day later! A little less than two years later my sister, Katherine Starr, came along. Then, 14 years after her, a caboose, our brother, John. My older sister was 21 when our brother was born. My mother would tell the story of visiting Jackie’s parents weekend in college when quite a few of the other mothers were ready for walkers and she was pregnant!
CL: That brings us to Rittenhouse Street.
PM: I believe that my parents had already bought the house by the time my brother was born in 1946, I know that they were living there when I was born.
CL: Which house was that?
PM: The address was 3333 Rittenhouse. They lived there until 1968. After the lumber yard was sold to Boise Cascade, my father had to stay with Boise for 5 years and when that time was up my father, along with a partner, bought a lumber company in Fredericksburg, VA, and they moved there and built a beautiful house. After my father died in 1982, my mother returned to the Washington area.
CL: Thank you for the pre-history. Let’s focus on you now. Where did you attend school?
PM: I went to Blessed Sacrament School and then Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, in Bethesda. At that time it was called Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, Stone Ridge. After graduating, I attended Marymount College, now Marymount University in Arlington, VA for two years and then went on to Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York.
CL: How did you like Marymount-Tarrytown?
PM: Oh, I liked it and It certainly was a magnificent setting up on that hill overlooking the Hudson River and the Tappan Zee Bridge. Then I lived in New York City for a year and I then spent a school year teaching in Fredericksburg VA. I yearned to return to Washington as I was neither a New York city girl, or a southern gal. In Fredericksburg they were still fighting the Civil war in 1968! I believe I had the only Humphrey sticker in the city on my new Chevy Camaro! Washington was my hometown. While in college, I had worked summers for the DC Department of Recreation at Hardy Playground. Upon my return to Washington, I took a summer job at the center everybody in this neighborhood calls “Turtle Park”, aka Friendship Playground.
After that summer I was offered a full-time position and I was assigned to work at Lafayette Playground, where I worked for the next seven years. For six of those years I was director of the center. Many people in this neighborhood had their first jobs at Lafayette. We hired teenagers in the summer to run both the “Sundial” program and a summer camp, these two programs that involved roughly 300 kids and a lot of teenage counselors.
CL: I would like to return to this. But you just covered an awful lot of ground. Can we go back to Blessed Sacrament for a moment? Do you have memories of your experience there?
PM: I do. Some good, some less so. Unfortunately, I tended to get every mean and strict nun that was there, instead of all the nice nuns that my younger sister got. I was a late November birthday, and those were the days when January 1st was the cutoff, so I was always one of the youngest in my class as well as one of the smallest in my class. At that time, we had classes of 55 students at BS, all crammed into a classroom that today accommodates, about 25 Under the circumstances, control was the preferred means to keep us learning, hands neatly folded on our desks. Despite the sometimes challenging circumstances, I enjoyed my time there.
CL: When were you there?
PM: I started there in kindergarten and I graduated from high school in 1964. So, I would have started there I think in 1952 and graduated in 1961. I attended BS from kindergarten through 8th grade. I spent my summers at Lafayette playground. I was what you would call real playground rat, maybe at times “brat”!
CL: Sounds like you were pretty sportif.
PM: Yes. I enjoyed sports. I played a lot of tennis, basketball and softball at Lafayette. In high school I played field hockey, basketball, softball and tennis. And in college I played three sports, field hockey, basketball and tennis, as well. At Marymount University-Arlington I was inducted into the University’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
CL: Where were the tennis courts?
PM: Right at Lafayette. I lived on the courts from the late afternoon until dark, often playing doubles with the “regulars”, that is with the adults who took over the courts every evening!
CL: I wonder when those courts were built.
PM: I do not remember when they were built. I do remember the dedication of the then new field house. There had been an old playground house (a hut!) before that, it was up on the hill, near where the gazebo stands today. It was a white wooden frame building with a pot-belly stove. That’s the building the staff worked out of when I was young. So, they had programs even back then, and in the early ‘60s, the old field house was torn down. I have fond memories of the old one and the great staff who worked there over the years.
CL: I have heard that the gazebo got a lot of use.
PM: Indeed it did! I was director during the tumultuous years of the early ‘70s and the” bench gang,” as most people referred to them. I spent a lot of time in community meetings and with the recreation departments roving leaders, trying to figure out how we were going to solve the “bench gang” issues, smoking pot, drinking, partying late at night and just being generally rowdy, etc. I will say they mostly all went on to become very respectable citizens in the community.
CL: After BSS you…
PM: I went to Stone Ridge, which is out on Rockville Pike at Cedar Lane. In those days it was considered suburban, almost country! In 1947 the school had moved out there from downtown, where it had been located since 1927 at 1719 Massachusetts Avenue. The original school was just to the east of Dupont Circle, where the Brookings Institution now stands. They moved to Rockville Pike when they purchased an old estate and farm that was owned by a prominent Washington family, the Hamilton family. The estate was called Stone Ridge.
CL: It was a high school?
PM: The school went from kindergarten through 12th grade, but I only attended high school there.
CL: What made you do that?
PM: Well, my older sister had graduated from there. The school was run by an international order of nuns called The Religious of the Sacred Heart, who were world famous for being strong educators. My aunts had gone to their boarding school in Philadelphia, Eden Hall, so it was partly family tradition and it was considered an excellent school. I loved it there.
CL: What do you remember about your time there?
PM: Some of the brightest women I ever met were teachers there. I also had an opportunity to play sports, I loved sports! My senior quote in my yearbook was "To love the game beyond the prize.” Attending a smaller school gave me a better opportunity to play sports, as well as to have great leadership opportunities and get a good education. If I had gone to one of the other two popular girl’s Catholic high schools—Immaculata or Visitation, which were both larger—I probably would have been the one who made the team but who sat on the bench for most of the game, at Stone Ridge I had an opportunity to play, to lead and to learn in a very nurturing environment.
CL: What did you play?
PM: I played field hockey, basketball, softball and tennis. I went on to play field hockey, basketball and tennis in college.
CL: That must have kept you busy!
PM: It did, Marymount was a fairly small college but because this was pre-Title IX and scholarships back then. We were all playing sports because we loved to, there were no athletic scholarships for women at that time. While I was at Marymount we played American University, George Washington University, the University of Maryland and some local junior colleges that are all now gone…it was a very different time. Everybody was playing for love of the game, whichever one was in season at the time!
CL: Sounds like pretty stiff competition.
PM: It was. Field hockey was my love though, my favorite sport, I played left wing. The summer after graduating from Marymount in Arlington I was invited to go up to Philadelphia and attend try- outs for the United States Woman’s Olympic Field Hockey team, but I turned the invitation down, as I already had made plans to spend the summer in Europe and go to Marymount in Tarrytown in the September.
CL: How did you get yourself over there to Marymount?
PM: During my first year there, I car-pooled, two of us shared the driving. By my second year, I was living on campus. When I got home one night at 10:00 o’clock and the next morning my mother ran out of gas on the way to the gas station on the Avenue, my father said, “enough is enough, you’re moving on campus.” (laughter) I was very involved on campus as well as playing sports, so I was frequently there until late at night. By the time we got back on campus from a game, then you might have a meeting, it was pretty late, and then I still had to study!
CL: You were active! So aside from sports, what else did you do?
PM: Well, I was on the student council; I was president of the Athletic Association; I was involved with just about everything happening on campus. At my graduation from Marymount in 1966 I was awarded the Mother Butler Medal, this medal is awarded by faculty vote to the graduating student who has shown the greatest devotion to Marymount’s ideals. It was quite an honor!
CL: Have you reflected about what made you do all those things?
PM: To be honest, I was never a real strong student. I always struggled a little. Memorization was difficult for me, I am sure I am a little ADD and in those days, that just meant you just had to work harder and be more organized! So, sports are where I found my niche, a safe place where I could stand out. In 2012 I was inducted into Marymount Universities Athletic Hall of Fame. I also was the recipient of Marymount’s Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, this award was conferred in recognition of my various volunteer activities over the years, especially with a local and national non-profit organization called the Christ Child Society. The Christ Child Society is a national organization founded in 1887, in Washington DC, by a handicapped Washingtonian named Mary Virginia Merrick. This organization, assists children in need regardless of race or creed through its 44 chapters across the country. I served on both the Washington and the National Boards for a number of years and as National President in 2010-2012.
CL: When did you leave one Marymount for the other?
PM: Marymount in Arlington was only a two-year institution during the time I was there. I graduated with an AA in Elementary Education in 1966 and I then went on to Marymount College in Tarrytown, NY. I actually went to Tarrytown to enter the novitiate located there, to enter the convent of the order who taught at Marymount.
PM: The Novitiate was on the same campus as the college. I simultaneously took classes at the college to finish my studies. As novices, we then spent a year living in New York City, doing social work as well as taking theology classes at Fordham University.
CL: What made you change your mind about pursuing the novitiate?
PM: This was the time right after Vatican II and the church and religious life were changing very rapidly. Although I was happy, I just decided I was ready to leave and I did, and that’s when I came back to Washington…by way of a year teaching in Fredericksburg VA! I was an early childhood education major who had no money and no place to live so I took a job in Fredericksburg teaching third grade in a little school called Montfort Academy, it was a great teaching experience, but I found Fredericksburg a little too small town at the time, especially coming there from New York!
I spent that year living with my parents who had moved there in 1968. My “claim to fame” was that by 4:00 on Friday I was headed north up ’95 and I usually didn’t come back until Sunday evening! I also, on Tuesday nights, brought two of the nuns who taught there up to Washington to attend a class at Catholic University. I spent my weekends “camping out” with my sister and her family in Kensington! After my contract was up I moved back to Washington and rented an “English Basement” apartment near the zoo.
CL: That was a special time to be in DC. A lot going on. I was here, too. At Georgetown, with the Jesuits.
PM: Our son has his Master’s from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. When I came back to DC from Fredericksburg, I rented an apartment on Devonshire Place in Woodley Park. The house is visible from Connecticut Avenue, it’s the first house on Devonshire. I shared the apartment with a friend from my high school days. I lived there for five years, until I met and married my husband, John. I had met him at a Christmas party in December of 1972. We were engaged in February and married in August of 1973. He is originally from Minnesota and after teaching and coaching high school for a couple of years he went to the University of Minnesota law school, he had just graduated and passed the bar and he took a job here as a lawyer with the federal government. Has now lived in Washington far longer than he lived in Minnesota!
CL: Were you teaching at that time?
PM: As I mentioned earlier, after I came back from Fredericksburg I took a summer job at “Turtle Park” with the Department of Recreation. Subsequently, I was offered a full-time job and that’s when I came to Lafayette. I did also teach pre-school in my early years at Lafayette before becoming Director. In those days the DC Department of Recreation ran the Cooperative Play Program, before the city schools offered pre-K. In two of those years, I taught pre-school, but it was very hard to be director and do pre-school, so I was eventually relieved of that pre-school responsibility.
In the spring of 1976 I left Lafayette to take a job with the Charles E. Smith Company, to be the program director of their new 26-story condominium out in Falls Church, Virginia.
CL: That was a trek.
PM: It was. But it was a beautiful commute. I drove through Rock Creek Park and watched the seasons change. It took about a half an hour. I had a half hour alone to “gear up” in the morning and a half hour to “wind down” in the evening. I worked for the Company for ten years. We had 3 children in between, with 2 maternity breaks as our second and third children are twins!.
CL: That was 1976-1986
PM: Yes. The first year I was the program director at the Skyline Condominium, while they were building Skyline Racket and Health Club. I went the Club when it opened in October of ’77 as assistant manager and was eventually promoted to manager. We had a son, Christian, who was born in 1977, while working at the Condominium, we were living in Arlington at that time. In 1979, we bought this house on Quesada Street, when he was two years old. Watching the moving men do their work, he turned to his father and said “Please take me with you?” (laughter)
CL: Ages ago, while still a student at Georgetown, I lived in Arlington for a year, in an apartment at Lee Gardens on Arlington Boulevard.
PM: Our first apartment was in Rosslyn where we lived for a year, then we bought a house on 33rd Road, wedged between Glebe Rd and Old Dominion Drive. After our move here, in 1980 we had our twins, Caitlin & Devin, and then in 1985 we had another daughter, Brigid, our caboose.
CL: So you had four kids.
PM: Yes, unfortunately our oldest son is deceased.
CL: Oh, I am sorry to hear that.
PM: You may wonder what these paddles are (gesturing to wall hangings). He was a member of an elite U.S. Marine Corps unit, when he was killed in a motorcycle accident in California, after having recently arrived back from Iraq safely! When he died, the Marines sent 10 fellow Marines here from California for his wake and funeral. There is a tradition in special operations units of presenting a paddle to the departing member. While his fellow Marines were here they presented us with these three paddles at 3 different “paddling ceremonies”. This first one is from the unit he had been with while serving in Iraq, 2nd Force Recon, before joining his new unit in California. He had been selected to become a member of the First Marines Special Operations unit, MARSOC 1, while he was still in Iraq, that is the paddle from that new unit. Then the third paddle, back there by the TV, is from his team, his 6- man boat team, much like the SEAL teams. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery.
CL: When was he serving?
PM: He died in September of 2003. He graduated from Gonzaga, class of ’95, and did a year of college before enlisting in the Marines. He had been in the Marines for 7 years and was a sergeant. When his new MARSOC 1unit went to Iraq, shortly after his death, they named their camp after him, Camp C.W. Myler, Baghdad Iraq. We have the sign from the camp in our basement.
CL: What was his name?
PM: Christian. There is a tree in Lafayette Park with a stone under it bearing a quote that our neighbors planted in his memory. He lived on the playground as a kid, just like his mom.
CL: I would be honored to know its location.
PM: As you go up the hill towards the upper playground, it’s just on your right. You can’t miss it. The stone is big and after 14 years the oak tree has gotten quite large.
Because I grew up in the neighborhood and worked at Lafayette for all those years, I got to know a lot of our neighbors, some are still living here. The then owners of the house next door, the house across the street, the house two doors down—they were all guests at our wedding. I either babysat for their children, when I was a teenager, or got to know them while working at the park. A group of the kids from the Park even sang at our wedding.
CL: Between 1969-1973 you lived on Devonshire Street?
PM: That’s right. Then over to Arlington for six years, I always said I would “never move across the Potomac River,” but when it came time to get our first apartment and then buy our first home, this neighborhood was a little more than we were willing to spend. Of course, in the long run we would have been better off buying here first!
As it happened, my husband and I had one of our first dates in the house in which we are sitting today. We had just started dating and the Povich family was living here. Connie and David Povich asked if I would babysit for their 4 children while they made a trip to California to attend
the Super Bowl. It was great for me as I worked right across the street! I had just started dating John, I believe this was to be our third date. I invited John to come over for dinner. After we fed the kids, helped them with their homework and walked my dog, John turned to me and said, “I feel like I’ve been married for twelve years.” (laughter) That was January and we were married the following August. Years later, we ended up buying this house and that is a long story of its own as we first turned down an offer to buy it from Connie and David, who bought a larger home on Rittenhouse, only to buy it two years later for substantially more, from the couple who had bought it from them! I guess we were just destined to live here and we have been here for 38 years!
CL: One insight we have from interviews with Chevy Chase neighbors is that during the 1970s there were efforts to put kids to work, In fact, Tim Hannapel, whose interview we have posted, was one such.
PM: Right. And don’t forget Keene Taylor, and so many others. During my tenure from 1969-1976, they and many others all worked at the playground. We had a program there where parents paid a nominal fee for their kids to go to either “Sundial” (for pre-school ages) or the Lafayette Day Camp and we used that money to hire teens to be counselors. A good number of the adults in this neighborhood today had me as their first boss. We hired dozens of kids in the summer. Some worked for two weeks; others for the whole summer. They were paid in two-week intervals. The pay wasn’t great, but the job was!
CL: Let’s contextualize that. What years did you manage the program?
PM: 1969- 1976 - There already was a “Sundial” program operating at Lafayette and some other area centers for the young children, pre-schoolers not yet in kindergarten. I inherited that program and continued it. We hired teen counselors, each with five children to watch on the playground. I had worked in the Sundial program myself as a teenager. There were activities—singing, crafts and all those types of things. The center also had sports teams—baseball, softball and Newcomb plus a large tennis program funded through the National Junior Tennis League.
I was finding that we would lose a lot of our team players when they would be signed up for a two week stint at the day camp that was operated by the city-wide part of Rec Department over in Rock Creek Park. I thought, “well, this is crazy, let’s start our own camp for the older kids!” We then did. We would hire 12 and 13 year olds to work as counselors in the Sundial Program for the youngest. We just called our camp Lafayette Day Camp for the older kids. We hired the older teens, high-schoolers, to work in that program. We got some grant money from the Neighborhood Planning Council (NPC)—the same public source funding the program Tim Hannapel was funded through. With the grant money we received, we launched a gymnastics component as part of our camp, the grant helped cover equipment and qualified gymnastic instructors. Our camp also held a camp-out every two weeks. We would all sleep out in sleeping bags under the stars, we cooked dinner over an open campfire and the campers then would put on a show for their parents. We had about 100 kids in the Sundial Program for the younger kids and another 150-200 in the Day Camp program for the older kids, with dozens of teen counselors hired to work.
You most likely couldn’t run a program like that today because of all the liability issues, etc. But because our program was run under the approval of the Rec Department and the money was handled by an independent treasurer, we found a way to make it work.
CL: Your affiliation ended in 1976 when you went to Smith Company? You were at work at Lafayette during the preparations for the commemoration of the U.S. bi-centennial. Were you doing anything especially linked to that?
PM: That’s right. I don’t recall exactly what we did but we certainly did something special for the bi-centennial. I do remember music, parades and costumes!
CL: ORIGINS (I and II) were produced, with Tim Hannapel and others playing a central role.
PM: Right. But at Lafayette I don’t remember what we did specifically.
CL: The ORIGINS group conducted its own line of oral history interviews in the neighborhood, and did some research on the land-taking to accommodate Lafayette School.
PM: I have a copy of both Origins. Remembering back, when I was a young child, the Chevy Chase Community Center was housed in what had been the original E.V. Brown School. I went there to take some classes in ceramics and the like. It was a big deal in the neighborhood when the new community center was built, as well as earlier the “new” Lafayette recreation center. And playground.
I spent a lot of time at the playground as a child, and again when I worked there. I loved that job, but I wasn’t going anywhere as a young white female in a 95% black recreation department, as I was quietly informed. Then the Charles E. Smith Company came looking for me on the recommendation of a Lafayette neighbor, who was an executive in the company. I swore to him that I would never divulge his name to the Lafayette community and I kept my promise! It was more money, an important consideration, as we were contemplating starting a family soon, and the company offered me an opportunity to develop new programs and learn new management skills.
CL: What ever happened to the programs you managed and started?
PM: They continued on under the staff that remained for at least a while. It is hard for me today to see the lack of neighborhood programming at the park, especially in the summer, except by outside organizations such as Little League, Stoddert and MSI soccer, etc. Families today typically don’t just let their kids go to the park and play, everything seems to need to be “officially organized.” I think this is somewhat sad, as both my memories and our own children’s memories of free time spent at the park with friends seems to be becoming a thing of the past!
CL: The DC bicentennial preparations themselves require contextualization. That was also the period in the years after the social explosion occasioned by the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King, subsequent new school de-segregation policies, which amplified a process of white flight to the suburbs that was underway already anyway. What was it like living in Chevy Chase DC under those circumstances?
PM: I was living in New York when King was assassinated. My younger sister was here at Marymount in Arlington, as were my parents, during the riots in DC. I did walk in the peace march in New York through Central Park. A reporter asked me some questions and I ended up being quoted in the New York Times in a report on the march. I was so naïve about the existing racial tension in Washington at the time, I never thought DC would have riots.
Regarding white flight in the 1970s—I didn’t see a lot of it in this neighborhood. This has always been a pretty stable neighborhood. My husband fell in love with it, too: we always knew we wanted to buy here when we could afford it.
As I said, my years working with the Rec Department were some of the most fun times of my life. I met a lot of great kids in this community, most of whom have gone on to become accomplished adults. It’s amazing how many I have run into over the years since then, more than one quipping: “that was the best job I ever had!”
CL: What I have begun to learn is how open the possibilities were in the midst of nothing. I mean people just had to make it up; there was no social infrastructure.
PM: We did have some support from the Neighborhood Planning Council, a couple thousand bucks per year. The DC Rec Department, in those days had just received a big national award and there were lots of programs operating all over the city. We travelled all over to play other neighborhood sports teams. The boys had fancy baseball uniforms. They were organized city-wide in the Walter Johnson League. The staff I had maintained the field; it was well kept, because everyone wanted their kids to play on a nice field. But I don’t see that extensive programming happening anymore. I remember teaching crafts classes with 20 kids in that little field house. We also had cooking classes using the school teacher’s room and then with a little portable oven and an electric frying pan in the field house, these were the days before microwave ovens.
CL: How was your operation organized?
PM: I was the director. I had a full-time assistant and a part-time assistant with a couple of additional college kids in the summer. We were expected to run a variety of programs. There was a ward manager and an assistant manager whose office was in the Community Center; they stopped by our site frequently and believe me, if you didn’t have something going on when they came by, they weren’t happy. So, we ran a lot of programs. My assistants did a lot of coaching and I coached the girls teams as well. We had baseball teams, basketball teams., Newcomb teams and tennis teams There was a night center for basketball over at Wilson High School in the winter. Our girls won the city basketball championship several years in a row. That was a big deal. One night we had to have a police escort out of the Lincoln Junior High School gym because we won. Those were triumphs. My mother used to say to me: “don’t tell me where you are going for your meeting today.” (laughter) You know areas of the city were a little tense at times. I remember some of our kids participating in a parade down by Kennedy Playground and we were heckled, that was not a comfortable situation to be in, but Chevy Chase DC was a special place. Lafayette playground, Friendship playground, Hearst playground, Palisades Playground all ran very strong programs.
CL: Your kids would have been in school a bit later than that.
PM: Our children went to Lafayette. The boys then went to Alice Deal through the 8th grade, and after that they went to Gonzaga. Our older daughter went to Stone Ridge after graduating from the 9th grade at Deal and she had a real adjustment to make in 10th grade! We sent our younger daughter to Stone Ridge in 7th grade, right after Lafayette—she didn’t go to Deal. Deal was going through some rough times at that point and we just didn’t think it was the right place for her, a decision we have never regretted.
CL: In our case, our daughter just joined us from California in time to enter Deal in 7th grade. She continued through Wilson, graduating in 2007.
CL: In the 1980s.
PM: So, after 10 years with the Charles E. Smith Company—running a facility open from 6:00 AM to midnight—always on call and carrying a pager; when a chiller on the roof froze and burst Christmas night at 2:00AM and I was trying to find people to clean up the mess, I said “it’s time to retire.” I had been catering occasionally for friends at that time, so I started my own catering business and did an awful lot of catering in this community for the next ten years. Then I also started doing some catering for Stone Ridge and in 1993 they offered me a job and I was there for 20 years.
CL: Wow! That’s out in Rockville?
PM: Bethesda, actually—next door to Navy Medical. Big stone walls have just recently been put up along the campus after major road widening projects. I served as director of facilities there. My property management experience at the Smith Companies had taught me well. I started at Stone Ridge in 1993 and retired in 2013.
CL: Let’s return to the 1970s for a moment. You don’t recall much white flight, but did you see Chevy Chase DC integrating? Were there people of color in the neighborhood?
PM: There were some people of color, but never a large number. When our son started at Lafayette in the early ‘80’s Lafayette Elementary School had some students of color, but some were from out of boundary. The principal, Sandra Bond was African American, as were many of the teachers. I don’t think you started seeing more people of color move into the neighborhood though until later in the 1980s. My guess is that the pattern was mostly a reflection of the cost of housing here. There were no restrictive covenants like in Chevy Chase, MD.
CL: Chevy Chase DC did begin to draw highly educated, accomplished and well- connected African-Americans in greater numbers. I am thinking of Julian Bond, Gwen Ifill, George Haley, and Jacqueline Days Serwer, for example. I had an opportunity to carry out some research focusing on the 1940 census and discovered that in that year, the only blacks in the neighborhood were live-in domestics. The picture did not change until decades later. My hunch is that there was something of a turning point in the 1970s.
PM: Col. George Haley became a special friend of mine, he would visit me almost daily at Lafayette, while walking his beautiful Irish Setter! Our kids while attending Lafayette had African-American class-mates who were good friends who lived in the neighborhood, but I have no idea when they moved in, I am guessing in the early to mid ‘80s. Jonathan Core, who now teaches at Lafayette, was a friend and a class-mate of our twins. Jonathan married a Deal & Wilson classmate, Zoe Payne, whose father and mother both taught at Wilson and she now also teaches in a DC Public school. There are several Lafayette teachers there now who were students there with our children.
CL: What are your impressions of this neighborhood in the 1990s?
PM: So, over the last 25 years, one major difference between then and now is parental involvement. Nowadays, in most cases, both parents are working full-time jobs. When our kids were at Lafayette, we had very active parent participation—running the Fall Festival, the Spring Fair, the auction fund-raiser. In those days the fair was a big deal, with food galore from everywhere in the world. I coordinated the food booths for a number of years. We had a French food, Caribbean food, German food, Southwest food and Asian food, and of course, good old hot dogs and pizza. I see less and less of that type of heavy involvement today. I think many of the parents today are more inclined to want to write a check, rather than getting heavily involved, because they just don’t have the time. Since I was running my own business at the time our children were at Lafayette, I had a little more flexibility to be more hands-on. I was able to go in and do things in the classroom and got to know the teachers and staff. I don’t get the impression that this happens as much now, which I think is a bit of a loss.
CL: Perhaps a little counter-intuitive. You talked about cross-city engagement in sports.
PM: Maybe there are still teams in other parts of the city, but I don’t see much programming today at Lafayette, I keep hearing “the field house is too small!” There is a little after-school program and that’s about it. Even as recently as 10 years ago, summer camp programs were offered by the staff, but when there was a change in staff those large programs went away. Granted, ours were fair weather programs, so that if it rained, parents had to be home to pick up the slack. People aren’t home these days. It’s the same with our own children. Our son lives in the neighborhood on Nebraska Avenue. He called me last week; he was in a pinch, he was stuck in a bad traffic jam in Rock Creek Park and his wife had a night work activity. He said he couldn’t get home to let their nanny go on time—would I mind going over, of course I didn’t mind but I only live a mile away. The parent involvement when our kids were going through Lafayette was pretty amazing and it made for a wonderful environment and many lasting parent friendships.
CL: Name some names. Who do you remember that was particularly active.
PM: Oh, there were so many. We used to laugh, as there were four or five families that all had kids in our older son’s class, in our twins’ class, and in our younger daughter’s class. We seemed to be there all the time! There were the Harts, the Hamptons, the Meltzers, and the Mylers, everyone was very involved. It was quite a community, and still is I’m sure, it’s just different. They still have an active home-and-school. The fund-raising is not quite as prodigious as I remember it to have been in our day. We paid for the art teacher, the science teacher and the school nurse. That same art teacher is still there, she’s great, her name is Laurie McLoughlin. I don’t believe she lives in the neighborhood, but she has certainly seen the neighborhood & school change and grow over the years. She would be an interesting person to interview!
CL: Aside from the price of housing here and the general trend towards two-earner households, I wonder if there is also something else at work. I am thinking about something more intangible, the general feel of the neighborhood.
PM: This has always been a very desirable and stable neighborhood. But some things have changed, when I was working at the park, kids lived at the playground. Now, most families don’t just let their kids go to the playground alone, parents have to be with them, or they have to be with a nanny. I take my grandkids up there in the summer and I seem to be about the only adult speaking English. Once our children were old enough to walk to and from school, our kids would head out the front door and be at the park most of the day. They would come home to eat lunch or use the bathroom. That was the 80’s and 90s, but it was the same in the 60’s and 70’s. I used to practically live at the playground in the summer. I had a different group of friends in the summer, because most of my Blessed Sacrament friends didn’t go to the playground. That’s where I would made my Lafayette and Deal friends.
CL: What was it like trying to find things for your kids to do?
PM: I never felt that I had to worry about that. That was something that the kids should be doing for themselves, and they did. They would go play, ride their Big Wheels or bikes, sled or whatever. In my childhood, our alley behind Rittenhouse was also a favorite play space for us to play. In the evenings we would play kick the can or sardines, ten to fifteen kids would routinely congregate out there to play.
CL: That’s yet another aspect: the influence of television and the online revolution.
PM: We always limited television in our home, even when I was working and we had a child care provider, though we did have a Nintendo and that was a big deal. But all it had was a few, (very few according to our children,) games, none of the games involved killing people, just Super Mario and things like that. They were involved in sports: my husband coached basketball and baseball and I coached soccer for years.
CL: Were there soccer leagues?
PM: Yes, there were MSI and a little later Stoddert leagues; our kids played MSI. That’s Montgomery Soccer Inc. But you didn’t have to live in Montgomery County to participate. Our daughter went on to play soccer and softball at Stone Ridge and our sons played soccer at Gonzaga. Then our younger son also played club soccer at the Naval Academy.
CL: Sounds like you had to move around a lot.
PM: They weren’t on travel teams. It’s those teams that go all over the area. They would be at the same school every Saturday. Our son did play travel soccer one year, and it was not a good experience. His coach said when he left the team that he would never play anything beyond MSI. Well, he played at Gonzaga and they won the league championship three out of his four years. And he chose to play club soccer at the Naval Academy where he still could travel some and play other colleges.
CL: What am I missing that we should be talking about?
PM: For me the biggest thing I have enjoyed exploring is my family history and deep Washington roots, as well as my love for what we had at Lafayette Playground!. As for Chevy Chase DC, this neighborhood was a special place to grow up.
CL: Why did your parents choose Chevy Chase when finding a place to call home in 1946?
PM: Fundamentally because it was a place they could afford, and they liked the house. I know that they also looked in Montgomery County at the time but bought in Chevy Chase, DC. They never talked about what sealed the deal!
CL: They were pioneers in a sense: the housing stock was already present, but it doesn’t sound like they already had acquaintances in the neighborhood.
PM: That’s right. They didn’t know anyone when they moved in, but their neighbors became friends quickly. My father wasn’t a big social person, he went to work, came home, ate dinner and went to bed. His pleasures were hunting, fishing or boating. Sometimes I used to go with him hunting and fishing. I remember Vienna, VA when it had a one room police-station and was a very small town as we often drove through it on our way to Culpepper. In the early 60’s we kept a speedboat in Seneca MD and we went there every Sunday in the summer to swim, water ski and sometimes fish. You were really far out at that point almost to Poolsville.
Bethesda, when I was growing up was also a small town, there was a Hot Shoppes, Giffords Ice Cream, a Top’s, the Hiser Movie Theater, a pizza restaurant Villa something and there was Bish Thompson’s Seafood and McDonald’s Raw Bar. Now there are something like 250 restaurants in a two- square mile area.
It was a big deal when my parents went out to dinner. There used to be a restaurant called The Silver Fox over where Mazza Gallerie now stands. Sometimes, for a special occasion, they would go there or downtown with friends to Blackie’s House of Beef. People didn’t go out to eat often, like they do now, and if you had pizza at home it was from a Chef Boyardee pizza mix, there was no pizza delivery then!
Boy, I am beginning to sound old!!!
CL: Speaking of restaurants, what about the Purple Iris?
PM: You know, I remember it being there and I remember when it was torn down. I remember there was a big wooden wagon wheel out in front. I remember well when they were building the new houses on the site, after they tore it down, because a friend lived next door. I have a story about being brought home by a policeman for “trespassing” along with Mike Chase who lived next door to the property. Mike and I were climbing around on the construction site when our local officer on the beat spotted us “trespassing!” He marched us home with a strong reprimand, I was probably in about 5th grade!
My other neighborhood “juvenile delinquent” stories also come from a time when there were policemen on foot patrol walking the neighborhood. I was “arrested” (laugh) three times before I was 12. My father used to get these big firecrackers called ashcans. The kid across the alley had a string of small firecrackers and he talked me into trading some for a few of my father’s ashcans. So, I got a couple and brought them down to trade with Chip Dent, who lived behind us and was substantially older than I was. He set them off, at which point he saw the policeman coming up the alley; he took off running and left me sitting there with the fireworks. So, I was into big trouble with my dad. The third occasion was when my sister and I went down the street to a big tree at the corner of 33rd and Rittenhouse and hauled a child’s table and 2 chairs up into the crotch of the tree, we were making a tree fort, there we were just sitting happily when a policeman came by and told us, no, you can’t do that and took us home. I was such a little rebel!
CL: How about Broad Branch Market?
PM: I remember that my mother used to occasionally give me a quarter to go and get a loaf of bread or milk and that I had enough left to buy a candy bar. She didn’t shop much at Broad Branch, though she did go to Brookville Market sometimes for meat. There was also another store along Brookville Road called Highs Dairy, it was just a couple of blocks down from where Brookville and Broad Branch intersect, the lot where High’s was is now a dog park!. You could get a two-scoop ice cream cone for a dime there. There weren’t any sidewalks along Brookville then either, so you were basically walking in the street. When I was working at the park, sometimes I would take the kids over to High’s on special occasions, like when we won a softball game, to get ice cream cones.
When I was a in 7th and 8th grade Blessed Sacrament used to have their try-outs for basketball and softball at Chevy Chase playground. We used to then stop off at the People’s Drug Store (now the CVS) at McKinley and Connecticut, for a fountain soda. I remember that a cherry coke cost a dime. they had a fountain style restaurant, in the store then which is long gone!
Besides the Peoples there was the wonderful Schupps Bakery- I can still taste their triangular shaped orange cake – Dart Drug was also there- I thought it strange to have two drug stores so close together. There was Brentano’s Book store and in the Arcade was the Peking Restaurant where we would occasionally go as a family and get chow mein. There was a Safeway where Magruder’s is now, that was where my mother usually shopped. On some Saturday mornings Blessed Sacrament sponsored movie fundraisers at the Avalon, where you could see a movie for 25 cents and one of the nuns sold bags of popcorn for 5 cents!
I do have fond memories of my early days in Chevy Chase, it has always been a great place to live and we love living here today!
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