60 Neighbors Vacation Together in Pennsylvania Woods

William and Joan Mullan: Oral History Excerpts

BILL’S FATHER - NAVAL OFFICER

Q – Let’s start as to who you are. We can talk about how you got here a little later.

WM – I’ll go first. I am a Navy Junior. My father was a regular Naval officer, and so I spent my life traveling from place to place with him. I spent 6 years in Hawaii back in the days that people thought of it as girls in grass skirts and grass shacks. I did live In the Washington area I guess it was about the mid 1930’s. We lived at what they call Peace Cross and what they called Berwyn then. I am not sure what they call it now.

My father was assigned to the Navy Department working in those temporary buildings downtown. We stayed in Washington for 2 years, and then we moved back to Hawaii. We continued to move until the war. Then during the war, I volunteered before I was drafted and got into the program of training naval aviators. So I got my wings and qualified on carrier landings. I was assigned to night fighter training in Texas. Fortunately, before I had to do a carrier landing at night, we dropped the bomb, and I got out.

 

MARRIAGE AND A CAREER WITH BELL LABS

I went to Catholic University and graduated in the class of 1949. During the time I was there, Joan was at Trinity College. We met, married and started having children.

We first lived in a couple of apartments. Then we bought a house in Wheaton Woods. Our first child was born in Newark. I joined the telephone company after I got out of school and worked in an old building on the American University campus. Because of some of the work that I did, I was asked to go to the Bell Laboratories on loan for a couple years developing some telephone equipment for the FAA. At the end of that period, I came back to Washington.

After I got back from the Bell Laboratories, I think mainly because of my background, they asked me to go to New York City AT&T General headquarters. I went back there and spent several years at AT &T and then they said that the job that I really should have in the telephone company was open. So I came back to Washington and stayed as the building engineer for the telephone company basically for the rest of my career. I spent 33 years total in the Bell system.

 

MOVED TO CHEVY CHASE - 1958

WM - That would be 1958, because we bought this house when we came back from New Jersey. We had our first two children in Newark and one in Summit, New Jersey and then the rest of them in Washington – 6 all together. We have 3 boys and 3 girls. I think one of them went to Lafayette School for kindergarten. Another went to Rosemary School. Because of their birth months, they could not get into Blessed Sacrament. All of the rest of them were in Blessed Sacrament through elementary school.

 

BILL – 8th GENERATION BALTIMORE ROOTS

Q – Can you tell us where your dad was originally from. Is there an immigrant story there? Your mother?

WM - My mother and father met in the second grade at St. Ann’s school in Baltimore. My father and mother were both born in Baltimore. They knew each other through elementary school. Then my father went to Baltimore Polytechnic, and my mother went to Notre Dame. He went to the Naval Academy after getting out of Baltimore Poly. That would be in 1916. In those days, it was wartime, and they completed their course in 3 years. He graduated in the class of 1920. It was the class of 1920 but graduated in 1919.

They were living at San Diego at the time that my mother was pregnant with my older sister, and she stayed in San Diego during the birth. When I was coming along, she said that she missed her family when she was pregnant and had me in Baltimore.

I am 8th generation of my family to live in Baltimore. We are related to a family that came to Baltimore in 1704 – 25 years before Baltimore was incorporated. We have a lot of relatives still in Baltimore.

Q – I wanted to intersperse here and ask the name of your earliest ancestor who came to Baltimore.

WM – My earliest ancestor named Mullan in the United States was Patrick Mullan, and he came from Ireland in 1770 and married the granddaughter of Jonathon Hanson, who was a miller. He had 2 or 3 mills along Falls something or other. Patrick Mullan was a constable, and he was a guy that measured cordwood. He went around and measured a pile of wood that someone would have for sale to certify it was a full measure.

The Mullans were prominent in the Catholic Church in Baltimore. My great great great grandfather was the sexton at the Cathedral. There is a house beside the Cathedral on the Cathedral ground that was built for him. They figured it was cheaper to put the sexton up in a house that they owned than renting a house in the neighborhood for him. He and his son were stonemasons, and it ended up that the son built several churches in Baltimore and carved the altars for them. My grandfather was a newspaperman. He was in charge of the linotype operation at the Baltimore Sun for many years. We know this because my son is the genealogist in the family. I have a pile of books concerning the various parts of the family. He traced them all.

 

JOAN - BORN IN BROOKLAND

Q – Joan your turn. Tell us when you were born and move out from there.

JM – I was born on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1927. I lived in Brookland until I got married. I went to school there at St. Anthony’s and then I could walk to Trinity. So I walked past Bill in the morning. I went to High School at Notre Dame. I got on a streetcar to go there.

Q – Where is Notre Dame?

JM - It is on K Street – North Capitol. It has been taken over by Gonzaga now.

Q – What did you major in at Trinity?

JM - English. Then when I went to GW, it was still English.

WM – You worked first for the State Department in the exchange student area.

Q - That was after Trinity?

JM – Yes

Q – Then you went to GW for graduate work?

JM – I did. Also in English. That led to my job at Montgomery College after the kids all moved out.

 

MARRIED IN 1950

Q – Did you marry soon after your graduated from Trinity?

JM - It was about a year and a half. We got married in 1950. It is coming up 62 years this fall.

 

STORY OF JOAN’S PARENTS

Q – Can you go back in time and tell us a little about your parents?

JM - My mother came to Washington with a group who came to work for the government during World War I. Dad came home from the war and I don’t know about his first jobs.

Q – Where did your mother come from?

JM – Halstead, New York – near Binghamton. She taught school in a one-room school. My father was one of 4 children who were left semi-orphaned by the death of their mother. The father decided that he could not handle them, and they were put in an orphanage in Albany. A pair of maiden ladies adopted the sisters, and they left the boy in the orphanage. The girls said that they did not want to leave their brother. They prevailed, and the woman adopted my father as well and did a good job in raising them.

When he grew up, my father went to war and was in the cavalry. He was gassed, and so his health was always quite fragile. He was a self-employed accountant, and one of the things that he did was he became a sort of major domo at Saint Anthony Church in Brookland.

WM -It was funny because Father Duffy who was pastor at Blessed Sacrament and I worked closely together, I did a lot of stuff for the church. He said that Joan’s father did at St Anthony’s some of the same things that I did at Blessed Sacrament.

I think the story about Joan’s father helping her mother is interesting, because that led to their getting married. They lived in the same boarding house. Her mother got appendicitis, and she lived on the second floor. They didn’t know how they would get her down to the ambulance to take her to the hospital. So Joan’s father carried her down the stairs and got her to the hospital. He then went to the hospital to make sure that she was settled. Then he called her mother to report that she was all right. That started an association between the two. They ended up getting married. I am amazed that he could carry her, because he was a slight guy. I think he weighed 135 pounds. Of course, she was slight also. So that was the start of the romance that ended up with Joan and her sisters.

 

QUESADA STREET NEIGHBORS VACATIONED TOGETHER

WM – I think we have to mention the Quesada Street gang. Technically, we were not part of Quesada Street. When we first moved in here, the lady who lived around the corner on Quesada Street contacted us and had a little party to welcome us to the neighborhood. Her name was Bea Forsythe Her husband was Paul Forsythe, and they were the mainsprings of this neighborhood. Everyone that moved in, they would have a little party and welcome them to the neighborhood.

Paul belonged to a hunting club in South Mountain, Pennsylvania. During the summer when hunting was not going on, the members of that club could use the club. So we used to go to South Mountain for a week, and there would be 50 or 60 people from this neighborhood that would come up and go camping together. I think that is extraordinary. I don’t know of a neighborhood where everyone went camping together. I have a bunch of pictures and I dug up some of the pictures from there.

Q – Were you in tents?

WM – They had a hunting lodge. For people who did not want to camp out in tents, they would stay in the lodge. It had a flush toilet. There was only this one toilet, and some of us used outhouses. A lot preferred not to use them – as you can imagine. Many of the people who were part of the gang that went camping together still live on Quesada Street. I think 6 or 7 families are still here. There were about 15 – 16 families. Many set up tents in the forest, and they had several places where you could go swimming. And there were hiking trails all over the place. We always went up about the time that blueberries were ripe. That was a big deal. The problem was when that many people went berry hunting, we had too many berries to cope with.

Q – Was it a designated week?

WM – We went every year. We went up with our children and then later we went up with grandchildren.

Q – How many years do you think you did that?

WM - I would say that we probably went up until the 1990’s – something like that. I think the Forsythes passed away in about 2002. I think it was 15 years that we did that. The tradition still carries on, because we have a 4th of July cookout. The whole neighborhood goes to swim at the Emorys, and then some of the adjacent yards are set up for the meal. Then on Labor Day we have a block party on the block of Broad Branch north of here. We all bring stuff. It is getting more and more elaborate. When it first started, I used to cook 40 biscuits and take them up there and they were gone almost immediately. Last year, I baked 40 and there were 20 left over. It is because there are so many casseroles and coffee cakes, and sausages and things like that, so people don’t want to fill up on biscuits any more. I think it is somewhat unique in that we have so many families that are still here and still involved in that kind of community affairs.

Q – What part of Pennsylvania is South Mountain?

WM – It is in the middle of the state both ways. I remember we went past the Lewisburg Federal Prison on the main road, and then we turned north towards Williamsport. I don’t recall where we turned off. I did dig out the cookbook that was published. The first printing was Christmas 1988. So I guess it was the early 1980’s that we started going there. There are recipes from the Slades who lived a couple doors down from the alley. And Lola Emory is who published the book, and she had something in it. I had my secret on how to make Bisquick biscuits. And Joan has a recipe for stew.

We had a guy who did most of the cooking. He was John Stack. He lived on the corner of Nevada and Quesada. He acted as a short order cook. So he and Lola and myself would get up around 7:30 and start preparations. He would cook bacon and sausage. Lola would cut up fruit, and I would do the biscuits. Then 8;30 the people would start wandering in. He would cook omelets for them on order. For dinner, people would cook different things. Joan would do the stew one night when we were there. I would often bake 120 biscuits, and there would still be enough to go around for breakfast and dinner.

I do have pictures from the camping trip. It shows the tents in the woods and people swimming in the pond. It is some of the people that you may end up talking to – like the Emorys who live on Quesada. They are Fred and Lola Emory.

 

SOLD COINS AT LAFAYETTE FAIR FOR 38 YEARS

Q – Did you also participate in the annual Lafayette Fair?

WM – I sold coins at the fair. What I did was accumulate these coins and donated them to the fair. I sold them, and all of the proceeds would go to the school. I participated in the Lafayette Fair 38 times in the last 40 years. They didn’t mention me in the Lafayette book, and my daughter, Anne, was incensed that I was not mentioned.

Some coins were given to me and I buy some wholesale. I buy them for a third or half of what I would sell them for. So my donation cost me about $150, and they would sell them for $350. So my contribution to the fair is greater than my financial input. I did it for a number of schools. I did it at Blessed Sacrament. I think next year will be 19 years. I think I have had my last fair at the Friends School at Baltimore. My daughter’s children went to Friends School and I did that for several years. Then I did the Takoma Park Middle School. My daughter teaches art there. They have what they call an international night, and I sell coins at that school, too.

I enjoy so much talking to the kids. I have a favorite story about Lafayette Fair. It lasts 4 hours, and it gets quiet at times. So during one of these quiet periods, this little guy – maybe 9 years old and 4 feet tall - was looking all over the board for a coin that he might buy. He found one, and he brought it to me. I said, “I watched you looking all over the board, and you bought a coin from Bhutan.” I said, “You probably don’t know where Bhutan is.” He said, “Yes, I do.” I said, “OK where is it?” He said, “It is north of India, near Nepal and Tibet.” I said, “That’s right. How did you know that?” He swelled up and said, “I am a geography expert.” That makes it all worthwhile.

I have guys coming up to me at the fair who bought coins as kids, and who now bring their children.

 

HOW BILL BECAME INTERESTED IN COINS

Q – How did you become interested in coins?

WH - Well, it actually started when my oldest boy was in Cub Scouts. He wanted to make a presentation on a hobby.. He said, “What can I do?” So I said, “When your mother and I were on a trip to South America, we would pick up some coins each place that we stayed.” I really wasn’t interested except that they were souvenirs of our trip. They were from Jamaica, Aruba, Curacao and Venezuela. I said, “Why don’t we make a presentation and compare the coins from the United States to coins from other countries.”

When I got the coins out, I couldn’t find a Two Bolivar coin from Venezuela. I started looking around town and see if they had a Two Bolivar coin from Venezuela. I found a company called Deke and Company, which is a foreign exchange company, on New York Avenue. They had a box that was probably 12” by 12” and maybe 6” deep full of foreign coins – and cost a nickel apiece.

I would go there during my lunch hour and go through those. I would come home with a dollar’s worth of coins – 20 coins. I would sit at the dining room table, and I would look them up in a catalogue and check them off when we had them. That was the beginning of it – being able to buy coins for a nickel a piece. That is why I always have nickel coins at the fair. It costs me a nickel to put up the coins. There is always a kid who has 50 cents to spend and buys 10-nickel coins. I have a sign that says, “Coins – 5 cents and up. “ I really do have nickel coins.

Q – Did you work at the fair too, Joan?

JM - Not at first because of the children.

WM – Now, she helps me. I drive up with the car and unload and get rid of the car. So she makes sure that no one walks off with the coins. She puts the coins up on the board. That board holds 700 coins. At one time at Blessed Sacrament, it sold out in less than an hour. They are much more into coins than the Lafayette kids are. I guess it is part of their culture.

 

CHICO – TENNIS PRO AT LAFAETTE COURT AND YVONNE GOOLAGONG

WM –…… We had the tennis courts up here . I don’t know if you heard about Chico. He gave lessons. He was a Cuban, and he was a boxer. He had some kind of arrangement with Lafayette School where he lived in the basement of the school. I guess he made sure there was no problem with the heating or cooling systems. So he taught tennis lessons, but from the background of boxing. He said that the main thing about tennis is that you had to get your feet right. So two of our children took lessons from Chico, and they got to be fairly good tennis players. Broad Branch Market for years had a big picture of Chico and Yvonne Goolagong. She was a world-class tennis player and apparently was a friend of Chico’s.

Q – Did she live in the neighborhood?

WM – I don’t think so. But she was the most graceful person on the tennis court. I used to watch her. She was on TV. She was liquid motion. I think that today the big-time tennis players look so awkward. I think the problem is that they do not have time to get their feet right. Instead of putting their side to the net as we were taught, they stand facing the net, straddled legs along one side. It looks so awkward. I remember that Goolagong was so graceful and liquid in her motions.

If she took lessons from Chico, it was not at this court. So I don’t know how she got to know him.

 

LAFAYETTE TENNIS COURTS POPULAR

I am sure you know from Mort {Needelman] that tennis was a big time thing 30 years ago. You had to go there at 6 o’clock to get a court and by 6:15, the courts were full. There was a crowd of us who used to hog the courts. There were 6 of us and 4 would start playing a set or two. Then we would sit down, and a couple others would get into the game. In theory, the people who were not playing were in line to get a court. I don’t think we were actually cheating. But the people who wanted to get a court would say, “You guys have been playing all morning. When do we get a court?” Eventually, we would get tired, and they would get a court.

Q – Anything else you remember about Chico?

QM _ I don’t know what happened to him. I know that eventually he was no longer associated with Lafayette. I don’t know if the city found out that they had somebody living in the school and put a stop to it. He was not living there when he died. He taught a great many how to play tennis. I don't know what happened to that picture of Yvonne and Chico that was at the Broad Branch Market.

 

BROAD BRANCH MARKET

Q - When the photo of Chico’s up, was that when the Bondarefff’s ran the market?

JM – Yes. They lived across the street from the grocery store – on the corner – on the south side of Northampton

Q – Do you remember any of the employees there?

WM – There was an African American guy who worked there. They called him ‘Curly.’ I remember one day he knocked on our door and said we had not paid our balance. We never had a charge account at Broad Branch. He said that, “Your son came to the store and bought a loaf of bread and a tomato and he didn’t have any money. We asked him if he wanted us to put it on a bill and he said that he did.” At that time, our son came to the living room, and I said, “Is that him ?” He said, “yes.” His middle name was Evans. There is a family named Evans who had a charge account. I don’t know how he figured out that he was going to get that food and charged it. So we ended up paying cash for the bread and tomato.

 

BLOCK PARTIES

One of the big things that happen at the block party is that they get a fire truck, and the kids can climb all over the fire truck. They used to hook the truck to a fire hydrant and let the kids use the hose. They had a fireman there.

 

BLESSED SACRAMENT SCHOOL

Q – Your kids went to Blessed Sacrament. What was that experience like?

WM – I left for work every morning. But Joan was a room mother and a Girl Scout troop leader at Blessed Sacrament I got involved with the Boy Scouts and was always in trouble with headquarters. I was the troop chairman, and I was the one that had to take the paperwork down to the headquarters to get them approved. The big problem was that at Blessed Sacrament they didn’t feed the graduates of the Cub Scouts into the Boy Scouts. They fed them into the CYO athletic program.

So every time I went down to register the group, I would have to listen to 15 to 20 minutes of lecture about, “you are not really being Boy Scouts.” But the people who put all their efforts into Cub Scouts were mostly into baseball and football,, and we had some very good teams. Guys who graduated from there went into high school and played some outstanding baseball and football. Some how or other, that part died out, and they have a much stronger Boy Scout troop now at Blessed Sacrament because the Cub Scouts are feeding into the program.

Q – Where nuns still teaching at that time?

JM – Yes.

WM – What did we pay? I think it was $200 for six kids tuition for a year. That was mostly because they had nuns who did not have a big salary. Now the school is mostly lay people, and the tuition is something like $7500 a year. And you pay half tuition for the second child and half for the third child. So you can send 3 children for 2 tuitions. After that, it doesn’t go up any more Anything over 3 children is free. At the time when we were involved with the school, I think there were 2 families that had 17children. The ones across the street at Paterson had 13 children, I think. There was a club called the 7 Up Club. You had to have 7 children to belong to it. The kids were always on our case that we were one short.

 

BULGARIAN AMBASSADOR LIVED at LARGE RITTENHOUSE PROPERTY

There was an ambassador from somewhere like Bulgaria who lived in a big piece of property that fronted on Rittenhouse Street. That property went from Rittenhouse to Quesada through the block, and it was probably 15 or 20 years ago that they put 3 houses on the back of it. They were new houses that were built on the property that belonged to the Bulgarian Ambassador. The part of the wall from the back part of that Ambassador’s property is incorporated into the yards of those 3 new houses. For a while, the president of the University of the District of Columbia lived in one of the houses on Rittenhouse Street. That is next door to the house that used to have a very large property.

 

BLESSED SACRAMENT - DRAW THAT BROUGHT MULLANS TO CHEVY CHASE

Q – Do you recall how you decided to come to this neighborhood?

WM – When we got married, my wife said that there were certain ambitions that she always had. One was to live in the Blessed Sacrament parish. So when we were moving back to the Washington area from New Jersey, we looked in this area.

One of my sister’s in-laws lived on Paterson Street. She was the mother of Olivia who used to babysit for us. She heard that this house might come on the market. A big-time lawyer owned the house, and we contacted them before the house went on the market. We bought the house from them.

I remodeled the kitchen. The house was very much as it is now. But the kitchen was in shambles. Since I was a person with architectural background, we redid the kitchen. It has been the same ever since. I didn’t do the electricity and plumbing. But I designed it and did the carpentry.

Q – You did not even look at other houses in Chevy Chase.

WM – We looked at several. We even looked in Takoma Park, because we could not afford a lot of houses. We were looking in the lesser neighborhoods, but I knew that Joan wanted to live in the Blessed Sacrament parish.

Q – What about that made you want to live here? Was it the priest – the school?

JM – I think it was the priest and the school. Father Corbet was here at that time. Father Duffy came sometime during the 80’s.

WM – Joan and Father Duffy went to elementary school together at St. Anthony’s.

JM – He is a great guy.

Q – He is not at Blessed Sacrament anymore is he?

WM – That’s right. I just had breakfast with him. He is at Lady of Victory. He is a sort of chaplain at Sibley Hospital. He lives at Lady of Victory.

I worked as a member of the Finance Council at Blessed Sacrament for years. Dewey Heising worked with me on the Council. Dewey and I go maybe once a month or every 3 weeks to Bread and Chocolate for a cup of coffee and a cookie. We take Father Duffy with us every once in a while. He likes to go back and see people from the parish when he was here.

Father Duffy was a people priest – a wonderful fellow. They had a program to honor him about 3 or 4 years ago. They asked people to put things in the program about Father Duffy. I started off with my story that he not only knew the people in the parish, but he tried to relate to them.

I wrote one time I was coming down Quesada Street, and he said, “You left church early the other day” I said, “No I didn’t.” He said, “You left before the final hymn.” I said, “ You know the part of the mass when you say ‘go the mass is ended’? I said ‘thanks be to God’, and I left.” He did know his people, and he related to them just like that.

Q – I know the person who used to be the principal – Sister Rose. Was she there when your kids went there?

JM – Yes. We knew her.

WM - I think she was the one who said that Gib should not stay for the 7th and 8th grade, because he was not being challenged. He was very intelligent. They had 50 kids - huge classes. The nuns were able to control those big classes. I think now they try to hold them below 25. But Sister Rose’s presence is still there, because they have a fund that is used for helping people with tuition if they cannot afford it.

Q – Did Sister Rose have something to do with that fund?

JM – I think so.

WM – At one time, there was a convent at Blessed Sacrament. Then there were not enough nuns to justify to have a convent, and it was vacant. So several years ago, they had a big construction project, and they built a new parish center, which is called the Duffy Center. They connected the convent to the school. They used the rooms in the convent to add a couple new classrooms and a new library. They managed to expand the school.

 

PATTERSON STREET PROPERTY - HOME OF HUGARIAN AMBASADOR AFTER WORLD WAR II

The other thing that we did was to tear down the big brick house on Patterson Street just before you come to the last alley. The property is now a playground for the Blessed Sacrament children. The people who lived in that house were Hungarians. He was at one time the ambassador to the United States from the Hungarian government immediately after the war.

His daughter, Mary Ann, wrote a book about living in that house. It was about the household and the people from Hungary who lived there and the intellectual conversations that went on there. The book tells about the romance between her father and her mother in Hungary. Her mother - Hannah DeKornfield - was from an incredibly rich family in Hungary. Her father, Aladar, was apparently a very able administrator but from a family not in the same league as the DeKornfields.

It is an incredible book. Random House gave her a contract to write the book several years ago, and she wrote it. But it has not been published yet. But it is story about the father and the mother and what happened when the war came. He was part of the negotiating team between Hitler and the Hungarian government that was trying to convince the Germans that they should leave Hungary alone. The problem was that the DeKornfields had a Jewish background, although they were Catholic at the time. So there was always this threat of the Germans hanging over the family.

Eventually, they gave away their great fortune to buy their way out of Hungary and they moved to Portugal. They couldn’t get to the United States because the United States government was dubious about their getting out of Hungary. They were allowed to get out by the Germans . A lot of people escaped. So they had to spend the rest of the war in Portugal. It is a fascinating story. If you ever hear that the book came out, you should read it. It is part of the neighborhood history. One of the people who lived with them there was Hannah’s older sister who was actually a countess I think in the Hungarian hierarchy, or whatever. He ended up working for the Voice of America after he came to this country.

Q – So that house was vacant for a while.

WM - The church bought it from them. Hannah and Anadar had both died. The children had moved away. Maria Dekornfeld was living in it by herself. The Parish bought the house and property. I was trying desperately to get them to leave the house as it was, because we could have used the space in the house . It wasn’t to be. They decided they wanted to relieve the pressure on the athletics at the school, and so they tore it down.

Q – The house was built in the 1920’s. So when was he ambassador?

WM – He was ambassador at the end of the war - 1946 or something like that. They set up what I would call an interim government that existed until the Russians came in. So at the end of the war, before Russia grabbed Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and so forth, they set up a government in Hungary, and they appointed him ambassador to the United States.

Q - Was that house like an embassy?

WM – No. I don’t think they even had an embassy. According to the book, many of the prominent Hungarian families in this area would gather at that house and have nice dinners and so forth. As soon as the Russians took over, they named someone new as the ambassador.

Q – Do you remember the ambassador’s name?

WM – Aladar Szedgy Mazak.

Q – So it was his daughter who wrote the book. Have you read the book?

WM – She sent us a copy of the manuscript, and so we had a chance to read it. I think we shipped that manuscript off to Maureen.

 

BEAUTIFIES PUBLIC PROPERTY ACROSS FROM BROAD BRANCH HOME

Q – Anything else you would like to tell me about the neighborhood?

WM - When we bought our house on Broad Branch Road in the late fifties ,the edge of the park across the street was an ugly cliff of red clay. Water poured over the cliff whenever it rained further eroding the embankment and flooding the sidewalk with silt.

A few years later the District recreated the original slope by moving in many truckloads of dirt. Most of it was good topsoil, but some of it was spoil from construction sites containing lumps of concrete and asphalt. They planted the bank with a ground cover and planted a number of holly trees. The ground cover was very effective and stopped further erosion, but it got out of control when it was allowed to grow up the trunks of the trees with which it shared the reconstructed area. They also planted a great number of azaleas, a dark red variety that have mostly disappeared but a few of them can be seem along the Quesada Street park line.

Shortly after this, Judy Goodman and Susanne Hurwitz began the garden between the stairways at Quesada and Broad Branch. They planted various shrubs and flowers at their own expense and did a clean up a couple of times a year. But they both had jobs that kept them from effective weed control. So when I was approaching retirement. I volunteered to combat the weeds. I didn’t know very much about gardening, and I am sure I dug up some things that I shouldn’t have, but the place looked somewhat better for my efforts.

Other gardens were being created around the tennis courts, along 33rd street, and in the alley behind the houses that fronted on Quesada Street. These were mostly due to the efforts of Merle Head and Molly Mckittrick. I know there are others but these are the principal ones.

The garden was not very visible from my house -- the fourth house from the corner, so I began to replace the ground cover with shrubs and flowers directly across the street from where I lived. By that time the ground cover had climbed into the trees and was flowering and disbursing seeds all over the area. The cover didn’t flower while it was close to the ground. Stems of the vines got to be 3 inches in diameter. This garden has been gradually extended in both directions along Broad Branch until it now covers almost the full block from Quesada to Patterson Street. T

The mowers who mowed the grass in the park threw the cuttings into the garden. Since the cuttings included a lot of weed seeds, the task of weeding was unending. I sat for hours digging them out and enjoyed talking with passers-by - some of whom would bend to the task of helping pull a few themselves. From time to time I came out to weed and discovered bunches of them that had been pulled by helpful strangers. Unfortunately some of the helpers didn’t know their weeds very well so I lost a lot of flowers as well. One helpful soul pulled out all the alliums I had planted; thinking, I am sure, that they were wild onions. I hope he or she pulled some of the onions as well.

Most of the earlier plantings were paid for out of our own pockets, but the Friends of Lafayette Park has underwritten many of our expenses in the past few years. One of the irritations about planting in the park is the theft of some of the plants. In one case I had planted four Lantana plants near the North end of the garden only to have two of them stolen. In one of the holes left after the theft the thief had inserted a dried out Lantana that apparently had been allowed to remain in its pot too long. It was just shoved into the hole without even being back filled. Strangely enough that plant, with some TLC thrived as well as the two original plants the thief had left for me. Some shrubs and bulbs were also stolen, but I don’t remember them ever digging up any trees that we put in.

One of the things I most enjoyed about my garden was watching the school children climbing up the stepping stone path I created near my house. Often they would go up the path and come down another that I put in further along the street. Some of the more venturesome mothers and fathers would also negotiate the paths and that gave me a great deal of satisfaction.

Also, the heavy rains we have encountered in the last couple years have washed out some of my stones, and I am getting too old to keep up with repair. All of the gardeners are aging, so I hope that others will volunteer to take over maintenance of the garden and will enjoy the work as much as I have.

Read the full interview


© Copyright Historic Chevy Chase DC
Oral history interviews may be copied for personal, research and/or educational purposes only under the fair use provisions of US Copyright Law. Oral histories accessed through this web site are the property of Historic Chevy Chase DC. the copyright owner.

Use of these interviews is subject to the following terms and conditions:

  1. Material may not be used for commercial purposes. Short quotes and references are permitted for instructional and publication purposes.
  2. Users must provide complete citation referencing the speaker, the interviewer, the date and website with URL address.
  3. Users may not re-post or link the oral history site or any parts of it to another program or listing without permission.

Questions about the use of these oral history materials and requests for permission should be directed to hccdc@comcast.net or HCCDC, PO Box 6292, Washington, D.C. 20015-0292.