On the occasion of its 30th anniversary
By Carl Lankowski
THE FOUNDING: 1990-1993
THE HOPPER YEARS: 1994-2004
Preservation: The Avalon
MILLENNIAL HISTORIC CHEVY CHASE DC: 2000-2010
Historic District Campaign
BACK TO THE FUTURE: 2010-2020
African American Legacies
HCCDC’S ‘SECRET SAUCE’
EPILOGUE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
HCCDC BOARD MEMBERS AND OFFICERS, 1990-2020
The following paragraphs are meant to provide an overview of the origins, programs, activities, and volunteers who have come together to create and sustain Historic Chevy Chase DC (HCCDC). They also offer an evaluation of its record as HCCDC completes its 30th year.
SUMMARY IN ADVANCE: HCCDC has acted as
- Witness to events through a local lens and memory of the community
- Community repository, archive
- Contributor to an evolving narrative about our community
- Contributor to maintaining and enhancing the beauty of the neighborhood
The association was registered under the District of Columbia Nonprofit Corporation Act on Jan. 22, 1992. The articles of incorporation designated the first members of the board of directors: Pierre Paul Childs, Charles C. McLaughlin, Reena Racki, Mary Rowse, Jill Schatken, William West Hopper, and Todd Kosmerick. Childs and Racki were architects and planners; McLaughlin was a historian who compiled the papers of Frederick Law Olmsted; Schatken a community volunteer; Kosmerick, specialist in library science; Hopper, historic preservation technical consultant; Rowse, community activist, writer and fundraiser. All of them played important roles in the conceptualization, launch and initial phase of the organization, but the locus of energy animating early development was Mary Rowse, who headed HCCDC for its first three years.
Looking back 30 years, William Hopper formulated the launch this way:
[HCCDC was} Founded as a way to document the historic significance of the Chevy Chase DC neighborhood, a community comprised of a variety of architectural styles, neighborhoods, and cultures, bringing together both the east and west sides of Connecticut Avenue as a community of historical interest.
A review of meeting agendas and minutes, event artifacts, and board membership data suggests that HCCDC has experienced four phases of development:
- 1990-1993: the founding with Citizens Association and ANC support, initial inventory of neighborhood architectural assets, the house tour.
- 1994-2004: beautification projects and restoration work, historic preservation, interactive events on architecture, landscape, and history, developing relationships with local schools, saving the Avalon Theater, art walk.
- 2004-2010: raising awareness of the neighborhood’s architectural development through the historic district campaign.
- 2010-2020: website development, oral histories, house histories, history now, African American legacies, interactive online programs.
THE FOUNDING: 1990-1993
It is useful to place HCCDC’s origin in the context of the evolving landscape of Chevy Chase’s citizen organizations in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This was a period of continuing adjustment to (limited) Home Rule in DC, reestablished in 1974 after a century of eclipse following the collapse of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow policies and practices. Neighborhood citizens associations (e.g., Chevy Chase Citizens Association, whose forerunner was founded in 1909) were in the process of redefining their role after they ceased being the sole, albeit indirect, connection between DC citizens and pre-1974 government-by-commission. They were part and parcel of the racialized political regime in the District, challenged by the Civil Rights movement, which reached its tragic denouement in the civil disturbances after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April, 1968. Home Rule granted an unprecedented but proportionate degree of representation to the city’s majority African American population. The new system of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) absorbed many of the functions of the citizens associations vis-à-vis the new power constellation. In this context, HCCDC filled a need to express the community’s collective identity in DC’s new, formally desegregated, post-Jim Crow era.
Here is HCCDC’s mission statement from the articles of incorporation. For several years, this statement was read out by a board member at the convening of each of its meetings.
The Corporation is organized exclusively for charitable or educational purposes within the meaning of Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code…Such purposes shall include, but shall not be limited to, (i) conducting research on and documenting the history, design, architecture, landscape, streetscape, and development of the Chevy Chase, D.C. neighborhood, and its relationship to the District of Columbia, and (ii) educating the general public, neighborhood residents and city officials about the history and architectural resources of the neighborhood. The Corporation will provide for the preservation of the information and materials obtained though its research efforts and for access to such information and materials, as far as may be feasible, to persons who wish to examine or study it. The Corporation will disseminate the information it obtains from its research by holding meetings and lectures, presenting exhibits, and by publishing newsletters and books.
Constituted as a membership organization, HCCDC’s by-laws specify that the board of directors manage the affairs of the organization and is elected at an annual meeting of the membership. The board decides who the officers will be. In addition to a president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer, the Articles designated a chairman. The latter position was discontinued by the bylaws amended in 2009.
The founding was the work of Reena Racki and Mary Rowse, who became HCCDC’s first co-chairs. Reena Racki is a part of the wave of young professionals attracted to urban planning as an avenue to contribute to the vexing problems of housing. She earned a six year degree in architecture and license to practice in Cape Town, South Africa, and then proceeded to Cambridge, where she earned advanced degrees in planning and architecture at MIT. She arrived in Chevy Chase in the mid-1980s and established a private practice from which she retired in 2018. She brought wide-ranging professional experience gathered on four continents, working, inter alia, with the World Bank on housing and infrastructure in Africa and Asia. Racki has a decades-long affiliation with the American Institute of Architects Pro Bono Services. American precedents inspired her: “I started studying the Washington DC plan when I was working on developing plans for Elsies River—an “informal settlement” of squatters in do-it-yourself shanties on the Cape Flats, the poor part of Cape Town, then segregated by Apartheid and now segregated by class economics.” Fired by the vision for the plan of the nation’s capital given by Pierre L’Enfant and updated by Frederick Law Olmsted a century later as the federal city extended northward and was defined by DC’s “Central Park”, Racki desired to share this municipal legacy with the neighbors, along with the eclectic revival architectural features of the Chevy Chase Land Company’s DC subdivisions. She recruited Professor Charles McLaughlin, a noted Olmsted scholar living on the Maryland side of Chevy Chase, as a founding member of the board and also brought in architect Pierre Paul Childs, who designed and lived in the round, white tower house on the northwest corner of Livingston Street and Broad Branch Road.
In the summer of 1990 Mary Rowse wrote a letter to George Washington University Professor of American Studies Richard Longstreth reflecting her attempt to enlist him and his graduate students in a project “to begin an architectural survey of portions of Chevy Chase D.C. in preparation for a possible historic district application to the city.” Rowse and her circle came to realize that a successful campaign would require a program of education and community engagement.
Mary Rowse came to northwest DC in 1960. After 20 years in Cleveland Park, she moved into an arts and crafts house with Spanish accents in the first subdivision the Chevy Chase Land Company developed south of Chevy Chase Circle starting in 1907. Her public engagement was virtually immediate, launching a Neighborhood Watch program when she chaired the Chevy Chase Citizens Association Public Safety Committee. She was elected to two terms as ANC commissioner, serving from 1987 to 1990. In that capacity, she developed expertise in historic preservation, working with architectural historian Suzanne Ganschinietz and Steven Raiche at the DC Historic Preservation Office on landmarking the Chevy Chase Arcade. As her preservation network expanded, her interest grew in actively defending the architectural character of the neighborhood and advancing a preservation agenda.
One member of that network was DC Archeologist Nancy Kassner, a Chevy Chase neighbor. Mary Rowse recollects that it was she who encouraged her to start a neighborhood historic group. By then, the idea was already germinating, as Rowse was aware that Cleveland Park launched its historic district in 1987. She wanted something similar for Chevy Chase. A local organization would be the vehicle to generate a supportive narrative through research and community activities. Furthermore, the initiative should be independent of the Chevy Chase Historical Society, which focused on the parts of the neighborhood located across the District line in Maryland. With that in mind, sometime in 1989, Rowse convened a meeting on her front porch to discuss the prospect. Local architect Reena Racki was among those present. Longstreth was one of several academics who were consulted. This community was the source of at least three University of Maryland graduate students sent by Associate Professor of Architecture, David Fogle, who helped with the initial research effort. One of them, Todd Kosmerick, joined the board of directors as a founding member.
Two months after Rowse’s letter to Longstreth, HCCDC was called into existence as an informal committee of interested citizens. Over the following months draft articles of incorporation and by-laws were prepared by Jasper Howard, attorney at Covington & Burling and circulated to the first board of directors in December 1991. The board adopted them in January 1992, and they were certified on January 22nd by DC’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. On March 2, 1993, the IRS granted HCCDC tax status as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission-3G helped by providing $750 in start-up money in response to the new group’s proposal. Under the subheading “Request for Seed Money from the ANC,” a document from 1990, focuses exclusively on preparing a nomination for historic district status for Chevy Chase DC. One year later, HCCDC returned to the ANC for an additional $1,500 to build on the momentum generated by an impressive portfolio of initiatives and results.
In her letter, Rowse pointed to 114 members and growing: “many…have given generously and have told us of their interests—a lot of them want to know more about the neighborhood’s history, they want to research the history of their houses, collect oral histories or volunteer for events.” She also cited the exhibits she and Reena Racki had already staged on the design of Chevy Chase and catalogue houses in the neighborhood. She also referenced the photo archive of CCDC’s housing stock being assembled as well as the public lectures organized, including a panel that showcased HCCDC’s own new research. That event featured Roselle George, who spoke on the legacy of Francis Newlands in Chevy Chase, and the UMD graduate students William Haas on architectural styles in Chevy Chase DC, and Todd Kosmerick on commercial development in the neighborhood.
Clearly, HCCDC was off to a good start. A reservoir of enthusiasm for learning about the neighborhood had been tapped. Held at the Chevy Chase Community Center, the first lectures drew over 100 attendees. Confidence increased to expand to undertake new initiatives in the following years.
It occurred to the board that appreciation for the neighborhood’s architectural heritage could be advanced by organizing a house tour. That project became the overriding priority in 1992. Reflecting the range of building types, an eclectic selection of eleven properties was featured. It was an ambitious undertaking for a still new, small organization. Excellent conceptualization, planning, promotion and execution put HCCDC on the mental map of the neighborhood. The event was, inter alia, a fundraiser for the organization. Tickets were sold to a reported 550 attendees for the event on Sunday, October 4, 1992. The program/catalogue required six pages to acknowledge the labors and talent that went into the tour. There were house chairs for each venue; someone to handle the tickets, local businesses donating balloons, flowers, door prizes, equipment, and exhibit supplies. An artist produced sketches of each house. There were printers and researchers to thank, as well as those attending to promoting it, including 13 neighborhood businesses which sold tickets.
Meanwhile, Reena Racki attended to sharing Chevy Chase’s unique role in modern urban history with urban planners and architects. Working with founding board member William West Hopper, she organized a highly successful and well attended lecture on the history of Chevy Chase and northwest Washington at the National Building Museum. At the same time she focused on developing a better understanding of the local architectural heritage by engaging high school students in creating a photographic inventory of housing.
The first board entertained a fountain of ideas about how to advance HCCDC’s mission. Seeds of projects that later came to fruition or have otherwise remained in the organization’s in-box include the campaign for a historic district, restoring call-boxes, and designing and offering for sale plaques homeowners could affix to their properties displaying information about the year the house was built, who built it or lived there, whether it was a kit house, and the like. Prompted by a desire articulated by Cultural Tourism DC to interest visitors to the nation’s capital in something other than the Mall, there was also discussion of neighborhood tours, in this case aimed at people outside the neighborhood.
In the months after Mary Rowse announced her resignation in October 1993, the board turned to William (Bill) Jones, a retired business executive and writer to guide HCCDC in its next phase. His presidency from 1994 to 1996 was defined by focusing on developing the non-profit’s organizational capacity. Among the priorities he outlined in a 17 point action plan he presented to the board in February 1994 were the expansion of the board and organization of task committees, communicate to the membership at least quarterly, adopt an action plan and budget, produce an annual report, develop an archival plan, develop a long-term membership expansion plan, and establish ongoing liaison with the Chevy Chase Citizens Association, Chevy Chase (Md) Citizens (sic), the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, and Washington Historical Society. At least some of these goals were achieved. It may be that Jones’ enduring contribution consisted in encouraging board members to consider the strength of the organization as they pursued various projects.
THE HOPPER YEARS: 1994-2004
Mayor Marion Barry was ending his third consecutive term (19979-1991) when HCCDC was founded and the organization’s opening years were during Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly’s term, an interregnum before Barry was reelected and served from 1995-1999. The restoration of (partial) home rule in DC in the wake of the King assassination and urban unrest contributed to a fundamental rebalancing of the trajectory of the city and metropolitan area. Undoubtedly, it accelerated suburbanization, including the phenomenon of white-flight. Some Chevy Chase DC neighbors celebrated this rebalancing and supported the mayoralty of Marion Barry from his campaign in 1978 through the mid-1980s. But the tragic parabola of his public career was also associated with malaise by the time his third term began in 1987. City services deteriorated. Infrastructure repairs lagged. Businesses were shuttered as part of a wave of consolidation of big-box stores. All of this also affected Chevy Chase DC’s commercial corridor. These realities defined the immediate challenges to the new non-profit.
Reena Racki recalls the period: “Connecticut Avenue was full of trash. I had participated in and therefore knew of the National Main Street program, a national program to improve the hearts of small neighborhoods and towns. So I suggested we begin a Main Street Program and start with a large scale Participatory Planning session for our section of Connecticut Avenue.” It took a year of preparation. Again, her partner in the effort was board member William West Hopper. In October 1995, a successful event was staged. Running the whole day, it involved an active visual survey, working groups and brainstorming and attracted around 100 participants. An action plan was produced that addressed the more tractable issues.
Hopper served as Treasurer of the first board and then again after 2000. He was president in the second half of the 1990s. He remembers the moment when HCCDC took off—catching the wave of new interest in the community by its citizens and businesses alike as well as drawing volunteers to the HCCDC board and new memberships. “HCCDC and Main Street Chevy Chase showed that there were young professionals interested in participating in their community.” The timing was propitious. Starbucks opened its first location outside the downtown area at Livingston and Connecticut. “DC was coming out from a very dark period and our community wanted to be a leader. CVS took a new look at their retail strategy and Safeway joined forces with us on some projects. The first new restaurant in ages opened up – Arucola – and put in outdoor seating.”
BEAUTIFICATION. Hopper presided over many initiatives, but took personal interest and provided hands-on leadership in beautification projects. He organized annual Connecticut Avenue clean-up days in the mid-90s, organized tree plantings and the cultivation of a median strip in Connecticut Avenue just south of Chevy Chase Circle, and with his background in restoration, conducted classes on window repair, plastering and the like. He also arranged a gardening event at one of the homes in the neighborhood. But Main Street Chevy Chase, a special purpose vehicle operating within HCCDC, was the umbrella for the most visually impactful of these: replacement and extension of a new generation of park benches that adorn both sides of Connecticut Avenue from Chevy Chase Circle to Livingston Street. The project emerged from discussions of the Chevy Chase Citizens Association (CCCA) and the advocacy of Commissioner Allen Beach, who approached HCCDC to undertake it. Some earnest money was made available. Under Hopper’s guidance, several models were put on display and a selection was made after interested neighbors registered their preferences. Most of the funds required were raised in a drive that he and Colleen Girouard organized, featuring donations by local businesses and neighbors who could have a small plaque affixed memorializing a loved one. Benches and plaques have since been updated: one on Connecticut Avenue in front of the Community Center has a plaque inscribed to the memory of our neighbor, Julian Bond. As of this writing, 33 benches have been installed. Making a statement to counter rumblings of opposition by some neighbors because they might attract homeless people, board member Betsy Amin-Arsala had this inscribed on the dedication plaque of the bench she funded in front of the Safeway grocery store between McKinley and Morrison Streets, the most likely spot for neighbors representing every background to mingle: “welcome…come, sit, rest.” An additional 14 benches were installed in a cluster in Lafayette Park in the playground area for the youngest children. Some of the sentiments were clearly shared, as this inscription reveals: “For the Nannies and Caregivers of Chevy Chase—Thank you for your love and dedication—2001.”
Hopper also oversaw the publication of a special newsletter that appeared periodically from 1994 to1997. Another venture in which he played an early, formative role was the charette that resulted in design of the garden between the Community Center and branch library. And he oversaw a project to identify and photograph the neighborhood’s derelict call boxes, in the hope that they, too, could be restored and repurposed.
PRESERVATION: THE AVALON. Efforts to obtain a degree of protection for neighborhood buildings by way of formal acknowledgement of the historic value also belonged to the mid-90s. HCCDC filed with DC’s Historic Preservation Office in 1995 to have the façade and parts of the interior of the Avalon Theater listed. Along with the Arcade (1925), the Avalon, built in 1922, is the architectural anchor of Chevy Chase DC’s three-block commercial zone. Marshalled by board member, Wendy Adams, a hearing of the Historic Preservation Review Board was held on November 16th of that year and landmark status was achieved on May 22, 1996.
HISTORY. Three projects define the final phase of HCCDC’s long first decade. The first was the production and publication of Lafayette Life: Words and Images Since 1928 (1999). The book, richly endowed with photos, is a mixture of vignettes contributed by Lafayette graduates and an interpretative narrative. This project to memorialize the neighborhood elementary school was advanced by board member and HCCDC vice-president, Brian McClure, a graphic artist by trade. HCCDC’s logo is the product of his design studio. McClure, who had grown up in the neighborhood, returned to Chevy Chase DC in 1993 from the west coast with his family and his daughter was enrolled at Lafayette Elementary School. Open to avenues to connect with neighbors, he was drawn to Lafayette. The opportunity arose when he was asked to serve as a substitute teacher when much of the faculty were attending the memorial service of a colleague. McClure’s degree in American Studies sensitized him to opportunities to draw out and record the character of a place. He himself attended Lafayette growing up and engaged its students in 1996-1997 with a project to generate oral histories of their experience. Lafayette Life grew out of those encounters as Hopper recruited McClure to the board and adopted the idea, which required funding for publication. Historian Jane Donovan joined the Lafayette Life project to provide a narrative linking its components. It was a bittersweet moment; the work is dedicated to Jack, McClure’s young son, who passed away as the project was developing.
In a prescient preface, Hopper drew attention to the African Americans who were driven off the land so that an all-white school could be built at the height of the Jim Crow era. Like many ideas that had their origin in internal HCCDC deliberations, this one was a seed that germinated nearly a decade and a half later, contributing to the general thrust of programming from 2015 forward.
TOURS. The second project in this period was a reworking, refocusing and updating of “Footsteps”, the walking guide for upper NW DC produced by a remarkable group of (mainly Wilson High School) students and advisors in 1975, who went on, as part of the city’s preparations for the nation’s bicentennial celebrations, to research Reno City and its dispersed African American population and produce the local history compendiums, Origins and Origins II. Inspired by “Footsteps,” the board acted as a team to produce Walking Tours of Chevy Chase D.C. Appearing in 2000, the publication followed an alley tour organized by the board, also documented in its 1999 publication, Four Alley Tours of Chevy Chase D.C. These programs anticipated by a few years the first of many annual walking tours.
Much of the year 2000 was devoted to The Artists Studio Tour, the third project defining the period. Ten artists working in Chevy Chase DC were featured: Barbara Josephs Liotta, Matthew Ossolinski, Gail Gorlitz, Beth Cartland, Georgia and Grant Stockdale, Harry Jaffe, Mariah Josephy, Larry Kirkland, and Lise McDermut. Once again, it was not only the conceptualization, organization and implementation of an a la carte self-guided tour consisting of ten stations, but also a catalogue, Creative Spaces (2000), that introduced the artists and their work, in this case illustrated with photographs. The scale of the operation is suggested by the credits. The Creative Spaces Tour committee had nine members; 58 individuals are thanked by name for a variety of tasks and contributions, including managing and hosting the reception, staffing the studios, design services, photography, editing, serving as studio parents, Creative Spaces docents, and Creative Spaces artists. Nine sponsors were listed: Circle Liquor, Avant Garde Art Gallery, First Savings Mortgage, Nancy Wilson/Evers & Co., Jordan Benderly/Taylor Real Estate, Full of Beans, Taylor Real Estate, Breckenridge Graphic Design Solutions, and Exclusive Estate Sales.
MILLENNIAL HISTORIC CHEVY CHASE DC: 2000-2010
Chevy Chase DC’s millennial years were dominated by the change in mood associated with the outcome of the 2000 presidential election, the bursting of the dot-com bubble and the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Pentagon. The mood in the neighborhood was impacted by the fallout of the 2000 presidential election, which was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Then there was the puncturing of the dot-com bubble and the decline in value of middle-class savings for retirement invested in mutual funds. 9/11 was a local story. Along with New York, DC was a target of the Al-Qaeda cell. Many neighbors were personally connected to those killed and wounded at the Pentagon that day. The sense of uncertainty and siege was heightened by subsequent Anthrax attacks that forced the temporary closure of Friendship post office (20016 zip code). Life changed in Washington as tightened security procedures were implemented. Between October 2001 and March 2003, the Bush administration launched military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq that are still underway at the time of this writing.
AVALON. Six months in advance of 9/11 a lesson in capitalist economics came to the neighborhood with the sudden closure of the Avalon franchise of Loew’s Cinemas in March 2001. The logic of protecting market share in Loew’s consolidating move dictated the merciless destruction of any and all fixtures (screen, projection equipment, seats) that might be deployed again to function as a movie theater. Citizens intervened to obtain an emergency stay for the asset stripping. And a community-wide mobilization was called into existence to rescue the community institution. As the agency that obtained historic protection status for the Avalon in 1995-1996, HCCDC had a stake in the drive to communalize the theater. HCCDC supported the mobilization in spirit and individual board members were engaged with many of their neighbors in that project. As the neighborhood mobilized to save its institution, court interventions were required. Former HCCDC board member Bob Zich, played an important role in communicating with the court while community options were developed.
ORAL HISTORY. Like other programs developed by HCCDC, oral histories had an important, experimental start that faded, only to become a central feature of its work a decade later. The appeal of conducting them is partly to do with their connection to another need felt by board members since the beginning: research on the neighborhood. None of the HCCDC board members have been trained historians, though there have been several academic social scientists (urban studies, American studies, political science), many architects and several lawyers on the board. By and large, board members have had a deep and abiding citizen’s interest the look and character of their neighborhood. What oral histories offered was an immediate, empirical sounding of the Chevy Chase DC experience. In principle, they could be invaluable in identifying events and establishing leads for more forensic work later. Lafayette Life was crafted from a constellation of mini-oral histories. When Bill Hopper resigned from the presidency of HCCDC after five eventful years, Brian McClure and then Steffanie Faul presided. With Lafayette Life under its belt, the board could continue in that vein. In the period between 2000-2003 significant investment of time was given to learning from others how to conduct oral history interviews and then conducting the prototype. Betty Nock gathered information on the craft of oral history. Armed with that, it was Alix McDonough who (with Bill Hopper) interviewed 94-year-old Marie S. Higger, wife of the late Sam Higger of Higger’s Drug Store. McDonough, an architect, had also produced a very useful summary of Chevy Chase history.
HISTORIC DISTRICT CAMPAIGN. Toward the end of 2003, another mobilization was brewing that touched the core and essence of HCCDC’s self-understanding and mission. At issue was the attempt to raze a house on 38th Street and replace it with something deemed inappropriate by some of the adjacent homeowners. Again, action was required to buy time for the development of an effective strategy to prevent the raze. Chris Fromboluti, HCCDC vice-president at the time he was also serving as an ANC commissioner, led the effort, which included the preparation and submission of an application for historic landmark status for the house in question, a task the neighbors asked HCCDC to undertake on their behalf. At one point, neighbors blocked raze machinery by parking their cars around the property. In the end, the developer did raze the 1921 colonial revival house, but could only replace it with one, rather than the two houses he had hoped he could squeeze onto the property. Out of this dispute came the nearly exclusive priority of HCCDC for the next five years: the campaign for a historic district.
In 2003 DC already had designated more than 20 residential historic districts, so there was ample precedent. In all these cases, neighbors—homeowners and businesses—worked with city officials to protect neighborhoods from changes that were considered to undermine their character and adversely affect the quality of life as well as their economic viability. In addition to the expertise and dedication of the HCCDC team – key figures were Dick Teare and Dick Wattis – existing precedents in DC were likely a factor in the ability to raise and spend approximately $20,000 over the five year campaign. Moreover, the idea of historic district in Chevy Chase DC goes back to the founding of the organization and generated conversations in the neighborhood and on the HCCDC board virtually uninterruptedly.
Reflecting the 38th Street origins of the effort, the HCCDC team initially contemplated only the Chevy Chase Land Company subdivision of Chevy Chase Heights (1910), but the other original subdivisions of the Chevy Chase Land Company south of Chevy Chase Circle were quickly added: Connecticut Avenue Terrance and Chevy Chase DC (both 1907), Connecticut Avenue Park (1909), Chevy Chase Terrance (1910), and part of Chevy Chase Grove 3 (1918).
The HCCDC team followed a four-part strategy. At first, a team of volunteers recruited for the purpose focused on collecting information on the houses in the neighborhood building-by-building, emerging with a data-base of nearly 1,000. Second, a series of block meetings was organized to discuss what is involved in HD-designation. Simultaneously, HCCDC contracted with EHT Traceries Inc. to prepare the actual nomination to be submitted to the DC Historic Preservation Review Board. Finally, there was a decision phase involving generating support in local representative bodies, above all, the ANC, to substantiate the case that the neighborhood embraced the project.
It was in the latter dimension that the project failed. Despite the yeoman work invested in collecting data, raising money, preparing information sheets and organizing house meetings, placement of yard signs and door-to-door canvassing, vocal and dedicated opponents were able to veto it. The decisive phase came when the HD draft nomination was posted and available for reaction. ANC 3/4G held hearings in 2008 and in September organized a survey sent to all households in the study area. The result was a shock for the HD campaigners: on a turnout of 51%, 363 (77%) opposed the HD; 108 (23%) were in favor. At its meeting on 10 November 2008, the ANC adopted a resolution of disapproval of the HD, even though HCCDC had already signaled on 22 October that it would refrain from submitting the nomination. Dick Teare’s exacting forensic review presented on a panel of the DC Historic Preservation League in September 2009 pointed to several factors that combined to stymie the effort: the organizational weakness of HCCDC topped the list (mainly in the ability to generate and distribute campaign materials quickly), followed by an insufficient number of volunteers, confusion about the boundaries of the proposed HD, which anyway was too extensive, giving opponents the upper hand. To these, Teare added the lack of a cohesive, comprehensive public education plan and the failure to concentrate the effort in time.
TRANSITION. 2009 was a year of reflection and stock-taking. HCCDC continued to host a walking tour, the house plaque program was launched, and a photo exhibit of neighborhood homes was staged in the Community Center. But a sense of deflation is palpable in the minutes of board meetings. Minutes of the meeting on November 2nd, 2009 refer to a discussion about whether there was still a reason to go on after the stinging defeat of the historic district campaign. Merger with the Chevy Chase Citizens Association was mooted but was not deemed to be a viable option because it was thought that the CCCA would not embrace controversial topics. It was agreed that the only way forward was to expand the board to bring in new energy and ideas.
BACK TO THE FUTURE: 2010-2020
All recent histories of Washington, D.C. concur with the notion that in the nation’s capital, national history becomes local history. Not just because DC is a “company town” for the U.S. government and a world capital, thanks to the extensive diplomatic international organization presence—which makes tens of thousands of international functionaries our neighbors—but also and arguably even more importantly, the fact that home rule was never complete. Committees of Congress continue to play a role in advancing their priorities here.
Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the election of Barak Obama as the 44th president and the reactions to that event reverberated locally. Identities were threatened. Race was back on the national agenda with a vengeance. This, in the context of a decade featuring a major shift in the fortunes of many cities, including the nation’s capital. Depopulation was not only stopped, but tens of thousands of people took up residence here, growing the total by nearly 40% from roughly 500,000 to 700,000. As that trend developed, DC’s racial composition changed, becoming more diverse, especially with the increase in people identifying as Hispanic or Asian. DC has had a “minority majority” population since 1956, but by 2014 those residents identifying as African American fell under 50% of the total.
The post-historic district HCCDC board reflected the new Zeitgeist in the programs it launched. The time was ripe for exploring who Chevy Chase DC was, who it became, and who belongs to its vision for the future. This is equally an agenda about Chevy Chase’s evolving relationship with the rest of the city and region. Of course, the issue of race relations has infused the entire history of the District of Columbia and Chevy Chase was conceived and built as a white enclave. In 2001, seven years before Barak Obama was elected president, there was a community mobilization against the redistricting of the neighborhood, which shifted the entire area east of Broad Branch Road out of Ward 3 and into Ward 4. The Chevy Chase Citizens Association joined the Kingman Park Civic Association in challenging the plan in federal court on the grounds that it would unconstitutionally reduce African American voting strength in Ward 3. The challenge failed. One result is that Chevy Chase DC’s ANC straddles two wards and is designated ANC 3/4G.
New energy flowed into the board of directors with the recruitment of Charles (Chas) Cadwell in April 2009. A lawyer directing international development projects from the Urban Institute with significant political experience in DC since the 1990s, he played a central role in the revival of HCCDC. His lawyerly experience was vital in recrafting the organization’s bylaws in 2009 and later proved valuable in drafting the deed of gift prototype that enabled the oral history program to go forward. More generally, he brought to HCCDC an inquisitive and enterprising spirit, ready to reach out to neighbors to learn from them what they might contribute. He went on to spearhead the transformation of HCCDC’s online presence. Cadwell recruited accomplices to work of these new priorities: educator Carl Lankowski and Pam Lankowski, an administrator at the National Academy of Engineering, to focus on oral histories under Joan Janshego’s leadership, and American University graduate student Riordan Frost to work on the website.
Some projects and events continued: the house plaque project that was launched in 2008 in partnership with the Chevy Chase Citizens Association and led by Evelyn Wrin, has continued. In 2016 the placement of the 100th plaque was celebrated. At the time of this writing, nearly 250 neighbors have purchased them and most of them are on proud display, attached to fences or affixed to stonework or embedded in shingle siding or brick. The casual flaneur would learn a lot about the neighborhood just by taking notice of them.
The tradition of convening meetings with speakers addressing topics relevant to the neighborhood continues as well. Held in the Lounge or the Auditorium of the Chevy Chase Community Center and drawing between 15 and 75 participants, here are the ones starting in 2013:
- March 2013: “How to Research Your House,” with house historian Paul Williams.
- June 2014: “Chevy Chase and the Battle of Fort Stevens” (marking the 150th anniversary of that event), with historian Benjamin Cooling and Gary Thompson, co-founder of the Alliance to Preserve the Civil War Defenses of Washington.
- May 2015: “Rural Remnants of Washington County,” with Kim Williams, architectural historian and national register coordinator for the DC Historic Preservation Office.
- April 2016: “Washington DC in the Jim Crow Era,” with Blair Ruble, author of Washington’s U Street: A Biography.
- November 2016: “Kit Houses in Washington DC,” with Catarina Bannier, realtor and creator of a data-base on kit-houses.
- May 2017: “General John ‘Blackjack’ Pershing: At War and in Chevy Chase DC,” with Mitchell Yockelson, archivist at the National Archives and author of Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing’s warriors Came of Age to Defeat the German Army in World War I.
- March 2018: “Reno City—Razed. How an Integrated Neighborhood Disappeared,” in conjunction with Tenleytown Historical Society and featuring Neil Flanagan.
- April 2018: “Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital,” with co-author Christopher Asch.
- April 2019: “House Razes in Arlington VA,” with Tom Dickson, Arlington Historical Society.
- May 2020: “Your House History: A Case Study of 3506 McKinley Street,” with Carl Lankowski, HCCDC president, and the first time HCCDC conducted an interactive virtual event.
- June 2020: “Race and Refore: Police Brutality in DC and its Consequences,” online interactive event in partnership with The Historical Society of Washington DC, featuring authors Derek Musgrove and Christopher Asch.
- July 2020: “Changing Concepts of Race,” online interactive event featuring Charles King, author of the 2020 Anisfield Wolf award for Gods of the Upper Air, best book on racism and diversity.
HCCDC also delivered several programs to the Chevy Chase Citizens Association during these years—on the history of modern Chevy Chase DC, on the origins, priorities and programs of HCCDC, and on the Lafayette-Pointer project, of which more below.
A third program element continued in recent years is the annual walking tour of the neighborhood. Usually held in conjunction with the Citizens Association Chevy Chase Day in September, the tour is part of walking tours throughout the city under the umbrella of Cultural Tourism DC. Former HCCDC president Keene Taylor has conducted the tour, which has routinely attracted between 30 and 60 participants, depending on the weather that day. The crowd gathers at the Avalon Theater for the ca. 90 minute event, in which topics range from Chevy Chase history to architectural styles in both residential areas on either side of Connecticut Avenue and the commercial strip. Urbanologist and realtor, Jordan Benderly has managed the plaque and tour projects over the years.
ORAL HISTORIES. But with the new board of directors, particularly after 2011, HCCDC experienced a programmatic inflection point reflecting new preoccupations. The first major innovation was the oral history project. Although some interest was evinced in oral histories in 2001-2002 and The Lafayette Life book also captured vignettes from former students and staff, only in 2011 was the idea enthusiastically embraced and the energies of the board concentrated systematically on achieving a result. Under the leadership of Joan Janshego, within a few years, 2012-2018, more than two dozen oral histories had been produced. It was an exacting process, involving seven steps from the recruitment of a subject to the posting of the interview. Participants signed off on their interviews twice, once at the beginning in a statement of intent, and later, after all editing was finalized, to release the product to the board. A board committee then read through the manuscript mainly for quality control, so that the board, which votes on the posting of each interview, can give its imprimatur. Among the interviews posted are those of Vera Rubin, an astronomer working at the Carnegie Division of Terrestrial Magnetism, whose pioneering work on dark matter reshaped the field; Allen Beach, ANC commissioner and CCCA president whose ancestor played a central role in the creation of modern Chevy Chase; Jeffrey Gildenhorn, entrepreneur and one-time mayoral aspirant; and James Fisher and Tanya Hardy. Fisher is a descendant of Captain George Pointer, a slave who bought his freedom and worked with George Washington on the forerunner to the C&O Canal.
The oral history archive is an impressive achievement. Each interview required around 30 hours to produce in a process that typically took six weeks or more from start to finish. The interviews revealed the lived experience of our neighbors, stretching back to the 1920s in some cases. They established a collective portrait of the neighborhood “from the bottom up,” as it were. In that sense, HCCDC had become “the collective memory of the neighborhood.”
Gradually it dawned on the board that the oral history project opened a new avenue of development for HCCDC. In a way, the post-2011 board was responding to the same concerns as Reena Racki in the early 1990s, when she organized the reimagining Main Street initiative. HCCDC was about more than preserving a comfortable community. It was about reasserting what kind of community we wanted to be. It was, in short, about recovering a new sense of historical agency.
HISTORY NOW. This direction was cemented with two recruits to the board in 2016 and 2018, respectively: Cate Atkinson and Tim Hannapel. Cate Atkinson joined in December 2016 in the wake of the general election. As a journalist in the 1990s, she covered the Balkan wars that tore Yugoslavia apart from the region. She was attracted to HCCDC in part because of the innovative approach to the mission of the organization fomenting at the time. In 203-2014, the board was gaining significant experience from the oral history project. It became clear that reconstructing events of older neighbors, while decisively important in documenting lived experience, the interior of our subjects, was not always a perfect guide to developments animating the neighborhood. As a result, the board decided to launch a parallel program that flipped the question from memory of things past to projection of developments that struck us as important and insightful in the here and now that might be of interest to someone reading such accounts of the neighborhood fifty years in the future. Thus was the new website feature, HISTORY NOW, born.
We were attentive to issues that our neighbors actively engaged. The feature started modestly with a piece that reflected the experience of a board member in moving into the neighborhood. Another early story was about the mobilization of opposition to the apartment building that was built at 5333 Connecticut Avenue. Other topics were Politics & Prose Bookstore and the homeless shelter provided by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. There followed an article that described the controversy that played out on the community listserv moderated by one of HCCDC’s founding members, Mary Rowse, over the proposed re-naming of the Newlands Fountain in Chevy Chase Circle. The wider context was the wave of killings of African Americans by police or vigilantes that gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. When Atkinson joined the board, she enthusiastically took up the challenge of writing an account of how our neighborhood reacted to the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Memorably, she described the attack on Comet Pizza, the Alt-Right banquet at Mangiano’s, and the blizzard of rainbow flags that appeared to greet the family of VP-elect Pence, which lodged in a rental house in the neighborhood in the interregnum between election and inauguration. That story was updated after a book reading at Politics & Prose was disrupted some months later by a dozen Alt-Right protestors who walked into the store and interrupted the speaker.
HOUSE HISTORIES AND KIT-HOUSE INVENTORY. The board continued to explore new ways to deliver on HCCDC’s mission. We struck on the idea that we were missing something by cleaving the consideration of our neighborhood architectural features from the people who inhabited the houses. After all, Chevy Chase is essentially a residential neighborhood. The original impetus came from University of Maryland History Professor, Kirk Flack, who produced a fine account of his house on Northampton Street. About the same time, the board became aware of Catarina Bannier’s work researching and creating an inventory of kit-houses in DC and environs. She graciously agreed to work with us, offering to link her inventory as a resource. With these strands converging, Cate Atkinson started a study of her house on Chevy Chase Parkway. The most dramatic finding was that the Rev. James Reeb – killed at a civil rights march led by Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama in 1965 – had lived there.
His colleagues’ labors inspired Carl Lankowski, who had been focusing on producing oral histories and HISTORY NOW articles, to undertake a history of his house on McKinley Street. Written on the occasion of the centennial of its construction (1919), this house history is about one bungalow in Washington DC, property square #1996. But it also addresses the questions of where the bungalow came from as an architectural style, why the structure was built where and when it was, and how the structures in Chevy Chase DC relate to the rest of the city. Finally, it is about how the neighborhood developed, who lived in the house, the block, the community, what their interests and concerns were and how these interests evolved over the course of a century. Among other things, Lankowski’s study was about the ideology of racial segregation and how it played out in the design of our neighborhood.
The HOUSE HISTORY collection has expanded to include several works by Paul Williams.
AFRICAN AMERICAN LEGACIES. The first thing Carl Lankowski did upon assuming the presidency at HCCDC’s June 2014 board meeting was to offer a resolution of appreciation for the leadership of his predecessor, Chas Cadwell. It was adopted unanimously and complemented by flutes of Clicquot. The second thing was proposing that HCCDC create a multidimensional historical profile of the community, with different chapters assigned to individual board members. He volunteered to write the one on demographics. That is a topic with many dimensions, but Lankowski was convinced that the racial composition of Chevy Chase was the obvious place to begin. The community profile did not gain traction, but the racial theme became HCCDC’s leit motif for the next six years.
In February 2016, Lankowski attended a lecture organized by Tenleytown Historical Society on the African American communities gathering around the forts quickly put up in a ring around DC at the start of the Civil War by Alcione Amos, curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Community Museum. At the event he met Jane Freundel Levey, managing editor of Washington History, who in turn introduced him to James Fisher, a descendant of the African American family whose land was taken in 1928 to build the all-white Lafayette Elementary School in Jim Crow DC. A month later, Fisher and his genealogist partner, Tanya Hardy had joined Lankowski for an oral history interview. Fisher’s story is electrifying for anyone interested in the history of Chevy Chase DC. It turned out that the displaced Harris family members on Broad Branch Road were themselves descendants of Captain George Pointer, a slave born in 1773 who later bought his freedom and worked for George Washington on the prototype of the C&O Canal. Two members of the Broad Branch family served in the Union Army in the Civil War. A remarkable reunion of the family diaspora was celebrated on the site of the condemned houses, in Lafayette Park and Recreation Center in August 2013. A scholarly article by Barbara Boyle Torrey and Clara Myrick Green appeared in Washington History, “Free Black People of Washington County,” just prior to the oral history, which helped focus the discussion and add a present-day dimension to the story.
As the board worked on digesting this experience, one member urged us to contact Tim Hannapel for an oral history. A few days after an initial meeting in September 2016, an interview was conducted with both Hannapel and his aunt, Emily Swartz, who supervised high school students in city-sponsored summer job projects in the 1970s, operating out of the offices of the pre-ANC Neighborhood Planning Councils at Fort Reno (NE corner of Chesapeake and 41st Streets). Hannapel is a labor lawyer with a history degree from Brown University. He grew up in Chevy Chase DC and attended both Blessed Sacrament and Lafayette Elementary schools and went on to Deal and Wilson. He participated in the summer job program during the 1970s. Some students were assigned local history projects to support the coming U.S. bicentennial commemorations. This was the foundation of Origins, Origins II and Footsteps, a critical look at local history and a set of walking tours that circulated in the neighborhood like samizdat for a generation. Hannapel was one of the authors of Origins. One of the Origins essays dealt with the subject and carried a picture of one of the condemned Broad Branch houses including a cryptic picture of an elderly woman smoking a corn cob pipe.
Hannapel praised our work and was particularly enthusiastic about the rediscovery of the Pointer-Harris saga. In March 2018, together with our sister-organization in Tenleytown, we orchestrated a set of presentations on the destruction of “Reno City” and the displacement of its African American community. It featured local historian Neil Flanagan, who had just published an essay on the subject in the City Paper. Also featured was Whitney Paige, who was involved in researching African American communities linked to families in Reno City, particularly a community on River Road. Tim Hannapel was present at that gathering, as were James Fisher and Tanya Hardy and introductions were made. He was encouraged to work with the board to develop this agenda and appeared at the April 2018 board meeting advocating a campaign to have signage installed in Lafayette Park about its African American legacy. He was enticed to join the board shortly thereafter. Hannapel and Chas Cadwell were appointed to a special committee to advance the project.
From that point forward, much of the energy of the board revolved around the Pointer-Harris story and interaction with authorities and the community on this theme. Along the way, we learned much more about those neighbors who were removed from us. Historian David Rotenstein’s forensic research on the River Road community and its connections with Reno and Broad Branch is a milestone. The appearance of Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital (2017) offered a broad framework for situating the Chevy Chase experience. HCCDC staged a well-attended public forum on the book and invited Rotenstein to present his work to the board.
Board action was tied, in effect, to the city’s renovation plans for Lafayette Park and Recreation Center. We decided in the autumn of 2018 to launch a public campaign to rename the park to Lafayette-Pointer Park and Recreation Center to acknowledge the past and point to a better future. At the same time, Hannapel and Cadwell attended park renovation citizen information sessions, often with the participation of James Fisher, and liaised with the office of city council member Brandon Todd. It was decided to support the effort with a petition drive. More research was undertaken and a concise two-page flyer was drafted to educate the neighbors about the Pointer-Harris story and the desirability for collective community action. Starting in early April 2019, board members gathered signatures supporting the name change. By the end of May, over 500 signatures from residents of Chevy Chase DC had been collected. We were successful in getting the issue on the agenda of ANC3-4/G. Hannapel compiled a well-crafted briefing book, which formed the basis of our presentation to the ANC on July 8, 2019. Impressed by the careful preparation, a presentation that also featured James Fisher, and the community support represented by those 500+ signatures, the ANC voted unanimously to support the name change.
That, of course, was not the end of the story. The renaming of public facilities requires the adoption of an appropriate resolution in the City Council. Hannapel and Cadwell continued the processes at this level, with communications to council member Todd’s office as well as to the Mayor’s office. Todd drafted the required resolution, but no action had been taken on it at the time of this writing and Todd was defeated in the June 2020 Democratic primary for the Ward 4 Council seat by Janeese Lewis George.
In the meantime, in a program that recaptured the spirit of McClure’s Lafayette Life project of the late 1990s, working with Lafayette teachers, Hannapel arranged an assembly of roughly 250 Lafayette 4th and 5th graders for February 11, to hear about the (pre-)history of their school. It featured the participation of James Fisher and Tanya Hardy. Everyone present was in awe of this moment, when the history of their country was personified by the person speaking with them. Both James Fisher and Tanya Hardy accepted invitations to join the HCCDC board of directors in May 2020.
COMMUNICATION STRATEGY. HCCDC was founded as a public service non-profit offering insight into the built environment and the people of the neighborhood. This mandate implied active and interactive communication within the community and across the city and beyond vis-à-vis sources of information, authorities in historic preservation or who can change the built environment, and sister organizations sharing broad agendas. It was not until the end of HCCDC’s first decade that digitization of relevant documents and images had become routine and the World Wide Web had become a growing repository. Like every other organization, whether in the private sector, the government, or the non-profit world, HCCDC was compelled to manage information and communication in new ways.
HCCDC’s board understood from an early point that website development was a sine qua non. But like other all-volunteer organizations, expertise in website design was either scarce or too expensive, and training for use of free or nearly free platforms quickly eroded for small organizations pursuing agendas that did not require continual updating. A vicious circle developed: without a dedicated webmaster, is was difficult to post information. With less information going out in the medium increasingly used as the normal first resort, the organization fought an increasingly losing battle for attention.
While there were board discussions in the 1990s, a real effort was not mounted until ca. 2004. But for another decade after that HCCDC still privileged postal mailings for distributing newsletters and brochures that also functioned as membership recruitment channels. There were two significant adjustments between 2010 and 2015. Riordan Frost, a graduate student in urban studies joined the board and was immediately assigned to this task, working with Chas Cadwell. Secondly, HCCDC was able to rely on the public service community listserv moderated by HCCDC’s first chair and president, Mary Rowse, to broadcast short messages about impending events. When Riordan Frost moved away the redesigned website, though filling rapidly with oral histories, History Now features, and other resources, had a static feel. That said, the website did indeed attract spikes of attention around the posting of new material.
There the matter has stood for several years. A dedicated board working on projects resonating with neighbors, has possessed a digital footprint not worthy of its accomplishments and aspirations. The issue was a topic on the agenda of almost every board meeting. Finally, after consulting with HCCDC’s sister organization in Cleveland Park, which had recently upgraded its own website, board members Cate Atkinson (vice-president) and Chas Cadwell brought forward a comprehensive plan in January 2020 for relaunching https://historicchevychasedc.org . This involved selection of a new digital platform and a wholesale redesign with an eye to both vastly increased functionality, and improved aesthetics. And critically, a framework user-friendly enough even for a small non-profit with no dedicated webmaster. With professional assistance of Danna McCormick with DLM Web Development, but at modest cost thanks to the availability of a sympathetic expert who specializes in supporting non-profits, Atkinson and Cadwell forged ahead with the prodigious labor of transforming the site. It went live on June 1, 2020.
The effort reflected the evolution of web technology to the point that website management no longer needed to be a deal-breaker. It also reflected the growing confidence of the board in HCCDC’s role as a community resource, alongside the ANC and Citizens Association, as a point of reference for articulating and evaluating how Chevy Chase thinks of itself and wishes to relate to the rest of the city and region. The new website is designed as a repository of research on the community as well as a voice of the community. Oral histories project the lived experience of our neighbors. House histories relate the architecture to the people inhabiting it. History Now highlights moments in the present that are likely to be interesting for future historians. Links to house inventories undertaken by HCCDC and its partners redeem its mission to observe and celebrate our streetscapes. Those streetscapes have been enhanced by the historic plaque program, which is also documented on the site. A new feature offers pointed reports on the people and places that have contributed to defining our common experience. So, what was Highwood? Where was the New Deal CCC camp in Rock Creek Park? The Purple Iris?
This account was written during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, an episode that has had a curious impact on Chevy Chase DC’s middle class community. Like the “Spanish flu” pandemic of 1918-1919, it has reinforced the sense of value associated with living in a low density neighborhood that affords a modicum of safety in the overall urban setting. Moreover, in our digital age, many of us have enjoyed the privileged option of teleworking. And with Broad Branch Market offering delivery of your Delikatessen via robot, that sense is further enhanced. Chevy Chase DC has an aging Boomer population, many of whom (and this author is one of them) are both more vulnerable to the Coronavirus and more privileged in a comfortable retirement. The moment has provided ample opportunity for old and young and those in the intermediary age cohorts alike to adapt their preferences for intellectual stimulation. It is a very special moment for the universe of voices seeking to gain your attention.
HCCDC immediately realized that this was the optimal moment to marry our new website initiative with a fresh interactive online presence. HCCDC entered this world with an hour-long session on house histories, attracting nearly 100 participants using the Zoom platform. The level of interest confirmed what Reena Racki, Mary Rowse and their team discovered 30 years ago: There is a broadly shared desire in this community to know more about its collective self. Even before the staging of the prototype Zoom-inar, plans were being made for a series of sessions that would connect interested neighbors and partners to the virtual universe created by HCCDC.
HCCDC’S ‘SECRET SAUCE’
HCCDC is an outstanding example of citizen action. The organization always conceived of itself as a community service organization. Therefore, it is not really so strange that the history of the community, while always present as an interest, did not become central until its third decade. The founders were people who aspired to do something practical for the community—defend its architectural and land-use character, beautify it, show it off in tours of various sorts. Perhaps this state of mind is so obvious as to be transparent in Washington DC. And it probably helps explain why HCCDC has attracted people like (Amb.-ret.) Dick Teare, who has given many years to the organizationally crucial role of Treasurer (while also serving as president for several years) out of pure dedication to essential tasks that bring no glory, but enable the rest of us pursue the mission. Or the likes of Keene Taylor, Betty Nock, and Joan Janshego, who have produced decades of meeting minutes, again to underpin the functioning of the organization.
The board met at least every other month, on average, establishing a tradition that remains unbroken to this day. Most of the meetings have been held in the homes of board members on a rotating basis, usually with refreshments organized by the host, a practice that encouraged conviviality and collegiality. Frequent working meetings in an intimate setting is likely responsible for what has become a defining characteristic of the group: HCCDC has become a focal point for intelligence about anything affecting the visual presentation of the neighborhood, its narrative about itself, and its connection to the rest of the city. The relatively stable personnel situation has also made a contribution. There have been 63 board members in HCCDC’s 30 years. That is slightly more than two per year—in other words an average annual turnover of roughly one quarter of the body. Nearly half this number—27—have served as officers over the years. Attendance at board meetings has been high as a rule. One result is that there has been both the continuity of topics and projects with a high degree of reliable implementation and also the introduction of new topics and priorities.
Board members have frequently been involved in other neighborhood activities—whether as election assistants, homeless shelter volunteers, Neighborhood Watch block captains, active participants in the Chevy Chase Citizens Association, ANC member, or as activists in ad hoc campaigns to prevent house razes. That is to say that members are not only interested; they are connected.
HCCDC became an address to refer ideas and initiatives. Board members routinely attended and reported back to the group on workshops, conferences, events, visits, and conversations—e.g. seminars by MLK Library staff on conducting house research, DC housing policy, meetings on the renovation of Lafayette Park and Recreation Center, ad hoc neighborhood meetings on new building projects such as the apartment house at 5333 Connecticut Avenue, changes in the streetscape such as the deterioration of the bus turnaround just south of Chevy Chase Circle, changes to the facades of the Arcade or Avalon Theater, consultations with ANC members, liaison with counterpart societies in Tenleytown and Cleveland Park, presentation of the Ward Three Heritage Guide (2019), etc. Often, the board invited individuals to make presentations and engage in conversation with it. Recent examples: David Rotenstein (historian) on the removal of the African American community in Chevy Chase DC and Friendship Heights; Beth Cartland (Ch/Art) and Jerry Malitz (ANC) on call box restoration; Ruth Robbins (Friends of Chevy Chase Circle) on her organization; Karol Keane (Keane Design & Communications) and Jane Freundel Levey (Historical Society of Washington DC) on heritage trails; Chris Fromboluti (ANC) on prospects for a historic district. As a result, the board has been extremely well informed about all manner of developments affecting the neighborhood.
Aside from the projects, programs, and events actually adopted and implemented, people from the community approached the board with suggestions for action .Among them were association with Chevy Chase Playground at 41st Street, old call-box restoration, renaming Newlands Fountain at Chevy Chase Circle, joining a coalition to oppose the apartment house built at 5333 Connecticut Avenue, supporting the revival of a campaign for a historic district, production of a picture book of the community in the Arcadia series, and supporting an initiative to change the name of Woodrow Wilson High School.
Board teams have evolved to reflect the specific interests of its members, but evidence suggests high morale and efficient functioning overall. Aside from the public-facing aspects of its work, HCCDC’s internal dynamics have established it as an important community resource.
Looking back over the arc of the entire 30 years of HCCDC, one must be impressed by the continuities in its agenda. This speaks well of the founders’ vision, imagination, and energy in reconciling the practical and do-able with the aspirational. The result has been a bright palette of events, programs and campaigns that have channeled a great deal of local energy and provided enduring value to the neighborhood. The tent has always been broad enough to encompass a spectrum of activities according to the preferences of the HCCDC board and its officers at any given point in time.
But history is as much about what we think of ourselves now and where we want to go together as it is about the facticity of the past. The hope is that we are informed by the past on the way to a better future. HCCDC has never been static. The agenda has evolved. Board members have been conduits reflecting the broader stories of which Chevy Chase is a part. This is also HCCDC’s promise for the next 30 years.
First and foremost, thanks go to board members who generated and kept records of HCCDC’s organizational life over the years. Beyond board meeting agendas and minutes, HCCDC publications, reports, and event descriptions have survived. Of great importance for this work is attention given to website development, particularly since 2010. Leading that effort have been Chas Cadwell, Riordan Frost, and Cate Atkinson. These records have been supplemented by the generous willingness of board members to share their recollections for this project—particularly Reena Racki, Mary Rowse, William West Hopper, Todd Kosmerick, Brian McClure, and Keene Taylor.
HCCDC BOARD MEMBERS AND OFFICERS 1990-2020
Mary Rowse chair 1990-1991, president 1992-1993
Reena Racki chair 1990-1993, vice-president
Pierre Paul Childs
Charles C. McLaughlin
William West Hopper president 1995-2000, treasurer 1990-1993, 2000-2002
Jill Schatken vice-president 1995-1996
Bob Zich secretary 1992-1994
Douglas Lee Frazier secretary 1994-1996
Wendy Adams chair 1994-1995, vice-president
Donetta George chair 1996-1998
Bill Jones president 1994-1996
Alix McDonough secretary 2001-2002
Betty Nock treasurer 1995-2000
Ted Pochter vice-president 1994-1996
Jeff Wilde treasurer 1997
Nancy McKinley secretary 1996-2000
Ford Isanhart treasurer 2000
Brian McClure president 2001
Stephanie Faul president 2001
Jenny Chesky president 2005-2007
Chris Fromboluti vice-president
Keene Taylor president 2002-2004, secretary 2000-2002
Dick Teare acting president 2007-2010, treasurer 2002-present
Edith Roberts secretary 2004-2011
Toby Millman vice-president 2007-2008
Joan Janshego secretary 2011-present
Chas Cadwell president 2010-2014
Steve Zipp vice-president 2010-2019
Carl Lankowski president 2014-present
Cate Atkinson vice-president 2019-present