Beach Ancestors Had First-Hand Experience with Lincoln, Kaiser Wilhelm, and The New Deal
Interviewee: Allen Beach
Date: Sept. 11, 2011
Interviewers: Joan Solomon Janshego and Carl Lankowski
Transcribed (from audio recording) by: Carl Lankowski
Location: Janshego residence in Chevy Chase DC
OK, we’re talking to Allen Beach this afternoon. Allen, welcome. Let’s start with your birth date.
AB: My date of birth is June the 25th, 1933.
And where were you born?
AB: I was born in North Adams, Massachusetts. And only because the town I lived in, Williamstown, had no hospital. Even though it was a college town, it did not have a hospital. So, you had to go 5 miles to the east to the hospital.
So, when did you come to Washington?
AB: I came to Washington in 1941, I think it was.
What was your first address in Washington?
AB: 3415 Morrison Street, NW—just down below Broad Branch Road. My father rented a house from the Edward Jones Company. And Jones & Co. used to be in the Chevy Chase arcade for many, many years, where there’s an art studio now.
How long did you live there?
AB: Until July 11, 1942, at which point we moved to 5719 Chevy Chase Parkway. And that house stayed in my family for 65 years. Owned first by my father and mother, then by my brother, then by me.
You live there now?
AB: No, I haven’t lived there since 1955. I was the last in the family to have title to it. I sold it, but had already lived at 3342 Stuyvesant Place for 20 years by then. I lived there since 1964. I moved out of Chevy Chase Parkway when I got married in 1963.
Describe the house on Morrison Street.
AB: As you’re going from Broad Branch to Nevada Avenue it’s either the second or third house on the right hand side, just past the alley.
What does it look like?
AB: it’s a very light brown house. It was more of a brownish house when I lived there.
Is it brick?
Regarding the Chevey Chase Parkway house, did your parents buy it new?
AB: No, we were the second owners. That was 1942. The house was green and for 65 years it was green. The Snows had it first, the original owners. Then my father bought it from them.
AB: No—green shingle. It’s yellow now.
Do you have any idea when that house was built?
AB: 1926-1927—something like that. I don’t know anything about the builders or architects.
And the Styvesant house?
AB: That’s a 1942 house built by Mikkelson—a well-known builder. He built a lot of houses on Rittenhouse, Runnymeade, Stevenson, and Stuyvesant. The Stuyvesants were the last ones to be built. When I first got married we moved to another house—3032 Stevenson, which is on the east side of Nebraska Avenue. We bought that house and lived there for 19-1/2 years, so it was ’83 or early ’84 when we moved to Stuyvesant.
Let’s go to your family. Are there other children?
AB: Yes. I have two brothers, one older and one younger. My older brother is Arthur and my younger brother is Walter.
And when were they born?
AB: My older brother was born 1931 in Boston. My younger brother was born in 1934 in North Adams. My father had at that point left the teaching position he had at Harvard and accepted a teaching position in 1932 at Williams College.
Are your siblings still alive?
AB: My older brother, Arthur, is still alive. He lives in Columbus, Ohio. Walter passed away.
When were your parents born?
AB: My father was born in Pullman, Washington, in 1901. My mother was born in Berlin, Germany on Christmas Day 1909.
What were their backgrounds? First your father—his occupation?
AB: He was an economist. He was a college professor, having taught at Stanford, Bowdoin, Harvard, and Williams.
Do you know what his ethnic background was? Where they came from? Had they been in this country many generations?
AB: Approximately since 1630. About 10 years after the Mayflower.
Have you done research?
AB: Not really.
It’s family lore?
AB: That’s right. The background in his family tended to be either professors or preachers.
So the ancestors came from England?
AB: Yes. I believe from the area of East Anglica. But that’s the best I can figure out. Now my mother was born in Berlin, Germany as a result of the fact that her mother had been born in Sacramento, California. At one point her mother—my mother’s grandmother—said, “well, I’m going to take the girls and we’re going to go and visit the family homes in German.” And so they went over there and went to art school, the girls did. After about a year, all but my mother went back to Sacramento. My mother at that point was doing some art work or something like that and eventually got a nanny type job and eventually, she was introduced to this military officer, Edgar von Usedom, and after a period of time, they got married. And that’s how my mother was born in Germany. However, when World War One started, a day she remembers very well, only because her father took her down to Unter den Linden, the main street in Berlin, and they were all cheering about the war going on, which didn’t mean anything to a 4-year-old, except for the fact he was smoking a cigar and dropped an ash someplace on her hand and created a scar she remembered to her very death.
After World War II — he had fought in the Franco-Prussian War as an officer. By the time the [First World] war ended, things weren’t so good for them. And then they had the great inflation of 1923-1924. And the father had died. So her mother said, “well, we’re wiped out—I’m going home.” That meant Sacramento, California. And for a 15-year-old in 1925 it was “go home? Go where? I don’t want to leave all my friends.” “We’re going.” So in 1925, they boarded the SS Cleveland in Hamburg harbor and set sail for New York. Now, for my mother it was a great trip, because her mother was sick the whole way over. So, she was able to run around and do what she wanted to do, carouse with the boys that were on the ship. She had a hell of a good time, to be honest. When they arrived in the United States and since her mother was an American, they said “where were you born” and she could say Sacramento, California, so they said “walk in!” So they didn’t have to go to Ellis Island. And they went to Jersey City, where there was somebody they knew. They stayed there about three days and then got on a train and started west.
Well, one of the family member’s husbands—one of grandma’s sister’s husbands worked for the Central Pacific Railroad, I think, and could get free passes. So, she got on the train in Sacramento, where they lived and boarded the train and went as far east as he was allowed, which was Ogden, Utah. And there is where my mother met up with some of her family for the first time. They lived at 1214 H Street in Sacramento. For my mother, this was a huge come-down. First off, it was all women living there. Most of the men in that family had died. Secondly, in 1925 she came from this beautiful apartment in Berlin with a lovely living room and dining room as well as indoor plumbing. 1214 H Street had plumbing out back. Well, I can tell you that a friend of grandma’s took her under her wing and saw to it that she got into a school, learned some English, and in a year and a half graduated from Sacramento High School. She went to Sacramento Junior College for two years. And over the dead bodies of all the members of her family she then transferred to Stanford University in Palo Alto. She was in a summer class and lo and behold it was Professor Beach who was teaching it. So, they got to know each other. She got a B+ for the course. To her dying day she said “I deserved an A-“ He always said “you deserved a B+.”
Was it an economics course?
AB: yeah, something in economics. That’s how they met.
Did she graduate from Stanford?
AB: Oh yes—she graduated from Stanford in the class of 1930.
What was her major?
AB: History or political science, something like that. So she graduated and a couple of weeks later she got married in Aunt Creaty’s house. Now, Creaty is a funny name and actually her name is Margaret. But when she went to Germany they Germanicized it a bit. From Margareta to Greta and Creaty. And the other sisters were named Dora, and the last one’s name was Bertha, but she was the little one, and she was called Aunt Baby to the day she died at age 80. So, in 1930 my parents, having gotten married, went east because my father was teaching then at Harvard and he went back to teaching there. A little less than a year later my oldest brother was born in Boston. That’s Arthur. And two years later I came along.
At the end of 1939—Williams College had been a very good place to teach because they had a lot of well-to-do students and they could maintain the salaries. But by 1939 they were in a pinch and were starting to move to lower salaries. My father had taken a civil service test. And lo and behold one of his PhD buddies from Harvard years ago called him and said “Hey—come and work for me!.” They had to check to see whether he could get in by civil service, because in those days civil service had state-by-state quotas. So, my father got into the civil service and he went to work for the Commodity Exchange Authority, which is now the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. At that time it was part of the Department of Agriculture.
A New Dealer, then.
AB: Absolutely. My parents were clearly New Dealers. No question about it. You scratch a lot of people living around here and they were New Deal people, too. There were lots of them. In the block I lived in, in addition to my father there were a number of economists. They included people like Bump Hoover, his real name was Edgar Hoover.
Any relation to the FBI Hoover?
AB: No, not the FBI Hoover. He and his wife were in to violins, violas and all that. I don’t know exactly what he did, but I can tell you he was a population economist and I know he worked for the CIA. Draw your own conclusions what he was doing. Across the street from us was a gentleman by the name of Molton. He was head of the Brookings Institution. And it is very interesting that at one point my younger brother, Walter, worked for Brookings—in the ’70s or ’80s. I remember Molton because he had a 1939 Packard car. I always loved Dr. Molton’s car. I remember when someone was completing a wedding service and promised a limousine and turned up with a 1939 Packard, and I said “Wow!” What a great car. Why don’t you just say, let’s go” you know.
Do you remember others from that street, and their occupations?
AB: Let me think. The number two guy in the FBI lived in a house near where Nebraska and Broad Branch come together, on the south side there.
Who was that?
AB: It may have been Tillitson, but I’m not sure. Back in those days, the traffic wasn’t quite as bad as today. So when you got out of school you’d play with your friends and one of the most popular places was on Nevada Avenue between McKinley and Northampton Streets. Bunny Howe, Billy Joe Howard, the Mayer boys, and of course the Hoover boys, these were all people who lived very close there. The only big concern was not cars—it was the police. If you saw one coming you split—up the alleys, every which way so that they didn’t see you.
They didn’t want you in the street?
AB: No, they didn’t want us in the street. But we used to play football and baseball in the street and in our back yard we had a basketball net up. We played there a lot—all the boys did. Pickup games were the thing. You’d go up to Lafayette in the afternoon and there would always be pickup games. Whoever came played.
So you just happened to be on Nevada because that’s were the kids lived.
AB: That’s right. From Chevy Chase Parkway I just walked out my back door and through a yard and there I was on Nevada Avenue. One thing I remember about living there on Chevy Chase Parkway—I’m going to tell you about June 6th, 1944, D-Day. In those days, we relied on newspapers for news. We were not big radio people. And I remember Captain Johnny Curtis, who lived on Oliver Street, and he would cut through someone else’s yard and through our yard to get up to Connecticut Avenue to the bus terminal at Connecticut and Oliver. In those days, if you were going downtown you got on the back side of the L7 express bus. It pick up people as far south as Albermarle and then proceeded without any further pick ups down to M Street, so it was a good service. I used to ride that, too. Anyway, Captain Curtis came through my yard and quickly yelled to my father “it’s D-Day!” My parents turned on the radio to find out what was going on. I also remember that during that period of time I delivered newspapers. The first newspaper I served was the Washington Evening News. My route at that point was on the west side of Connecticut Avenue. And my stop was what you may remember as the Lisner Home at the corner of 42nd Street and Western Avenue. What I remember is that I gave out around a dozen papers to the ladies who subscribed to it from there. They forever were urging me to bring the paper earlier: “Come on, deliver it earlier!” It took me awhile to figure out what they wanted. In those days, you got your financial information in the newspaper. The women, if they got the paper before 4:00 o’clock, could look at the noon quotes that were there and then make some stock decisions. And that’s what they wanted the paper earlier for. “Get it here earlier!” I did that for a couple of years, then I did The Washington Post. That one I did mostly on the east side of Connecticut Avenue from Chevy Chase Parkway to Nevada Avenue, Patterson, Oliver Streets—that area. That was a nice money-maker for kids. But my father thought I should be patriotic. “What do you mean?” “Well, don’t you want to buy some war bonds?” So, I did. And you could usually tell which boys served newspapers compared with those who didn’t, because when it was war-stamp days, the people who didn’t have newspaper routes would buy maybe one stamp for 10 cents. The boys who has newspaper routes would by a dollar-fifty’s worth. We’d all fill up our books and when you got to $18.75 you turned it in and got a $25.00 bond. I had a bunch of those and kept them until I was in the Army, when I traded them in. That was in 1956 in El Paso at Fort Bliss. I turned them in and bought a car. That was my father’s great savings plan for us. Speaking of my father. You had a little book in which you kept your receipts and expenses. If it was balanced, you got your allowance for the week. If it wasn’t balanced, you had to balance it up and get it right before you could get your allowance. My older brother and I never had problems with that, but my younger brother did.
What sort of expenses did you record?
AB: Every thing you bought you put down: sodas, candy bar, movies, everything. You wrote it all in then subtracted it from what you had to see what your balance is. A lesson in accounting. A very early learning of accounting principles.
Do you recall what you were paid as a paper-boy?
AB: Maybe $20 a month. It wasn’t a whole lot.
And you got tips?
AB: Oh yeah—sometimes. At Christmastime is when you got your tips. You had people that were difficult to collect from. They didn’t want to be home when they saw the newspaper boy coming. You had to go back a couple times. I do recall that one time they had one of these “back the attack” shows. If you bought a bond you got a ticket to it. So I got this ticket and went down to the “back the attack” show, which was on the Washington Monument grounds on the side towards 14th Street. Well, I was sitting so far away—up the hill, the band was towards Constitution Avenue—I could watch the bass drummer swing his baton and hit the bat—I learned something about how long sound traveled before it was heard.
What were “back the attack” shows?
AB: They got you to buy war bonds. In 1942 or so I can remember efforts to arouse kids’ interest in doing things to enhance the war effort, like bringing the newspapers up, taking your grease to the butcher’s, saving your tin cans and that kind of stuff. You know: recycling as we call it today. They brought a jeep—and I had never seen one before—and they took it down to the playground at Lafayette, and they ran it up the stairs from the playground to the school building. About twenty stairs. I had never seen a car go up stairs like that before. That was a very amusing day there. The other one who used to come around was the yo-yo guy; he came in the spring and tried to get you to buy x, y, z-brand yo-yos.
Did you buy them?
AB: Oh sure, everybody did.
So how did the recycling work. Where did you take things?
AB: You took your papers and tin cans to school and the grease to the butcher—in other words to the Safeway store up on Connecticut Avenue.
Was it Safeway already then?
AB: Well, when I first came in 1942 there were three stores and they were called SANITARY and Safeway bought out the Sanitary brand, so there were three Safeway stores. One is where MaGruder’s is today. A second one was below—not where the liquor store is today and not Bread & Chocolate. Bread & Chocolate is where there was a baker. And the third one was in the next block. And it was in the 60s that Safeway consolidated them all in the one market where it is today at Connecticut and Morrison streets, which they got over the objection of many people. But by that time they had let the National Bank of Washington in, now Wachovia or Wells Fargo. And the citizens allow them to break a covenant of no commercial on the east side of Connecticut Avenue. So when the citizens objected, the court overruled them—you broke your own covenant so it doesn’t apply any more.
What was there before?
AB: It was an empty lot. The same was true of the block that now is home to the Exxon station, the fish store and Blue44 restaurant. It, too, was an empty lot.
Were the lots taken care of?
AB: No, it was wild, with trees and stuff growing in them. The only thing there at the time was the E.V. Brown School, which was located on the west side of Connecticut between McKinley and Northampton. It closed in the summer of 1942, interesting to me because that’s the time I moved from Morrison Street to Chevy Chase Parkway. Our new address was in the E.V. Brown district—Nevada Avenue westward. In the middle of July they said “sorry-EV Brown is closed.” They were planning to use it for distributing ration coupons or some such. In our family, I was the one who counted up the coupons and kept track of when each of them was valid. “Mother, you’ve got so many sugars, so many cans, good until x, y, z-date.”
Because you were the accountant guy…
AB: That’s right—I knew how to handle that. Of course my mother worked during the war. She worked for the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution, down there at Broad Branch and Jocelyn Street. Now they brought their geophysics lab into it and expanded it. It is still there.
What did she do?
AB: She worked under a contract for the Navy. I’m not exactly sure what they did at that point. She could walk to work from there. About a 10-15 minute walk. After the war she went back to work for them in the radio-astronomy section. She was a computer. In those days, computing meant exactly what it says. She put numbers down and calculated them this or that way. They had sight places in Durwood MD, Juancayo Peru, and in Wellington, New Zealand. And her job was to put them all together in GMT time, so that they could look at them all at the same time. In other words: this happened—how did Durwood measure it; Juancayo, Wellington? She stayed there until she retired. She was about 65, so that would have been about 1975.
Did your father stay with the Commodity Exchange Service?
AB: Yes, he did. He passed away in May of 1956.
Was he retired by then?
AB: No, he had years of work to go. He was 55, so he had another 10 years to go. He died of cancer, lung cancer.
And when did your mother die?
AB: She was 82, so it would have been around 1992. She lived in that house on Chevy Chase Parkway until she died. When her mother was still alive, she used to go to California where her mother lived. After living in Sacramento for many, many years, she decided that she wanted to go into an older-peoples home. So, she moved into a place called Altenheim, that’s German for old peoples house, in Oakland, CA. And she moved in under a lifetime contract, where she gave them $4,000 and they were going to take care of her for the rest of her life. Try that today! I don’t know what Ingleside is, but at minimum it’s $200,000. I don’t know how much you get back, and you still have to pay monthly fees on top of that. That was the bargain of the century.
Back then $4,000 was a lot of money.
AB: Yes, but no one though inflation was coming back. Who thought about inflation in the late 1940s? We hadn’t had any inflation in this country since 1910 or earlier.
You mentioned about E.V. Brown closing to your surprise. Then what happened?
AB: I went back to Lafayette School. They just expanded the Lafayette School zone.
You were at Lafayette before.
AB: Yes, I was in the 2nd grade there before. So I went back to Lafayette for the 3rd grade. What appeared to be a boundary change turned out not to be. The E.V. Brown School have since been taken down and that’s where you now have the library and the community center. Back in the 1940s, the library was on Livingston Street, west of Connecticut Avenue next to Lee’s Laundry, the Chinese laundry.
So did you ever end up going to E.V. Brown?
AB: No, never. After the war that building became the community center. I remember going there many times as a teen. My brothers and I would go quite often.
What kind of things did you do there?
AB: Played games—ping pong, billiards and that kind of stuff. One of the things you can always tell about boys who have gone to E.V. Brown School. They’re easy to spot. All you need do is look at their knees. They have ground-in cinders in their knees. How did they get them? It was a coal furnace. The left-over cinders were dumped in the school’s back yard. They guys got into it, banging themselves up out there. When I lived in Williamstown as a kid, I know we had a coal furnace, because my father would stoke it up in the morning. Being a professor, he came home for lunch and could do more then. Same in the late afternoon. Last thing at night he would stoke and put more coal in. By ’42 when we got to Chevy Chase Parkway, it was an oil burning furnace we had. It was converted from coal. When I was selling the house, everybody who came in I showed them something. I said “do you know what this is?” “No,” “No.” Finally someone said “yeah—that’s the thing you stoke the coals with.” It was an iron rod with a little hole-like thing at the end. Someone had finally figured it out. And you can see where the coal bin had been in the house. The house of Chevy Chase Parkway had a frame on the back side, a framed wooden thing you could open and close—well, that’s where you put the ice in. Before we got there they converted away from that, but at one point they brought ice into the house through this window in the back. And that little smallish room that was on the back side of the kitchen—my mother always had that as an alternate refrigerator in the wintertime. It was about two by four feet, enough so that she could use it as an auxiliary refrigerator. That’s why I was asking you about your ice-box here.
How was the coal delivered? Was it dumped into the cellar/basement?
AB: Not sure, but there must have been a chute somewhere to bring it in. By the 1940s, hard coal was going out and oil and gas were coming in an awful lot of places. I know when I was in college our fraternity had a coal-burning furnace. We had a big debate whether to convert to oil or not. The one man who mounted a mighty defense of coal came from Winburg, PA, a coal-mining area. That was soft coal and we had hard coal, but he was defending coal interests in general.
That’s near Johnstown.
AB: Right, near Johnstown.
Where did you go to college?
AB: I went to Dickinson College in Carlyle, Pennsylvania.
What did you major in?
Oh, what a surprise!
AB: Surprise, yes. My older brother went to Swarthmore and my younger brother followed me to Dickinson. He was a political science major.
What did you do after college?
AB: Well, it was 1955 when I graduated. Let’s go back. When I graduated from high school in 1951, lo and behold, we were at war. The Korean War. So your choices were, if you got into college you tried to stay there. And remember that if you failed one course you were no longer a full-time student. So, it was a great stimulus for the boys to study, because you didn’t want to fail a course and suddenly be draftable. I managed to survive four years in college, despite thinking I might not get that far without being drafted. I remember the beginning of the Korean War—I am going to back up here. It was June 25, 1950 and I had just finished an aquatics camp. I was standing on a highway in Massachusetts waiting for a bus by some sort of a café and I heard the news come out: we are at war. I said “Oh !@#%”(expletive) because I was 17. I knew I was raw meat for going into the military even though I had another year of high school to do. But I did manage to finish college in my four years because all the boys studied hard then. So, when I left college the alternatives were pretty slim pickings. You couldn’t get a job anywhere unless you were going to be 4-F, the military category which meant that you were not acceptable. If you were 1-A, which most of us were, you were prime meat for that. So, your choices really were to go to graduate school—and at that point I really didn’t feel like that—or to figure out how to serve the military. You had two or three choices. They were where did you want to go, how short you wanted to be in , how long you wanted to be in. My older brother figured out that he wanted to go as short as he could and I wanted to do the same thing so I actually volunteered for the draft. I was picked up a month later and I served my two years in the U.S. Army. I went first to Fort Jackson for basic training and then Fort Monmouth for the second eight-weeks training. I can’t tell you what we were trained in, but I can tell you that every once in a while the Newark airport would call down and tell us “you son of a…turn that GD thing off!” Radar jamming. After that I was assigned to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. About eight or nine of our class went there. I’ll always remember the guy who said “Oh, I’m so glad I’m not going to Taiwan.” “Oh, OK”, I said. “Look at my orders,” he said. Signed at the Pentagon for reassignment to Formosa. I said “you don’t know your geography, do you? Formosa is the real name for Taiwan.”
So where were you?
AB: Fort Bliss—I was there the whole remaining time. Was it the most profitable use of my time? No. But do I begrudge having served? Absolutely not. I’m glad I did serve. It was interesting. I mean, there were times like being a stockade guard for a week. It was a good experience. Because you would take prisoners out and they would say “don’t point that gun at me!” You had a fully-loaded weapon. Small carbine. But the prisoners didn’t want to be shot at.
What kind of prisoners?
AB: They were in the stockade for doing all kinds of misdemeanors.
AB: Yeah, Army people. At one point I was in a barracks right behind the stockade. I knew you couldn’t do anything to harass prisoners. But you could have fire drills. It’s amazing: They’d have two or three a night. “Everybody out! Fire drill! You’re going to march around…hup, two!…” I was actually in a unit that taught people how to operate generators. Not the kind you have in a car, but a bigger one, the size of a truck engine. We needed them because the whole area we were in was anti-aircraft. The anti-aircraft guns were controlled by radar and they had to have electricity, so they had to have these big generators to make them work. So, I learned something about mechanical generators, engines and that sort of stuff.
Did you serve with people of a sort that you wouldn’t otherwise meet elsewhere?
AB: To some degree. I would say that when I was in basic training a third of the group were college graduates and two-thirds were not.
And from different parts of the country?
AB: Oh yeah. My older brother served up here at Edgewood Arsenal. I never knew what he did until a few years ago. He was a chemist. Edgewood Arsenal—you know what they did? They were working on some sort of gas—mustard gas or something like that. I called him not long ago and said, “now I know what you did at Edgewood Arsenal—you worked on mustard gas.” He said “yup.”
He never told you.
AB: No. It was secret work. That reminds me about another story about security clearances which I love to tell. Around 1944 my mother was interviewed by an FBI agent. They were interviewing about a person who lived across the street. “Do you know this person?” “Yes.” “Do they have friends like everybody else?” “Yes.” “Do they look ok?” “Yes.” “Do they look like Communists?” My mother replied “What’s a Communist look like?” He said, “well, you know.” And she said “no, I don’t know.” So, whenever I have been interviewed for anyone since then I have said “don’t ask me if they look like a Communist. I don’t know what a Communist looks like. Don’t ask me what a terrorist looks like. I don’t know. You’ve got to tell ME.” You can see how people could use that sort of a statement.
So, when you got out of the Army, what happened?
AB: Well, I came home and looked for a job. My next door neighbor was another one of these economists, Dr. Charles Morgan, a transportation economist. He put in a good word for me at the American Trucking Association. So, I went to work for them as a very junior employee, doing economic work of sorts. I helped develop information and pamphlets and that sort of thing. I worked there for about two years. I was standing on a corner and a man came by and gave me a ride and asked me where I worked. How did I know him? His son was in our scout troop, Boy Scout Troop 52 at All Saints Church. I had been associated with it for many years. My brothers and I were all Eagle scouts there. So he talked with me and six weeks later I went to work for him at the National Cotton Council of America. And I stayed there until I retired and after that continued as a consultant through today, so that’s 1960 through today.
You are still there as a consultan?
AB: Yes, I don’t go very much now, but I am still there. I am involved in export promotion, now more in the accounting side. During my time with the Cotton Council I also worked with an affiliate called Cotton Council International. I travel a lot. I ran programs in Japan, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Canada. Not everything, but I spent the biggest chunk of the money, let’s put it that way. I did the Canadian program for 25 years. I’d go up to Montreal three or four times a year. People would come up and say “oooh, there’s a new restaurant”. “What is it…yeah I went there the last time I was here.” I knew a lot in Montreal.
Did you enjoy all that travel?
AB: Yeah, in a way. My wife didn’t, because when I went to the Far East I went for 21 days and by that time we had three young children, so it was a little hard on her.
Speaking of your wife, how did you meet her?
AB: It was at some organization, I think the Young Democrats. We got to know each other a little bit and about December of 1962 we started dating. We got married in September of 1963.
And her name is…
What is her background. Is she from here?
AB: No. She is from Hyde Park, Vermont. Not the one in New York. She went to local schools there and went to the University of Vermont and graduated. Then she came down here; she had a brother who lived near the GEICO headquarters at Wisconsin Avenue. We got engaged about June of ’63.
So, she came here to work?
AB: Yes, to work. At that time she was working at what became the Department of Education; it was part of HEW then.
Did she continue working after your children were born?
AB: For a short while. Then she left to devote her time to raising our three kids.
Is your wife still alive?
AB: Very much so! We’re coming up on our 48th anniversary in a little over a week from now.
You talked about people living nearby, whose fathers were economists. A coincidence.
AB: Probably not. They probably talked economics all the time, though their fields were different.
Do you remember any other families you haven’t already mentioned in your immediate neighborhood? What they might have done occupation-wise?
AB: Well, high school was more interesting from that point of view. My high school class had some very interesting people in it.
This is Wilson?
AB: Right, Wilson. Congressmen and Senators kids, there were plenty of those. Jean Douglas, Senator Douglas of Illinois, is one I remember. Mary-Lou Judd—her father was Congressman Judd of Minnesota. I talked to her at our 60th high school reunion recently. She said her father would be appalled at how things are now. We had some baseball people. Harris, Harris—can’t remember his first name—they called him rats-leg Harris. He was the son of Bucky Harris, who was the manager of the Senators. He was one of the great players when they won the (World) Series in ’24 and they were in the Series in ’25 and in ’33. Before my time. There was another boy; his name was Keith Einen. His father was like the secretary of the Senators. Judy Morse was in my brother’s class and that was (Senator) Wayne Morse’s (Oregon) daughter. Senator Douglas was an interesting person because in 1948 he and the Democratic candidate for governor—his name was Green—they won the state by 500,000 votes, a huge win. And all night the Truman margin kept sliding and sliding during the 1948 presidential election. Then suddenly Cook County would produce a few more votes, then downstate and upstate votes came in alternately. Finally, by 4:30 in the morning it was declared that Truman had won Illinois. It was that close. You remember that’s when the Chicago paper had “DEWEY WINS!” on the headline and Truman was holding it up.
So all these people lived in the neighborhood, then, and went to school there?
AB: Ahh umhummm (yes). By the way, some of my classmates had also been in Warren Buffet’s house near Tenley Circle. Warren Buffet went to Wilson four years before I did. Well, his father was a Congressman from Nebraska. That’s why he was here. He lived somewhere around 43rd Street and Tenley Circle. I didn’t know him and my older brother didn’t know him, but some of my classmates knew someone in the family because they can remember going into the house. There was Tommy Caudle in my class. His father was T. Lamar Caudle, a big shot in the White House under Truman.
Do you know where Senator Douglas lived?
AB: No, I don’t know where he lived.
Any of the others you mentioned?
AB: Not really. Truman, you know, lived at 4701 Connecticut Avenue when he was a senator.
And he used to walk to work.
AB: No, it would be too far to Capitol Hill. In those days, they only wanted to rent for eight or nine months, because Congress went out. It wasn’t a 12-month-a-year job. But there were a lot of people like that in our classes. Wilson was a very scholarly school at that point. I would say that 95% went on to college. Something like that. And you would find that, with a couple of exceptions that I will come back to, the higher you were in the class, the further north you went. The lower you were in the class, the further south you went. The further south, like the University of Alabama. The two exceptions were Duke and Vanderbuilt. So, you can see that I went to school in Carlyle, Pennsylvania just above the Mason-Dixon line, so I was in the middle of my class.
What you are saying is that it was a very competitive environment.
AB: Oh yes. A very competitive environment. I can tell you that the percentage of Wilson students going to college is still in the 90 percent bracket. But I wouldn’t phrase it as the north-south divide as it was in my time. And some of the schools I never heard of are now quite popular.
What was the racial mix of the school?
AB: 1951? This was before Brown vs. Board of Education. DC schools were segregated.
Were you personally aware of this?
AB: I was not. My younger brother said he was. Behind Deal at that time was the Reno School, which was the Division-2 elementary school.
Division-2 meaning what?
AB: I was in Division-1.
Where was the school?
AB: Next to Deal. Deal will take it over for some purpose.
So, if I am understanding correctly, African-American kids went to that school?
AB: That was their elementary school.
They didn’t live in the community, did they?
AB: Absolutely, they did. They lived on 41st Street. There was a big African-American community on 41st Street.
Whereabouts on 41st Street?
AB: Ahhhh-do you know where the Dancing Crab (restaurant) is on Wisconsin Avenue? You go straight down that street (between Brandywine and Military) and that street was pretty much an African-American community at that point. The African-American migration to Washington DC started downtown and had gone west towards Georgetown, up Wisconsin Avenue, all the way up to that 41st Street block. Around 1937-1938 there was a move afoot for whites to move into Georgetown. So when I was a youngster and you said I’m going to Georgetown, the question was “which side?” There were two sides. I don’t think it made a whole lot of difference, but that’s what it was.
So, Reno was a high school?
AB: No, no. It was an elementary school.
Where did the kids go after that?
AB: I don’t know. Out biggest competitor when I was there was Western, which is now School of the Arts. The other one was Coolidge, but more Western. If you were Jewish you would tend to look at Coolidge as the big competitor.
Why is that?
AB: Coolidge was a heavy Jewish school.
Where is it located?
AB: Coolidge? Northwest, on the other side of the park.
And Western, was it Africa-American?
AB: Both were division I schools. When I read obituaries—anybody who says I went to Coolidge, McKinley Tech, Anacostia, and they’re my age, I can tell you their race. They went to a division I school.
Is that what they were called?
AB: Yeah—division I and division II.
And everyone understood what that meant?
AB: I didn’t, but my parents did. When we moved to this area, my father, having been a professor at Williams, had also been on the admissions committee at Williams. So, he knew schools all up and down the east because people applied to Williams. He knew that in this school you go to this bar and to that school to another. And in those days the schools in Virginia, to be honest, were not that good. And even those in Montgomery County were below those in DC. So DC was the place to go. And that’s why the people I named in my high school class were there.
They didn’t necessarily live here?
AB: No, no. They lived here. There were a few Maryland kids to came across. In those days they could come and go free in DC. We had some kids who lived just on the other side of Western Avenue who came to DC schools—particularly Wilson.
So what was your first awareness of race and discrimination?
AB: Probably when I got to the military. Though I didn’t see much. By that point the military didn’t care who you were. Stay in line! Do what I tell you!
This was after Truman…
AB: When I graduated from college, I was about in the middle of my class. Gotta remember: I graduated high school in the middle of my class, college in the middle of my class. And here I went to the military. Boy! That was an awakening. There were a number of kids who were like me, but there were some who were not. One of the first economic experiences that that led to was the night before they said: Tomorrow we’re going to go to the dentist. I thought to myself: yeah, so what? You never heard such hooting and hollering in your life from the young fellows there. By the end of the next afternoon after our excursion there were two of us in the barracks who had no teeth pulled. And the average was like two or three. Some had six—that was the maximum they could take out. Even before that I realized that there were some people who thought the military wasn’t so bad. You had a place to sleep. Clothes that were clean. And a bed to sleep in and three meals a day! For many in this country that wasn’t taken for granted. It was a great experience for me. Maybe not the best use of my time, but I don’t begrudge it.
We talked about African American discrimination. But what about Jewish people and discrimination?
AB: Not really. When I was in elementary school—this isn’t an absolute—the Catholic children tended to go to Blessed Sacrament and you tended to have Protestant and Jewish children at the public school, like Lafayette. And back in those days, before we banned reading the Bible, they could read the Bible. Looking back on it I have two observations: when the Jewish kids read from the Bible, it was easy—they read from the Old Testament. The Protestant kids read from the New Testament. No big deal. Then we said the Lord’s Prayer (not everyone seemed to do so) and then we got down to the very end “forever and ever”…one noticed voices dropping off. Those were the few Catholic kids. That came more as hindsight.
Memories of Lafayette?
AB: I see you have LAFAYETTE LIFE. I mentioned some things already—recycling of cans and that sort of thing. I do remember that after school we went up and played in the playground. I wasn’t the greatest student in the world. I remember in 5th grade I had to go to summer school to catch up a little bit. A week or so ago I took my grandchildren and youngest daughter out to the aviation museum out near Dulles airport. A few minutes after walking in I said “hello, Russell!” What are you doing here? I come here every Thursday, he said. I went to 2nd grade through high school with Russell Morse. Why was he interested in aviation? He went on to become a pilot for American Airlines. Lafayette had a pretty big zone, also because Hawthorne was added in the 1950s.
Any memories of Deal?
AB: Ahhhh…yes. Back in those days there was a little bit of hazing going on. One of the tricks was to task the haze-ee with counting all the bricks in a wall. I’m sure my older brother put him up to it. I started to count. Then the bell rang and everybody went in. There was a big field out back there. We all played baseball, basketball, softball. One of the best hitters was a fellow by the name of Paul Minukian, who was in my class. You don’t recognize the name? That’s Minukian Rugs. They’re still in business over on Georgia Avenue. There was another person in the rug business in my younger brother, Walter’s class. If I said how good Minukian rugs were, he’d say how good the others were. About the time I was 12, when we were living in Chevy Chase Parkway, my younger brother and I decided we should get a radio. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in 1945 that was a big deal. I remember we saved up and between us we had $8. We went down to Sun Radio at Connecticut and Albermarle Street, next to the car wash place, which is still there. My brother and I got on the bus, went down there and bought ourselves an $8 radio, which we kept for years and years—a little boxy AM radio. It was a big deal, because in our house all we had was an old-fashioned radio – a dome kind of shape with a little thing in the middle, you’d see the light in there and turn the dials. We did listen to the radio back then. I remember listening to Captain Midnight, C A P T A I N M I D N I G H T ! And you had a little decoder. At the end of the show some numbers were given to decode – a clue about the next day’s radio program. And there was Jack Armstrong – JACK ARMSTRONG, JACK ARMSTRONG, THE ALL-AMERICAN BOY. Jack Armstrong was 5:30, Captain Midnight was 5:45. Then on Monday-Wednesday-Friday at 7:30 was THE LONE RANGER. If you listened closely they played some music that gave you a clue as to what kind of story they would have that night. We got our first TV around 1953, before I went to college. Can’t remember the name, but I remember it had a green tinted screen. My father liked that because he had bad eyes.
Do you remember what kind of shows you watched in ’52?
AB: No—there wasn’t that much in ’52. I do remember that WTOP over at Tenley Circle used to have Boy Scouts come over—when they started the day at 5:30 and played the Star Spangled Banner. When they closed at midnight, too. That was their day—5:30 to midnight. Channel 5 was Dumont, which is now Fox.
I remember Dumont in Pennsylvania. You mentioned being an Eagle scout. Where did you meet?
AB: I was in the Cub Scouts in Pack 57. That was at the Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church. My father was the Pack-master one of the three years I was in it. Then I went into Troop 52, which is at All Saints Church, and still is. That troop is 98 years old now. In 2013 it will be 100 years old. The Boy Scouts are only 100 years old this year—2011. My older brother was in the troop before me and then I went in and Walter came behind me. We had a great troop when I was there. The first scoutmaster we had was George Anderson. He lived on Patterson Street, about two or three doors down from Blessed Sacrament Church. He was in the Army Quartermaster Corps. Very often we would see some new equipment – a little can, a cylinder maybe a foot high, for example: set it up, put a match to it and there was a stove. About the time he left, we got a new assistant scoutmaster, Elliott Sellinger, who was with the troop for many, many years. Very innovative, very interesting person. Really did a great job for Troop 52. And during that time, I don’t know how many Eagle Scouts—we had lots of them. I know my brothers and I were not the only ones. There were lots of Eagles then. We’d go camping a lot – owned a piece of property up at Seneca. If you look at a map of Seneca Creek up there, you’ll see a T-52 in the middle of Seneca State Park, owned by the Troop 52 Forest Preserve Association. We had it under a different name. Later when I went to get the property off the tax rolls the name caused some confusion with the authorities.
Did you become scoutmaster?
AB: I was assistant scoutmaster for a while. It was a very interesting time with Troop 52. I remember one trip that started with a few clouds in the sky. Before the afternoon was over we had eight or nine inches of snow on the ground. We stayed overnight—actually it stopped snowing around midnight.
So where is Seneca State Park?
AB: Route 28—Montgomery County. We thought it was a haul to go way out there at first. That was in the middle of nowhere, before anything was developed. It’s surrounded now by Seneca State Park. About 15 miles from here. We went on other trips: Chimmney Forest in Pennsylvania, for example, usually between Christmas and New Year’s. Three days. That kind of stuff. We always had campaigns to raise money so we could go places and do things. I guess we went once to Groton, Connecticut. I was assistant scoutmaster then. I went into an atomic submarine. But the best story about scouts comes up when my brother was in the Army in Orleans, France. He was in the Medical Corps. He was a lowly clerk, being a private. One day all the majors and colonels were talking. They were talking about the head of the medical corps, General Wergerland. In the midst of this my brother piped in: “I met him. I know him”. The eyes rolled: “how the hell did this lowly private has this insight? “His son was in our Boy Scout troop.” He wasn’t the only famous person who was in our troop. We also had the secretary of agriculture, the former governor of Minnesota. His son was in our troop. Those were the kind of people who would go through our troop.
They lived in the neighborhood?
AB: Troop 52 was both DC and Maryland.
It sounds like Boy Scouts were a large part of your growing up.
AB: Yeah, I was part of that for about six years.
What else did you do as a child?
AB: Well, the competition wasn’t like it is today with Little League and football and basketball and God knows how many other things kids can participate in. In those days scouts were a more prominent feature in the landscape of opportunities. In my estimation that is one reason why the scouting movement has not grown in tandem with the general population. They’re facing competition they didn’t have back then. There weren’t such things as Little Leagues when I was growing up. It was pick-up games.
Did you have any hobby back then?
AB: Not that I can recall.
Did you like to read?
AB: Not that much.
Were you assigned household chores?
AB: I’m sure I was. I’m sure my mother said you have to do this and that, but I don’t remember them specifically.
Speaking of your mother, particularly her German background, did you learn German yourself?
AB: Well, the answer to that is no. The reason is simple. I should have started when I had been between 8-12 years old. That was 1941-1945. Nobody spoke German. If you had a Germanic name, you tried to downplay it. That just wasn’t the right milieu to learn German. Nobody did it.
Did you study a language in school?
AB: Yes, I did study French. And in my senior year in high school I took German and I took German in college. So, I learned a little bit.
Did your mother ever communicate in German with you?
AB: Not really. The odd word or phrase. I mean, when my mother came to the United States in 1925—I have at least one diary left—in ’25 it was all in German; in ’26 it was all in German, but by 1930, everything was English. By the way, in about 1933 or so, she was in Williamstown and said, I don’t know what my legal status is. On my father’s side, we had somebody who worked in the State Department, one of his cousins, somebody like that. So he went to him and he said I don’t know what you are. So, my mother, now with three children, a high school graduate, a college graduate from Stanford University, knowing plenty of Political Science, was suddenly enrolled in immigration classes to become an American citizen.
What year was that?
AB: My younger brother was already born, so it was 1935 or so.
So, she took the exam…
AB: Passed right through, easy. She was doing this in northern Massachusetts where most of her classmates were French Canadians.
So, she was actually naturalized.
AB: Yes, she became a naturalized citizen. Well, it wasn’t clear as to what her citizenship was when she came over in 1925. I think she had some piece of paper that said she was the daughter of this [American] person. But it didn’t say what her citizenship was. It wasn’t clear. When my mother came up they asked her where were you born. She said Sacramento, California. They said pass through. Hey—you’re an American citizen, by definition.
Did the family belong to a church?
AB: When my parents lived in Williamstown I know my father and mother went to the Congregational Church up there. When we came here we went to All Souls Unitarian Church on 16th Street. We went for several years, but the war was a different problem for men and for my father Sundays was just too much after he worked six days a week to get up and go to church on Sundays. So, he stopped going.
Did you go to Sunday school as a child?
AB: Well, I went here at All Souls Church. All Souls Unitarian—not the Episcopal one on Connecticut Avenue and Woodley Road. That’s the church where my wife and I got married. The assistant minister lived across the street from me. His name was James Reeb. Not a famous name to you, but several years after we were married, he went to one of those freedom marches in Selma, Alabama. He was hit over the head with a brick or some such and died at the age of 35, 36, something like that.
Did your parents belong to any organizations?
AB: Yes. I do know that at first my parents did not want to join the Chevy Chase Citizens Association because it was discriminatory. And once CCCA stopped being that, they joined.
Was it in their bylaws?
AB: Yeah. It was in the bylaws. When Chevy Chase Citizens Association started they were clearly discriminatory. No question about it.
Blacks and Jews excluded?
AB: Blacks as far as I can remember. But they weren’t the only ones. The guy who developed Sumner – that was very discriminatory—Blacks and Jews at that point, out there in Maryland. It wasn’t unusual. And those clauses, by the way, by the time I bought my first house, they said the covenants are there, but they are unenforceable.
Again, what year was that?
AB: It certainly existed through 1950. I can’t tell you when it ended. Now, my father was a singer and he belonged to the Chevy Chase Chanters for a number of years.
I never heard of that organization…
AB: Well, they sang at the Presbyterian Church. It was a men’s singing group. And I know that my mother belonged to the Chevy Chase Women’s Club—the one in Maryland—mostly so that we could participate in the social activities they had there. They used to have dances out there, which were very good. Although, Deal had its Friday night club every so often. That was sort of a dance night. And of course Wilson in those days actually had dances on property, except for senior proms and things like that, the fancy ones.
The Deal Friday night clubs were at Deal?
AB: Oh yeah. The one job you didn’t want to get is the one who handed out Cokes, because you had to put your hand in the ice water to bring ‘em out.
How did the Friday Night Club work? Kids just showed up? No live music, I imagine…
AB: Oh—right—there were records. Back in those days, in the first or second semester in 8th grade you were taught to dance. The boys lined up in the boys’ gym and were led to the girls’ gym and they taught you how to dance. It was during the war and the boys actually had a female gym instructor, Miss Plimpton. In junior high and high school I may not have been the best athlete, but I learned how to referee a lot of sports. That’s one of the things I learned in junior high school, along with how to handle a little money in the scouts.
Did you have fewer male teachers because of the war?
When D-Day was announced, do you remember any celebrations? Or reactions to Pearl Harbor?
AB: I don’t remember Pearl Harbor, but I do remember a few months later when the Chinese town of Fuchow fell. Why do I remember that? It was insignificant in the war, but my neighbor down the street had a dog named Fuchow. I do remember May, 1945 when the war ended. It was very clear that it was coming to an end. Some people guessed wrong by a day or two. We didn’t go down town, but a lot of people did. And I know that at VJ Day I was in summer camp in Wilmington, Vermont, the camp I went to for many years. When it was announced we rang the bell all day. They had a bell to tell you to come to dinner and that kind of stuff. That camp was very nice—got out of the heat, humidity and poison ivy of Washington.
How long did you typically spend there?
AB: Eight weeks. It was very nice. We had rowing, canoeing, sailing, swimming, riflery, archery. We put on plays. We did a circus. We did circus side-shows. I remember the circus side show: to get money to participate in the side-shows, for every couple blueberries that you picked, you got half a cup of beans you could use to spend at the side-shows. It was a way to get us to pick the blueberries they had on the 300 acres they had. It was a clever device. We all appeared in the circus. I remember I did boating, tennis, riflery, archery. My younger brother was much more into horseback riding than I was. I did it some, but he was much more into that. That was fun doing that. For a number of years we’d take the train to go up there. You would arrive in Brattleboro at 3:00 a.m. They would meet you and get you up to camp. It was a big deal.
Back to the war years, do you have memories of things like rationing?
AB: Yeah, I remember rationing, very much so. In general, with families of the size we had, if you were reasonably prudent, you didn’t have a problem. You had to know when to use your coupons—your sugar, your cans, and so on. My wife who lived in northern Vermont, and by that point her father had passed away at the beginning of the war, with only two people, it was tougher to make the coupons work for two, but for five, it was easier.
You mentioned cans.
AB: Tin cans. They were rationed. It was a metal ration.
Did that encourage you to have a garden?
AB: Yes. We had a little one, but at Lafayette School there were victory gardens on the Northampton side, which has now got a new wing. I remember the stuff we grew, the most famous thing was chard, because it was easy to grow and very nutritious.
So, families had a plot?
AB: Just so.
Do you remember the black-outs?
AB: Yes. I remember on Morrison Street we had these things that you put black paper in frames and into the windows. You went outside to make sure that no light would come through. And my father was an air raid warden and he had one of those white hats with the funny thing on the top and the brims, you know. He was a block warden or whatever it was.
What were the warden’s duties?
AB: If they had a black-out he went around and insured that no one had a visible light. That your windows were completely sealed up.
And how did he know there was a blackout?
AB: A siren went off.
How often did that happen?
AB: Not very often.
It was more of a practice…
AB: Yes. To find out what people were thinking and doing. Because there were very few actual attacks on the United States during the war. There was one out in the Aluetian Islands; another on the west coast and I think one of my aunts had a piece of property damaged by some Japanese something or other. Nothing much except for Pearl Harbor.
A few German commandos were landed on Hancock Point in Friendship Bay in Maine, across from Bar Harbor.
AB: Oh, did they? But basically, the U.S. was unscathed by the hostilities. That was both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage was we were unscathed. The disadvantage was that by the 1950s a lot of our industries were behind the times compared with the newly developed industrial bases of Germany, France, Japan, UK. They were more competitive that we were for a while.
What was the most common method of transportation used by your family?
AB: During the war it was the bus. No gasoline. Like my friend John Curtis was commenting about the fact that he had three gallons of gasoline for the month. Hell, he said, we drank more gin than that! I remember that after the war ended in 1945 when we had a little more gas, on Sunday afternoons we’d go out to Silver Spring. Now, my father having grown up in west Pacific Pullman was real railroad-oriented. In those days, when he started, that was the big mode of transportation. So we’d go out there, arriving just before 5:30 and we’d watch the Capital Limited, which was the B&O train that went to Chicago come through and take on some passengers and then we’d wait about 15 more minutes and then they had the National Limited, which was the B&O train that went to St. Louis. And then we’d go over to Gifford’s and have ice cream. Right there on Georgia Avenue. About the first time we had enough gas to go to the ocean – I remember going to Rehobeth in 1948. I was 15 then. Our family went there for a week. In those days that was a big deal because you had to go to the bay and get on a ferry boat.
How did you get to Vermont?
AB: Train. The first time we went, my older brother was in charge. It was supposed to have been a through train from Washington to Montreal. But when we arrived in New York we were told: no, it ain’t a through train—you’ve got to get off this one and get on that one. So we changed trains. The new one was absolutely packed. Of course all the trains were packed then. All the buses on Connecticut Avenue were packed. The bus company made money during the war here.
What was the bus company called?
AB: Capital Transit. It was owned by an insurance company. They were all packed. And that was before they had air conditioning and before they had automatic transmissions. So it was uh uh uh uh, jerking up the street. Quite a ride. But if you only had three gallons of gasoline with you’re A-coupon/sticker, that’s all you got, so
What kind of car did you have?
AB: We had a 1933 Chevrolet. That was the first car my father and mother ever bought. The year I was born. Yeah, we had that through the war. And then they bought a ’48 Chevrolet. The ’33 Chevrolet they bought in McMann’s Chevrolet dealership in Williamstown and the ’48 car they bought at Chevy Chase Chevrolet out in Bethesda. My mother bought several cars there. I know she bought the ’48 and another one after that. At least two more from them. My older brother’s favorite place to buy was Paul’s over there on Wisconsin Avenue. Oldsmobile dealership. He bought several, so every time they saw him coming in the door they would say yes Mr. Beach, what can we give you today? He’d say Allen, do you think that car is OK? I said yeah. He said: I’ll buy it—how much? They’d figure it out and he write them a check.
Where on Wisconsin?
AB: You know where Kinko’s is? Across the street. There is still a dealership of some sort there. Anyway, he’s not the only one who bought cars. I only bought one car in my life on credit. When I came out the military the car I had had a cracked block so I needed to buy another car. So I went down to Georgetown and bought myself a car for $600. A used car. I borrowed the money from my mother and I paid her back in nine months. Ever since then I have been buying cars with cash only. If I don’t got it, I don’t buy it. That’s sort of a Depression psychology. You’ve got to save and have it. I’m still that way, I think. If I don’t got it I can’t buy it.
In this neighborhood cars are not that important.
AB: Well you know when I first moved over to Stuyvesant when you saw somebody had a new car, that was a big deal. But a new car today doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as big a deal as it use to be. I don’t know: maybe I’m just missing something. It’s not what it used to be.
We have a generic question for these histories: What are some of your most happy memories in Chevy Chase?
AB: Married here, children here.
Growing up here?
AB: The school was fine. A lot of friends. Used to play with them. Athletics. I got along well with my brothers. Well, I’ll describe that this way: my older brother was “kind of the mountain.” He could control his two younger brothers. But by the time we got to Chevy Chase Parkway—I can’t tell you whether it was ’42, ’43, or ’44—my mother referred to a big Coke bottle mark on the ceiling of the room. She said you and your brothers must have had a hell of a fight. Well, we did. And from that day forth, my older brother knew he was no longer king of the mountain. That was it. I did more things with my younger brother Walter than I did with my older brother, all throughout out history, even to this day. If I don’t call him, he doesn’t call me. Even though he’s not that far away in Columbus, Ohio. So, those are some of the things I do remember. To some extent, I think the world was simpler and more naïve back then than it is today. I think kids today are much more up on communication and things that I paid no attention to, like drugs. I didn’t know what they were until I was in my 20s. Today kids in their teens know all about it. That’s what has happened. Is that good or bad? I don’t know.
How would you describe the community, as far as cohesiveness, knowing each other…
AB: Oh I think people knew each other, particularly on the streets and blocks of the schools you went to. Particularly any family who had children anywhere near our age, particularly if they were boys and we played with them. My first experience with another person, a Navy captain who lived three doors up from us. I was probably 14 or 15. He had us come up and help him move some things around. He said, well I’m going to give you some pie—pizza pie. What’s that, I said. It was my first experience with pizza. That was about 1948. He went on and was head of the Navy unit at White Sands proving ground about the same time I was in El Paso, so I remember going up there and visiting with him once. I didn’t have my uniform on, so I was royally treated. He didn’t care that I was a private; he remembered me as a good neighbor. We did have another neighbor—I think she’s still alive, I think she lives in Virginia Beach. Clearly, she was a Thalidomide kid. Her mother must have taken it, she had a short a foot. Every once in a while you’d see those kinds of things. By the way, when I was growing up—I’m thinking about polio now—everybody was scared. In the summertime people were scared about letting you go to the swimming pool. So we didn’t go to Chevy Chase Lake pool. It wasn’t the cleanest pool, because I remember once I did go and I got a rash on my rear end. But as much as we knew that the president had some problems, no one ever saw that he had polio. But we all knew it, because at the end of January is when the March of Dimes came and if you went to the movies, the Avalon, for example, they would always pass a canister around and ask you to put a dime in. And we always did that in late January, which was near his birthday. Everybody thought that the disease was water-borne so they were scared to let you go to swimming pools. That’s one of the reasons my parents sent me up to Vermont in the summer.
FDR got it swimming at Campobello.
AB: Is that right?
Is there any question we should have asked you?
AB: When I lived in Stephanson Place, the ANCs had been instituted a couple years before, where I was on the east side of Utah, the seat became open and I ran for it and won.
AB: 1979. I held it for four years, then I moved to Stuyvesant and ran for the seat I now have held since 1984. In that earlier period, I was also involved in the Chevy Chase Citizens Association. I was president of CCCA for two years. And my brother Walter was elected president two years later—ca. 1973-74 and 1976-77, respectively. One of the things I have subsequently learned: there was a trolly line on Connecticut Avenue, first developed in 1893. And the superintendant of that trolly line was my Great Grandfather. AJ Warner. He had become a friend of Senator Newlands through the silverite movement back in the 1890s.
AB: Senator Newlands had grown up in the south and went to California and then met a girl, whom he married, whose father was head of the Comstock Company in Nevada. So Newlands went to Nevada where he practiced law. In those days it was the state senate that appointed the federal senators. So Newlands was appointed and that’s how he got to be a U.S. senator. And of course he was always for the silver movement—16:1 instead of 15:1 , which would make silver cheap, and therefore would be the metal in circulation. And that meant more silver would have to have been mined, an important point for Senator Newlands. And for my Great Grandfather, it meant that money was cheap and he could borrow more money to start businesses. He started what became part of a railroad; he started what became part of an oil company. In 1893 Newlands wanted to find someone with railroad experience and my Great Grandfather had built the line from Marietta to Cleveland, so Newlands turned to him to be superintendant of the Washington DC project. There is still evidence of what they accomplished today on Connecticut Avenue. If you go to the corner of Connecticut and Albermarle, you will see a couple of buildings on the east side of the Avenue that appear to be at street level. As they indeed are. But to do that, earth needed to be shaved from the hill on the other side of the Avenue and pushed into the ravine on the east side. The up-and-down was reduced. If you look at the buildings on the east side, which is now where the Office Depot is, at one time there was a bowling alley in there on the lower floor and a skating rink on the top floor. But if you go behind it, there’s a huge drop off. My neighbor Dr. Morgan, who I mentioned, the transportation economist, he told me at one point in 1923 he got to Connecticut and Everett Street, he cut off his engine and coasted all the way down town. He started at the highest point and it was like a roller coaster—you go up and down.
Where did your Great Grandfather live?
AB: Marietta, Ohio. He’d been a Congressman a couple of times, too. Sometimes he won and sometimes Charles Dawes won. And that’s the Charles Dawes that became Vice President with Calvin Coolidge.
The Dawes known for the Dawes Plan for German reparations?
AB: That’s it—you got it.
Did your Great Grandfather ever live here?
AB: He lived here during the Civil War when he was serving in the Union Army and also while he was building the trolly. But other than that, no.
This ancestor is on your father’s side?
AB: Yes. He fought at both Antietam and at Gettysburg. He got wounded at Antietam. He was at the Lincoln Gettysburg Address and he was in Indianapolis, still serving, when Lincoln died and when the body came through he was an honorary pall-bearer. AJ Warner—AJ was Adiniron Judson. His mother gave him Biblical names.
So he was a witness to the Gettysburg Address?
AB: Yes, he was a witness. He was actually there.
What a history!
AB: He was quite the man. He started businesses. One of them became Pure Oil Company, which was eventually sold for $300 million. I didn’t get any of it. He went to Delonica, Georgia and decided he would wash dirt down the mountainside to pull the gold off. And the gold he pulled off is on top of the Georgia capital.
What he a mining engineer?
AB: No, he was an entrepreneur. He wanted money and that’s why he wanted cheap money. At one point he had to go to London to raise money for one of his enterprises. He was quite a character. One of his daughters married my grandfather. Oh—and a favorite he taught—he was teaching at Stanford—was Warner. So one day she went to visit Pop Warner’s wife. Now Pop Warner might not mean anything to you, but he was a famous football coach. A very successful one at Stanford. She went to visit the wife and he walked in. Before she left they figured out they were second cousins. So, I am somehow related to Pop Warner. And he is now famous for Pop Warner football—leagues organized for kids roughly 8-12 years old. It’s sort of like the day at Palisades Pool—I am treasurer of a pool out here—and I was told that we had a summer member who I said we should assign member number #44. And the women all said huh? All the men said: got it! It was John Riggins. By the way, building the line to the Chevy Chase line, there is one pole at Chevy Chase Circle one the All Saints Church side that is a survivor of trolly infrastructure that held up the electrical lines. That line went out of business in the late 1920s, I think—and went to buses. And there is still the building down on Champlain Street which was a power house and if you go out Connecticut Avenue to Chevy Chase Lake there’s a building which was the Chevy Chase Bank and before that the trolly car barn, sitting at an angle to permit the trollys to turn. And if you go to 18th and Florida Avenue you’ll see that the street turns in an odd angle to facilitate the trolly.
I think we are done.
AB: Let me tell you one more thing about big snows. The biggest one I ever remember is Palm Sunday of 1942. We lived on Morrison Street and from the top of that block of Morrison Street you could get on your sled and go down to Nevada Avenue, then you’d go up Chevy Chase Parkway and go down the other way. I remember that big snow. Palm Sunday 1942.
© 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:
- Material may not be used for commercial purposes. Short quotes and references are permitted for instructional and publication purposes.
- Users must provide complete citation referencing the speaker, the interviewer, the date and website with URL address.
- 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 email@example.com or HCCDC, PO Box 6292, Washington, D.C. 20015-0292.