Being German and Jewish in DC: “We were so thrilled to be in a neighborhood that didn’t say ‘No Jews allowed.’”
Interviewee: Jean Klieger
Date: April 30, 2011 (final edits June 11, 2012)
Interviewers: Joan Janshego, Carl Lankowski and Dick Teare
Location: Klieger residence in Chevy Chase DC
Transcribed (from audio recording) by: Carl Lankowski
What is your birth date?
JK: December 27, 1919
And where were you born?
JK: DC. Garfield Hospital. Mount Pleasant area.
Tell me something about your parents.
JK: My grandmother was from the Albany area, my grandfather was from New York City. And they came to Washington in about, maybe, 1870. They were first generation [immigrants from-CL]: Germany and France—Alsace, which was French at the time. My mother was born in 1885.
Tell us more about your grandparents. I’m interested in the German connection.
JK: My father’s family came from Germany. In America the family name was Orler. I don’t know what it was in Europe. And my great-grandparents came from Bohemia, which was Austria then.
Where did your father’s family live when they arrived in America?
Was there German spoken in your family?
JK: When I was growing up, yes. They never spoke Yiddish. They never spoke anything except German and English.
How about you? Did you speak it or understand it?
JK: No, I did not speak German. Sometimes I understood what my parents were saying.
You mentioned Yiddish. Does your family have a Jewish background.
JK: Yes. But my parents never spoke Yiddish. We were Reform Jews. In those days Reform was very reform. They didn’t have Hebrew in school when I went to Sunday school. My mother was confirmed at Washington Hebrew, which was the Reform congregation. Adas Israel broke away. It was more religious than Washington Hebrew. Girls were not bat-mitzvah’ed as they are nowadays.
Interesting. I just went on a walking tour past Washington Hebrew last night in what used to be a German neighborhood.
JK: Yes, I remember it. Before it moved it was at 8th and H Streets, NW. My mother was confirmed there and I went to Sunday school there. Then they built the place on upper Massachusetts Avenue.
Where did you live when you were a child?
JK: Mount Pleasant. We moved there after my grandparents died. As an adult my mother lived in Mount Pleasant. There were only two children and my uncle was working in Boston with The Boston Herald. He told my mother that if she would take care of grandma, we could have the house. And that’s where I was raised. I attended Bancroft Elementary School—it is in the news these days—it’s where (First Lady) Michelle Obama has been making a vegetable garden. Then I went to Powell Junior High at Hyatt and Irving Streets. After that I attended Central High School, which later became Cardozo High School.
What year did you graduate?
JK: June of 1937.
Were there other children in your family?
JK: I had two brothers. One lives in Alexandria, Edward Orler. And my kid-brother, Mark, who died about the same time my husband did, in 1985.
What did you do after graduating?
JK: Went to work. Looked for jobs. Secretarial.
Where did you work?
JK: I had part-time jobs. National Geographic for a little while. Those were hard times in the 1930s, so I could only work for short times wherever I could get a job. Then, when the war broke out in 1941, I took the Civil Service exam and I worked for the War Department—in the Signal Corps.
How long did you work there?
JK: Until I adopted Betsy. Betsy is my daughter who lives in Florida. I don’t see her very often unfortunately.
When did you adopt Betsy?
JK: June of 1953.
So you retired from your civil service position at the War Department after 13 years.
Where was your place of employment?
JK: It used to be temporary buildings down on the Mall, near 17th Street. They were put up during World War One. Then they built the Pentagon and we moved there.
What was it like working in those temporary buildings on the Mall?
JK: It was pretty simple. We had plain desks and manual typewriters. It was not that different at the Pentagon, except the offices were more defined.
How did you get to work?
JK: I drove. I bought a car for around a thousand dollars, an old Plymouth or Dodge.
Where did you park?
JK: The Pentagon had parking facilities. Downtown I did take buses or walked. I had a girl friend and we’d walk down 16th Street to the temporary buildings.
How did you feel about working for the War Department then?
JK: I don’t know that the work was all that important—I worked in the office of supply and demand. We didn’t do anything except the paper work.
Were you paying attention to what was going on?
JK: Oh, sure! My brothers were both in the service.
Where did they serve? Were they in combat?
JK: Both of them were. One in the Pacific and one in Europe. Both of them came home. My kid-brother was treated at the Veteran’s Center at Perry Point for a long time.
What they used to call shell-shock, nowadays called post-traumatic stress?
JK: Yes. My older brother didn’t, though he saw more combat, really. My kid-brother was in the Pacific.
Where in Europe was your older brother?
JK: I guess he ended in France. He fought in the battle of Aachen.
JK: Yes. He got a Bronze Star for that. It was the northwestern area of Germany. Then after the war he came back and re-enlisted in the [National] Guard. He was sent to Korea. So he had his share of service.
Was he career military?
JK: No. He liked to work for the government, though. He worked there until he retired.
What year did you marry?
When and how did you meet?
JK: We met before the war. Like all the girls, we corresponded—you wrote to the guys. So when he came home we went to a dance together, at a USO I think. We started dating and about a year later we got married.
Where did he serve in the war?
JK: In the Navy, Hawaii. He had a good post during the war. He has a memorial there—at Punchbowl [National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific], and a stone but no body.
Where did you first meet?
JK: We were at a dance. The girls sat in a row and the boys came up and asked you to dance. I remembered him or he remembered me, so we started to go out after that. I don’t remember exactly when and where.
Where were those USO dances held?
JK: There were various locations, but I remember one down around the Belasco Theater, near the Dolly Madison House, close to the White House. Some of the dances were held at Army posts. The girls would meet downtown and be bussed over to Fort Myer or other posts. So that’s how the girls met the boys.
So you wrote to him while he was in the service?
JK: Yes. But he was in the Navy, somewhere around the Great Lakes and then he shipped to Hawaii. He was stationed in Pearl Harbor for the whole war, but got there after the bombing.
We were curious about what it was like here during the war. Was there rationing?
JK: Sure was! I still have some rationing stamps here. Want to see them? I never got rid of them. I have a book here somewhere.
JK: I remember of it but can’t actually remember doing that in Mount Pleasant.
Do you remember tin cans?
JK: Sure! Saving tin cans, you saved grease from cooking in a can, I think was used to make soap.
Also the margarine with the little colored capsule in it?
JK: When we were married we couldn’t afford butter. I remember bringing home NuCo. It was like a glob of lard. You got a little button; you squished the button to make color, to make it yellow. There wasn’t anything like homogenized. And the milk had cream on top—do you remember that?
JK: The milk bottles used to have a little top on them—I have one downstairs. The cream rose to the top and the kids used to take it and leave us the skim milk. But that was already postwar.
What was most in shortage and rationed?
JK: gasoline was short.
And food products?
JK: I guess meats. During the war you couldn’t buy chicken. If you wanted meat, you went to a restaurant. One day my mother said: “We can drive to Fairfax Circle—there’s a chicken farm out there. We’ll get a chicken and bring it home.” When we got out of there she said “will you kill it?” I said noooo. “Will you?” “No.” Neither of us could. But I remember my grandmother killing a chicken. In the back yard with a hatchet. We were still in Mount Pleasant.
You had a chicken coop in the back yard?
JK: I guess so. She bought one home from the market and butchered it. In those days you didn’t buy a clean chicken. The chicken had feathers on it and all the insides had to be scouped out.
So if you didn’t have much meat during the war, what was your diet consisting of mostly?
JK: Eggs, pretty much. And cheese to some extent.
Did you have a victory garden?
JK: We didn’t where I lived during the war. But after the war Walter and I had one where we lived in Riggs Park.
And to this day you raise great vegetables.
JK: I love it. The garden is my great pleasure.
Jeanie, as a War Department employee did you have a sticker that allowed you to buy more gas than average people?
JK: I don’t think so. We were rationed. Doctors got more as I recall. My father was and air raid warden and got more. There were different levels.
Where did you live?
JK: Until I got married I lived at home. After we were married there were temporary buildings down in Virginia –Kent Street, I think—where Crystal City is now. We got an apartment there. Temporary buildings were converted to apartments after the war. And my husband also worked for the Pentagon. He worked for the Navy.
Where did you live after the temporary apartments in Crystal City?
JK: Buckingham, to an apartment. Walter got a job. When we were married he was going to GW (George Washington University). He had a year of teacher’s college back in Jersey and then resumed after the war on the GI Bill. Before we got married he decided to go back to school and get a degree. So under the GI Bill he went to GW and got his Masters in Psychology. And then he got a job at the War Department. I was working at the Pentagon; he was working at the Pentagon. It was a good deal.
What was he doing there?
JK: Tests and measurements. He never was a clinician. He worked in this area until he retired. His office at the Pentagon was done away with. He then moved to NIH (National Institutes of Health).
And then you moved to Buckingham.
JK: Right. In Arlington. Where Hecht’s is. Called Fairlington now, I think. We stayed there for a couple of years. Then we decided to have a family, so we bought a house in Riggs Park. A semi-detached house on South Dakota Avenue. Two bedrooms. We tried to get pregnant. Didn’t. So we finally adopted a little girl, Betsy.
When was that?
JK: Betsy was born in 1952, so we adopted her in 1953. And then we wanted another child, so we adopted Mark two years later. He was born in ’54. And then we had two children of different sex and Walter was working. I became an at-home mom, because everybody was an at-home mom in those days. We decided that before the kids got older we would try to get a bigger house. And that’s how we came up to Chevy Chase. It cost us $20,000 —we had to borrow $5,000 from my brother-in-law.
What year was that?
JK: 1956. Mark was 2, Betsy was 4. See, Betsy was getting ready for school. We wanted to get a good school. We knew Lafayette was good. Walter drove around the neighborhood and this is how we selected Oliver Street. He drove around to see if people had swing sets in the back yard or sand boxes—because there was nothing at Lafayette. It was a little school then. It had a pre-school.
At that time was it a new house?
JK: Oh no, it was built in ’37.
You said Lafayette didn’t have a playground, so the grounds around there were just empty?
JK: They may have had a little playground but I don’t remember much, because they had a “play school.” A lot of this was volunteers from the at-home moms. If the kids were going to Lafayette, you were involved. We didn’t have librarians. I know I worked in the library. In pre-school, the mothers took turns to assist whatever teacher or recreation department furnished. But there weren’t swings; it was nothing like it is now. That wing was added in your time, Dick (Teare). Everybody was at home, an at-home mom. I don’t know of anyone in our neighborhood except Mrs. Leong, who worked at NIH—all of them were at at-home moms. We all participated in one way or another.
Would you say you gave one day a week, or more than that to the school?
JK: I guess we did one day. I don’t remember going more than that.
Was there a roster you signed up, or was it more informal?
JK: Somebody organized it. I don’t remember who it was.
And what did you think about Lafayette School and the education it provided?
JK: Loved it. The kids were very happy there. We were very satisfied. (Alice) Deal (Junior High School) was not so great. Mark actually was getting in trouble at Deal. So he went to Hawthorne, which was a way-out school at that time.
JK: Down near Arena Stage off Maine Avenue. It was a private school. He majored in music—drums, guitar and that kind of thing. It was that era that the kids revolted. They had the long hair. It was the late 1960s.
JK: She went to Wilson. And then she went to Florida. She was good at art and she attended Tampa University. She dropped out and came home again. Got a job, got married, had one little boy. He died, Michael. He was killed in a motorcycle accident. And she was getting a divorce at that time. She decided she wanted out. I offered to let her stay with me, because I was widowed at the time. “I want to live my own life.” She comes home occasionally. It’s a long trip.
I want to go back for a minute to the house. You said it was built in ’37. Do you know anything about the architect or the builder?
JK: No, but there are several houses of the same design on Utah Avenue. We bought from the Scott family.
JK: She is the one who told me that. But everyone moves back to our neighborhood. Patsy Maffioli moved back. Nancy Cavanaugh is back. These were kids that were raised here and baby-sat our kids. When we first moved up here in ’56, the kids were little. Mark was in a stroller and I was pushing him with the dog down the alley. And there was an elderly lady doing some gardening—Mrs. Fiortvanti, remember how she used to dig in the garden? It’s a new house in between some others on the other side. And so she said “Oh, you’re the new neighbor”. “Yes”. “I’m Mrs. Fiortvanti” and I said “ I went to school with a Fiortvanti —Vicki” “Right-Victoria”. So her daughter was living with her with two little children, two little girls. We went all through school together. But we lost track, you know. She got a job, I got a job. We lived in Virginia, so I hadn’t seen her in many years, but she had Nancy and Patsy, both of whom have now moved back. Nancy lives next to us. Patsy, when her mother died, moved in across the street. It’s because we love the neighborhood, really. It’s not that the houses are so great. And it has always been good like this.
When you and your husband decided to move here, were you considering other parts of the city? Why did you decide on Chevy Chase?
JK: Because Betsy was getting ready for school. I don’t remember looking in other neighborhoods. We looked at a house on McKinley Street and some others in the neighborhood. At that time there were no kindergartens in Maryland or Virginia. We were living in Riggs Park and knew we should get a bigger house for the children. We didn’t want to wait until they were teenagers before they had their own bedrooms.
At that time was Chevy Chase considered to be the best place to live in the District?
JK: I think so. At that time it was considered to be one of the best neighborhoods. There were covenants in Chevy Chase Maryland. Negroes or Jews could not live in Chevy Chase Maryland. But in DC obviously they did.
So that was also a factor.
JK: To some extent, yeah, since we wouldn’t be accepted at all. But here it was very good, because there were some Jewish neighbors—not that we were that friendly with them all, but you felt comfortable. I remember the first Christmas we were here was also Hanukkah, every year they caroled and the lady whose memorial service we’re attending used to have us come back to the house and she would play the piano, they all came and sang us happy Hanukkah. We were so thrilled to be in a neighborhood that didn’t say “no Jews allowed.”
People actually went up and down the street caroling?
JK: Everybody. All the groups came and did it. Yes. Mimi DiMaggio, the one that died recently (aged almost 100) came. And the ones that were Jewish sang Jewish songs. Happy Hanukkah instead of merry Christmas. It was a great neighborhood.
I think that was still going in the late’‘60s when we moved here.
JK: People return to the neighborhood. You always feel so warm about it. They love it as much as we did. I still do. I hate to think of moving, you know. I’m fighting it every minute of the day. I know I should probably try to find something else, but I can’t. As long as Mark lives with me, I’ll manage. And Juanita Lambert next door is 95-96. She’s quite deaf. She has one daughter left and she wouldn’t have her live with her, so she has a lady come in three times a week. Takes her to the hair dresser and the grocery store. She, too—she lived across the street then moved to her present house.
What else did you do on this street?
JK: We were all very close. A year didn’t go by when something didn’t happen. One year Sue Hannan made us a gingerbread house. There were things like that that people did for each other.
I’ve heard stories about the 4th of July…
JK: Oh, yes. We had parties out in the street. People brought sandwiches. We had a punch bowl on the front porch. And the kids had their sparklers and a bucket of water to douse the sparklers and then they’d cheat a little bit and light ones that weren’t allowed.
Did you close the street for that?
JK: No. We only closed the street for block parties, which we’re still having. We get neighbors from all around the neighborhood for those. All the blocks on Oliver street have them. But that’s fairly new, within the last 10 years.
Wasn’t Walter very much involved in the 4th of July events?
JK: Oh yes. He managed the whole lighting of the candles and the “snakes” and put out the buckets. And we shared. No one treated the box of sparklers they had as theirs. The kids would come over and take one from here, one from there. And then we got elderly people who came and sat on the front porch to watch the fireworks. You can see why I don’t want to move.
How about other holidays. Halloween?
JK: I guess pretty much like it is now. The kids put on their costumes and went from house to house. They’re still doing it. And they got their candy and brought it home and we’d sneak out the good stuff and put it on top of the refrigerator. They’re still doing that. You see kids you don’t even know where they’re coming from. It doesn’t matter. They put on their costumes. You admire them.
JK: No, but when I was a girl we did some mean things like soap windows on cars and let air out of tires. I remember that! I don’t remember any things like that here.
Was there concern about crime in that period?
Did you leave your doors unlocked?
JK: Pretty much. I don’t remember people having alarm systems put in. It was a very close neighborhood. Most of the women were at home all the time, unless you went to Lafayette or the grocery store or whatever. There was always somebody around. And we were outside a good deal of the time. We didn’t have air-conditioning at first. Then we got the little units. Now we have central air. But I don’t remember any thefts. Sure, there were a couple of bad kids who stole bikes from porches, but no real crime. Do you remember any, Dick?
Not in my early years here.
Jeanie, you mentioned grocery shopping. By the time I got here the Safeway had already moved.
JK: The Safeway used to be where Magruder’s is now. Near the theater. There was a dance school over the Avalon.
What was on the big corner where Safeway is now?
JK: I don’t think there was anything there. There was a school across the street: E.V. Brown (elementary).
The Brown school was the school before Lafayette was built. Part of it was where the basketball court is now behind the Community Center. They had to redo the basketball court because it caved into what had been the basement of the school.
What else do you remember about Connecticut Avenue?
JK: It has changed a lot, too. The east side of Connecticut was almost wholly residential. The commercial establishments were on the west side.
Could I return to your father? I missed something. When was he born?
JK: He was born in 1887. He was two years younger than my mother. I still keep in touch with his niece, who is my age.
What did your father do?
JK: My father worked for the government after World War I. He was never sent over because of his German heritage. They wouldn’t send him. I remember when my mother took the train to visit she would say there were Indians on the train. This is 1916-1917. He worked for the government until he retired, Treasury Department, I believe.
So his parents came from Germany?
And he spoke German?
JK: Yes. My mother did, too. It was limited. Nothing much. Just so the kids wouldn’t understand.
Was it difficult for your parents because of their German heritage during WWI?
JK: I know they were not popular after World War One. They talked about atrocities involving the killing of Belgian children. There was a great deal of prejudice against the Germans. Even as a child I remember that..
The fact that you were Jewish wouldn’t have mattered?
JK: No. This was because of German heritage. That came in with Hitler. There was always anti-semitism there, anti-semitism in every country. In our country there was anti-semitism. I mean it’s subdued; it’s not like it was. And in Germany it became almost a fetish. But you can see some of the other countries. It’s not the only one.
Do you have any early memories about that.
JK: You didn’t push being Jewish. At home you were proud of it to some extent. If people were talking about something you wouldn’t say “well, I’m Jewish”…
Did you go to synagogue?
JK: We went to Washington Hebrew, which was very, very Reform.
Did you go regularly?
JK: No. My grandmother did. She would take the bus downtown. She was in her 80s and 90s and she would go down to the old Washington Hebrew at 8th and H. She came home for lunch on the Mount Pleasant street car. My mother didn’t. My father never was interested. And we weren’t really raised very Jewish. We knew we were Jewish, but that’s about it.
Did you celebrate Passover and Hanukkah?
JK: I never was at a seder until I was married. My husband’s sister gave a seder. It was the first time in my entire life that I’d been to a seder.
Did you celebrate in your family with your children?
JK: We ate ham. We did everything that everybody else did. All we knew is that we were Jewish. But as far as observing, no. I don’t know whether that was just us, or whether Reform Jews in the United States try to be part of the city, part of the world, and just didn’t push it. We never had Hebrew in synagogue at Washington Hebrew. They never spoke Hebrew. Girls didn’t learn it in Betsy’s days, but Mark learned a little bit. He’s better at it that I am. It was very different.
Did you personally ever experience a prejudice?
JK: Oh, yeah—I guess I remember kids saying “you’re a dirty Jew” or something like that. But this was par for the course in those days. You took it. That’s it. It wasn’t anything you flaunted.
Anything else you can think of about the prejudice against Germans and/or Jews?
JK: Because [the Washington Hebrew congregation] was so Reform there was criticism that it was too Christian, that maybe we shouldn’t be so Reform, maybe we should stick to the old ways. At Washington Hebrew today the prayer books are in Hebrew. The kids learn Hebrew. No man would wear a skull cap in those days, except for very Orthodox Jews. And beards, you know, now it’s fashionable, as you can see (looking at Carl Lankowski, who sports one).
This is interesting. It sounds like the Jewishness was accentuated as alternative to Germanness, which was not popular.
JK: [Increased attention to Jewish identity] came after Hitler. Israel had become a state. People began to feel that maybe we shouldn’t have rejected so much. They then bent over backwards to pick up the loose ends. Before they dropped all this because you wanted to be part of the world. Men shaved—only in certain areas of New York did they, parts that were quite Orthodox. I don’t remember my father’s family. I somehow don’t think they were terribly Orthodox.
How about your husband’s background. His name sounds German.
JK: His family came from Poland. It was Klüger. When they came to America at Immigration evidently they changed it to Klieger. Close to Poland. They considered themselves German. Probably Northeast Germany close to the Polish area.
Maybe East Prussia?
JK: Might be. I don’t remember. I could tell you more, I could check back. My cousin in Virginia with whom I still correspond did a history and maybe that would give me more.
When did Walter’s folks come over?
JK: Well, they were both born in this country. In New York. I know his mother’s [maiden] name was Rubin. And I don’t know when the Kliegers came over.
I just did a walking tour of the old German neighborhood around 6th and 7th Streets in Washington last night and the guide talked about the anti-German prejudice led to changing the name of foods, like frankfurter to hot-dog and things like that. Since your grandparents spoke German, did they try not to speak German in public?
JK: No, not for that reason. They didn’t need to speak German. The only reason they spoke German was probably so we wouldn’t understand ’em.
So they were fluent in English.
JK: Oh yeah. There was no doubt. My grandmother was a grammar school teacher in New York City and that’s how she met my grandfather. He was living in Williamsburg. She was from Albany and came down to New York City to work. I don’t think they spoke German at home. I don’t remember that at all.
And your mom?
JK: My mother was a bookkeeper for a men’s furnishing place.
But, Carl, you’re right about the anti-German feeling. I was doing some research on my own grandfather, who was named Schaefer. He ran for mayor of the suburb of Cleveland where he lived. And he always used to tell us that he had come perilously close to winning. It paid very little. He said he just wanted to build up his name for his law practice. Well, I later checked—it was 1917—he actually finished a distant third. In the newspapers of that time I would see articles about German business establishments being vandalized and this is in Ohio and western Pennsylvania and places like that. So, it was real.
JK: Yes, I remember the sentiment. And then there was Hitler. Though a lot of people said he did the right thing. There were a lot of people who were anti-semitic and said “get rid of the Jews.” I don’t know why they’re so hated. But then why do we have prejudice against anything? We’re all people.
Let’s get back to the neighborhood for a minute. What were the occupations of the fathers?
JK: Sam Lambert from next door was secretary of the National Education Association. A lot of them were government. LaPorte across the street was a lawyer. Hannan was an engineer, I guess. They were professionals, no semi-professionals. All of them were college educated.
Peter Colevas was a physician.
JK: Right. His wife was a nurse. Adam Frank was a government worker and a lawyer. And a very good musician. His wife, Rachel, was a teacher.
You pretty much knew everybody on the whole street?
JK: Sure. Everybody knew everyone else. You knew all your neighbors. It was a very close neighborhood. A block up, where you live, I don’t think I knew very many people. I may have had a nodding acquaintance; the kids may have known somebody.
If someone on the block had a problem, a death, a sickness, what would happen?
JK: Everybody came. Everybody went to funerals. Everybody went to the house to express their sorrow.
If someone was sick, had an operation…
JK: They would bring in food. People were very kind. It was a very feeling neighborhood. I can’t think of anyplace we could have lived that would have been any better than here.
And there were a lot of children.
JK: Right. That’s one of the reasons we moved in. We didn’t want ours to be the only ones. And some are coming back now, some young ones moving in.
Did you keep close track of your children, or did you feel pretty confident that they could just roam around?
JK: Well, you always knew were they were. You knew they were supposed to come home from school at a certain time.
But if they went out to play, you didn’t worry too much?
JK: No. But they’d say: “I’m going to so-and-so’s house.” I mean they always told you where they were going. We could have checked, I guess, but we always trusted them.
You did not take them to school or pick them up like they do nowadays…
JK: I did sometimes. I fell for it. I remember when I drove the kids on a rainy day. Walter would be furious. “Let them walk up to school.” But I didn’t. Mothers do that, I guess. Didn’t you?
Well, I was never home.
JK: Most of the time they would go with someone in the neighborhood. Becky Lambert would go up to Lafayette with Betsy. And Linda Farrington, behind us, would go to Lafayette with Betsy.
I think that by the time the kids were in third of fourth grade they walked independently.
JK: Yeah, that’s true. There were patrols. You didn’t have policemen. The kids were patrolmen. Mark was one. I don’t think we ever had to worry about them not going to school, not showing up. There were dress codes at the school. I remember Betsy had a peasant blouse scoop-neck lined with little puff sleeves in kindergarten. The teachers wrote me a note saying she is coming to school indecently. I had to get her a shirt that was buttoned up more. She didn’t like that. And of course the kids didn’t wear jeans and shorts. Nowadays when I walk through the playground and see what the kids are wearing I wonder how the parents could let the kids go to school like that. They don’t have tops on, you know. Just two pieces.
Did your children start going downtown independently on public transportation?
JK: I guess they did. If they wanted to go to the Smithsonian, they didn’t go by themselves. They would always go with somebody, not necessarily an adult. You always felt free to do things like go to the zoo. There was no crime to speak of at that time. I don’t remember anybody having a break-in, for instance. Such a different world.
So how did they get around? Did they take the bus?
JK: Oh yeah—Momma didn’t drive them there.
JK: Not over here. We went to Glen Echo on a streetcar.
What did you do as a family.
JK: Sometimes we went to the Mall on the Fourth of July. From time to time we went to the Cathedral as a family. But on the Fourth on our block we put out a punch bowl and sandwiches. You came and felt free to take what you wanted. I can’t tell you what a great neighborhood this was. Still is, too. To some extent. See, aren’t you sorry you live on 33rd Street?
JK: The only person I knew who worked was Mrs. Leong. She worked for NIH as an economist, I think. She had the rambler on the corner. Most of the houses are older houses.
That one was built in the 50s.
JK: She had a splendid garden, great azalea bushes. After she died the young people who bought it did wonderful things to the yard.
He grills the hamburgers and Mark grills the chicken [at block parties].
JK: Mrs. Leong had a son named Woody who is with the Wisconsin Philharmonic. He was a little older than our children. All the kids knew each other. We had great neighbors.
Ever think of having a reunion of all the kids that lived here?
JK: We do, more or less. I don’t even know the kids from the neighborhood any more. Children, grandchildren return. It hasn’t really changed that much. People have moved, but we have gotten other neighbors and in most cases they’re good.
I can see why you don’t want to leave.
JK: The house is coming down around my ears. One, it’s hard to get help. I should have a lady come in and clean, because I can see all the little cobwebs. Don’t think I can’t see ’em—I can! But I can’t get to them anymore. I’m afraid to get on a ladder to do anything. The front yard needs attention and I can’t do as much gardening as I used to do.
Did you do any remodeling in this house?
JK: We got termites in the back porch and had to tear it down and decided to build an enclosed area and make a family room. Took out the window and made a door. That was in the early 60s—we’d been here about 10 years.
Did you remodel kitchens or bathrooms?
JK: Not much. I think to myself, “I can get this done,” but it’s hard: You have to go to Home Depot and look at floor coverings and you have to go to Sears and maybe get a stove. I mean, it isn’t easy as you get older. And I can’t impose on my son so much, you know. He’s been good. When I don’t feel well, most of the time he is here.
A lot of people like to buy a house that hasn’t been much worked on, because they can do what they want with it.
JK: Good! It’s basically a sound house.
Was that corner cabinet an original build-in?
JK: No, Walter got it from Sears and installed it himself. We had one in Riggs Park, so when we moved here I asked him if he could do one here. And he did. I think it cost $19.00. And he put that in for me, for the china.
Who lives on the block—you mentioned the Danish writers…
[DT:] That’s David Tradz, correspondent of the Berlingske Tidende based in Copenhagen, a leading newspaperin Denmark.
JK: She is also a writer, too. They’re very nice. Couldn’t be nicer folks. They have two children, teenagers, I think.
[DT:] They got here about the beginning of ’09, so they’re quite recent.
JK: That house has been rented for some time.
Are there a lot of rentals on the street?
JK: That’s the only one I know of. Most of the folks have been here quite some time.
The character of the place is probably unique in the country, with so many professionals in one place.
JK: I guess. A lot of the women were professionals, too. But whatever their training, they didn’t practice it then, because they were at home and they all had children. There were no single parents here.
Gordon is a big name in development around here.
JK: the firm is still in existence.
Is there anything else that we didn’t ask you that you think you would like to add to the conversation?
JK: We covered the schools; we covered the grocery stores. Was the Peoples Drug always there?
What about the library? When did that appear?
JK: That was later. There was a library there, but it was not a big one like now. We probably would not have moved had there been no library of any kind, because we used it a lot. We still do. It’s great. It’s a good library. They’re very accommodating and they have a lot more than books. They have a lot of activities now, too.
Broad Branch Market?
JK: That was there. It was Bondareff’s at one time, named after the people that owned it. They built the little rambler at the corner of 33rd and Northampton. And right across was Bondareff’s Market. It was a little grocery store. Vicki Maffioli worked there for awhile. And then she went to work for Jones, the real estate firm on Connecticut Avenue. And then she worked for her husband, ordering things like paint.
Did you use Broad Branch Market?
JK: Sure. We’d walk up there. It had a butcher. It was very accommodating. They had a real butcher. I mean he would really cut pieces for you. It was a very little store. They always had candy and things for the kids. Some groceries. Some canned goods. Another thing that bothers me is they have “dry goods” listed. Dry goods is not groceries. Dry goods is … cloth. Every time I see them I think I should tell them about it.
Somebody else told us there was an African-American man who worked there for many years. Do you remember him?
JK: No. Can’t remember him. I know he wasn’t the butcher. It was a neighborhood you could walk. You felt safe. Now I don’t know. You read in the paper that people have been attacked. I used to be able to just walk to the Avenue. I can’t do the hills anymore. I can sometimes walk a little bit further, but that’s my aim: to get back to being able to walk to the Avenue. I used to say to myself: “Why not? I can walk to the grocery store, to Magruder’s, the library, the post office, the bank—everything’s right there.” And I could do it. And then a couple of years ago I started to feel badly and I couldn’t—I gave it up.
You call it “the Avenue”?
JK: Yes. As far as I’m concerned that’s “the Avenue.” We don’t call it Connecticut Avenue.
Do you drive?
JK: Oh, sure. But not much. I haven’t been out to malls, for instance. I just go to the store.
What sort of volunteer activities have you been involved in?
JK: I used to do Junior Village. I used to go over to Blue Plains to the children. I guess they were wards of the District. And we’d go over and have a play school. A whole group of ladies did. From Chevy Chase, basically. I was one. And then I worked for Common Cause. I have taken a little time off when I am not feeling well, but I keep it up because driving is not difficult for me. I have an old car, so I’m hesitant about going too far. I think at my age I don’t need a new car.
Did you ever work for a political candidate?
JK: We were in favor of [Walter] Washington when he was our first mayor. And for Julius Hobson, Board of Education, before we ever had a mayor, wasn’t it? And then we went to Arena [Stage], but not anymore. I worked in Lafayette in the library—all the mothers did that. And the pre-school you helped, because your kids were there and you put in time.
Jeanie, do you think Juanita Lambert would grant an interview?
JK: I think she would be good, since she has been here the longest. I think she would be quite flattered. I could call and ask her. And of course Patsy neé Maffioli—Murray—was raised here; she’s in her 60s. And then there are the DiMaggios, who moved here in 1941.
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