Gray’s Memories are of ‘A Sleepy Southern Town’ when $1 Bought A Weekly DC Streetcar Pass
Interviewee: William Gray
Date: April 9, 2011
Interviewers: Joan Solomon Janshego, Carl Lankowski and Pam Lankowski
Location: Lankowski residence in Chevy Chase DC
Transcribed (from audio recording) by: Carl Lankowski
What is your name and when were you born?
BG: My name is William Gray. I was born March 5th, 1929.
And where were you born?
BG: At the old Garfield Hospital in DC.
Let’s talk about your family. Tell us about your parents.
BG: Both my parents were born in Pennsylvania. My father was born in 1898 in Pittsburgh. My mother was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in a town called Lititz in 1898. I have no brothers or sisters. I’m the only one. And I am a native Washingtonian.
And how did your parents arrive in Washington?
BG: They came by train. My father was taking a course in law school. He became an attorney. And my mother worked for the C&P Telephone Company as a switchboard operator. That was in the 1920s.
Where were they living then?
BG: They were living down on 17th Street NW, in the Copley Courts apartments. About 1925 they moved to Adams Mill Road. That’s near the Zoo, not far from the main intersection at 18th and Columbia Road. The area was not yet know as Adams Morgan then. Then we moved out to Chevy Chase—bought a house on Barnaby Street at 6504. I was 9 years old at the time. Barnaby Street is three blocks long—6400-6600 blocks.
How long have you lived at that address?
BG: from 1937 to the present. Still there.
Tell us a little bit about your parents.
BG: They were pretty typical parents—protective of me. My mother was a member of the Chevy Chase Women’s Club. My father was a member of some law associations. He became assistant corporation counsel for the Interstate Commerce Commission and was a hearing examiner.
Did your father retire from that job?
BG: Yes—I think it was 1962.
When did he decease?
Did he talk about work?
BG: Yes. But his hobby was music—he was a violinist for the Arlington Civic Symphony for quite a few years. And he taught violin. I guess he was hopeful that I would become interested in law and the violin, but my interests were different, so I did not pursue that.
Did he play at home?
BG: yes he did.
Did you learn to play?
BG: I took piano lessons for awhile when I was growing up. And I took accordion lessons for awhile.
Was your mom musical?
BG: No, she wasn’t. Though she appreciated good music.
What sort of affiliations did they have in Chevy Chase?
BG: Through the Chevy Chase Women’s Association my mother met other people in the neighborhood and they sometimes got together for lunch. They also did tours—there was one of the botanical gardens every year.
Were they church members?
BG: Yeah—my mother was a member of the Christian Science Church. The church was out on Connecticut Avenue on the 8400 block across from the country club.
What about your dad?
BG: No, he was not a church-goer. But he tolerated mom’s interest in church activities. He would go once in a while to a servce. He was like a C+Eer—he would go at Christmas and Easter.
How about you?
BG: I went to Sunday School at the Christian Science Church. I became a member after I was 21. I lost interest and dropped out about 1965 or so. I got away from it because I went to college in Ohio for four years between 1950-1954.
Did you mention an uncle who moved to DC?
BG: Right—he was from Lititz and came in the 1940s. He worked in the railroad industry. He was the assistant manager for the Washington Terminal Company, which is an affiliate of Union Station. He worked there until he retired and moved back to Lititz, as did my mom. So we maintained two houses—I maintained the one here and she and her brother the one in Lititz.
When did he retire?
BG: In the late ’50s. He wanted to renew acquaintances in Lititz, as did my mother. So, they decided to buy a house out there. They spent the remainder of their lives there—my mother died in 1971; my uncle about six years later. Lititz has since been “discovered” by tourists, but back then it was still a sleepy little Moravian community, known primarily for its delicious chocolates.
Let’s return to your childhood in Chevy Chase. Tell us about your world then.
BG: The earliest experience was going to Lafayette School. I think I started with the 4th grade there with a teacher by the name of Mrs. Carey. My 6th grade teacher was Helen Towson. Strangely, she is not mentioned in the Lafayette School book. The other 6th grade teacher was Miss McKenna. There were so many students then that Miss McKenna couldn’t handle all of them, so they were parceled out between her and Mrs. Towson. After that I went to Alice Deal Junior High School, then Woodrow Wilson from 9th through 12th grades.
How did you get to school?
BG: I walked back and forth to Lafayette. I rode the bus to Deal. We used discounted fares, saving about 3 cents per ticket. We couldn’t buy the ticket book from the driver—we had to go over to the street car barn on Wisconsin Avenue. I was always amazed at all the streetcar activity going on.
Where was that barn exactly?
BG: You know where the corner of Wisconsin and Jennifer? Just a block north of Gawler’s Funeral Home on the west side. They had street cars until 1962. That was one of my hobbies, because when I was growing up, my grandfather used to have a weekly pass. And he would buy the weekly pass for a dollar. He would use his pass during the week to travel from his apartment on Adams Mill Road to downtown to do his business down there. But he didn’t use it on Saturdays and offered to let me use it. “Sure!” I said—“I’ll take it!” I started to ride street cars all over town.
Where did you go?
BG: Well, I went all the way down town. I rode out to Mount Rainier, Beltsville…
Wow! What an adventure—how old were you?
BG: about 8. Yeah—I went out to Cabin John, Glen Echo. Wherever the cars went, I just got on and took a ride. Came back. I continued this for a year or two after we moved to Chevy Chase.
How did you get to the street car?
BG: Took the loop bus to Wisconsin Avenue, which ran over to Tenley Circle. I’d ride down to Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, down to the Navy Yard, come back via the Calvert Bridge, up to Mount Pleasant. Streetcars were going just about everywhere back then.
Aahh. I arrived in Washington too late to enjoy them—in 1967.
BG: Now people want them back again. The passes themselves were colorful. You’d buy one for the week, show it to the motorman or bus driver, and ride as much as you wanted. Rather than throw them away, I mounted them in a photo album. They go back to 1934.
We missed your grandparents.
BG: Well, my grandparents on my father’s side lived on Adams Mill Road in the same apartment building we did. They were on the 3rd floor; we were on the 4th floor. He was the general manager of the apartment building at that time. He held that job for quite a few years.
And they also came from Pittsburgh.
BG: They came from Pittsburgh. Did I mention my cousins?
BG: I have three. Jane is the eldest. She and her parents lived in the same apartment building as we. She and her husband moved to Anchorage, Alaska. She is still living there, a widow now. My other cousin, Carl Logan, is living in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife. They have two children and one still lives with them. The son has moved to San Francisco. On my mother’s side, the other cousin is Gregory Eickwort. And they live in Coral Springs, Florida. I get to see them than Jane. Back in the 30’s the Logans lived on Nicholson Street off of 16th.
Your grandparents on your mother’s side stayed in Lititz?
BG: That’s right.
Would you like to say anything more about your memories of Deal Junior High School?
BG: I don’t have too many memories of Deal. I can remember some good teachers there. But at Wilson I was in the Cadet Corps.
What can you tell us about the composition of the schools then?
BG: At that time it was all white.
Where there any minorities?
BG: There were a few Asians. They were really nice. I like them a lot. There might have been a couple of blacks, but very few.
Remind us of the dates you attended Deal and Wilson.
BG: It was 1944-47 at Deal and 47-49 at Wilson. I graduated in the February class of 49. That was the last February graduating class at Wilson. Right, so I was in the Cadet Corps at Wilson. That was really interesting. We would have an annual competition involving area high schools marching bands. That was held at Central High School on 13th street. I was also a member of the movie committee. And I was a member of the print shop committee.
Tell us about these activities.
BG: The movie committee brought together people who had an interest in films. We could order them and they were shown at lunch time. We had to time them so that students could have their lunch and then come into the auditorium and see a 10-20 minute movie. If the movie was still on when the bell rang, we would have to stop the movie and they would have to go to class.
What kind of movies?
BG: Mostly documentaries. Also newsreels and cartoons. Something that would give them a little break during the day. Sometimes we would show the film over two days. More often than not, we would be able to finish a minute or two before the period ended.
What was your role?
BG: I ran the projector.
Must have been a big deal then.
BG: Sure. It was a status symbol. It was threading the projector, balancing the sound. The faculty advisor was also the chief electrician in the building. He would guide us through any problems we might encounter. We pretty much picked up on the techniques. That started my interest and hobby of collecting movies. When I was at NIH in Bethesda in the 1950’s, I was on the movie committee. I was in the film library out there. Most of the films were on health issues. When that film library was disbanded in the 1960s, the films were parceled out to various regional offices. Those that no one wanted were offered to me. “OK,” I said, “I’ll take them.” I thought to myself: “I don’t know what I’m going to do with them.” But I started my collection in this way. Of course I didn’t know at the time that this would build up to a collection that includes feature films, documentaries, short subjects. I have over 100 feature films.
On film—in big canisters?
BG: Just so. We built a projection room in the house. We have a screen. And we can show movies on the big screen.
Do you do that?
BG: Yeah, every once in a while we do. It has been kind of eclipsed by DVDs and VHS tapes. But I still maintain the collection. And there are others around that have collections, too. So, we often trade back and forth.
Where do you get spare parts for the equipment?
BG: Spare parts are increasingly hard to get. I can still get some. I’ve got two projectors made in Japan and some parts are still available, like tension belts and bulbs, spare lamps, springs.
What size film is that?
BG: They are 16mm projectors and films. There has been enough interest in Chevy Chase to form a movie club here.
Is it still going?
BG: It is more or less dormant because many members are now getting up there and don’t want to drive at night and that is the only time we can show movies, since we have a lot of windows.
When was the highpoint of that club?
BG: About 10 years ago. We started about 15 years ago. People would come over and we’d put a movie on for them. We’d give them a special thrill by letting them pick the movie they wanted to see. It was a lot of fun.
Where did members come from?
BG: Mostly Chevy Chase.
How many of you were there?
BG: At the height of the club there were about 20 members. That’s about a comfortable load for our house.
BG: Every once in a while. I have a popcorn machine I got from a now defunct theater on Wisconsin Avenue—the Calvert Theater. It was right across the street from where Whole Foods in Tenleytown is located in an apartment building. In high school I was an usher in the Calvert Theater that sat at that location. That further stimulated my interest in film. I would often visit the projection booth on the top floor and watch the men at work up there. I usually rode there on my bike. I would work a couple nights a week and on Saturday.
So, it sounds like you are a real cineaste.
BG: I guess I am. My other hobby is an interest in Washington streetcars and I got that interest from my grandfather. I got very interested in the various types of streetcars. And I still maintain both of those hobbies. There is still a functioning club called Tractioneers. That’s a group of people interested in streetcars and trolly cars. We get together once a month, rotating among members’ houses, show slides of streetcars in various cities, concentrating mostly on Washington.
Where is the membership base?
BG: Mostly Chevy Chase, Garrett Park, Kensington. Some members live in northern Virginia. It’s kind of a good cross-section.
How far back does that interest go?
BG: My mother told me that she used to take me up to the corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road where two streetcar lines intersected. She said I liked to watch them.
You mentioned a print shop.
BG: That was the print shop committee at Wilson. The faculty advisor was George E.S. Reynolds. His big schtick was that he would lecture the students he caught smoking. Lectures on how terrible it was. That was in the mid-40s, decades before the US Surgeon-General was issuing statements about how smoking causes cancer. So, George was ahead of his time on that issue.
Were there a lot of smokers then?
BG: There were a few that would cut class or go out during recess and light up. If they were caught, they were lectured not to do this anymore. What they did at home was a different issue, but on school property it was a no-no. And Mr. Reynolds was pretty strong in his opinions about smoking. So we learned something from him. I also spent some time at the Chevy Chase Bowling Alley and Ice Palace.
BG: Well, it was on Connecticut Avenue just below Albermarle Street on the east side—long gone now. We were on a bowling team. It was the only place in Washington where they had duck pins. They were half the size of normal pins. The girls could pick them up easier and roll them down the isles. We’d meet there at least once a week and then go across the street to the Hot Shoppes for some of their goodies. And that’s gone, of course. The good things are gone with the wind, aren’t they?
What did you do at the print shop?
BG: We printed up announcements for school events. We set type by hand. Lined it up and put it in a big print machine, ink it up and run it through. But that’s primarily what we did at the print shop: notices of events, social and otherwise, guest speakers who would talk in the auditorium.
What about the composition of the student body at Wilson?
BG: A little different than Deal: more black students, more Asian students. They were very nice, nice to be with.
Can you remember minorities living in the neighborhood?
BG: I do not recall any minorities in our area.
So what was it like then? Here we are with Barak Obama as president. Some even say we are post-racial. It must have been different then.
BG: It was—we were a sleepy southern community. One fellow I used to know at Wilson was from Korea. His name was Conrad Yung Kwai. I don’t know whatever happened to him. Don’t know if he even graduated. But he was in the Cadet Corps with me. Don’t know when his family moved here for where he lived.
When you went down town, were you likely to see African-American faces in the stores?
BG: To a small extent, yes, in the 1940s.
Were you aware of race relations then?
BG: When I was growing up I wasn’t aware of racial issues at all. The areas I rode street cars through had become dangerous—like U Street, Benning Road NE, Anacostia. But I wasn’t aware of that. I was just enjoying myself. They were black neighborhoods. Also H Street NE. But they have all become pretty much gentrified today, especially the U Street area.
Did your mother ever express any reservations about you traveling about the city at such a young age?
BG: No. She just told me to be careful and don’t be foolish, mind your own business and take care of yourself and be home for dinner at 5:00 o’clock.
They trusted you.
BG: Yes they did. I never had any problems.
Do you think you were unusual in this way?
BG: Yes, I think I was unusual. The other kids? They were probably more into sports.
Did you do any sports?
BG: I was on the swimming team at Wilson. In college, too.
Did you play baseball in the neighborhood?
BG: Yeah-we did that.
BG: Mostly at Lafayette and at Deal. I also rode my bike around pretty extensively: through the neighborhood, Rock Creek Park, Tenleytown.
What was the neighborhood like?
BG: The look was mostly traditional houses—many colonials. There were some unusual houses. One was shaped like a mushroom. I think it’s still around. Just off Western Avenue on the west side of River Road. There was a round house—up here near the corner of Broad Branch and Morrison Street. There were some bungalows. Most of the streets were paved. There were still unpaved ones, like Van Hasen near us, not paved until the late 1960s. Barnaby Street was paved. A sidewalk was put in around the 1940s.
Has Barnaby Street changed much since you moved in?
BG: No, our street looks about the same as when we moved in. No new houses.
When was your house built?
BG: Our house was built in 1935. Most of the houses in that section were built in the mid-30’s.
Do you know the builder?
BG: Somebody by the name of HG Smithy.
Have you remodeled?
BG: Yes—we put an addition on the back, enlarged the kitchen, and put a rec room in the basement. Quite often we would get our groceries at Broad Branch. They would deliver. They had a fellow there by the name of Curley. Don’t know if that was his real name. An older guy. Black guy. I remember he was one of the early black people that I saw. A wonderful guy. I can’t tell you what a charming personality he had.
Was Broad Branch Market already there when you moved to Chevy Chase?
BG: Yeah, it was already there. Owned by a family named Bondareff. I think they were a Korean family. It was then taken over by another Korean family named Bang. He held it for a number of years. He retired or just moved away and the store, which needed remodeling, fell into disrepair and it was closed for a long time. The present owners came in, fixed it up, put a Montessori school on the top floor. It has been transformed.
Did you go there often?
BG: It was more a convenience store; prices were higher. So if we needed a loaf of bread or quart of milk, we would go over to Broad Branch quickly. Sometimes I went over on my bike. And they had good meats.
Where did you normally do major grocery shopping?
BG: Out here it was mainly a choice between Safeway and Chevy Chase Supermarket …and Giant and MaGruder’s.
Safeway where it is now?
BG: No, it was next to MaGruder’s then.
Where was the Giant?
BG: Over on Wisconsin Avenue, but not where it is now. It was in Tenleytown at the corner of Brandywine, where the CVS is now.
And Chevy Chase Supermarket?
BG: That’s 2-3 miles up Connecticut Avenue near Einstein Bagels. A family-owned store, still in the same family.
How was shopping organized?
BG: In Broad Branch you were able to get things from the shelf but for some things you needed assistance. Someone would bring a pole with snippers at the top to retrieve things from the top shelves.
How did they calculate?
BG: They had a cash register. They would ring it up for you, each item. They have a little scale there. Weigh your vegetables.
You mentioned Curley.
BG: He delivered the groceries. They had a truck with Broad Branch Market on the side of it. They would box up the food for you. Curley would put it in the truck and deliver it to anybody in the neighborhood.
I remember a black man there when I moved into the neighborhood, but I don’t think it is the same person.
BG: Older man?
BG: Probably Curley. If you look inside, there is a picture of Curley. They called him Curley but I think he was bald.
Do you know anything about him, where he lived…?
BG: No, no idea. I wish I did know. I don’t even know his last name. Maybe the present owner does. But it’s nice that they have preserved that past. They have a picture of the store and even a painting of the store as it used to be. It’s really a lot of fun to shop there. Even if prices are a little higher, they have done such a nice restoration job there.
Definitely a place to meet the neighbors. We are also interested in your buddies from the 1940s.
BG: I remember my friend Otis Howard, who lived on Barnaby Street in the next block. He is still around. I think he has a photography store in Takoma Park. The other fellow I was good friends with is Jeremy Hannigan. Mostly I got to know him in Wilson. He and I were in the Cadet Corps together. We would often go bike-riding around the neighborhood.
Is he still around?
BG: I haven’t heard from him in years—don’t know if he’s still living. One of these days I was going to call Otis Howard to ask, because he and Jerry were good friends.
Are you in touch with Otis Howard on occasion?
BG: No, I haven’t talked to him in a long time, but I think he still has a photography store in Takoma Park. I’m going to call him. I meant to do that before I came here today. The other extra-curricular activity I did was deliver the Washington Shopping News. It was a little newspaper that came out once a week, mostly filled with coupons and anecdotes about people in the Chevy Chase area. I’d love to have a copy of that—maybe someone in the neighborhood has one in their attic. I’d deliver them around the neighborhood on Tuesdays. One of the requirements or at least strong suggestions of the manager was that we door-knob the papers—don’t just throw them up on the ground—take each paper, roll it up, attach it to the front door of the house. Who does that today? We’re lucky if our Washington Post gets onto our property and usually it ends up in the gutter.
Did you do this on your bicycle or did you walk?
So you dismounted in front of each house…
BG: No, I didn’t follow the rules that carefully, I have to admit. I rolled and tightened the papers up and threw them onto the property, but I didn’t go all the way up to the front door with them. If the manager went around and saw that the papers were in the door, they would offer some sort of prize to the carrier, if he did that. I never won.
Do you recall how much you got paid for that job?
BG: Twenty-five cents a day.
What years were they?
BG: That would have been when I was still at Alice Deal, in the mid-40s, from 1944-47. It was just once a week.
How did you get the papers?
BG: They would drop them off with a truck.
How many did you have to deliver?
BG: There were about 100 houses on my route. I can’t remember the exact route, but it was around 32nd Street, Worthington Street, Aberfoyle Street, Acadia Place. It would take quite a while. I don’t know how carriers who were more motivated to get off their bikes and door-knob each paper.
All for twenty-five cents.
BG: Twenty-five cents and a free coupon for an ice-cream cone somewhere. I don’t know. I didn’t door-knob enough of my papers.
Talk to us about the war years.
BG: Well, we had ration books like everybody else did during those years. A card attached to our windshield with an A or B or C. I forget how they were broken down, but I think the C card was for doctors and emergency people who needed to get around and needed to keep their cars full of gas. We had an A card, which allowed us maybe 10 gallons a week or something like that. I don’t think that much, though, actually.
What kind of car did your family have?
BG: We had a Hutmobile. Long since discontinued. I remember our neighbor had a Terraplane Hudson—how about that?
Did many people have cars?
BG: Yeah—quite a few did. But not everybody did, because there was always a place to park on the street. Now Barnaby Street is just loaded—everyone has a car. Some people have two cars. So parking can sometimes be at a premium. But in our particular block there is always a spot. I forget where we got gas. All I can think of is the Amoco station where the American City Diner is today [NW corner of Connecticut and Livingston-CL]. If you look carefully at the street, there’s a section where there is no curbing and a driveway –that used to be the driveway into the gas station. Now if you go up there you’ll be driving into the diner. But the street has not changed that much.
Other wartime memories?
BG: Certain types of food were hard to get. Coffee, for example, was difficult to come by.
Was that rationed?
BG: Yes. That was part of the regular book we had. You would tear out a coupon that said “coffee” on it. You’d present that to the cashier and he would fix up a pound of coffee for us. Back then it was just “coffee.” Today, it’s various types of blends—mocha-java, Sumatra and all the others. We got that at the Safeway.
These were scarce items in the coupon book? Butter?
BG: Butter was also rationed. Certain types of meat were, I think.
Did you have a victory garden?
BG: At one time we had a little victory garden in the back where we grew vegetables.
How did they grow in that soil?
BG: Pretty well, especially the tomato plants. People didn’t get around as much back then, because of the rationing for gas. You used your car when you needed something. You needed to be always cognizant of your gas tank.
There were buses?
BG: We didn’t have cross-town buses at that time. Not up here. We had the loop bus. It ran from Pinehurst Circle, to Utah, over to Nebraska and on to Tenley Circle. Then it would come back over 41st Street, make a right on McKinley, come up McKinley, turn left on Broad Branch, turn right on Western and on to Pinehurst Circle and that would be the end of the line. Two routes: one that went from Pinehurst Circle to Tenley Circle and one that went from Pinehurst Circle to Wisconsin and Western where it connected with the streetcar line.
Who ran it?
BG: Capital Transit Company. Both streetcar and bus.
Do you remember what the fare was during those war years?
BG: ten cents. You rode for ten cents and got a free transfer, too. That was pretty nice. Take you all over town. Transfers were usually good for two hours.
Do you remember blackouts?
BG: Yes, we did have blackouts. We needed to put up blackout shades to keep the light in. Or just turn out all lights until the all-clear sounded. There would be a big all-clear sound that sounded like a bull-horn. There were several of them around the neighborhood, so that everybody could hear.
Where were they mounted?
BG: One was on top of Lafayette School.
Did that happen very often?
BG: No, it didn’t as I recall. Maybe a couple of times a month. My father was an air raid warden. He would don his helmet and go out and if he saw any lights he would go up and ring the doorbell and tell them to turn that light out until the all-clear sounds. Some people didn’t do that. Most of them did, though.
How long did it last?
BG: The air raids lasted a little less than half and hour.
Were you that aware of the war and what was going on?
BG: Oh yeah, uh huh. We got our news from the radio—President Roosevelt’s speeches and fireside chats.
Did you listen to them?
BG: Yeah, we listened to them, gathered around the radio. That was our source of information back then. Of course we had the newspapers, too—the Evening Star—that was the evening paper—the Washington Post or the Times-Herald came in the morning. We got the Evening Star. My father left the house at 7:00 or 8:00 o’clock in the morning. We didn’t have time to read morning papers.
Do you remember any particular broadcasters from back then?
BG: HV Kaltenborn. There was Walter Winchell. Luella Parsons had a Hollywood gossip column. Walter Winchell came on Sunday nights at 9:00 o’clock on NBC. He always started his program with “Good evening Mr. and Mrs. North America and all ships at sea. Let’s go to press.” And then he’d go into news.
What else did you listen to?
BG: We listened to “Inner Sanctum” mysteries. There was “Mr. District Attorney,” we listened to “Lights Out,” we listened to “Jack Armstrong, the all-American boy,” we listened to “Captain Midnight,” we listened to “Spy-Smasher”—these are our kids programs I’m talking about. On Captain Midnight they always had a free offer. Tear off the top of the Wheaties box and send it in with twenty-five cents and they would send you a “free” Jack Armstrong whistling ring. Jack Armstrong and his buddies would sound the alarm on their whistling rings to get the bad guys. Every kid on the block wanted a Jack Armstrong whistling ring.
Did you get one?
BG: Oh sure—but I had to eat a box of Wheaties to do it.
Was the radio something that you listened to every evening?
BG: Pretty much so. Also listened to “Fibber McGhee and Molly.” George Burns and Gracie Allen. Jack Benny. “Amos ‘n Andy” too. I don’t think that would go over too well today. The characters were imitating black people and they were white. They would try to mimic the dialogue of African-Americans. “The Green Hornet” and “The Shadow” were two more. Radio was a rich field at that time.
Where in the house was the radio?
BG: In the living room. We had had a large piece of cabinet type furniture, but we got rid of it and got a Zenith, which we put on the floor. It had better sound quality. We also had a portable up in the bedroom. You had to be selective. There was so much to choose from.
What were summers like here before air conditioning?
BG: Hot and humid. We had fans and we had a sleeping porch on the second floor.
Did you sleep there?
BG: Well, there wasn’t much difference from sleeping inside, because the air that blew in was hot air. So, most of the time we slept inside.
Did you go away on vacation?
BG: Yeah. We went up to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, mostly in the summer, but sometimes in the fall or in the spring before the heat settled in.
How big a deal was that?
BG: No so big a deal. You had to get the car ready, but rationing was by then not such a big issue.
Memories of major wartime events?
BG: We were sitting around listening to the radio and the program was interrupted with an announcement about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I also remember the fireside chats. And then when the war was over, the peace treaty was signed on the USS Missouri. Japanese and German officials came. And the parades.
Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when Roosevelt died?
BG: No, but I can remember hearing about the caisson carrying Roosevelt down Pennsylvania Avenue and past the White House.
What was the reaction in the neighborhood?
BG: Of course during the war a lot of people put out American flags, including us, usually every day.
And took them down every night?
BG: Yep—took ‘em down at sunset.
Anything else about the war effort that you remember?
BG: There were scrap drives. Take old pots and pans and bring them to a certain location, the schools, I think. We usually contributed to that. I remember huge piles of pots and pans.
Do you remember a lot of uniforms then, uniformed military?
BG: Not in Chevy Chase, no. There were some, but not very many.
Any families in the neighborhood whose fathers fought in the war?
BG: One or two families in the next block. I don’t know who they were.
What were the occupations of the fathers in the neighborhood?
BG: Mostly government jobs. My father would commute on the bus to Connecticut Avenue and then downtown to work. He worked for the Interstate Commerce Commission. My mother worked for the telephone company for a while, not very long, a couple of years. Most mothers in the neighborhood did not work.
Were there a lot of kids in the neighborhood?
BG: Yes, there were quite a few kids in the neighborhood. The families were on the younger side.
Did you have TV when you were living with your parents?
BG: Yes, we had a small TV in the living room. We got it in 1949 or 1950. It was a Muntz model. That was the name of the store where we bought it. He was known as mad man Muntz. He gave the best prices. He was off Georgia Avenue somewhere in Silver Spring.
So you got a TV. Did that change your radio listening habits?
BG: Unfortunately it did. We listened to less radio and watched more telly because it was the new kid on the block. I usually watched the old movies which came on in the evening. My mother liked to watch some of the cooking shows. My father was more sports inclined; he liked to watch the games—football, baseball, wrestling.
What kind of movies were broadcast?
BG: Some of the older horror movies like Frankenstein and Dracula. And adventure films like Errol Flynn used to make like Robin Hood. Then of course there were a lot of war films that came out. They were turning out war movies by the bushel.
Do you remember any of them?
BG: Sure. Some on TV but I saw many in the theaters—the Avalon, the Uptown, the Apex.
BG: It was on Massachusetts Avenue in Spring Valley right across the street from Crate and Barrel.
Did you go to the Avalon frequently?
BG: I went there on the average of once a week. They would change the bill about three or four times a week. They wouldn’t hold a movie for three or four weeks like they do now.
What was upstairs in the Avalon?
BG: A dance studio. I don’t know the name of it. In the summertime when the windows were open you could hear the piano playing. They were conducting a dance class. It was kind of nice, some of the sounds you used to hear.
War films: Casablanca?
BG: Didn’t see it when it first came out, but have seen it many times since and have a copy of it at home.
What else do you recall about Connecticut Avenue?
BG: Right next to the Avalon was the jewelry store called Fuller and DiAlbert’s. They then moved around the corner on McKinley Street to the shop now inhabited by Write For You that sells greeting cards. That used to be a barber shop. I’d go there every once in a while and get a hair cut. Fuller and DiAlbert made their own watches. In fact I have one right here. It’s still working after all these years. One of the owners died and they moved out in the late 60’s or early 70’s.
What other stores do you remember on Connecticut?
BG: Chevy Chase Novelty Shop. Next to Fuller DiAlbert on McKinley. They were a novelty shop where you could buy cards, toys, games and things. Drop off your film and have it developed. Up further, next to the Avalon was the Elite Laundry. We always took our laundry over there. They looked after their customers. If they were closed you could still drop off your laundry. They had a big shoot out front where you could pull a door, put your laundry in, and it would fall inside the store on the floor. Hopefully you had it bundled with your name on it. They would do it and a couple of days later it would be ready for pickup. Next to them was the Safeway. It was always a grocery store in that location. Prior to that it was called the Piggly Wiggly. And then it was called the Sanitary. Then came Safeway, which ultimately moved to its current location at the corner of McKinley.
Did it replace another building?
BG: No, it built on a vacant lot. Across Morrison was the Exxon station. I don’t know when then built there, but I think it was a vacant lot, too.
Did you go to the Arcade?
BG: Oh yeah—I still go there today. That’s where the barber shop is today. It used to be bigger and located on the other side of the isle from its current location. One of the barbers dropped dead while cutting hair one day. His name was Elam Wattwood. Sometime in the ‘40s. I think some of his family is still around but I don’t know for sure.
Do you remember some of the stores there?
BG: There was a nice Chinese restaurant. Whenever we had a hankering for Chinese food we went there.
What about the police, fire department, public services—garbarge collection and things like that?
BG: Garbage was collected once a week from a high truck. A couple of guys were up there in the truck. Others would throw the cans up to them and the ones in the truck would empty them and throw them back down. That was a tough job, I’m sure. There was a driver and at least four men. They were mostly white, though there were some blacks, too.
BG: I don’t know where the policy station was here.
Any crime that you were aware of?
BG: No. The crime rate was very low when I was a child.
Did you lock your doors?
BG: Sometimes we did. Sometimes we left them unlocked. More trusting then. So when I was out playing I could just open the door and walk in.
Did you ever see police around?
BG: Oh yeah, but infrequently. No so much on our street, but when you got up to Western Avenue. Or Utah Avenue or Nebraska—we would occasionally see police cars going along.
BG: Yeah. Every once in a while we’d hear the trucks. We’ve had no occasion to call them. They were at the ready. And I think the fire station is in the same place, at the corner of Connecticut and Ellicott Street.
How about your employment?
BG: My first job was a part-time job as an usher at the Calvert Theater. My first real job was at National Institutes of Health in Bethesda in the mental health film library there. And when that was disbanded and the agency was reorganized I went downtown to the HEW – Health, Education, and Welfare – Building at 3rd and Independence, SW. I was there for a number of years. I was a program analyst. And then we moved to different locations in the city. I stayed with them throughout my career.
Were you posted to different departments as a program analyst?
BG: Yes. It was mostly mental health and administration.
When did you retire?
BG: April of 1992.
When did you marry?
BG: September 30, 1978. I married a girl from Baltimore. She had a job here in Washington. Had her own employment agency, downtown 17th and K. It was a placement agency called Albers. Personnel. She would place applicants with various law firms and organizations in the downtown area.
What’s her name?
BG: Her name is Barbara.
Did she continue that after you were married?
BG: For a while. Then she retired and sold the business. That was 1996.
Did you meet her in Washington?
BG: Yes—I met her at a party at a friend’s who was gathering some people together to watch the inauguration of Jimmy Carter. I met her there at the party. I have Jimmy to thank. She moved in with me on Barnaby Street, which is where we live now. I never left there.
Were you in the service?
BG: No. The only time I was away from the house for any length of time was when I was in college from 1950-1954.
Where did you go to college?
BG: I went to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.
How did you decide to go there?
BG: Oh, we were looking at colleges and went around to visit some. We visited Kenyon. It was all male. My father thought I would get the best education there.
What did you major in?
What made you do that?
BG: My father thought that would be the best thing for me to do. So, I was governed by his recommendation.
Would you have chosen something else?
BG: Hmmm. Probably not. I did take a minor in History. History was always interesting.
You never thought about living in another state. You came back to Washington then.
BG: Yes, that’s right. I came back during the summers, but not to work, since we were going away on various trips. We went to Lancaster, and took a couple of trips to New England, Williamsburg. Went around to different places.
What are your happiest memories of Chevy Chase?
BG: Growing up with the friends I met in the neighborhood. Riding bikes around. I enjoyed Lafayette a lot. Also Alice Deal and Wilson. I enjoyed school.
Were you a good student?
BG: Hmmmm—average. I enjoyed the social aspect of school. And just being around the neighborhood, going to the Avalon Saturday matinees.
An idyllic childhood?
BG: I think it was, now that I look back on it.
Was your childhood a lot different than that of kids growing up on your block nowadays?
BG: In some ways, in some ways not.
Anything else you want to tell us?
BG: I remember the first dog we had. His name was Captain—we always called him Cappy. We adopted him from the family that lived across the street. One time in the early 1940s when our alley was being paved I had to pull him off the fresh cement. The other day I notice that his paw print is still there.
Is there anyone you know that has been in Chevy Chase as long as you?
BG: There is one fellow named Michael Flynn who is a close second to me. He is two doors up from me in the 6400 block of Barnaby Street. I think he arrived a year or two after we moved in. And he is still there. I talked to him the other day. And then George Orfanis at the end of our street has been there for 25 years or so. His father ran a restaurant over on Wisconsin Avenue where the Mazza Gallerie is today. It was called Silver Fox. The shops were leveled for Mazza Gallerie.
You mentioned you know the person that inherited Mr. [Robert] Truax’s streetcar photo collection.
BG: Yes. There are several slide programs that he used to present at the DC public library. Truax had a program on streetcars and also one on Chevy Chase. There were also programs on Glen Echo and on the C&O Canal.
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