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Jim Hamill Reminisces About Columbia Heights In The 1930's And 40'sWhile touring Tom Howder's Washington Maps web site, I came across your Columbia Heights site. Thank you for a pleasant remembering.
I wish there were a corresponding site for Petworth, where I lived from birth (1926) to 1950. They took the boy out of Washington when I left, but couldn't get Washington out of the boy. My Washington is a sentimental, remembered one. I live in Michigan, but get back once a year, and just have to drive the old neighborhoods.
Here are some of my memories of Columbia Heights.
In the 1920s my mother lived at 1402 Monroe St. Her home was next to an alley, and past the alley was the Garden-T Shoppe (a tea Shoppe with an E). Somewhere nearby was a bowling alley -- probably on Park Rd -- the crashing of pins could be heard late at night.
The Tivoli Theater. I remember seeing a movie in 3 dimensions there, about1948. People wore eyeglasses with a red and a blue lens to get the 3-D effect. It worked! I got dizzy on the roller coaster ride.
There was an indoor public market on the West side of 14th St, a little South of Park Rd. The market had stalls where you could buy cheeses, meats, produce, and many other groceries. The odor was a blend of all the goods sold, a good or bad smell depending on who you were. The market was still operating in 1947; I know because my wife's landlady came from Rhode Island Ave Northeast to shop.
Two 14th St businesses that I remember were Naiman's Photographic Studio (West side, I think between Columbia Rd and Park Rd), and S Hines Funeral home (redstone building at 14th and Chapin Sts?).
Mom attended Columbia Heights Disciples of Christ Church on Park Rd, just behind her house. The minister was a Mr Bagby. Mom belonged to the Gleaner's Sunday School Class from the church's earliest days (1920's?) until she moved to Florida in 1962. The church has moved to Kensington.
Right down Park Rd is Sacred Heart Church. About 1912 my Dad was confirmed there by James Cardinal Gibbons, whose statue is seen from 16th St. For a while his dad was superintendent of the Sacred Heart Sunday School.
Mom's father sang and played piano at St Stephen's Episcopal Church at 16th and Newton St.
While I was at Roosevelt High I had a part time job shelving books at the Mt Pleasant Library (1942-44). The Peoples Drug Store almost next door was a good place to get a bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich during supper break. The Peoples Drug Store where I ate suppers was just a few hundred feet from the library, on Mt Pleasant St.
The librarian was Frances Osborne. One of the clerks was a Mrs Dell, whose husband picked her up at quitting time. I was told that he was Floyd Dell, a roaring 20's author, who had been a member of the Algonquin Round Table in New York (Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and others). That may be or may not be; but there was nothing roaring in his appearance. He looked as though his speech was largely "Yes, dear" and "No, dear".
I was often working in the library with my friend Bill when 9pm, library closing time, came. The library signalled last call by flicking the lights at 5 of 9. Bill and I added a special flourish. He'd go to the South room and I to the North, and on a count of three we'd click the lights to the cadence of "Shave and a haircut, two bits". It got attention.
Among regular library users were a few old men in black suits; they were pensioned soldiers from Soldier's Home. They spent their days reading fat volumes like "Annals of the Civil War". They could hardly have been in the Civil War; an 85 year old man would have been only seven in 1865.
Columbia Heights was mostly a place I passed through to go somewhere else. On my earliest bus rides from Petworth to downtown, the route went West on Columbia Rd then South on 16th St. 16th and Columbia then as now had several impressive churches. The bus would proceed leisurely down 16th St, stopping as needed to pick up or discharge passengers, passing the old National Geographic and the Jewish Community Center before turning East to 13th St.
Capitol Transit improved Petworth bus service by providing express busses down Sherman Ave. After Georgia and New Hampshire, the bus made no more stops except transfers to the Crosstown line at Irving St. That cut time to downtown from 30 minutes to 15. When I was attending Catholic University I became well acquainted with the Irving St transfer point.
The Georgia Avenue street car passed the Bannecker Recreation Center, where in mid summer I'd see crowds of black kids enjoying the water. Being white and from Petworth, I used the Takoma Recreational Center behind Coolidge High.
As the Northwest suburbs expanded, 13th St became a north-south artery. In the 1940's it was made one way South in the morning, and one way North in evening.
I forget what police precinct we lived in (6th? 12th? 13th?) but its headquarters was on the South side of Park Rd near 11th St. Calling all cars! My little Emerson radio picked up police on a "short wave" frequency just above the broadcast band, at around 2200 Kilocycles.
Thanks for enlightening me about why Meridian Hill Park is so named. My knowledge was correct but vague. You showed me what I never thought about, that long ago the waters came all the way to where Florida Ave is; and that the Piedmont begins right HERE (16th St). And your article told me about the race track for the first time. I can visualize Columbia Heights as a cool retreat above the city. Thanks for explaining why the streets don't follow DC's neat grid.
When riding the bus down 16th St, Mom often talked about HENDERSON CASTLE, but it means more now that I've heard of John and Marie Henderson.
I certainly remember the storm-sewer outlet on Piney Branch Parkway; while I was in my teens, streets in Petworth were torn up mightily to install large pipes presumably leading to it.
Part of present Howard University used to be Griffith Stadium, home of the Washington Senators. In my ballgame watching times Clark Griffith's Senators were a bunch of losers, competing with Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's for last place in the American League. This was not so in the 1920's, when Washington won the pennant. One of the Senator's Hall of Famers was Walter (Big Train) Johnson. In my time Walter Johnson operated a restaurant on the East side of Georgia Ave between Ingraham and Kennedy Sts. The Senators' un-success probably came from Calvin Clark Griffith's stinginess. He'd trade good players for a rookie and cash. The radio announcer for Senators' games was Arch McDonald; his theme song was "They Cut Down the Old Pine Tree".
Griffith Stadium was also home to the Redskins in their early days, and to George Washington U's football team, the Colonials. Boys like me could become Junior Colonials for a small sum, receiving a beanie cap that allowed entrance to end zone seats for only 50 cents. Tuffy Leaman was team captain. I think he went on to operate a dry cleaning business, Rinaldi and Leamans. He's dead now.
On 7th St at Griffith Stadium southgoing streetcars would stop to change power from overhead trolley to underground shoe. The trolley arm would be pulled off the overhead wire, while in a pit beneath the streetcar the new connection was made. From there into town power came through a slot between the tracks. This was GOOD; there were no unsightly overhead wires in the congested part of the city. It could be BAD, also; in snowy weather tire chains wedged in slots backed up street cars for miles.
On the West side of 7th St across from Griffith Stadium there was a Negro church which displayed the motto "Keep your lamps trimmed and burning". The church service was broadcast weekly. The pastor was Elder Michaux (or Michaud?). Theme song of the radio program was a lustily sung "Happy am I, I'm always happy!"
My Dad grew up near Soldier's Home, on Manor Place in the Park View neighborhood. I have wondered what park could be viewed from there. Dad's father operated a moving company on the West side of Georgia Ave just North of New Hampshire. It was called the Park View and Petworth Express. I believe that starting at New Hampshire Ave going North, there were the fire station, a bowling alley, and then Grandpop's office in the same building as a liquor store. A little north was an Amoco station, run in the late 1940's by Joe Rodes (or Rhodes? or Roades?).
Thank you for an interesting, well presented account of Columbia Heights.
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