John Prince

John Prince moved to Georgetown in 1954 with a Cordon Bleu education in French cooking after fighting in WWII and travelling the globe. After many years in the catering business and a short stint as manager of The City Tavern Club, he decided his next business adventure would involve more person-to-person interaction. In an interview with Louise Brodnitz, John tells about his career in the Georgetown real estate business and shares many stories about catering parties for the political elite that lived in Georgetown.

Interview Date:
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Louise Brodnitz

Interviewer: OK, so, first question is your name is John Prince?

John Prince: That’s right.

Interviewer: You were born when and where?

John: I was born on November 12, 1922, in Norfolk, Virginia. It was at that time Norfolk County, because the section I was born in didn’t become part of the city until several years after.

Interviewer: You grew up there.

John: I grew up there.

Interviewer: When did you arrive in Georgetown, and why?

John: Well it’s a long story. First of all, I went to the University of North Carolina and then at Chapel Hill, and then World War II came, and I was out and at World War II until, let’s see, I think October or November of 1945. I was in the paratroops over there, the 17th Airborne. The main action I was in was The Battle of the Bulge. I was a part of the middle of that.

Interviewer: Wow. So you saw some action, wow.

John: One thing I remember, I took a shower in England on Christmas Eve of 1944, and the next time I had all of my clothes off and another bath was February nine 1945.

Interviewer: Wow. So where were you all that time, where no baths…?

John: Well, up near Bastogne and then on up through Luxembourg and near the Our River, and that divided Luxembourg and Germany.

Interviewer: Yeah, you were fighting?

John: Then we, from there, were taken back, and stayed in France, to get ready for the airborne invasion over the Rhine.

Interviewer: Ah. That was 1945?

John: That was in 1945. I got a bronze star from the Battle of the Bulge.

Interviewer: Oh, yeah, look at that. Maybe I should take a picture of that later.

John: So we would take it down to an airfield, south of Paris. I was both a Paratrooper and a Glider trooper.

Interviewer: Wow, you…

John: We were put in a glider. I was put in a glider that had a Jeep in it.

Interviewer: In it? A big one.

John: So we had two, one, two three, three of us plus the pilot, and we took off, heading over to the Rhine, and on the way while we were still in France; gliders you know were made with very thin canvas or something, anyway ours had a hole in it, and started falling apart in the air, so we crash landed, but we landed all right, in France.

Interviewer: Oh wow. Even though you crashed, everyone survived?

John: Everybody survived.

Interviewer: You had a Jeep then?

John: We had a Jeep, so then we found the place…

Interviewer: You had a map?

John: Well, we had maps, but we found the place that the army had, and we had lunch there, and then we drove back to the original place. I’ll always remember, we drove through Paris, and it was absolutely empty.

Interviewer: Wow.

John: I’ve been there quite a few times since.

Interviewer: Never like that.

John: It’s never like that.

Interviewer: Where was everyone? I mean, they were there, were they just inside?

John: Just out of…

Interviewer: Staying out of sight, wow. So you came back to…

John: Anyway, I went back. I didn’t have enough points, because at that time we had the points settle system, where by you had to have so many points to get a discharge, after V‑E Day.

Interviewer: Oh I see, and after that adventure, you still…

John: We were supposed to come home to America, and have a 67-day furlough, then go to Japan, but fortunately, and I’m always grateful for it, the Atomic Bomb went off while we were in the Mid‑Atlantic. By the time we landed in New York, Japan had surrendered.

Interviewer: Wow.

John: So…

Interviewer: Oh my gosh.

John: I had furlough, and then I went right straight back to college.

Interviewer: Did you go to the celebration? Or was there a celebration?

John: No.

Interviewer: So you went to college at Chapel Hill?

John: At Chapel Hill.

Interviewer: And…

John: During the war I met Allen Tate and his wife Caroline Gordon and they became great friends; and Caroline was teaching a course in creative writing at Columbia, and so at Chapel Hill I ended up, because they had the semester system there, at Christmas. So, I went up to Columbia and took the course in the spring in New York, and then came back and went to Chapel Hill for the graduation. Then, I spent the next year; I went over back to England. I had met great friends in England and went back and spent a year there.

Interviewer: Wow.

John: Then I came back here, and went to New York, and I decided that was where I was going to live until I lived there.

Interviewer: What kind of work were you doing?

John: It was most peculiar, I got a job, was looking in the New York Times employment, and there was this thing for the Human Engineering Laboratory which gave aptitude tests, so I volunteered for that. In the mean time, I had a friend who had an apartment at two Beekman Place, looking over the East River and I stayed there free. I used to go down to the Tates, at least two or three nights a week for dinner, and then I’d go with them to the country every weekend, so I…

Interviewer: Who were the Tates?

John: Allen Tate and his wife Caroline Gordon, the picture’s up there together, see the couple?

Interviewer: Up there?

John: No, over here.

Interviewer: Oh, this way.

John: Up above…

Interviewer: Let’s see…

John: Over, come this…

Interviewer: This way?

John: No, come in this way.

Interviewer: OK.

John: All right, up, over.

Interviewer: This one.

John: Right there.

Interviewer: There. Oh, OK. Oh, wow.

John: That’s when they went together, and that is…

Interviewer: That’s taken in New York?

John: I took that.

Interviewer: Oh, you took it? So they were great friends.

John: They were good friends, and all of their books are over here. Well, all of them that they made.

Interviewer: So, how did you know them?

John: I met them really through a cousin of Caroline’s who was at Chapel Hill and when I was stationed in Tullahoma in the army, I went to…she lived in Chattanooga, I went to Chattanooga and I saw in the paper that she was back home. She’d been somewhere else and I called up. I was invited down for a weekend. That’s why we took up then. Then her mother said, “Well, you ought to know the Tates. Then Caroline was her cousin so they were in Suwannee at that time, which wasn’t very far away. You hitch-hiked everywhere you went.

Interviewer: Oh wow. So you were in New York and you decided this is not for me.

John: This is not for me. So then I decided well what I would do would be teach. The Tates have very close friend whose name was Ward Dorrance who was a professor…

Interviewer: How do you spell that name, by the way?

John: Dorrance and he was a professor at University of Missouri, so they arranged and I went up and stayed there and got my masters degree in English. Then I taught for three years after that.

Interviewer: In that area?

John: At the university.

Interviewer: OK.

John: At the end of three years of teaching I was making $3,500 a year.

Interviewer: Wow.

John: Which wasn’t very much. But also while I was out there I became very much interested in food and French cooking. If you look back, coming down the last row over there, the third down.

Interviewer: OK. Here?

John: No, no. On this side.

Interviewer: Oh, on this side. Third one down here?

John: Yeah.

Interviewer: Who’s that?

John: She’s a French lady that taught at the University. She used to teach me.

Interviewer: How to cook.

John: Cooking. Anyway, after I left, I thought three years was enough, and then I went back to Europe. I went to Paris and went to the Cordon Bleu.

Interviewer: Wow.

John: Then stayed on after that and went slowly down through France and Italy. When we got down to Rome the Tates were also there. He was at the American Academy at Rome staying at the time. Caroline always liked to take care of people and make big decisions. She said “I think you ought to go to Washington. You ought to go to Washington and you could get a room at Marcella’s. Ah, yes, I think that’s the thing to do.”

Interviewer: Now, who’s saying this? One of the Tates?

John: This is Mrs. Tate. Caroline Tate. So, I took that as the gospel. When we came back, I called Marcella Winslow who lived at 3106 P Street and.

Interviewer: That was a friend of hers?

John: A friend of theirs and arranged to have a room there. I moved in on a…

Interviewer: That was 3106.

John: 3106 P Street.

Interviewer: Is that still apartments?

John: No. It’s a house.

Interviewer: It’s a house, a private house. So…

John: It’s a private house.

Interviewer: So you just had a room.

John: I had a room at the private house. But when she found out that I’d been to the Cordon Bleu it turned out that I would have my meals there and I would help with the cooking.

Interviewer: Ah.  Did you have a separate job or you were…

John: Well, then I kept looking around because I didn’t really quite know what to do. But there was a catering place at the end of P Street on the northwest corner of P and Wisconsin.

Interviewer: OK.

John: It was called Anne’s Kitchen. They did some catering. I went in and asked them about working there just to get something to do and Catherine was also there. She was a minor partner at this place.

Interviewer: Ah. So that’s Anne’s Kitchen where you met Catherine.

John: That’s where I met her.

Interviewer: Wow. Is that were Marvelous Market is now?

John: No. It’s diagonally across.

Interviewer: OK. Diagonally… So it’s on the…

John: Northwest corner.

Interviewer: Oh. Northwest. Oh, yeah.

John: It’s where the streetcar tracks turn in.

Interviewer: Got it. OK.

John: There and then…

Interviewer: Anne’s Market [sic].

John: So then I was there for a while. But another great friend, Bill Costello, was a correspondent for CBS. His wife, Helen, took a great interest in me. It was a restaurant they opened down the street. It’s where the B something bank is now that is at 3052 Wisconsin. No, it’s 16… 1365.

Interviewer: 1365 Wisconsin.

John: Wisconsin. Anyway, it was then called The Townhouse.

Interviewer: The Townhouse. OK. I think I’ve heard of that.

John: They were having some trouble. So Helen was interested in them, interested in me and sort of arranged for me to go there.

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: We worked it way whereby I helped them in doing the restaurant. I sort of helped them with the menu, helping them with lunch and also being able to run a catering system using their kitchen.

Interviewer: Oh. So that was a new idea, the catering?

John: Yes.

Interviewer: Ah.

John: So that’s what I did.

Interviewer: I forgot to ask what year was it when you came back?

John: I moved in in January of 1954.

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: That’s when I moved into Marcella’s house.

Interviewer: Right. Then when you started at The Townhouse what year was that?

John: That would be, let’s see, I supposed maybe the next September or October still in ’54.

Interviewer: Oh, 54. And Catherine was still working at Anne’s Kitchen?

John: That’s right.

Interviewer: What kind of place was Anne’s Kitchen? Was that like a cafe or a…?

John: No. You didn’t eat anything there, you bought things.

Interviewer: Oh, I see.

John: Or else you could do a… They would do cocktail parties and that’s how…

Interviewer: Yeah. Sort of catering and selling food.

John: That’s right.

Interviewer: Like fancy food or something?

John: Yes, in fact.

Interviewer: Ah. OK.

John: Then I met a lot of people there. The last day I was there I had sort of arranged for a cocktail party for them and it was the cook who was supposed to go couldn’t go and sent a wonderful black lady named Julia Boggs.

Interviewer: Julia Boggs.

John: Someone said she was the Dean of Women in Washington at that time. If anybody went to a dinner or a cocktail party and Julia spoke to them, then they were made.

Interviewer: That was at the Townhouse or Anne’s Kitchen?

John: It was the last day at Anne’s kitchen and therefore, Julia called me that night and said I hear you’re going on your own to…the driver that took her there told her all this so she wanted to get him. Any time I had a party of any sort I’d always call Julia and she would get help for that.

Interviewer: She knew who to get.

John: All the best.

Interviewer: The best help.

John: All the best black help and people who had been to the White House and people who knew people.

Interviewer: What was Julia Boggs? Was she a socialite or did she have a…?

John: No, she was an ,,,she did this work and then took care of her father. She was just…

Interviewer: So was she working at Anne’s kitchen?

John: No, no, no. She just was at home but she would do these things at night.

Interviewer: I see. Yeah, OK. Sort of catering and…

John: At that time you paid eight dollars for four hours and then two dollars hour overtime.

Interviewer: I see. That would be for some, for her crew.

John: She would get it. All the crew would get it. They’d all get the same.

Interviewer: Same money. OK, but she would assemble the crew and she wanted you…?

John: She worked and that went on for quite a while. I would get all of the food and have it all ready. Some things that needed to be cooked there, other things like a dessert that was already done but I’d carry it all over to the house where it was to be done.

Interviewer: Carry it by hand?

John: In the car.

Interviewer: In the car, OK.

John: Then they would take it all and put it together.

Interviewer: I see. So that’s how they used the Townhouse to provide the…

John: The Townhouse had a French chef that worked there part time that would also make things for me.

Interviewer: Uh‑huh. I see. So you had a catering business before you went…

John: No, no. I started and it worked. I did because of people like Marcella Winslow who connected with the Corcoran.

Interviewer: The Corcoran?

John: Corcoran Gallery and Helen Costello there. First of all they got me to cater the teas that they had every so often there for the government and then the idea of having the Corcoran Ball started.

Interviewer: Oh.

John: And I did the first three Corcoran Ball’s.

Interviewer: Wow. When were those… Was that in the ’50’s?

John: I think they did the 50th this year.

Interviewer: Wow, in 2009. Wow, that’s neat. So you got to know lots of people through that I’m sure.

John: Yes. Then you see I would do lunch and sort of act as the maître d’ at lunch at the Townhouse.

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: Georgetown was different then. You knew everybody and it was like a small town.

Interviewer: Yeah.

John: So we…

Interviewer: So you…

John: …It worked out I met a lot of people that way in talking to them. They’d say, they would have a party and would I do it?

Interviewer: Uh‑huh. So there were a lot of parties, right?

John: Well, to give an example, there’s a lady in Georgetown, who in fact will be 80 this year. She was married while I was catering there and I did the wedding reception. I saw her about two years later after the divorce. She said, the only good thing out of the whole business was the food at your reception.

Interviewer: Oh, wow. That’s great. So, you continued to do that for quite some time?

John: I did. Yes.

Interviewer: Because eventually you changed into…

John: I did that and then… Gradually you meet people, get to know people and you get to know the houses.

Interviewer: Sure.

John: I was always interested in that. Then when the City Tavern started, they asked me if I would be the first manager and I agreed. I did one year, but it was…

Interviewer: So the City Tavern…

John: It just was not for me. So that’s when I went into real estate.

Interviewer: I see. So you tried the City Tavern management and why didn’t you like that?

John: Well, because you were there.

Interviewer: Right, you were more peripatetic, you wanted to be out and about.

John: Right, right.

Interviewer: Yeah.

John: What Catherine is to mind, the last… When we became engaged in 1955, I was… Marcella used to rent her house for the summer and she went up to New Hampshire.

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: This last summer, and maybe the summer before, her father helped me so that I rented the house so I wouldn’t have to move at all.

Interviewer: Which house was that?

John: This was the 3106 P Street.

Interviewer: OK. So, let me see. So you had been in the room that Marcella had in her house.

John: That’s right.

Interviewer: That was free at first or?

John: I stayed there until…

Interviewer: As her guest.

John: … until we were married.

Interviewer: Oh, I see. Then you stayed there after you were married?

John: No. Then we moved to an apartment.

Interviewer: Oh, I see. So you had an apartment in Georgetown?

John: Several. I’ll tell you about those.

Interviewer: Oh, OK.

John: Helen Costello, my friend, called one day and said I know you’re getting Marcella’s house for the summer now how would you like to rent half of it? She said, my friend, Maggie Raymond whose husband had been the foreign correspondent for the New York Times but had been let go because of drinking. He had a job to come down to Washington to write up speeches for one of the Senators and they were looking for a place to stay, so we all arranged, they paid half of the rent, Maggie and Alan Raymond.

Interviewer: Alan Raymond?

John: Yep. Alan and Maggie moved in. Maggie took over all the cooking. That was her thing. Maggie played cards in a group of women that did nothing really but play cards. They played either Bridge or Canasta and one of the women who was there almost every day playing was Ruth Butcher.

Interviewer: Ruth Butcher?

John: Yes, Ruth Butcher was Mamie Eisenhower’s greatest friend and the Eisenhower’s were at the White House at that time. They came to the Townhouse one day and Ruth liked to drink. She had to go to the White House to play Canasta with Mamie and a group there and so they were at the Townhouse. I announced that Colonel Guggenheim’s new mistress was coming in for lunch with him at a certain time and they were dying to see her. So they sat there and Ruth had one drink too many and then she just had to go so I said, “Well Ruth, I will take you.” She said, “Well by God, what am I going to do about my breath?” One of the widows said to eat parsley. So they gave me a big bunch of parsley. I put Ruth in the car and gave her the parsley and we drove to the White House. She ate parsley. We got up to the place to go in and she said “It’s Mrs. Butcher, Mrs. Eisenhower’s expecting me.” Man said, “Mrs. Eisenhower left about 15 minutes ago.” Ruth said “My God, the game’s at Mike’s. That was Mrs. Eisenhower’s sister. So we zoomed around and zoomed up to Mike’s house,” still eating parsley.

Interviewer: Oh what a story. That’s great. Where did she live? Miss Butcher, or Mrs. Is it Miss or Mrs.?

John: Mrs.

Interviewer: Mrs. Butcher.

John: She was married to Harry Butcher, who was one of Ike’s staff, but he met a nurse and therefore they got a divorce.

Interviewer: Did she live in Georgetown?

John: No.

Interviewer: Oh.

John: In an apartment somewhere near the Wardman Park.

Interviewer: Oh.

John: Over there then.

Interviewer: Yeah. So you were at the… You left the City Tavern and you were still living in an apartment at that time?

John: No. Let’s see. No. We were married while I was still at Townhouse.

Interviewer: OK.

John: We were married at the cathedral.

Interviewer: And then you?

John: Then we rented the house that is 3100 Dumbarton.

Interviewer: OK.

John: Right on the corner of Dumbarton and 31st.

Interviewer: Right.

John: We had the top floor, which at that time was one big room plus a kitchen, a bath and it had a roof deck which was very, very nice.

Interviewer: Nice. Did you have a view from there?

John: From there we had one. Plus there was a smokestack down that way. But people didn’t realize what direction anything was, so we always said it was the Washington Monument. They always believed it.

Interviewer: That’s funny. So you were in 3100 Dumbarton for…

John: So we were at Dumbarton for a year.

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: Then the next, we moved to a house. I can’t remember the number, but it’s on N Street on the other side of Wisconsin just before you come to Potomac. The house is on the north side…

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: … and I think it has been done over by now. But there is an apartment on the corner big white brick. This house, which was an old house, it was larger and we moved into it. We were there and everything was fine until the old lady who rented would say her son was away somewhere, but he would be back. Well, it turned out he was away in prison because he had been convicted of blackmail.

Interviewer: Oh.

John: When he came back, it was pretty… he was impossible. Just about that time, we were still at the Townhouse then, two of the ladies at the Townhouse were talking and one of them was Wendell Wilkie’s sister…

Interviewer: Oh, wow.

John: … who looked just like Wendell Wilkie in drag. She said that they lived at an apartment 3052 P, and that it was owned by an old lady, Mrs. Boyle. The upstairs apartment was for rent. So I went around and looked and took it right away. You walked up the steps, through the hall and then on up. Then we had a double living room, 40 feet long with two fireplaces.

Interviewer: Wow. It was the top floor?

John: Two floors.

Interviewer: Two floors up, OK.

John: No. One floor up and then we had two floors.

Interviewer: Oh. Yeah. I can see why you took it right away.

John: Then we had a dining room and a kitchen. Then you go up stairs and there were two bedrooms and a bath.

Interviewer: Nice. That must have served for a good long time.

John: The rent was $110.00 a month including utilities.

Interviewer: Wow. That was what year do you think roughly?

John: That would be 1956.

Interviewer: Six.

John: We lived there five years because we bought this in ’60 but we couldn’t afford to move into it for the first year, so we rented it for the huge price of $275 a month.

Interviewer: Wow. This whole house? 1526 29th Street. Do you know who you bought it from?

John: Yes. There was about the quest to explain these houses. This house, this house and the house next door with three friends were built in 1870. They were built and given to an orphanage in Washington and they were to be rented out and the orphanage got the rent. Then in 1932 at the height of the Depression there wasn’t enough money coming in to make it worthwhile, so the three houses went on the market for $5,000 for the three. Now, next door to you.

Interviewer: On the south side of me, right?

John: Or the south side ‑ the brick house.

Interviewer: That’s 1523 I think, or 1521 yes, 1521.

John: That belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Addison; and Frank Addison, their son, lived in your house.

Interviewer: 1525.

John: Right. Well, anyway, Mrs. Addison, who had had some money of her own, wanted to buy these.

Interviewer: These three. Aaah.

John: Mr. Addison said, “You’ll never get your money out of them.” So the three sold separately and Mrs. Breck who was from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and Bartlesville means oil.

Interviewer: Oh, Bartlesville.

John: At the time when oil was still a big thing here, it wasn’t all coming from overseas. Anyway, she and her sister bought this house and they did all of the right things to it. First of all, they originally, all of these houses had, you came in and you had a living room and then a dining room and then you came on up back and the kitchen was in the back.

Interviewer: Right.

John: Mrs. Breck had put the dining room in the front, had opened up the doorway from that size to the wide size and she put the kitchen behind that. Then she changed the stairway so you could walk straight through to the living room.

Interviewer: That was at the back, right? The living room at the very back?

John: Yeah, mm‑hmm.

Interviewer: Which made sense, overlooking the garden.

John: Right. Then you could walk up the stairs or if you walked around, we had a powder room there that was put in.

Interviewer: So Mrs. Breck did that?

John: Mrs. Breck did all of that.

Interviewer: What happened to Mrs. Breck?

John: Well, she and her sister got to be too old.

Interviewer: So they had to…

John: They, and they…

Interviewer: …move into it…

John: This was an extra house. They decided to settle in Blue Ridge Mountain, Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania. Where they also had to split it… it was big for them.

Interviewer: I see. Now they only owned this middle one, right?

John: They only owned this middle one.

Interviewer: Yeah.

John: That one on that side was rented.

Interviewer: The south side one?

John: The north side…

Interviewer: Oh, the north side was renting.

John: …was rented. We paid $37,500 for this in 1960, and we had a couple of friends named Fleming, Bella and Louise Fleming. They had a little boy and they were looking for a house. He was in the Army. So we told them about that because we heard it was on the market. It was… they bought it for $35,000 but it had nowhere near the improvements we had.

Interviewer: Right, that Breck’s had put in. What about the south…

John: The one on the south belonged to… I cannot remember the name of the woman… a couple who owned it and lived there for years, and then they moved. The house came out of the market and it… In the meantime, my friend Ward Dorrance, with whom I’d stayed in Missouri, moved to Washington and was a Professor of English at Georgetown. He was living in Hammond Court which was the name of this big apartment house behind us.

Interviewer: Oh, Hammond Court. Hammond?

John: It’s called Hammond Court.

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: He had a very nice apartment there, but this came on the market. It doesn’t have a bathroom on the third floor.

Interviewer: Oh.

John: So nobody rushed in at the higher price, but the daughter, who was managing things, wanted it. So I told him… I said, “You’re living in this apartment now, it’s very convenient. But with an apartment you never know. You don’t know what the rent is going to be, you don’t know who will buy it and what will happen to it.” I said, “This house next to me is for sale and I think I can get it for you for $40,000. What I will do is… when you retire I will pick up the mortgage payments.”

Interviewer: Ah.

John: So he bought it, lived to be 92 and the mortgage was paid. Long, long while ago that he bought it and put it in his name, my name and Catherine’s name. So…

Interviewer: He lived in it all the way up to 92?

John: He lived in it and died in that.

Interviewer: Oh. Let’s see… what year did he pass away, roughly?

John: About 19… About 20-2, I guess.

Interviewer: 2002. So… there’s some little mystery. There was an article in the Washington Post in about 1932 or ’33, and I have a copy ‑ I should give it to you. It’s about an interview with a woman, Cordelia Jackson, and in this article she talks about her father who wrote a book “Chronicles of Georgetown Life” and she says in that article that she lived, at the moment of the article in the 1930’s, at 1526 29th Street. So maybe the article got the information wrong because.

John: Now what year was it?

Interviewer: I think it was 1932 but it could have been ’33.

John: Well, she could well have.

Interviewer: Maybe she preceded Mrs., the Boyles.

John: 1526. Yeah, you see, I don’t know when they bought it. She lived in it before the Brecks bought it.

Interviewer: Oh, I said Boyle. I meant Breck.

John: But I know Mrs. Breck bought it long enough ago to do all the things to it.

Interviewer: Yeah. Right, right, right. Actually, probably, she wouldn’t have done all those things in the Depression, in the deeps of the Depression. This article was in the depths of the depression in 1932. So maybe that she was the previous.

John: She may have bought it for $5,000 or something.

Interviewer: Right, right, right. Lived in it just down…

John: The doorbell rang once and Catherine answered it and the man said, “When I was a little boy, we used to have an apartment in this house.” So at one point you had three families. One on the top floor, one on the second floor, and one on the first floor. One bathroom that all three families shared, and one kitchen that they all had to arrange.

Interviewer: Do you know his name, or what he..? Yeah, he just wanted to see it one more time, right?

John: Mm‑hmm.

Interviewer: Interesting. So, let me ask you something about the ’50s. I get the impression, I read a book about some of the Grande Dames that lived here ‑ that there were lots and lots of parties. That sounds like you’re confirming that and were parties where things got done and people ‑ movers and shakers ‑ made things happen? Was that your impression?

John: Oh yes.

Interviewer: So that would have been a great place for you to get a business going to meet all those people and then start a real estate business. How did you get started in real estate? I know somebody launched you or something.

John: Well, no. I went to H.A. Gill because I knew.

Interviewer: How do you spell that?

John: Gill.

Interviewer: Oh, Gill. Right.

John: And just joined in. The only thing you make is what you sell.

Interviewer: Right. Did you have to have a license at that time?

John: Well I had to go to school and get a license.

Interviewer: OK. Then you just started selling. Did it help that you had done all the catering?

John: Well, it helped that I knew a lot of people.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah. Word of mouth helped a lot, right?

John: Yes.

Interviewer: So what were some of the interesting transactions that you recall?

John: In catering or in…

Interviewer: In real estate. Either one, actually.

John: The most expensive house that I ever sold was the one that Boyden Gray lives in.

Interviewer: Ah. Is that the one ..?

John: That’s on the southwest corner of 28th and Q.

Interviewer: Q. OK.

John: The one with the big columns there.

Interviewer: Yes. That’s a very unusual house.

John: Something you may not know. That house and Hammond Court near this apartment house started it off as identical houses built by their father, given to his two sons.

Interviewer: Wow. What were their names or last names?

John: I don’t know. Oh wait a minute now. Honey, who was that Newburyport family that…

Catherine Prince: Hmm?

Interviewer: He’s wondering who the Hammond…

John: The one you were talking about… the one we were talking about that went down to Taos.

Catherine: To whom? To what?

Interviewer: The Boyden Gray house.

John: To Arizona you… the woman that Wardard, Florence said Ward didn’t earn him.”

Catherine: Wow. I don’t remember that.

Interviewer: Well, anyway.

John: You just saw… you just saw a movie about the…

Catherine: “The Newburyport” woman did you say?

John: Yeah. That’s the name.

Catherine: Sorry to take up your time.

John: Well, you just saw a movie about the artist, the woman artist. She started the National Gallery.

Interviewer: Oh, Georgia O’Keefe. Georgia O’Keefe?

John: Yeah.

Catherine: Yeah.

John: This person was mentioned in it. We talked about her.

Interviewer: And she, she…

John: And her… somebody in her family… Who was one that was learned was born in ’98?

Catherine: Mrs. Baker?

John: No. Mrs. Baker was what before she was Baker. And her father…

Catherine: Oh, let’s see not Mrs. Baker. I’ll think.

John: Here.

Catherine: That’s the trouble you have…

Interviewer: He’s saying Hammond Court, the owner, the two sons… one had Hammond Court, one had C. Boyden Gray’s house. Did I get those names right, C. Boyden Gray?

Catherine: Yeah. Hammond, Hammond Court.

Interviewer: Yeah. Oh, Hammond Court. So those were two sons of this father that bought both properties.

John: He lived at 31st and Q. His house was torn down and a whole bunch of houses were built.

Interviewer: Oh, OK. That 31st and Q, which corner?

John: South… southeast.

Interviewer: Southeast. OK. So, that was the most… C. Boyden Gray’s house was the most, the highest priced transaction.

John: That’s right. That was four million dollars.

Interviewer: Four million dollars and what year was that?

John: It was quite a while back. I can’t remember.

Interviewer: Oh, really? Because that house had large property which now was sold off, subdivided.

John: Well now that was before he bought it.

Interviewer: Oh, that happened before he bought it?

John: The reason for that was… There was a woman who lived in the house that Bagley’s live in.

Interviewer: Right, on the corner of 29th.

John: She was a nosy neighbor and was making a lot of trouble for…

Catherine: Was it Dodge?

John: Dodge, yes.

Interviewer: Oh, Dodge. I should have thought of that because I read somewhere that that’s the Dodge house. OK. Well, thank you. That closes the loop.

John: Right.

Catherine: I can’t remember her, but she moved out to Santa Fe was it or…

Interviewer: Georgia O’Keefe did. Yeah.

Catherine: Yeah. But I this Dodge did to. She had a house out there and didn’t they have the house together, or something like that, that we went to?

Interviewer: Is that the same family?

John: The same, yes. But we live in Georgetown.

Catherine: Yeah, I know. That’s the one you mean.

Interviewer: Thanks Catherine. OK. So this nosy lady in the Bagley’s house…

John: That’s right.

Interviewer: She wanted to subdivide?

John: She…

Interviewer: Oh, she…

John: She made so much trouble…

Interviewer: Oh, I see.

John: …that to spite her…

Interviewer: Wow. They built that.

John: The owner sold off the last part of his lot to build those to houses.

Interviewer: Wow. They totally cut off any view from the back of the Bagleys. Wow. Was the Bagley’s always right up to the back there, the property? Or did they add to it?

John: He saw right up to the…

Interviewer: Right up to the property. Yeah. It just cuts right off the view. That was some spite.

John: Well…

Interviewer: Very tall too, those things.

John: I know. Well…

Interviewer: So Gray bought the whole property with those two…

John: No, no. They were sold at all…

Interviewer: So four million dollars just for the Dodge house and granted, is a beautiful garden…

John: It’s a big garden…

Interviewer: Yeah. And that’s…

John: It would be huge if you haven’t seen it before.

Interviewer: Yeah, right. Oh, that’s funny. So, were there any other… I’m sure there were millions of interesting…

John: Well, I’ll tell you…

Interviewer: …properties that you know about.

John: When we lived here, it was more like old Georgetown, and in the house that Judy Cochran lives in.

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: Mrs. Tilton was the widow of a doctor whose family had that house.

Interviewer: Tilton you said?

John: Tilton. Tilton.

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: For 18 years I mowed Mrs…. Well, Mrs. Tilton had a driveway which Judy uses.

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: Then there was originally, an alley that went all the way through Georgetown. You see parts of it and parts of it stop. If you go on to 28th Street you’ll see where it comes in behind those houses there.

Interviewer: Behind the houses facing P?

John: Yeah.

Interviewer: Yeah.

John: Yes. If you… Orchard Lane.

Interviewer: Orchard Lane. So that’s been blocked now with a garage facing 29th Street right?

John: See, Orchard Lane went all the way across, that was part of it. Or if you go down to the beauty parlor on the side, there’s still an alley going in that way.

Interviewer: Oh, that’s fascinating.

John: I think it was Mrs. Addison or the people before closed off, had the property, the alley closed off next to them. That’s where their driveway is now.

Interviewer: The Addisons.

John: Addisons.

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: Senior.

Interviewer: Yeah.

John: He came to Mrs. Tilton’s… Mr. Tilton’s grandmother, I think, had that all closed off…

Interviewer: I see.

John: … and that was the side garden.

Interviewer: Yeah.

John: For 18 years, I mowed that lawn…

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: … and shoveled her snow, et cetera. Then at the end of 18 years… She had had help; somebody stayed with her because she couldn’t get around without them and the money ran out.

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: So I went to her niece and said that I wouldn’t ask you or offer to do this if Mrs. Tilton didn’t have a driveway. I said, people who will buy houses in Georgetown, what they are interested in is off‑street parking. This has off‑street parking plus a side yard.

Interviewer: Right.

John: Now, anybody would accept the side yard, but they’re not going to pay a whole lot. They will pay just as much if the side yard isn’t there and they don’t know about it.

Interviewer: Right.

John: So I said, I will give you so much money today and as long as Mrs. Tilton is living, it will be her side yard. I will continue to mow it.

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: She was able to stay there for three more years. Then at the end of that time she didn’t know where she was.

Interviewer: Oh. So they…

John: That’s how she…

Interviewer: She passed away?

John: She went with the niece.

Interviewer: Yeah. So that transferred to you as part of your…

John: Then when our friend died, we got the house next door. So that’s the property now.

Interviewer: Ah, I see. That’s interesting. By the way, do you know N Street had Jackie Kennedy living on it in that next block over. Do you recall when that was…

John: Yeah. Very well. First of all, when Jackie Kennedy… When she left the White House, she went first to the Harriman’s .

Interviewer: Uh‑huh.

John: Then she bought the house across the street and she moved into it. People used to come and park in front. Some people would even bring a bridge table and they would eat lunch. So Jackie Kennedy arranged to go out the back door and go down O Street. So the only time they saw Jackie come into the front door was when the house was sold. She came out of the front door with a pile of profiles and justice. They had to take it down to put it into the car.

Interviewer: Oh, wow. So she went… She just couldn’t stand that, I’m sure and went right up to New York. There was the house across the street there, the Harriman’s. Is that the one where the Washington Post Editor‑in‑Chief, Bradley…

John: Let’s see. Is that on that block?

Interviewer: It might be the next block.

John: I think it’s the next block. That was the called the Todd Lincoln house.

Interviewer: Todd Lincoln house, yeah.

John: Yes. That’s…

Interviewer: Robert Todd Lincoln, yeah.

John: That’s where he lived.

Interviewer: So that one was featured in this book that I read about the parties that they used to have in Georgetown all the time. There’s also that house, let’s see, on the corner of N and 29th that has a big picture window facing north. It’s on the south side, south…

John: Now, of what?

Interviewer: South…

John: Of what?

Interviewer: Southwest corner of 29th and N.

John: 29th and N…

Interviewer: It’s facing N and…

John: Yeah, you’re talking about… It’s the southwest corner. Yes.

Interviewer: Yeah.

John: Yeah. Those windows were put in by a later owner, but they are… Mr. and Mrs. Torrein had that and they were the ones who put those Palladian windows in to give more light. Then they sold it to Mrs. Shepherd, who was one of the grand ladies of Georgetown. She married the senator from Kentucky.

Interviewer: Right, yeah. That was what they talked about.

John: John and Sherman Cooper.

Interviewer: Right. There’s a house that I did a little research into on N street, 2912, a few doors west of there, and that’s where Jessie Lincoln, the daughter of Robert Todd Lincoln lived.

John: No, I did not know that.

Interviewer: Yeah, because I was always wondering about that because the husband the guy that she married, I can’t find much information about. But anyway that’s beside the point. So, do you remember when the whole desegregation of D.C. public schools, in ’54. That was when you first got here, I guess. They were desegregating the schools. Does that..?

John: No, it happened while we were here. It didn’t make too much difference because most of the people you knew around here sent their children to private schools.

Interviewer: Ah, OK. So, they had these schools but people would come in from other parts of the city to go to the..

John: But then they kept closing schools because there weren’t enough..

Interviewer: People didn’t want to come that far to school. Right. Then it says here, in the 1960s Kennedy’s best and brightest lived in Georgetown.

John: Who?

Interviewer: Kennedy’s best and brightest people lived in Georgetown.

John: Oh.

Interviewer: Then it says that the trolleys stopped in 1962. Did that make a big difference?

John: Well, the trolley was fun and what used to be lots of fun was to take the trolley that turned at P Street and went out to Glen Echo.

Interviewer: Aah, oh. So you did that?

John: Oh yes.

Interviewer: Plenty of times? Actually I’ve seen the right‑of‑way in Palisades. It’s..

John: That’s right.

Interviewer: It’s still open but people have encroached a little bit. In fact, the park there encroached on the trolley way. But was it perceived as a big loss to lose the trolley?

John: Not really, except for people that like trolleys.

Interviewer: Right. But not for getting around. You pretty much…

John: You could get around on buses and.

Interviewer: What do you think about them saving the tracks?

John: I’m all for it.

Interviewer: Yeah, me too.

John: I’m all against all change.

Interviewer: Well, I don’t want to take too long. We could go on forever because there’s…

John: Well, one thing Catherine reminded me, that she thought was interesting, through Helen was first of all, was somebody that I met, Mr. and Mrs. Milo Perkins. He had been up in the government during the Roosevelt administration. He and his wife, Mel, working together were sort of lobbyists for Standard Oil of New Jersey. They had an apartment at the Wardman Park, the old building over on Connecticut Avenue. Every Tuesday, I think it was, they gave a dinner party for 12 people. They tried me out once but then I did it as long as they lived here. Sara Perkins would call up Catherine Tuesday morning to ask what certain things would be so she would know how to set the table. Among their friends were a Mr. and Mrs. Frank Ikard.

Interviewer: How do you spell that?

John: Ikard. They lived in Kenwood and they had to do a lot of entertaining and they were very close friends to Lyndon Johnson. I did all of their parties and a couple of them were the Johnsons. One especially, well, there’s two things I’ll tell, but that one during the time. First of all, the main thing for dinner was quail.

Interviewer: Wow.

John: Among other things and then for dessert there was a crème brûlée done in a ring mold. They had maybe three great big ones because Frank kept calling and instead of 20 people he ended up with 40 people. It was always a buffet. I said, “Stop there because my man said he can’t get any more quail.” Anyway, he had the party and all went well and dessert was passed around. Everybody had some. Then it was passed around a second time. Everybody had some and what was left over was a little bit on this plate, a little bit on this plate, a little bit on this plate. So, Mary Atkins, the cook, reached up and got a bowl and put this in it, and put this in it and sat down on the stool in front of the sink with a spoon and started to eat what was left..

Interviewer: From people’s plates.

John: The butler came in and said, “The President wants some more dessert.” Mary Atkins said, “Here.” Julia said, “President Johnson sure ate after Mary Atkins last night.”

Interviewer: That is a riot, wow.  You said there were two stories.

John: Yeah. The other story is that he had a party when all the cherry blossoms were in bloom for the Johnsons to see. Everybody was wondering what Johnson was going to do. It was the height of the Vietnam War and he was unpopular, but nobody knew anything. Julia was walking by and somebody said, “Lyndon, what you decided to do?” He said, “I ain’t gonna run.” So.

Interviewer: So Julia knew ahead of everyone. Oh, that’s a riot. There are so many other things I want to ask you, but we’ll have to ‑ shall we stop here and start fresh next time? This was just so wonderful. I can’t wait to… What I’m going to do is find out, is sort of look into a couple of more things about the apartment and who lived next door and this and that and have some more questions for you.

John: Sure.

Interviewer: But in the meantime, we’ll have this recorded. They’re going to love it. I can’t wait to see what they say. I think we’re done. It’s been a total pleasure and I can’t wait till next time.

John: Well, good.

Interviewer: Let’s see how ‑ I hope I can do this right.