Elizabeth Stevens

Elizabeth Stevens moved from Shenandoah to Georgetown with her family when she was young. She attended the Potomac School and then went to boarding school. Her mother was active in starting the Kennedy Center — especially their education and volunteer programs. Elizabeth lived on 29th and N Street prior to moving to her current home on Avon Lane. She and her husband raised three children in Georgetown all of whom attended schools here. Elizabeth’s fondest memories of Georgetown revolve around the small specialty shops — her favorite bookstore, butcher shop, hardware store, and dress shop. Elizabeth also shares her experience through some historic events in Washington – the Martin Luther King assassination and riots, the Kennedy assassination, and the Redskins Superbowl championship.

Interview Date:
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Joyce Lowenstein

Joyce Lowentsein: This is Joyce Lowenstein interviewing Liz Stevens at 3050 Avon Lane in Georgetown. And the date is April 7, 2011. So, I’m going to ask you Liz, when did you first move here?

Liz Stevens: We lived in Virginia out in the Shenandoah Valley. My mother [Elizabeth Polk Guest – Lily Guest] rented a house on 29th between Q and R, not far from here, in the late 50’s. And then I went away, lived in New York for a couple of years, and came back. I think it was 1962 and in ’63 I bought a house on the corner of 29th and N from Ethel Fowler. And we [husband George Stevens, Jr. and three children] lived there until 1977 when we bought this house [3050 Avon Lane] and been here ever since.

Joyce:  Was this house owned by someone else before?

Liz:  Yes, by Cuthbert Train.

Joyce:  Did you know who built the house?

Liz:  You know I do have papers that I can find for you. I should have done that before.

Joyce:  And was the house pretty much the way it is now when you bought it?

Liz:  Yes, very much the same.

Joyce:  When you first moved to Georgetown, what was the neighborhood like?

Liz:  Well, they weren’t stop signs on every corner where people just zoomed through. I remember when my children were small some of my neighbors, very energetically, went to the city and said, “You’ve got to put a stop sign at 29th and N because we’ve got so many kids here.” After that, Stop signs came rather rapidly. And it made quite a difference…

Joyce:  How so?

Liz:  Well, it slows things down and it was just safer – safer for everyone. What else was different was there were just fewer people. I think maybe we were less aware of the University. I mean here, I don’t hear anything, but over there t’s pretty chaotic. And I don’t think that was the case in the early ’60’s.

Joyce:  Did you historically, in terms of, what was going on in the city in the, I guess, the administration, and the Kennedy’s, what was that like?

Liz:  Well, that was great fun and the administration and the Congress were very much part of life. John [Senator John Sherman Cooper, R. KY] and Lorraine Cooper lived across the street from us on N Street. He was the senator from Kentucky and she was a life-long friend of my mother’s, so we’d see them a lot and they entertained a lot. It was very different from today. They were Republicans and the parties were equally represented and everybody got along. It didn’t make the difference that it does today. There wasn’t the anger. Even during the Vietnam War I remember seeing Senator Fulbright at the Cooper’s and people had civilized discussions.

Joyce:  It’s a big change.

Liz:  Big change, very sad.

Joyce:  Yes. And you said that you moved here with your mother at first when you were young? From the Shenandoah…

Liz:  Actually, I went to grammar school here at Potomac School which was then on California Street. We lived on Kalorama Road. And then I went away to boarding school, and then we had nothing here until my mother decided to rent something in the late ’50s.

Joyce:  And why was that? Why did she decide to…

Liz:  I think we [brother Andy Guest; sister, Virginia Guest] were all gone and it was pretty lonely out in the country. And my mother was then very involved with the beginning of the Kennedy Center. She loved music and cared a lot about that, so she was very active there. And. of course, the Center wasn’t finished until ’71, but there was a lot of planning.

Joyce:  So she was involved with them from the beginning?

Liz:  Yes.

Joyce:  And then you moved away and came back when you were married?

Liz:  Yeah.

Joyce:  So you and your husband lived here? And raised..

Liz:  Yes, first on N Street. Then here.

Joyce:  Was this the place you always wanted to move back to?

Liz:  Washington?

Joyce:  Yes.

Liz:   I sort of took it for granted that I would. Yes. We lived in California when my husband started the American Film Institute for long parts of ’69, ’70, ’71 and then came back.

Joyce:  And AFI started in California?

Liz:  No, here at the Kennedy Center first, and then the school and then he started, the AFI Conservatory for filmmakers, began in California in ’69. And then we came back. AFI was actually headquartered at the Kennedy Center, originally.

Joyce:  OK, so I’m going to sort of just instead of asking a lot of questions, just let you talk about your sense of Georgetown and your life here.

Liz:  No ask good questions, it would be better. [laughter]

Joyce:  What’s it been like for you living here?

Liz:  Well I love it here. I was glad to come back from California, although I have a lot of friends out there, we go often. In fact, one of our boys is there, with his wife and children.

Joyce:  Where do they live?

Liz:  They live in Los Angeles.

Joyce:  I have a son in Santa Barbara, that’s why I am asking…

Liz:  Oh really? Dreamy Santa Barbara… Everyone loves that.

George was at USIA during the Kennedy administration, he worked for Ed Murrow [Edward R. Murrow] and the people that followed. I was always active in Democratic campaigns, and as a volunteer. . . endless volunteering.

Liz:  [Airplane noise] There were just as many planes overhead in those days as now [laughter]

Joyce:  Yes? Really?

Liz:  Yeah. Well, let’s see what else has really changed. Well, we had a wonderful bookstore down the street. Francis Scott Key. Do you remember that?

Joyce:  I don’t…

Liz:  It was on …

Joyce:  I remember Olssons…

Liz:  Olsson’s was very new compared to that. Francis Scott Key was on 28th and O or 27th and O. It was like two townhouses. I don’t remember the lady’s name, I’m sure somebody does. She ran it for years, and then after she died, two young women took it over and it was already the time when independent bookstores were having a very tough time. There was another bookstore over on O on the other side of Wisconsin… I forgot that one’s name.

Joyce:  So what about with the bookstore, Francis Scott Key bookstore been there… Do you remember?

Liz:  It closed, probably, in the late ’80s. And I’m sure everybody’s told you they missed the Meenahan’s? The hardware store?

Joyce:  Oh yeah!

Liz:  We really miss Meenahan’s. That was a really great hardware store. And of course there was Neams grocery store. Now the Marvelous Market is there near Wisconsin. And the French Market was the best. I was just looking at a recipe for a Loin of Lamb and it was saying how it should be cut. I don’t know where to go to get them done – I know the French Market could have done it in a minute.

Joyce:  Right.

Liz:  Yeah, I really miss them.

Joyce:  So those individual stores you really miss.

Liz:  Dorcas Hardin had her dress store where all the ladies would gather every afternoon for tea. Friends would come in and they would just sit around and chat.

Joyce:  Where was that?

Liz:  You know where the Marvelous Market parking lot is? It’s the next building going up Wisconsin. The first building right next to the parking lot.

Joyce:  And that was Dorcas?

Liz:  Dorcas Hardin.

Joyce:  Dorcas Hardin dress shop. And she served tea in there in the afternoon?

Liz:  Yeah, yes…they were there.

Joyce:  And did you shop there?

Liz:  Oh yes! And she was great! She would find things for you. When I got married, she helped my mother find towels and sheets, and whatever one needed to get married in those days. And she was a great lady. Actually, you should talk to her daughter, Diana Walker. They lived on P Street, the Hardins, and Diana grew up there.

Joyce:  What year did you get married, what did you say?

Liz:  1965.

Joyce:  And in terms of the neighbors and the community, was it a close‑knit community when you first were living here, when you first got married?

Liz:  Yeah, I think everyone seemed to know an awful lot of people right in that area.

Joyce:  Do you feel like that’s changed?

Liz:  I don’t know, because we’re a little bit remote here on Avon Lane. I mean I know the people around here. You know, everything is so close to each other. Someone of us only know each other by our dogs. We’d go up in Montrose Park, and I’ll know the lady with the Portuguese Water dogs and she knows I’ve got Springer Spaniels.

Joyce:  Has Montrose Dog Park, always been there? I mean, been a dog park? I know there are so many dog parks.

Liz:  I don’t know that it is technically a dog park – they’ve got signs all over saying, put leashes on your dogs. But people take them off anyway. I think that is a dog park. When we lived on N street, the children would go to Rose Park, which had a lot of organized stuff for kids. They had a lot of games, and it was terrific for them.

Joyce:  In what way?

Liz:  Because there were a lot of children there, and they could always get a baseball game or soccer game. When we moved up here they started going to Montrose, and that was before they put in all those children’s gyms and things. But there’s plenty of room up there, it’s great. It’s just fabulous.

Joyce:  How many children do you have?

Liz:  Three.

Joyce:  Three. And what are they?

Liz:  One girl, two boys. And they each have two children. And none of them wanted to come back and live here.

Joyce:  None of them live here?

Liz:  No, but they visit a lot which is nice.

Joyce:  When your mother was involved with the Kennedy Center and starting it, what was your role in any of it?

Liz:  No.

Joyce:  No.

Liz:  No, I was a consumer.

Joyce:  You were a consumer.

Liz:  .She started the volunteer program there. (The Friends of the Kennedy Center)

Joyce:  Oh yes.

Liz:  And the education program which was very small in those days.

Joyce:  And your mother is still alive?

Liz:  No.

Joyce:  When did she pass away?

Liz:  In 1990.

Joyce:  1990. What schools did your children go to?

Liz:  Beauvoir, St. Patricks, Landon, Sidwell Friends, Sheridan, and Maret. They covered the waterfront.

Joyce:  Any thoughts about any of schools in terms of when your children were going there that you want to share?

Liz:  They were great. They were terrific.

Joyce:  I don’t mean gossip. I mean like, whether it was small…

Liz:  I particularly liked Sidwell Friends. It was only the high school my daughter was right for. She’d been at Sheridan before and then she went to Sidwell and it was terrific. Now they were all terrific. Michael went to Landon which put a big emphasis on athletics and football. I suggested to the headmaster that maybe he could give up football and spend more time on his English…

Joyce:  [laughter]

Liz:  I was sternly rebuffed and told that Football was just as important as English. [laughter]

Joyce:  OK, so you were here during the Kennedy administration?

Liz:  Yes.

Joyce:  And then do you remember the Kennedy assassination, were you living here in Washington then? What do you remember about any of that?

Liz:  Oh, just the sheer horror of it. I mean it was such an awful time. So sad. I mean I don’t really remember very specific except that it was…

Joyce:  Then Martin Luther King? Do you have memories of the march?

Liz:  Oh yes, yes, I went to the march with Herb Block. [Herblock, political cartoonist of the Washington Post] It was great fun. That was such an exciting day, such a beautiful day. Bright sunshine and everybody was in such a good mood. It was just thrilling! And he [Dr. King] was thrilling of course.

Joyce:  How did you come to go with Herb Block?

Liz:  I saw him somewhere, a couple of days before and then he said, “Let’s go together”… So, it was fun.

Joyce:  And then, here in Georgetown, the effects of the rioting after he was killed. Do you remember what that was like?

Liz:  Yes, in 1968 it was during Robert Kennedy’s campaign, and I guess George had been out in Indianapolis to do something with the campaign. I think to do a film one of Bobby’s speeches or something. But anyway that was the night that he went into the inner city and made his speech. You know, he told the crowd that Martin Luther King had been murdered. They didn’t know it. It was very dramatic. And then the city just went crazy. And we were out at Hickory Hill the next night and we knew there was a curfew but just sort of thought, “Oh well”, and came in quite late and this part of the city was surrounded by police.

And we were stopped, “Where are you going? Why are you going into town?” I think they were patrolling the wrong part of the city. But anyway, it was pretty tense. It was very sad that so many shops were burned.

Joyce:  But you were living on…

Liz:  We were still on N Street.

Joyce:  And other thoughts you know about what it was like in terms of community? Was the community integrated at that point? Or you know, in terms of blacks and whites living together before then and then, I mean was there tension between neighbors?

Liz:  No, no.

Joyce:  No?

Liz:  I cannot think of one black family living in Georgetown that we knew. There must have been, but I didn’t know any.

Joyce:  So I’m trying to think of particularly historical events, maybe you can help think of… you know certain things that happened that would trigger something about how Georgetown… how you living here in Georgetown or Georgetown dealt with it?

Liz:  Well, like winning the Super Bowl? [laughter]

Joyce:  OK! Yeah, yeah, that’s a good one.

Liz:  That was a good one.

Joyce:  That was a long time ago.

Liz:  It sure was! Yeah! [laughter]

Joyce:  What year was that?

Liz:  Oh gosh, I was afraid you’d ask me that, I don’t remember.

Joyce:  I don’t remember either, oh my. Oh, no. Well…

Liz:  ’70s maybe? We were Redskins fans.

Joyce:  It’s been a long time. But that was when we had teams that we knew?

Liz:  Yes, we knew the players?

Joyce:  We knew the players. That’s right. And now I can’t even remember the player’s names from one year to the next.

Liz:  Well, we were very friendly with Bobby Mitchell. And then who else was there? Sonny Jurgensen. George Starke. Ray Schoenke. Yes, we would even go to the games. Of course it’s so far away now anyway.

Joyce:  Oh that’s right, they used to play at RFK. Right.

Liz:  You know Georgetown stayed amazingly the same. You can say in New York that the avenues have become one way, but nothing really like that has happened in Georgetown. The traffic patterns are the same.

Joyce:  The only change you’re saying is that we had Stop signs.

Liz:  Yes.

Joyce:  Stop signs, yes.

Liz:  Yes. Morgan’s drugstore has always been there. We had Dumbarton Pharmacy for many, many years. Some of the people who worked at what I’ve originally knew as Morgan’s drugstore, I think it was sold maybe and they moved and started Dumbarton just off of Wisconsin. And the pharmacist went with them. I think that he probably took care of my children as much as I did. I mean whenever they would get wounded at school, they’d go straight to him.

Joyce:  What was his name?

Liz:  Bob.

Joyce:  Bob…

Liz:  You know I do have his name somewhere

Joyce:  But Bob was the pharmacist and the kids would go there and that was at Dumbarton near Wisconsin.

Liz:  Well, Morgan’s is on the corner of P & 30th…

Joyce:  Right.

Liz:  And still is. And we quite happily go there now that Dumbarton is closed. They’re great, I’m sure he would have taken care of them also. [laughter]

Joyce:  Any things about…

Liz:  There was another market that I forgot about that, right near us on 29th street. It’s still there. Scheele’s. It was owned by the Scheele family then and they had a great butcher. It was a real market. I don’t go there anymore, I don’t know what it’s like now.

Joyce:  But you used to shop there?

Liz:  Yes.

Joyce:  Would have they been able to do the lamb?

Liz:  Oh, yes. [laughter] They would have.

Joyce:  And I mean, those days, the French Market I remember actually the brothers that were there. So did you feel like that was home? I mean that they knew you or….?

Liz:  Oh yes, absolutely. We’d practice our French. [laughter] Yes, they were terrific. And I believe one of them went to Dean and Deluca when they first opened?

Joyce:  Yes.

Liz:  He’s retired now, sadly. And they don’t have a butcher. I guess it’s hard to find a butcher.

Joyce:  What about some of the famous people that have lived here in Georgetown that you might recollect things about?

Liz:  We lived on N Street across from the Coopers. Claiborne Pell and his wife, Nuala, lived over on 34th and N maybe, or perhaps O St. I don’t remember. The Percys [Senator Charles Percy, IL and wife Lorraine] There were a few senators. I don’t think senators even sleep in Washington anymore do they? [laughter] Go rushing back home!

Joyce:  Liz, what about the house? What can you tell me about the house?

Liz:  I think it was built in 1805 or something like that, except… You know I can show you documentation. I can find it maybe quite quickly.

Joyce:  Will stop it.

Liz:  OK.