Cooby Greenway has had a relationship with Georgetown’s East End during many different phases of her life: from living with her parents there as a child and early teen, staying there when back from boarding school and college, and beginning her career in Washington. Now she lives again in the East End of Georgetown. As an early environmental advocate, Ms. Greenway helped D.C. from being overrun by highways. She also assisted in the creation and launch of the Kennedy Center. Her love of Georgetown comes from its uniqueness; as she puts it, “There is nothing else like Georgetown.” She describes Georgetown as a residential village that retains its character and charm despite all the changes she has seen over the years. Ms. Greenway discusses her relationship with Georgetown through the years — including the presence of ghosts in her parents’ home on Dumbarton Street — with CAG interviewer Kelly Richmond.
Kelly Richmond: Today is April 11, 2011, and I’m Kelly Richmond doing an oral history with…
Cooby Greenway: Cooby Greenway.
My real name is Nelse, N‑E‑L‑S‑E, Lawrence Greenway, and I have always, since I was four months old, been called Cooby, which is spelled C‑O‑O‑B as in baby ‑Y.
Kelly: I’ve been very curious, why did they give you…
My older brother, who was 18 months old when I was born, was learning how to talk, and he came up, at some point, with Cooby.
Kelly: That’s the best he could do, and that’s what you’ve got since then.
Cooby: Yes. [chuckles]
Kelly: So, your family, I think, has an on and off connection to Georgetown. Can you tell about your past with Georgetown? And then we’ll talk more about the present.
Cooby: Oh, well, we moved to Washington in 1949 when I was seven years old and were here for two years, not in Georgetown, in two different rental houses. Went abroad for two years and, when we came back in the summer of 1953, we lived at 2907 Q Street, which my parents had bought either before we left for Greece or while we were there. Anyway, we came back to a house they owned at 2907 Q, and we were there for four years, I think, when my parents bought 3123 Dumbarton Avenue, which is one of the wonderful old houses, one of the few left with a side yard in Washington. And so, we moved in there and had that house until 1999, when we sold it. Both my parents had died then, and so we sold the house.
Kelly: OK. And so, you came here when you were seven. Where were you born and…
Cooby: I was born in New York City. We lived out in Long Island. My father was a test pilot for Grumman…during the war and, after the war, worked briefly for a company involved with aviation that he worked with before the war, and then he was hired by the CIA to come down here.
Kelly: When you came to the area, you stayed in rental houses you said, and your father moved the family because of being in the CIA.
So, talk about some of the memories, I guess, once you came back, and you were nine, and you came back and…
Cooby: I came back, I was 11 years old when I came back from Greece, and I was at Stone Ridge. I took the trolley out when we didn’t have carpool. We weren’t carpooling all the time out there. There were several of us in Georgetown who went to Stone Ridge.
We took the trolley out Wisconsin Avenue to Friendship Heights and then got the bus out to Stone Ridge, and that’s the way we’d go back and forth. At some point we had carpools and…
Kelly: Did the trolley stop running or…?
Cooby: The trolley stopped running in DC entirely.
Kelly: Right. Oh yeah, I know. But I mean, while you were in school it stopped running?
Cooby: No. I don’t know why the mothers got together and decided they could carpool. I can’t remember how that went.
But I do remember getting off, actually the bus, when the National Cathedral was having its Flower Mart back then, which used to be only on Fridays. My mother was with a garden club that was there, so I’d get off the bus at the National Cathedral and go have whatever there was to have at the flower mart. Then I went off to boarding school when they moved into the other house. But still while we were living on Q Street, let me try and remember all of that.
Georgetown, as I’m sure‑‑well, you haven’t heard this‑‑but Georgetown was a village. There was the local shoe man. Wisconsin Avenue doesn’t even, except architecturally, does not resemble what it was back then. It was a village, and there was the shoe man, a couple of liquor stores who knew what everybody liked a couple of cleaners, everybody called everybody by their name, a hello Mrs. Smith, hello Mr. Jones, both the storekeepers and the customers, and a couple of small grocery stores. The Social Safeway was always there. I remember it being called the Social Safeway in the 50s.
Cooby: It’s not a new thing. And there were two stoplights, at M and Wisconsin and at R and Wisconsin. It wasn’t until Johnny Underwood got hit on his bicycle at Q and 30th Street that they put in a stoplight at Q and 30th, and that was the third stoplight in Georgetown. Then there were others added, which have all now been taken out. There’s stop signs everywhere, as everyone knows. And we lived on our bicycles. We knew, my younger brother and I, who was about three and a half years younger, this end of Georgetown, this east end, was almost entirely black. I remember riding my bicycle down and around, and nobody gave it a second thought, it just was. It wasn’t a deal. But I just do remember that it was black back then.
And then, we did our sledding up in Montrose Park. Ah! We used to…I remember in the summer, if you went down the bottom where the little stream that goes through the lower Dumbarton Oaks area, comes into Rock Creek…
Cooby: We could actually swing on a vine and drop into Rock Creek.
Kelly: Oh my gosh!
Cooby: Just like, you know, Huck Finn…
But we could bike up to the zoo, because the entrance we could go in on Rock Creek doesn’t exist anymore. The gates used to be there, you could see them among the trees, but I haven’t been able to see them recently. And you’d go barefoot…Then it changed in the late 60s, when the hippies and the kids started leaving home, and there were the runaways. And it just became a whole different scene.
Kelly: And how old were you at this time?
Cooby: Well, in ’68? I was born in ’42, so what was I, 26? ’68…I was back here working after college and living in an apartment…either at my parents’ house or in an apartment up on Q.
Kelly: So, also in Georgetown.
Cooby: In Georgetown. And when Martin Luther King was killed, and there were the riots, I took the photographs of Wisconsin Avenue of the stores with the National Guard on the streets, and the stores with masking tape on the windows. And I gave those to the Washington Historical Society. And it was around then the drug culture really changed Georgetown. I wouldn’t want to walk barefoot anymore, because of the needles that were dropped. Not good. And you’d walk down Wisconsin Avenue and just see a kid ‑‑ maybe college age, maybe not ‑‑ hunkered down smoking pot, probably, and just out of it. Then the stores started changing, and that’s a whole different thing.
Also in the 60s, there was a great effort to stop the highway construction that was being started in Washington through the city, and the Metro from having a stop in Georgetown. And I worked in those areas in a really fun way because I got a job with the District of Columbia Government Environmental Health Administration. And the boss knew my sentiments, and when EPA had just been formed, the first Earth Day just happened, and environmental impact statements were being required for the very first time.
The interstate highways were finished. The beltways around cities were finished. And that group, the highway builders, the cement companies, and so on, had nothing unless they kept building highways. So they were building them through the cities, which is why we have pieces of them here in town. Well, you have the Southwest Freeway is part of that, that piece by the Kennedy Center is part of that. That was supposed to tunnel under the reflecting pool and join up with the Southwest Freeway.
New York Avenue was going to be to Florida Highway. And Florida Avenue was going to be a four‑lane high‑speed highway all the way to Connecticut Avenue where the Hilton hotel is built. And, oh, there’s another piece that did get built that’s under the reflecting pool that’s down at the foot of the Capitol. There’s a connecting piece there.
Kelly: Right, that comes up by the Holocaust Museum.
Cooby: And 293 got built going under the Mall at about 10th Street by the Museum of Natural History. That part where you think you’re going up the Mall, and suddenly you end up on a highway out to Richmond.
Kelly: Right, and there’s no way to bail out, I’ve discovered before.
Cooby: So I actually wrote the testimony for the District of Columbia Government Environmental…not just Environmental Health, but the Environmental Department. It had trash, rats, air pollution, it had everything. So my boss’s boss would read the testimony. Of course, he approved it, but he was of a like mind, which was divine. I mean, what a freaky, wonderful thing to happen. But because I was an assistant to the Environmental Health administrator, I could go to the D.C./Federal highway meetings and hear what they were planning and thinking and saying and so on. And I taught myself speedwriting, and I’d take copious notes. I’d go back to my office in the District of Columbia government and type them up and then deliver them that evening to the lawyers who were fighting [laughs] the highways. It was fun!
Kelly Richmond: Wow! So what did you study in school that got you there?
Kelly: Oh. OK. [chuckles]
Cooby: [laughs] I was in production. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Boston University.
Cooby: I worked at the Kennedy Center for a while before it was open. I ran special projects. I ran the first American College Theater Festival, and I did some kind of local odd jobs. First of all, as a young female in the legit theater, and I’d always worked legit, you’re prey for the nasty old men, who weren’t all that old, but I couldn’t handle it. And I thought, I’ll be a basket case very shortly.
I actually applied for and was interviewed in New York and did get a job. I was in New York briefly after college and did get a job in a Broadway office. The guy propositioned me three times during the interview, so I left New York. I came down and worked at the Kennedy Center until they were about to open, and then I had to make a decision, because I wasn’t going to be able to do what I loved doing so much. If I did, I was working nights, six nights a week, two matinees plus all your rehearsal time and so on and so on. And just then, mid 60s, all this environmental upheaval, in a sense, was taking place. I look back on it, it was an enormous change, what happened. The Sierra Club was enormous back then, and all these other groups were starting up and protesting the Vietnam War. That was big. A lot of young people were here, and there was just a lot of… It wasn’t turmoil at all; it was a lot of new stuff getting developed and getting in place…and the environment really won big on that whole era.
Kelly: Until the 80s. [laughs]
Cooby: Well, it’s had a few setbacks. I’m not going to get into current stuff. So, I volunteered for a year with a local small group called the Coalition for Clean Air and got my bona fide days down, and then I was given the job in the District government. I worked there for about two and a half years and then got married, and I could only do one job at a time, so I quit work and had two children. And, at that point, when I got married, I wasn’t living in Georgetown any more. I lived out Connecticut Avenue, and then we bought a house in Chevy Chase, and I lived there for 24 years. Then I moved back here two weeks after 9/11. So, back in Georgetown, which is the closest thing I have to coming home. [chuckles]
Kelly: Was there something important for you to come back to Georgetown? Were there people you were still close to?
Cooby: Well, by then I was single. My children were grown and gone, and I wouldn’t move back into the District as long as Marion Barry was Mayor. I knew too much about him. I knew people who’d been at parties with him and told me about his behavior. I knew about his drugs. I knew about lying about certain things first hand. The guy was a bad man…
Kelly: [chuckles quietly]
Cooby: …and I wouldn’t live in the District as long as he was Mayor. As soon as he wasn’t Mayor any more, I began looking in the District because I wanted a small… I had a big house; I just didn’t want it anymore, so. And it took me about a year and a half to find this, which is a little treasure if you’re single. [chuckles] So that’s why I moved back in.
That’s why I’m here in Georgetown. Well, if I lived out in a more leafy, suburban‑type neighborhood, it was more kind of starter‑family things, and Georgetown was in town but not downtown, and it works.
And I’m here at this east end of Georgetown. As you said, you found a parking space right out front. Ninety‑nine percent of the time I park in front of the house. I don’t have any off‑street parking. And it’s quiet. We don’t have Georgetown University.
Kelly: Now, your house when your family came back it was also in the east end, right? By the Dumbarton area.
Cooby: Mm‑hm. Yeah, both of them were this side.
Kelly: And so, how have you seen the neighborhood change? Beause you said it was a lot of African‑American folks who lived around here, and did you notice when that started dissipating or…
Cooby: No, because I wasn’t living here then. Suddenly‑‑I don’t know how sudden it was, but I think it was fairly quickly‑‑the prices started going up. And I heard at a CAG meeting down at the Baptist church on Dumbarton a month or so ago that there was some legislation passed that Georgetown was declared a historic district and you had to keep you house up to certain standards. One of the black ladies at the church told me that they were red lined, that they would not be given a loan.
Kelly: So, you’re in a catch‑22. You’ve got to maintain a property but you don’t have the money…
Cooby: I think there is one family on P Street left. But three black churches got …The one on Dumbarton, the one at P and 26th and the one around the corner here on 29th between O and Dumbarton. And they’re all black. I don’t see any whites going in. It’s the old fashioned black churches.
How things have changed? Well, when we first moved into Georgetown in ’53, a lot of the older houses still had the bin out front of the door, the door you could open to deliver the coal. I don’t think they were used anymore. But they were there. There were also a number of the little jockeys that were used to tie your horse to and even some of the mounting blocks around that just were from old days that that had never been … Those are all gone now. But they still some of those.
A lot of building’s been done. My parents had their house, had the side yard put in an easement so no one can ever build on it unless they want to pay however many years of back taxes. Now, it would be 30 years of back taxes. So, some of the open space has gone.
Wisconsin and M don’t bear any resemblance, as I said originally. Almost all the original stores have gone. M Street had some wonderful music places.
Kelly: Venues to see music, you mean?
Cooby: Blues Alley was here in a different place than it is now. Blues Alley, I think, is the only one that is jazz. But, upstairs at Mr. Smith’s used to have a wonderful piano, it was not just a piano bar, it was really … Various people would play the piano and/or sing. I mean professionals. I’m going to try and think of her name, would come every now and then to Mr. Smith’s before she really hit it big.
Kelly: Didn’t Tori Amos go there or something?
Cooby: This was pre‑Tori Amos.
Cooby: This is a long time ago. Tori Amos is …
Kelly: Yeah, she’s more contemporary.
Cooby: Oh, gosh! I remember one night, for how easy it was for people to have to have guards with them to get around. A guy I knew, there was a big kind of amorphous group, a lot of them who were in night law school at George Washington and working days on the Hill and we were all single and just went grouping more than dating. One of them decided, and I don’t know how he knew her, but he would ask Lynda Bird Johnson, and her father was president at the time, on a date.
And, so, there were, I think, four couples. We all met at his apartment over in Rosslyn. She had one security, secret service guy, with her, and we were all told to take off our shoes as we walked into his apartment. But secret service said no, he would not take off his shoes. And, that was all right.
Then we went to dinner at The Guards and he sat at one end of the bar where he could see the table and we had a really nice dinner. And, everybody went home. She was terrific.
But, these days, I can’t imagine … There was no publicity about it the way there was about the Bush girls if they went out to Smith Point. It was just, no.
And she went to National Cathedral. Those girls went to National Cathedral.
Kelly: So, you had some different points in your life where you were here as a child then again in your 20s and now as a grown adult person. How do you feel…Do you feel like you patronize the same sorts of things, that your activities are more or less the same? What’s changed over those…Obviously, different cycles of your life you’re going to be doing different things, but how has Georgetown sort of played a role?
Cooby: Well, I avoid Wisconsin and M streets. There is very little there that I would go to. The money laundering, probably drugs. There was a shooting outside of more than one. Along M Street, they’re always going in and out of business. I mean, it’s a whole town of junk. And, the old Georgetown movie theater is gone, the Calvert Street theater across from Whole Foods is gone, the Biograph, which was later, 70’s I guess, was here, where CVS is at. And there was the bakery where CVS is now at the corner of O and Wisconsin. And for a long time, the sidewalk outside the door at CVS still had the entranceway from when it was a bakery, and then the sidewalk got done, so that was the end of that.
And Morgan’s drugstore, at 30th and P was there, has always been there, and that’s almost the only place left. Some of the local boys would get summer jobs at the gas station, where Capital One, ex‑Chevy Chase Bank at Q and Wisconsin, I remember a couple having summer jobs there, it was a gas station. And Neam’s Market, which is now Marvelous Market, but Neam’s was a full market, not just a convenience store, it was a full market. It was small, and it was wonderful, all the Neam brothers knew the regular people, and you could call in and see what they had from the butcher and order and so on. Cannon’s is still here. The Whisky‑A‑Go‑Go is gone.
And a bunch of the banks have all changed. Back when I was growing up, you went to work… you’d go into Riggs bank, that’s where we did it, M and Wisconsin, and you knew the tellers, and the tellers knew you, and you’d say “Hello.” I mean it was really a village. Now the tellers change all the time, and it isn’t the same.
Kelly: What about your experience now, since you’ve been back in 2001?
Cooby: Well, the cleaners I use is down at P and 26th, and Mrs. Hong, she knows everybody by name who comes in, so that’s neighborhoody. La Chaumiere, my brother calls it my kitchen, it’s right down the street, but that wasn’t always here, but that’s neighborhood‑like. And then the friends around, some of whom I’ve known for, I need to think how long, on both sides of Georgetown, it has the feel of community, so even when people move in, near you, you want to say “Hi” and keep up, and those kinds of things.
Kelly: Is there a mix of people living in the neighborhood, you think, of younger families, and older people, I mean, it’s an expensive area so I guess…
Cooby: Well, I was surprised. When I bought this house, I had to have a lot of work done. Months and months and months. One of the contractors I was interviewing, I was telling him what I was thinking of having done to the house, and he said “Well, be really careful, because if you do too much,” whatever it was, wasn’t his words, “you’ll have a hard time with resale,” and I said “Well I’m planning to be here until they take me out feet first or until I go to the old people’s home,” that’s what I said, “until I get taken away to the old people’s home,”…and he burst out laughing and said “Don’t you know, most people consider Georgetown assisted living?” And I thought “Oh no, I didn’t, but how terrible,” whereupon, this house on O, is the direct line for a lot of people to Rose Park, and I moved in, and the next thing I know, there’s this morning, and afternoon, and evening…
Kelly: [laughing] Stroller parade.
Cooby: Stroller parade. I have never seen so many babies. Then you see them grow up, then they’re going by, not in a baby carriage, but on little scooters, then two years later they’re riding little bicycles, so there’s a ton of young families here. And yeah, there’s some of the old farts still in place…and one day I’ll be in that category, but it is very mixed.
Kelly: And I think that’s good, it gives them vibrancy,
Kelly: …it feels like, its not just like a historical relic, some kind of Williamsburg, you’re walking through and everyone’s in colonial garb or something. [laughs]
Cooby: Oh no, it’s very vibrant, and there’s always fights about who can do what to their house. This house next door here, with the lawn in front of it, the previous owner wanted to enlarge it, it has two stories, and he wanted to build out to the sidewalk which got nixed, and finally put on a third floor.. But that’s been bought (and there’s several houses around like this) by a man who wanted a house in Georgetown for when he came here, and he’s next to never here.
And I don’t like empty houses, really permanently empty houses. It’s taken care of very nicely, but it’s… I know there are several houses around like that.
Kelly: So, about your house. I looked it up, and there was the first deed, 1802?
Cooby: That’s my parents’ house you’re talking about?
Kelly: No, that was here.
Kelly: Mm‑hm. Yeah, that other one said it 1800.
Cooby: Oh, good. I had…
Kelly: The 3123 Dumbarton Oak is 1800.
Cooby: Dumbarton Oak?
Kelly: Avenue, sorry.
Cooby: Well, if you got 1802, I would love to hear about that, because when I had the work done on it, the guess was that this house, right, that we’re in was probably built in the 30s…
Cooby: …1930s. Now, under the kitchen in this end of the house is a cellar that you get to from outside. And my guess is, knowing a tiny bit of the history of Georgetown, that it was what’s called a room on room, where you have the cellar and then the first floor with a room above it. Because Georgetown was a working port, there were a lot of these little semi shack houses around.
Kelly: It was storage on one floor and then kind of just a little room upstairs just to sleep in.
Cooby: Well, it was probably the cold cellar…in actual fact. I don’t know who’s interviewed Frida Burling, who’s around the corner. The house she lives in on 29th was three houses. She’s got the photographs of the old ones. The one closest to Dumbarton, that bottom third, did have an opening that came through into the middle of this block, and that’s where the outhouse was. The bathroom before there was plumbing.
Some of these houses, the really older ones, had to have the plumbing put in. The woman who owned the house before my parents at 3123 Dumbarton put in the plumbing. But this alley is supposed to go all the way through, and it has a right of way through the yard. You don’t touch it. [chuckles]
Kelly: Oh. I went to the Georgetown Library, to the Research Room on the top floor, and you could pull up the address and it said…
Cooby: What did they say?
Kelly: It just said that 1802 was the first deed for this address.
Cooby: Do they say who the deed was given to?
Kelly: If they did, I didn’t write it down. The house at 3123 Dumbarton Avenue, that’s also very historic property, because it’s the daughter of Henry…
Cooby: Mr. Foxhall.
Kelly: Yeah, Mr. Foxhall, Henry Foxhall.
Cooby: That has two spellings. In the history of that house, it’s spelled F‑O‑X‑A‑L‑L.
Kelly: Right, that’s the what I wrote down from the Library. It didn’t have an H.
Cooby: But it’s apparently the same Foxhall as Foxhall Road the way I understand it.
Cooby: And that has the ghost in it.
Kelly: Right. Oh, so yeah, talk about that.
Cooby: Well, we all knew her. Every night she walked up the stairs and came up to the second floor, walked around the second floor hall and walked back down. Every night.
Cooby: It was all there was, was that.
Kelly: You heard the creaking of the stairs, or how…
Cooby: Yeah, you just heard somebody walk up, do one thing around the hall, turn around and walk back down. No creaking doors, just the footsteps on the carpet, but things creak and you can hear someone come up. Every now and then someone would feel her presence or see her.
Kelly: And this was Mary Anne, the daughter that first moved into the house, or…
Cooby: No, the Foxalls have children. The way the story goes, and it’s in this book here. The way the story goes, I think it’s the Foxalls have young children, and a spinster aunt or great‑aunt, I don’t know, came to visit and ended up staying and living there. The story was that, at 10 o’clock every night she would blow out the candle in her room. So, we went from room to room with candles at 10 o’clock. No candle ever blew out.
Kelly: How old were you when you were doing this?
Cooby: Oh, teenagers, in my 20s. You do it as fun because this was the story, and wouldn’t this be fun if it went out.
Cooby: I think I’d die of fright. When we were cleaning out the house to sell it in 1999, my sister and I went up on the third floor. There were four bedrooms on the third floor. My two brothers were in two of them. The front right‑hand one was used as storage (the out of sight, out of mind room) and the first bedroom on the left, before we bought the house, had been turned into closets. Storage closets, suitcases, and that kind of thing. And you could walk into it and straight to the window that overlooked the garden, but both sides were closets. My mother never threw anything out. So my sister and I were going through and taking things out and taking them down to the thrift shop and laughing and looking at all this old stuff.
We got to the end closet, and I took a bunch‑‑bunched a bunch of things together to get the hangers all off at the same time and take it out, and there behind the clothes on the wall was the arm, the iron arm affixed to the wall that hinged out and had the candle on it. And it was the one room we never went into. It was really creepy. Well, of course the candle probably wouldn’t have gone out, but still to see the candle arm still there. We never knew until then.
And then there was another ghost who was a man. A friend of mine and I are the only ones who ever heard him, unless other people heard him and thought it was the woman. And he‑‑ I’m not sure it’s in there who he was, but he died in the house and as he was dying, he wanted his love letters but he wouldn’t tell anyone where they were. But he couldn’t get out of bed and he had hidden them.
It was summer. My parents were usually gone during the summer, and I was between apartments and living in the house while it was empty. And a friend of mine came over and was also living in the house with me. She was in my sister’s room and we shared a bathroom between the two of us on the second floor.
And we were both working girls and it was bedtime. It was summer, all the ropes were up. And I heard a noise downstairs which sounded like, as I listened to it, it sounded like the dining room chairs one by one were being moved around. It was that sound of wood on wood. I was standing in the hall listening to this and thought “This is really strange.”
No‑one was breaking in, but this was an odd noise. And so I asked Julie, I said “Do you hear this?” And so the two of us stood in the hall and listened to it. My mother had a door stopper that was about three feet tall that was turned wood, very pretty wood thing with a weighted base, and not a sharp point, but a nice little round little point at the knob at the top of it and that was my weapon. And I put it under my arm, had the weight just under my‑‑in the crook of my arm and went downstairs with this door stopper. And we got to‑‑we got about halfway down and the noise stopped. So we went on down, and the dining room was absolutely fine. Not a sign of anything. And I looked it up, and that’s where I think it’s in that book‑‑ I looked it up and he had apparently had buried the love letters‑‑put the love letters under the boards in the dining room or something like that, and he was supposedly was looking for the love letters.
Kelly: Here we go. “..who hid love letters beneath the floor boards in the dining room.”(reading from Ghost Stories of Washington book)
Cooby: I don’t know where the guy who wrote that got that from, but that’s my source. And I didn’t know that, I did not know that at all when we heard that. Stone cold sober, let me say. This was a working night, this was not after some big party or something. So that was very odd, and nothing like that every again.
Kelly: So your parents in that house, did they have a special desire to be in Georgetown? Was it just because…
Cooby: They had friends who were living in Georgetown, and I think that’s why they did.
Kelly: But then they stayed. They were there for a really long time.
Cooby: Yeah. Well, my mother found a really beautiful gorgeous house, and she was a house person. I mean, it was a great house, and she liked it and it worked.
Kelly: And then she sort of built up her community and had connections.
Cooby: Yeah, but there were‑‑she knew one way or another a bunch of people here, including the guy who hired my father to come down here and work. Dad was godfather to their daughter, and his wife was godmother –before we even moved they were old friends‑‑godmother to my younger brother so. And there were other people they knew for various reasons, Dad’s classmates from college. It’s the same way people know each other now when they move.
Kelly: Right. Let’s see. So, were they particularly involved in the community and then did you end up kind of feeling…? Because I know you’re sort of a, what is it, the neighborhood captain or something?
Cooby: Oh, block captain, we didn’t have CAG in those days. Oh, I don’t know what my mother did in terms of neighborhood stuff. I don’t think there was much to do. I don’t think there was any particular organization for Georgetown then. And if there was, I don’t know if she really had any particular, anything to do with it.
Kelly: So, you were saying that when you were growing up and it was… just you were always riding bicycles and playing and just kind of being in the street. I mean, was there a particular family that all the neighborhood kids would always go and end up at their house? Was that your family or was there any kind of…?
Cooby: Not for me personally. When we first moved back and I was at Stone Ridge, the girls, a lot of them lived out in Bethesda. And the girls that I was in carpool with, amazingly enough, one lives right up the street, from carpooling was 1954, 5, 6. The ones that lived here in the carpool, none of us were in the same grade.
Kelly: Oh, OK.
Cooby: The closest was the gal who did that, Edie Watts and she was a year ahead of me, a year or two ahead of me. And her younger sister was about two years, well, two, three years behind me. So, our carpool didn’t have that for school. And the girls I was friends with weren’t in Georgetown, my classmates. And then I went away to boarding school and so that ended that. I really actually wasn’t here very much because my mother is from Memphis, Tennessee, my father was from Connecticut and his parents were still very much alive. And also his sister, husband and their six children were right next door.
So, we would go up, for vacations, go out to Memphis or go up to Connecticut for our vacations. Then we’d go ‑ Dad had a boat ‑ we’d go down south for spring vacation. We went back up to Long Island, where we were from, for all of August. If it was July, you had to go to Europe.
And so, I would go to Memphis from the day after Christmas through New Year’s and the first two weeks of June. I’d go for the party time in Memphis. So, there was a lot of time I wasn’t here.
Let me see. Third grade I was at Horace Mann in Wesley Heights. Fourth grade I was at Sidwell Friends. Fifth and sixth I was in Greece. Seventh, eighth and ninth I was at Stone Ridge and then went away to boarding school and went away to college and wasn’t living here to have that kind of friendship.
Cooby: So, it really wasn’t until after I moved back and either re‑met some of my old friends…
Kelly: Like reconnected with old Stone Ridge people or whatever, Sidwell…
Cooby: Yes reconnected or… Who do I know? I don’t think I know… No, I don’t know anyone from back then. They were really were children of my parents’ friends. You know, the Easter Sunday lunch, or something like that if we were here for Easter. We’d know each other. And then it was just working and, you know, you meet somebody coming brand new.
Kelly: So, you have a connection but not necessarily.
Cooby: Yes, it was kind of interesting. And there was one extra added distraction in there. The reason I went to Memphis, party time, and got out of D.C., and I didn’t know it until my late 20s when a friend of my brother’s came through town. And we went out to dinner and he said “You know, I always had such a crush on you.” And I said “Well, why didn’t you ever tell me?”
And he said “Are you kidding?” He said “Gib would not allow any of us to ask you out.”
Kelly: This is your brother?
Cooby: “He said he’d kill us if we asked you out.” So, my older brother ended my social life in Washington.
Cooby: You laugh, but you have a lot of fun with people and nobody ever called?
Kelly: Yes, you think “What’s wrong?”
Cooby: Yeah, exactly. And in Memphis, I was the new girl in town. And I had a ball for 10 days over the New Year’s week, week or 10 days, and two weeks in June, had an absolute ball. My first college weekend was fancy dress at W and L with a Memphis guy. And so on. But I didn’t know for a long time why I had no social life in Washington.
Cooby: And it wasn’t until after I was back here and met a whole new… Well, everybody went off after college. And so very few guys I knew through the Shippen’s dancing classes. Oh, I should talk about Shippen’s dances.
Kelly: Yes, talk about that. That sounds interesting.
Cooby: OK. I didn’t go to Shippen’s until kind of late high school. I don’t know why I didn’t go before, why my mother didn’t send me. But Shippen’s dance classes used to be held in the big room at Linthicum Hall, which is on P Street. It’s the parish building, or whatever it’s called, for Christ Church. It’s where the offices are for Christ Church and you have to go upstairs to get into it and then you go up another flight of stairs to this great, big room, which has a stage. That building and that room back up to my parents’ garden. We had a brick wall at the back of our property and there was a wooden gate door in the wall. One night, my younger brother and I went through the gate and up the fire escape because the dance was on. It must have been an older group; I must have been younger than they were. Anyway, we went up the fire escape and it forked off so you could go right or left to one of the windows. We went up to one of the windows and in the dark of night plastered our faces against the windows until one girl looking over her dancing partner’s shoulders saw these faces in the window. We couldn’t hear her, but her mouth opened wide and the guy’s head jerked away, so we can only guess she screamed. [laughs]
We went running down the fire escape and back in home.
Cooby: Of course, people came and looked at the window. Poor girl. [laughs] “But I saw two faces on the second floor way up there.”
Kelly: [laughs] She’s going to get this reputation as being a little loony.
Cooby: Anyway, that was that night.
Kelly: Did you participate in the dances later?
Cooby: Yeah, then I went to Shippen’s and I made my debut with the group.
Kelly: Were classes held in that same space, or they just had their dances there?
Cooby: Well, Shippen’s dancing classes were there until you went to the Mayflower Hotel, and that’s where the Washington debutante ball was. There’s one gal over on Reservoir who was in that group with me.
Kelly: What memories do you have from the dances?
Cooby: I hated them.
Kelly: [laughs] Why?
Cooby: Well, I think, one, now that I know why the guys would never talk to me. No, really.
Kelly: [laughs] Your brother.
Cooby: Yeah, exactly. They’d dance with you but it was hands‑off, and that’s not fun. You don’t get the usual flirting. Then, if somebody had a friend from out of town ‑ a guy had a guy friend from out of town ‑ he didn’t know to keep his hands off, so then, yeah, maybe I’d have a date and flirt and he would leave town. It wasn’t until really much later that I understood the whole dynamic of that. It was not good at all.
Kelly: So, tell me about your siblings. You have an older brother.
Cooby: An older brother who was divine and did this one terrible thing.
Kelly: How much older is he?
Cooby: He was 18 months older.
Kelly: So, you were very close.
Cooby: Yeah, and we did everything together growing up. I guess he knew his own sex too well and he just said, “You cannot go near my sister.” My younger brother did not do that to the youngest, who was another girl. When my older brother married, he had a son and a daughter in that order. When the son was about 17 or so, I said to him what his father had done to me. I said, “If I get the slightest idea of you pulling something like this on your sister, boy man howdy, are you dead.” He said, “I wouldn’t do that.” I said, “Good. I hope I haven’t put it in your mind to do it.” [laughs]
So, really, I didn’t have any decent social life here until I got back from college. I started working here and knew some people and then met others. You know how things grow.
Kelly: Are all those families in the area still or have people gone to other places?
Cooby: Well, the families ‑ of course, my parents’ generation have all died. The kids are around. There are bunch of them from the Shippen’s classes who are still here but I never was very close with any of those girls. We were into different interests. If I stand fighting highways, that was ‑
Kelly: Pretty radical. [laughs]
Cooby: And I’d worked in the theater for five years by then and you meet people from all over the place and every different thing. You’re exposed to a whole lot of other stuff and these girls have never been exposed to it. It was very narrow. [laughs]
Kelly: Very cloistered in their experience.
Cooby: It certainly didn’t have the breadth. Also another thing that happened was when I came back from Greece and went to Stone Ridge, I was not blonde with a pug nose. I tanned very, very dark. School starts in September and here’s a girl with dark brown hair, brown eyes, and very dark skin, who the nuns had let everyone know, lived in Greece. So I was a foreign kid and the girls in Bethesda didn’t know what to do with me. Did I speak English?
Kelly: Right, they were speaking very slowly to you.
Cooby: Or not speaking. And my two best friends were foreign ambassador’s daughters. Vanessa Hamiliton from South Africa and Bonnie DeKeller from Switzerland. And she lived just on the other side of Wisconsin. Then, of course, when I got back from boarding school, they were gone, So, I have no idea what happened to them. But the Stone Ridge girls, I never really saw again after I left.
But it was an odd thing. It wasn’t so much discrimination as you’re different in some way. And I wasn’t different at all. But I had lived abroad, in a country with different money, with a different language, and it was the two most magic years of my life. And nine to eleven years old, again, we lived on our bicycles. We lived outside of Athens in a totally residential area. And there were a bunch of other families. There were five girls who were my age. It was a small community. My oldest best friend is still from Greece.
Kelly: But your siblings, are they all still in the area or have they gone different places?
Cooby: My older brother, who flew for Fed Ex, lived in Memphis and died of melanoma in 1980. He had just had his 40th birthday. ’01 I guess, he died. My younger brother lives in Bethesda and my sister lives in New York. So, we three see each other from time to time and stay in contact.
Kelly: But there’s no one else that has come back to Georgetown with you? None of their kids or anything?
Cooby: No, my sister’s family is all very New York, her three boys. And my younger brother’s daughter is, well, she never lived in Georgetown. And she was out in Bethesda. She now lives somewhere in Oregon.
Kelly: Everyone goes everywhere.
Kelly: So you were talking about the ’60s and how things changed. Any specific historical events? Do you remember inaugurations or marching on Washington, things like that?
Cooby: Well, I remember the big anti‑Vietnam war march on Washington. And, at that time, I was working, doing the volunteer work for the Coalition for Clean Air, which was on Massachusetts Avenue down the block from SAIS. In the same building, old house, as the D.C. lung association, TB and lung association, something like that. And my boss and I were walking across Dupont Circle at lunch to see what was going on and a policeman stopped us. He had on a coat and tie and I was in my nice little girl dress, at that point, that we wore.
A policeman stopped us and wanted to throw us in the bus along with the other people being arrested. We said we are going back to the office from lunch, just walking. Of course, that wasn’t what we were doing. We were going to see what was going on but we weren’t part of the demonstration. And he let us go.
That night, we got a call, wait, my boss got a call from his parents in Florida who said “Saw you on TV. There was a policeman standing next to you during the march.” Somehow it had been caught. So we went on back to the office.
Kelly: Right. So you fast talked your way out.
Cooby: No. I’m not a crowd dynamics, not my thing, and no matter how I felt about Vietnam, or any of the things, I can’t do protests. Pro or con. Protests or contests. [laughs] Either one.
Kelly: But, with the sort of political thing happening in Washington all the time. Do you have any recollections of exciting events that you…?
Cooby: Well, I had a cousin who was a Congressman for three terms, and then a Senator. Once in a blue moon, I’d be at their house for dinner with Teddy Kennedy and things like that. I’m not a name dropper. I don’t want to get into this.
Kelly: Things that maybe you participated in or that you remember seeing here in Georgetown.
Cooby: In Georgetown, gosh, I’m not sure where to go with this. Because it’s a name dropping thing.
Break in recording…
Cooby: Was in contact with. It was on a friendly, personal, off‑job thing. But I did work briefly at the Smithsonian for the division of performing arts, and it’s where the Folk Life Festival started in its own office. A divine man started it and ran it. So, I saw the birth of the first American Folk Life Festival on the Mall. I was also in on the birthing of the opening of the Kennedy Center and stopping Metro from being in Georgetown and stopping highways.
Kelly: But, in terms of environmental, was it a good thing to not have it? If we had had public transportation like the old trolley that you used to take?
Cooby: The great argument with having a Metro stop in Georgetown is what it would have done to Georgetown. There is nothing else like Georgetown. A leafy suburb looks like any other leafy suburb, maybe hillier or flatter but, basically, your housing lots are pretty much the same and the trees are pretty much the same. Grass is grass and so on. Except for what’s left of Old Town Alexandria, there is nothing else like Georgetown. The whole scale of M and Wisconsin would have changed. If you look below M Street at what’s happened on the waterfront and what has happened between M and the canal and, in several cases, below the canal, picture that two or three blocks in off Wisconsin and two or three blocks up off M. It would have been horrible.
Georgetown would have gone. There’d be a few places left that would probably be rentals or offices. It just would have changed it phenomenally.
Kelly: Become more business and less residential?
Kelly: Because when I think of things below M, it’s larger.
Cooby: It’s commercial.
Kelly: Yeah, it’s larger, commercial spaces.
Cooby: Yeah, so they built it out of red brick to look like Georgetown. Thank goodness for that. When the Cleveland Park stop went in. Actually one of the two or three main lawyers on the anti‑highway thing was one who fought not to have Cleveland Park changed. But that was an enormous battle that Cleveland Park Metro stop still looks like it used to look.
Kelly: As opposed to what’s happened at Tenley Circle where they have that big Best Buy and high‑rise construction.
Cooby: Well, the Best Buy is where Sears was, but Tenley Circle has had big fights to keep it in the old scale. But look what happened at Friendship Heights. Well, Dupont Circle already was a commercial area and in George Washington University has control over its stop. For residential areas to have a Metro stop is the end of life as you knew it. [laughter]
Kelly: Real estate becomes so precious that developers want to come in and say, “Let’s put high rise things because people will want to live by a Metro.”
Cooby: Yeah, why have a Metro stop for just the people who live here? There are, yes, a few shops along M and Wisconsin but is it enough to warrant a Metro stop? It’s very expensive. And then where would it have gone from Georgetown? Maybe it would have gone under and over to Rosslyn instead of the other line. I get to one of two other stations in 10 to 15 minutes from here walking or bus.
Kelly: They’re bringing back the trolley lines, like the one over on H Street. Don’t you think it ‑
Kelly: Well, the H Street one is done.
Cooby: It is?
Kelly: I don’t know if they’ve officially opened it but I’ve seen them working on it.
Cooby: Is it built? I didn’t know that. I’d be curious to see if it really is worth the money.
Kelly: I think it would be nice to have a trolley that went up Wisconsin Avenue to Glover Park. Do you think that would change Georgetown as much as the Metro?
Cooby: No, because a trolley doesn’t carry the people and have the speed; it still has stoplights all along the way. The Metro can zoom in and let off 400 people and zoom back out again with nightlife going on. People wouldn’t ride the trolley down to Glover Park for that. [laughter]
Cooby: Putting trolley tracks on Wisconsin Avenue ‑
Kelly: Yeah, that would take away parking.
Cooby: You’d really have to end all parking on Wisconsin, I would think. But there are a lot of interesting studies that have been done over the years and years of urban planning about what the results and consequences are of various things like buses, trolleys, highway ramps and so on. Georgetown. Georgetown would be horrible for the Metro stop. I hear it gets mentioned every now and then, and it’s my greatest hope that it never happens.
Kelly: So you said you’ve made a lot of changes in your house. What were some things that you reconfigured?
Cooby: When you came in the front door there, it was a solid wall from the living room to the coat closet there behind you. So you walked into a wall. I took this piece of the wall out, put the bookshelves in. Behind here are the air conditioning ducts and the return. I took the wall out for the kitchen and I haven’t decided how to take care of the view through the windows yet. I’m glad Georgetown preservation these windows. Then upstairs I had to totally redo bathrooms and closets.
Kelly: But the general footprint is the same?
Cooby: The footprint is absolutely the same. It’s been there in the house.
Kelly: So it’s not really there.
Cooby: Yeah, one room deep.
Kelly: I’m a fan of Susan Susanka. I’ve got this small house kind of idea. Do you feel like living in this space has changed how you interact with the world as opposed to your larger house you had when you were living in Chevy Chase. Do you feel like you’re pared down given the space?
Cooby: Well, I’m definitely pared down. I don’t have all the space, but I didn’t need the space in the house in Chevy Chase. It was great big rooms and a bunch of bedrooms and the garden front was set back. I had a lot of yard space to take care of and a swimming pool. It was wonderful while I was living there and married and had kids. It was great. But when I was single and the kids were gone… I’m not a house proud person in that sense. I didn’t need to have the big house and all of that. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to take care of it all anymore. So this is great. I’m not in an apartment where I have to walk down corridors smelling other people’s cooking, and then be indoors even with a little balcony. In this I can walk straight outside or have my little patio. It’s perfect for me. Two bedrooms on the second floor ‑ one’s my bedroom, the other I turned into my study. It has a fireplace. Third floor has two small guest rooms and a laundry room.
Kelly: Oh, it has three stories. I didn’t realize that.
Cooby: Yeah, it’s three stories. It’s great. Guests go up the stairs at that end of the house and go up to the third floor. They don’t have to come by my bedroom or go into my incredibly tidy, neat, wonderful in every way study.
Kelly: Were there always two staircases, two separate staircases?
Cooby: There’s only one.
Kelly: But they just keep going up, you’re saying.
Kelly: I thought you were saying there was a different…
Cooby: No, it’s not in the middle of the house where you come in and you see everybody’s rooms or something. It’s just stairs are at that end here.
Kelly: So they just don’t even go down that hall. They just keep standing at the stairs.
Kelly: That’s nice. Tell me a little bit about things that you do here in DC now, because I think it’s interesting. Then we’ll sort of wrap it up.
Cooby: In Georgetown, I volunteer up at Dumbarton Oaks Park on the controlling invasive species in the park.
Kelly: Are you going to be at that E.O. Wilson talk tomorrow?
Cooby: I am. I’m going, the gal who was at Stone Ridge in the carpool lives up the street, she does it with me. She will be up there also tomorrow. Then I work part time, Tuesdays and Thursdays, I volunteer down at American History in the archives center, work on sheet music.
Kelly: And that goes back to your theater connection.
Cooby: Actually, that goes back to… Growing up, I was brought up on the American Popular Song. One of dad’s brothers was chairman of the Metropolitan Opera Guild for four years. I as a child was taken into Broadway shows and saw Mary Martin in the original “South Pacific” and Ethel Merman in the original “Annie Get Your Gun”. How spoiled can you get? Dad sang in high school, in boarding school and college. His brother-in-law was the head of the Whiffenpoofs. Everybody sang. When you got together, if there were three or four people, there would always be a few songs. I went to do it for two years, for a couple of years. I’d been on the Smithsonian Women’s Committee. That’s a four year term, and you have to go off for two years. Now it’s only a year, but then it was two years. I thought, ‘I’ll do this for two years.’ It was processing this collection and there wasn’t enough staff to do it. That was 21 years ago. But it’s a volunteer.
So I go on birding trips. I like to bird, so I’ll travel doing that. My daughter just got married in Hawaii. I don’t have to take any leave. I don’t have to go to meetings. I don’t have to do any of that. This is wonderful. But I treat it like a job. I go in the morning. I leave late afternoon and go Tuesdays and Thursdays, except for tomorrow when I have to leave early.
Kelly: To go to the talk at the Dumbarton Park. Well, thank you so much. I’ll turn this off