Since 1950, Al Wheeler’s life has been deeply intertwined with Georgetown. He and his wife, Naomi, raised their children here, building a home to suit when they couldn’t find one that would address their young son’s penchant for bolting out of the door at every opportunity. And while Al was at it, he also designed and built the neighboring 18 homes around their new one, forming a unique enclave friendly to pedestrians and young sprinters in an area now called West Lane Keys. In an interview with Michele Jacobson a few weeks after his 90th birthday in July 2009, Al described life in Georgetown and in particular how the commercial area has changed. Having been general counsel for North Central Airlines, chairman of the D.C. Democratic Central Committee and strong champion for home rule for Washington, D.C., it is no surprise that Al is capable of holding and expressing an opinion. Add to that his concurrent roles as resident, lawyer and developer in Georgetown for sixty years, and you get rich fodder for a fascinating story about friendships, struggles, local characters and all that life in Georgetown offers.
Michele Jacobson: I believe we are recording, and it will be unobtrusive. I want to say that my name is Michele Jacobson, and I’m here with Mr. Al Wheeler in his home, at 3030 West Lane Keys in Georgetown. And it’s 5:35 on August 4, 2009.
And so, I guess, one question I might ask just to kind of kick it off is, when you purchased the building on Wisconsin Avenue back in 1960, what was Georgetown like at that time? Can you draw some image?
Al Wheeler: Well, I’m going to give you my impression based on my viewing of the various places in Georgetown. As you know, Georgetown was here before Washington, DC was here. Washington DC was built out of Georgetown.
And the result was that Georgetown was kind of an independent city with all the various facets of life being represented here. There was the baker. There was a shoemaker. There was…I happen to be, about that time, the first lawyer that came to Georgetown.
Michele: Is that right?
Michele: Well, that’s certainly changed. [laughs]
Al: Yes, that south of M Street wasn’t here at that time. I should say Georgetown was a much calmer, smaller place. And as I said, you could have anything you want to, you could get it on this side of what they call the creek, which was Rock Creek Park.
Frequently, when people would see that you’d go downtown to buy something, they would ask you, what didn’t you buy in Georgetown? because the merchants were in Georgetown at that time. As the years passed, the individual merchants in Georgetown gave way to the visitors, the merchants that would appeal to the visitor.
So the haberdasheries, the building components, the plumber, the tile‑maker, the bakeries, and pie factory and ice cream factories and so on, milk dairies, they’re all gone now or are going. As you know today, they’re all gone. Very few things exist today that were in the commercial area at that time.
Michele: I should have asked you, when did you first move to Georgetown or close to Georgetown so that you knew intimately of it?
Al: I came here in 1950, and I’ve been here ever since. I’ve lived here…not here. I’ve lived here for 15 years. And I’ve lived up at 2500 Q Street before that.
Michele: Yes, so you’ve seen these changes.
Al: I’ve seen these changes and experienced some of them. I induced some of these changes, and I’m pleased that I’m able to do it. Sometimes. I don’t believe I’ve ever done anything with the consent of the Citizens’ Association, unfortunately.
Georgetown developed, first, residentially. I’m talking about developed after the Civil War. And as it went downhill after the Civil War, it started reproducing and reconstruction in the Depression and after the Depression. It was a close‑in city, close‑in residence for the New Deal, for the people of the New Deal. And they started, basically, reconstructing the houses, and remodeling the houses.
This continued on, but without the development of the commercial. The commercial still stayed in that framework that was around the turn of the 20th century, not the 21st century. And the merchants continued to slough off in the business activities, which I’ll talk about to you later.
Al: I moved to Georgetown right after I married. And we lived at 2500 Q. And then after having two children, living at 2500 Q became impractical. So my wife was looking for a place. And I told them, talked to Jay Harris, he’s a go‑getter and…Do you remember Jay?
Michele: Only by reputation and reading about him, but I have not met him.
Al: Yes, Jay Harris was a go‑getter, and he would find her a place. Well, she looked and looked and looked, and couldn’t find a place. In the meanwhile, I’m busy as general counsel for North Central Airlines. And I said, “Look, I’ve got to write briefs. I’ve got to prepare for trials and cases and so forth. You have to take care of the domestic aspect of it. And find yourself a place that you’re satisfied with. Anything you’d find, I’ll take and go along with it.”
And so she continues to look. But one day John Donahue came to see me. He says, “I have a place that you might like.” The Catholic old folks home was on P Street Hill where we all had 3030 West Lane Keys. And he says, “We are going to move the cathedral which we are building out in northeast, and this home will be for sale shortly. We’d like to sell it to you.”
He finally agreed to sell it to me for $180,000, which was the highest price that anybody ever had heretofore paid…
Michele: Is that right?
Al: … for lots in Georgetown. I said I wanted one lot. I don’t want 18 lots, 20 lots. I don’t need the ‑ I’m a lawyer and I’m working on cases and I don’t really need that many much.
He says, “Go ahead and take it,” John Donahue said, “and you won’t regret it.” So I bought it, and I got me a superintendent, and I got me an architect, Walter Marble. And we laid it out. And although we could get 20 lots out of it, it looked better with 18 lots.
Michele: How much acreage was it?
Al: An acre.
Michele: One acre.
Al: One acre. And, I had previously, Jay had come up with the slave quarters for the estate on Q Street that they recently bought. And it was on 32nd Street, all of 32nd Street on the west side of the street. And I had bought that. And there was a garage on Q Street, and I was going to build a house there. That would be only two people.
But one of my kids, Tommy, had the unfortunate characteristic, of you open the front door and he’d bolt out at you. And I was sure that he was going to bolt out into the street.
Michele: Into the street.
Al: Right there, on 32nd and Q Street. So when John came up with his proposition here, I decided this was a much better deal than I would build a house here that I wanted rather than the one on Q Street. So I sold those on Q Street and came here.
Michele: I see. Oh, this is lovely and quiet.
Al: And it is quiet and nice, and ideal for the children growing because there’s no park around here. You have to go up to Rose Park up on R Street went down on the park, there on 2500 Q Street. Anyway, this gave the kids an opportunity to, so that he wouldn’t bolt out, he wouldn’t get run over.
Michele: Does he still do that?
Al: Tommy is dead now.
Michele: Oh dear, I’m sorry.
Al: He passed a couple of years ago.
Michele: I’m sorry.
Al: He got cancer of the liver. He passed away. But Jimmy is still around, and so is Anita. She doesn’t live in Washington, she lives in Columbus. And she comes home every now and then.
Michele: And Anita is ‑
Michele: Who is Anita?
Al: My daughter.
Al: So we laid out this proposition. And, of course, the Citizens objected to it, saying that I would build slum houses. And that I didn’t have any experience in building any house, which is true, I was a lawyer. And that I would take the parking places of the people on P Street, which happens to be just the opposite, they take the parking places of people who live here!
But they felt very strongly about it. After about two years of objection and complaining to the district and holding things up, why they gave me the permits to build it. They liked it. They considered it innovative. I said, I’ll build four houses to keep the superintendent busy and so on, and then I’ll sell the rest of it and let somebody else finish it.
So, the first four houses were built in the back of the ones that were torn down. I had to tear down two houses where the old folks dwelled. That brought in a lot of objection, and not only objection but animus. The animus disappeared during the course of time, but it is now a real [Inaudible] with the Citizen’s Associations. I don’t understand it, but that’s it.
Anyway, I started building these first four houses over here. And before I knew it, I’ve sold the first. I’ve moved in one quickly myself, so I could have room to breathe, so to speak. And the kids at that time, Anita came along very shortly thereafter. So we had three children, and we had four bedrooms, whereas we had one bedroom with two children.
Al: I’m sleeping on the couch every night.
Michele: Not good.
Al: I’m working during the daytime with my law practice. Anyway, what’s going on here now? Before I even finished them, I had sold all the three, three that were available. I said, well, I’ll just build a balance of this road here and then sell the front of it to somebody else. The same experience I had with my first four houses, I had with the next five houses.
Michele: You’d really hit the market.
Al: I said I’ll just finish it up. And I’ll pick this lot here and build the house that my wife wanted, with the spiral staircase that she wanted.
Michele: It’s beautiful. That’s really gorgeous.
Al: Why don’t you take a look? Step out there and take a look at it? I had to put a chair lift in it as we get old. Incidentally, I just had my 90th birthday.
Michele: Well, congratulations! My goodness. Well, it’s an absolutely beautiful staircase. I can see why she…
Al: It goes three floors.
Michele: Oh, my goodness.
Al: Downstairs and upstairs into the attic.
Michele: Wow. And this room is lovely, so full of light.
Al: So that’s what happened. And so she did the things that she wanted to have done. And this was the house that I gave my wife when I’m finished. And we’ve been living here since 1960.
Michele: ’60, my goodness.
Al: So it’s been 50 years that we’ve lived here.
Al: And everybody felt, oh my god. Well, this is something different, something new. Yes, it is something different and a little bit innovative at the time. Many of these houses have atrium in the them. As you could see the big windows in the house which is a little different.
Michele: Especially at that time.
Michele: Especially at that time.
Al: Yes, at that time. It was something special and different.
Michele: Very different. And the arrangement of the street is very different.
Al: Yes. I call it a terminal T.
Michele: A terminal T.
Al: Yes. Turn back in Rock Court and West Lane Keys is like this, it’s like a T.
Al: And that was a little different. And what made it a little different was that the number one house ‑ well I call it the number one house ‑ is the first one far back, is pulled forward and you enter on the side of the house rather than the front.
Michele: I have to take a look when I go walk out.
Al: Take a look at it now; you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Michele: Our recording machine…but I would love to see it afterwards.
Al: OK, I’ll show it to you.
Michele: Thank you.
Al: That enabled me to control the feeling on three sides. And once you control the feeling on three sides, you control the feeling of the whole deal.
Al: So instead of having the backyards in these houses, the Q Street houses, the 31st Street houses, and the P Street houses, while we control that and then have a new environment, a new feeling, a different feeling, which I think adds to the ambiance of the whole, whole area here.
The home builders association thought so much of this in 1959 or ’60. I built this and finished it up in ’60. I started in ’56 and finished it up at ’60.
Michele: That’s fast.
Al: And they gave me a national citation as the best in home living. As a result of that, we used to have busloads of people coming from all over the country to see our house.
Michele: A national recognition, that’s pretty remarkable.
Al: National recognition.
Michele: For a lawyer yet. [laughs]
Al: This is what you get when you get a lawyer doing something, see. It’s not based on the cost of it but the desirability of it rather than the price of it. Anyway, this is where I have been and this is where we have lived just about all of our adult life, right here, in Georgetown.
But having done that, it was successful and people were very pleased with living here. And we’re our own little community in Georgetown. Just the other day, one of the people who bought one of the first houses here ‑ and most all of them are gone now, I’m the last of the first people who lived here ‑ this fellow was named Wayne Tyler and his wife was Rainey, Wayne’s dead now.
But Rainey says, just how much we have enjoyed living there, more than any other place that we’ve ever lived because the people were all friendly and were really fighting against the Citizens Association, because they were opposing something, this dramatic and this helpful, beautiful, for Georgetown. This is what Rainey said just at my birthday party.
Michele: When was your birthday party? Just…
Al: The 8th.
Michele: The 8th? Oh wow.
Al: Yes, the 8th of July.
Michele: Just then.
Al: Yes, just three weeks ago.
Al: Then I started looking for other places in Georgetown that maybe I could do it. And I’ve built seven houses. I got a place up on 34th and R Street, on the northeast corner.
Al: Those seven houses ‑ four on R Street and three on 34th Street ‑ I built. And Mrs. West, who owned one of the great houses of Georgetown, large acre, maybe an acre or so, on the southwest corner, she was dying some years later and her executor called me up and said, “We’d like to sell you this house, sell you the front of the houses here. You can build four houses there. And we’d like where you built the houses. And we’d like to have you do it.”
So I said, “That’s going to ruin Mrs. West’s house if we put those four houses in front of the house, and they have to come in off of 34th Street rather than R Street.”
And I thought about it, and I said, “The only way I will do it is that if you put ‑ continue to come off of R street and have two houses on each side of ours, like we have here on West, on [Inaudible 21:35] Rock, and left the west house be in the back overlooking that and continue to get its access off of R street,” and that will ruin it, but it will look like it’s part of it. Then I would try to make it look like that.
They decided not to do that. It would cost a little more to do it again. It would cost a little more to do it that way because ‑
Michele: Perhaps part of the land goes to the street.
Al: Yes. You have…all the houses would be semi‑detached housing, well [Inaudible 23:07] housing. But it would be worth it, and you could maybe charge more to get your money back.
Al: They decided not to do it that way and got Russell Eldridge who was ‑ Russell Eldridge, he was another builder who built in that era.
Michele: So, was this in the ’60s?
Michele: Was this in the ’60s that this was happening or later?
Al: Maybe ’60s or ’70s, somewhere in there. Russell built four houses, very nice houses. They’re on the corner, but it has ruined Mrs. West’s house, and they are trying to sell it now.
Al: But not successfully. Anyway, I’ve been selling that and then I built other houses, three on 34th Street, a little south of Reservoir Road, and one here and there, altogether about 30 of them.
Al: 30 houses, yes, altogether. But, as I say, this was the second largest development in Georgetown’s history. [Inaudible 23:29] built the ones off of R street, Friendship off of R…and around 34th Street, around R and 34th Street. And this one was the second largest development. And I was determined to make it special.
Michele: Oh, it is very, very nice.
Al: As the residential area matured here in Georgetown, the business section began to see the light slowly, very slowly. Probably the thing that gave it the most impetus was the revision of the building code, the zoning code, which happens to follow the Lewis, who was employed by the city from Pittsburgh, who came in at about 1957.
And we had hearings all over the area here, in Western High School at that time. And it lasted several months, about what Georgetown wanted to be and what the Citizen’s Association wanted it to be.
In that time, I happened to be chairman of the Democratic Party, Democratic Central Committee. And I was the one who was taking ‑ looking out for Georgetown and taking to see to it that the city didn’t do something that was detrimental to Georgetown. And I took care of it all the way up into the ’60s, during the ’50s and the ’60s, to see that it didn’t happen. And nothing that passed the commissioners and the city council and mayor at that time, later on in the ’60s, adversely affected Georgetown.
Michele: Can you remember any of the proposals that were put out at the time that you or the group that you were representing were concerned about and didn’t want to support?
Al: Getting what kind of support?
Michele: Well, I was wondering, just to get a feel for the type of activities that were going on, was the city pro ‑ what was the city proposing to do as an example that you felt would not be in the best interests of Georgetown? Can you remember?
Al: Well, it didn’t happen quite at that time, but sex‑oriented bookshops.
Michele: Oh, that’s nice.
Al: They were invading the city here and they wanted to extend it into Georgetown. The vendors were parking right in front of my successful tenants, and particularly our jewelry shops, and selling. They’d say, “Don’t go in there, you don’t pay their taxes here. We don’t have any overhead, and we’ll sell it you at half the price.”
They would actually get in the front of the store, always in front of it where you can hardly get into the store.
Al: So that had to be regulated, which I wrote with the city.
Michele: I’m glad you did.
Michele: Were they proposing…? I happen to be a planner. That’s my profession, and I’m also ‑ I’ve been participating in the recent zoning update that’s been going on at the city level. That’s a huge undertaking.
Al: It is a huge undertaking.
Al: Yes, I’m not sure ‑ it had to be passed in such a hurry. I’m not sure that we’ve given it adequate consideration.
Michele: And no, I don’t think so. So, were they proposing, for instance, a difference in height limit of buildings that Georgetown didn’t want to have happen?
Al: The heights of the building were controlled by the zoning of the 1957 Lewis Plan which allowed certain areas to have density, south of M Street and R5B and C2A. Certain zoning would allow you a density up to six. They call that waterfront zoning. Actually, it’s just another name for it, to give it a name so that people wouldn’t feel it was a precedent or something, because it was not very much waterfront.
Al: But the main problem with the waterfront and the problems with involved in the rendering plant.
Michele: Yes, I imagine.
Al: When the wind blew a certain way, all of Georgetown experienced a foul odor. And the rendering plant had been there 100 years. And what it would do, it would take horses and other animals and make glue out of them.
Michele: Oh my goodness.
Al: And they bought it. And the residue was a glue, like made glue out of it.
Al: And we only got rid of that.
Michele: Yes, how did you get rid of that?
Michele: How did you get rid of that?
Al: The City took it on condemnation, and the dispute with the highway department, whether we were going to have the highways, extend K Street underneath the freeway and so on. And they, as my recollection, I don’t remember exactly which one of the cases had involved that. But eventually, the City was able to take it and get to it. Down south of M Street was made by the Lewis zoning of ’57.
Al: Down at M Street was all warehouses and flour mills and cement plants and Roslyn Steel and WT Gallagher Hardware and Lumber.
Michele: Plenty of industry.
Al: And I built the first ‑ my hotel was the first use of that zoning in which I had an FAR of 4 which was quite, is intermediate between six and two, two‑and‑a‑half.
Michele: Yes. Now, which hotel is this?
Al: It was called, at first, then [Inaudible 31:34]. And then I remodeled it. I built it and I remodeled it and I changed the name of it to Jefferson’s home.
Down in Monticello. So I called it Monticello Georgetown.
Michele: Because it was on Thomas Jefferson Street?
Al: Yes, and right next to where he lived.
Michele: Oh my.
Al: When he lived on it. But that was quite a job in building that, so as not to damage that structure.
Al: What I had to underpin it about 20 feet.
Al: And once I showed the people that I had used the zoning, that it could be used, and I tried to get Mr. Lewis to recognize that that must be a good place for residences. He had this silly view that, “I don’t believe that any businesses should be in the residential. And, correspondingly, I don’t believe in residences should be in the business.”
I tried to point out to him that didn’t follow, but not successfully. Anyway, after that, I rented it out to this hotel company at that time which was called the Dutch Inns, and that was the second hotel in Georgetown. Georgetown Inn came in about 1960.
Michele: Oh, I see.
Al: It was on a vacant lot, which had previously been Fossil Mills? Ice Cream Company that made ice cream.
Michele: Made ice cream.
Michele: Made ice cream, right there.
Al: Right there. That wasn’t the only commercial area north of M Street, on Wisconsin Avenue. Connecticut Pie Factory was on O Street and Wisconsin, which is now People’s, CVS Drug Store.
Michele: And they made pies there?
Al: Oh yes, quite good. Connecticut Pie Factory was really an established company and served these pies throughout ‑ they just made the pies, they didn’t serve them, they just made the pie and distributed them throughout area. I think it was Thompson’s Dairy. Thompson’s Dairy was down back at Martin’s.
Michele: Oh, really.
Al: Yes, where that shopping center is down that area.
Michele: Oh yes.
Al: That whole area was milk truck, delivering milk out of there every day, all throughout Georgetown and elsewhere.
Michele: My goodness.
Al: Those were the three big companies north of M Street. South of M Street, you have the flour mill, you know.
Michele: Yes. And paper mill too, correct?
Al: And paper mill. But there was a sign that was very interesting. It says that the odor that you experience does not originate at the flour mill. So as you come down, that sign was right on the freeway as you came down there and came up, you could see this sign that said that.
Al: The flour mill was an institution here. Not only locally, but elsewhere. As I said, Roslyn Steel, or Inland Steel was there, WT Gallagher was there. And there was a crane rental service there and Jefferson Springs Car Repair Shop. Of course, there was a junk yard down there which is off of Warehouse Alley, which is ‑
Michele: Which one is Warehouse Alley?
Al: Well, it’s…do you know where Dean & DeLuca is?
Michele: I do, yes.
Al: The restaurant is in the Warehouse Alley.
Michele: I see. I think I read one time that Dean & DeLuca, the structure, used to actually be lower. And that the Public Works Department, long before you and I were here, certainly before I was here. I wish remember the year, but that they flattened out Georgetown to a degree so they were filling in the valleys and lowering the hills. As a result Dean & DeLuca, the structure, which had always been a market, was raised and so it no longer related to the canal in the way that it used to because it was much higher.
Al: Before Dean & DeLuca, that Wally Moore had a parts, automobile parts, in that building.
Michele: Did he? My goodness.
Al: And it used to be, the slave quarters, they used to auction slaves there.
Michele: Did they?
Al: And in the bowels of the building, so to speak, there are passageways to the river.
Michele: To the river?
Al: Oh, maybe to the canal. But anyway, this is where they used to use it, as the saying goes, for the free, before the Civil War and during the Civil War, for the free black people to get out of the South and then go elsewhere. But that’s just what I hear around town.
Al: Anyway. We were very fortunate to get Dean & DeLuca and that adds a crown to our jewels here. I speak of jewels because I think that Wesley and Keys is probably one of the jewels of Georgetown now.
Michele: It’s beautiful.
Al: And slowly, slowly during that period from ’50 on, the commercial shrank and the buildings and stores in Georgetown became attuned not to the needs of the community of Georgetown, but to the business and the tourists. And now, most of the shops at Georgetown are that way.
It seems to me, what we ought to be thinking about is how do we get the shops back to where it serves the purposes, for which Georgetown, I would say originally were there.
Michele: To serve the residents.
Al: If you start on M Street at Wisconsin Avenue, there were two banks there to start with. As you may recall, the National Bank of Washington, which was on the northwest corner, was there, and there was Old People’s Drugstore on the southwest corner.
Al: And then Mr. Helan’s (sp?) building. It’s on the southeast corner. And the Ridge Bank which was the foremost in Mechanics Bank previous to that acquisition. And the most important, as I look at it, some of the most important places down there that were in it at the time, incidentally the parking lot on M Street at the Ridge Bank.
Al: They had to tear down the building to get that parking lot so as to go around the bank.
Michele: Oh, what was there before, do you remember?
Al: A store.
Michele: A store.
Al: Just a store.
Michele: That’s a shame.
Al: And as you go down the street there, there was a place called Georgetown Electric. I don’t know if you remember Georgetown Electric.
Michele: I’ve only lived here six years.
Al: It was on this corner of the little alley there, the first alley that you come ‑
Al: Yes, there. And there was a wonderful jewelry store. The jewelry store… that’s the mail. The jewelry store is where the hamburger shop is today there. It was a first class jewelry store. It was, so to speak, [Inaudible 41:15].
Michele: I’ve heard of it, yes. I’ve seen it.
Al: … it was at Georgetown’s Gough’s (sp?). It had everything you could think about. And it had the right style in a sophisticated area. And I’m so sorry that we’ve lost it.
Michele: That’s where Five Guys is now. Five Guys Hamburgers, is that…?
Al: Yes, that’s Five Guys.
Michele: The same place? Interesting building.
Al: I’m not sure why they were in that place. I think it was one store down from the alley.
Al: At the alley, there was this store that George Worthington, said he was going to show us country kids down here atGeorgetown. What it really meant, he was going to bring a French restaurant to Georgetown. And so he did. I forget the name of that French restaurant, but it wasn’t successful. And subsequently, Arpat, does that name have any meaning to you?
Michele: No, I’m sorry.
Al: Michael Arpat, he was the one who decorated the White House for Mrs. Kennedy. And he was a good friend of mine. Mike started out here. He was a Hungarian refugee from the war. And he started out in the little Meissen shop which was on Wisconsin Avenue in the, I’d say, 1300, 1400 block.
Then he left the Meissen shop and started his own business. He was a silversmith. He also loved Meissen, and he started me in collecting Meissen. And so I collect Meissen, 1700 Meissen. And I have it over there in that cabinet.
Mike moved across the street, on the corner of O Street, on the northwest corner of O Street there and Wisconsin Avenue. He moved over there, and then he moved down into the shop where the French restaurant was. Mike was very successful. And what he did, he acquired lots of nice things, many of the things that I have in this house. Mike produced this porcelain.
Michele: Those are beautiful. I’ve been admiring those swans, beautiful.
Al: These are the original that President Nixon gave to Mao when he went over to open up China. And these are the only ones that have been signed. There were only five before the mold was broke. And these are the only ones signed by the artisan that produced it.
Anyway, going down M Street…I was thinking of what was the important part of the shops down there, on M street at the time.
Michele: Back in the ’60s, is now you’re thinking?
Al: Yes, about the ’60s, maybe ’50s.
Michele: Was there the theater then, down on the western end of M Street?
Al: Yes, M Street, that’s way down M Street.
Michele: That’s way down there.
Al: That’s way down. That’s across from where the gas company ‑we had this big gas company ‑
Michele: A gas company.
Al: Yes, the gas company. Where the hotel, Four Seasons hotel is.
Michele: Oh, yes.
Al: That’s where the gas company was.
Michele: Oh, I was thinking the other end. Oh, OK. I didn’t realize that was the gas company’s building.
Al: Yes, that was a gas company. That was where they maintained the trucks and everything over there.
Michele: My goodness. Things have changed. Oh, what was the transportation like? Was the trolley running?
Al: There were street cars.
Michele: Street cars.
Al: And they were underground until they got out right in front of my office there. Then the third rail would come out of the ground, and go up above right in front of my office there, which was right in front of Neem’s. I don’t know if you remember Neem’s.
Michele: Well no, I don’t. But I’ve certainly heard about Neem’s. So the third rail, did it go underground ‑
Michele: ‑ in order to protect people from being shocked, or was it…? Because there wasn’t a tunnel.
Al: I’m not sure why it was managed on the ground, but it under the ground.
Michele: And it would come up when the trolley would need to be using it?
Al: Yes, when the trolley got raised at this point, there was a man there, and he would lift up something, and then would put a trolley on the wires above that. And from thereon, it was above ground.
Michele: I see, going north on Wisconsin?
Michele: Yes, I know what you mean.
Al: Mr. Chuck (sp?), bought the transit company. And one of the things that he agreed to do was to take the street rails, both the rails where the wheels went and the electric rail out. As you know, I’m not sure whether it’s on M Street has been taken out. But the ones on O Street and P Street are still under ground.
Michele: They’re still there, yes. Well maybe he’s going to get around to it. [laughs]
Al: He’s dead and gone as you know.
Michele: Yes. Well…and the goal was to replace it with buses, is that the idea?
Al: Yes, because at the intersection of M and Wisconsin, there was an island, where people would go on the island and get on the car, get on the streetcar. Now, they are thinking about bringing it back. The idea at that time was that the traffic would be much facilitated if it didn’t have any of these islands around. And the city would look much better without all the wires and so forth.
Al: While we had underground transportation, underground streetcars, all of the district didn’t have underground streetcars. Part of it was over ground, as you know, out to Wisconsin Avenue.
Michele: Yes, catenaries, perhaps it was because of the rule against wires in downtown DC, and it maybe extended to Georgetown. There were no electric wires, as I understand, also. Was that the case, no electric wires and no…? So the catenaries were more out towards the suburban and the countryside perhaps.
Al: That’s right, but I don’t know why ‑ I’m not sure when that occurred. That’s in the ’60s I believe. That’s what I believe.
Al: But anyway, they decided to do away with the streetcars and do it on the buses. And now the buses with these environmental problems, they are thinking about going back to the streetcars.
Al: Well going down at M Street, there was on the corner of 31st Street, a grocery store. And there was, on Wisconsin Avenue, in the 1400 block, there was an A&P.
Al: And then after the A&P, there was a McGruders and now the McGruders is gone, too. My wife got her pocket picked in McGruders selecting tomatoes. They finally caught the man.
Al: Called me up one night, about midnight, “Do you have a son by the name of Leonard?” “No.” “Sir, I didn’t think you did.”
So these guys and three girls robbed, picked my wife’s purse and they got home over in Virginia. They were trying to buy something and they had the ‑
Michele: Well, I’m glad they got them.
Al: They got them. I had to go and testify over there. But they didn’t do anything. It was their first time so they didn’t do anything to them.
Michele: So was there a hotel on M Street, on the northern side, that now is that horrible little squat building that has the Urban Outfitters in it?
Al: That was Woolworth’s.
Michele: Oh, was it Woolworth’s? OK. I thought it was a hotel before then.
Al: No, that was Woolworth’s.
Michele: Oh OK.
Al: They had a long‑term lease on that. Woolworth’s had a long‑term lease on it. And this beautiful building has a full basement to it.
Michele: Yes, it does. I knew that.
Al: Yes. Of course, Woolworth’s to me was a much more prestigious tenant than the Outfitter’s. Even though the Outfitter’s do a pretty good deal when they’ve done this, I don’t think the Outfitter’s is the asset to Georgetown.
Anyway, going down M Street on the other side, there was Worthington. He had the third building from the corner. And he came in from Capitol Hill. And he was in the real estate management business. And he was quite a fellow. He started the Georgetown Business Association.
Michele: Oh, did he?
Michele: I read about your award. Congratulations on that. Lifetime award, congratulations!
Al: Yes, thank you.
Michele: So he started that, that was good.
Al: There were about five of them. He was the moving force, although there were maybe 10 or 15 of us, the people around town, who actually became directors and started it. And it’s about to go out of business, I understand.
Michele: Oh really?
Al: The BIDis taking its place doing more super things than it did, at least that’s what I understand.
Michele: I didn’t know that.
Al: I’m not sure about it. I’m no longer a director. I was director for 17 years.
Michele: That’s enough.
Al: That’s enough, yes. Anyway, there was Joy. And then there was the Silver Dollar Restaurant that was bought by the Bistro. And the Bistro is still operating.
Michele: Yes, it’s a nice restaurant. So, what was the Silver Dollar like?
Al: It wasn’t very nice. It was in the hippie period. Then there’s Mr. Smith’s there and on the opposite side was a funeral parlor.
Michele: Oh really.
Al: Yes, there were two funeral parlors, one there and one on Thomas Jefferson Street. Birch’s was on Thomas Jefferson Street. And this other one, the company is still operating, I don’t recall the name of it, but it was a well‑known funeral parlor.
And on the opposite side was this grocery store that I was talking about, which was one of the two grocery stores. That’s where the Pottery is in now.
Michele: What is?
Al: On that corner, on the northeast corner of 31st and M Street.
Michele: Oh, Pottery Barn. Oh that, yes.
Al: Pottery Barn is there now.
Michele: I get you. That’s a big structure.
Al: Yes, that was where the grocery store was. And I say, though, we don’t have any grocery stores as you know. Safeway is the only one we have and that’s not quite in Georgetown.
Michele: No. Dean & DeLuca is a little pricey.
Al: Yes, very pricey. And this grocery store that was there was more than a grocery store that had some of these other things that Dean & DeLuca has [Inaudible 55:22] than they had.
And…I don’t know if you ‑ Arnie Passmans …
Michele: Am I holding you up from your dinner?
Al: No. Arnie Passmans had a card shop. And he rented a building from another fellow who had a dress shop on the first ‑ next door to him. He had a dress shop on the first floor, and a newsstand in the basement.
Michele: Oh, I think I know the place.
Al: Yes, he’s the second store here.
Al: Arnie was quite active around. He had this very nice card shop, but when all the drugstores and everything started carrying cards, he couldn’t make it and he went out ‑ he’s out in the suburbs, some place.
There is, currently, Old Glory is in the building that Arpan moved into, in which ‑ there’s quite an interesting story about the block. Arpan must have 5’6″, five feet six inches tall, so he was a very small guy, but a very active guy. One day, I said I’d like to have a Faberge egg, not one of the fancy kind, but just a regular Faberge. He said, “I’ll get you one.”
So he got me one. That’s in the cabinet over there. And, oh maybe three or four years later, he called me up and says, “Al, when’s the last time you looked at your Faberge egg?” I said, “I don’t look at it very often, but occasionally I look at it.” “Go and look at it and see what you see” and call me back the next day.”
I looked at it, sitting over there in the cabinet just like it always had. I called him back and told him what I saw. I said, “It’s the same place, it had always been right there.” He said, “Thank you.” Come to find out, this happened, there was a lady who he had sold another Faberge egg to. And she was going out in the summertime down to Rehobeth or someplace.
And she asked to call the cops up at 7 which was a place for [Inaudible 58:26] Volta Place. And she told the captain, the sergeant who was in charge of the desk there, that would he be good enough to have the policeman look specially at her place because she was going away for a couple of weeks, that she wanted it to be protected.
It so happened that the sergeant, with that knowledge, robbed the people’s house, he and another fellow. And they had given ‑ and one of the things they had taken was the Faberge egg. And that they had taken these Faberge eggs back to Mike who runs this antique shop, for him to sell it and use it with the antiques.
That fellow’s name was Paul Intes(?). I don’t know if you ever know him. He’s still around. Well, Paul ‑ Mike, when he found out that my egg was still here, why he knew that this egg was the one that he had sold to this lady. So he calls up the Police Department downtown. They say work with him a bit until we could get more evidence on him.
And so he did. And then he told them all about this deal. And what happened? In the meanwhile, the sergeant commits suicide on the deal. And they put Mike in jail for five years, for fencing of it, for him.
Michele: Even though he had brought it to their attention?
Al: Brought it to Mike’s attention, not to the Police Department, to Mike’s attention. Mike worked with him getting the evidence.
Are you calling me, honey?
Al: You need something?
Al: Do you need anything?
Wife: What did you say?
Al: Do you need anything?
Wife: Did I need you?
Al: Thank you.
Michele: We can stop anytime that you want to.
Al: We don’t eat until late.
Al: Real late.
Al: Anyway, Mike, little Mike put in jail for several years for fencing stolen property. That was kind of an interesting ‑
Michele: But it sounds as if he wasn’t really doing the fencing, was he? I mean, was he…?
Al: Yes, he was doing the fencing, trying to get rid of the egg.
Michele: I see. Oh my.
Al: Anyway, going down M Street. You go down M Street, and probably in the ‑ the liquor store, the Feldman’s owned, it used to be on the other side of the street. When Lanier bought the building, he threw them out and they bought the corner, the southwest corner of 31st and M.
Al: And they still exist.
Michele: They’re still there. That’s where Steve is. Steve and his ‑
Michele: Yes, Steve Feldman and his father.
Al: Yes, those two have been there for ‑ on the other side and now there. They’ve been there for about maybe 10 or 15 years.
Michele: OK, so they were there.
Michele: So they were on the north side of M, and they got moved to the south side.
Al: And they own the building.
Michele: That helps.
Al: Yes. And Mr. Smith, who used to run the Guards, which building I own.
Michele: Oh it is. Oh, I see.
Al: Yes. And they moved ‑ he started this restaurant, Mr. Smith’s, and he runs, and he operates that now. On the other side of the street, on the south side of the street, there’s a Cafe de Paris, so you remember that one?
Michele: Yes, I do.
Al: And Apana, do you remember that one?
Al: That’s an Indian restaurant. It was very good. And it was in the second building from the corner, the Apana.
Michele: Indian, oh.
Al: Very good Indian restaurant. And then going down towards Thomas Jefferson Street, why there was a, originally there was a Ford Company, Ford distributor there. Do you remember him?
Michele: Is that…?
Al: Broadway? Ford.
Michele: Oh, I don’t remember it myself, but I remember reading about it. Is that where the bookstore is now?
Al: Yes. And the bookstore, that’s interesting. That’s right across the street from The Dutch Inn, you know, on Thomas Jefferson ‑ but before the bookstore, there was this kind of famous club there that a lot of private people join. And they’d stay over the whole night. And this was right next to Cafe de Paris. And they would go into the club.
They tore down the store that was there, and go into right there. You could pull in the car there.
Michele: Oh, I see. So it’s private.
Michele: It was private.
Al: Private club, yes.
Al: And they succeeded, I think they succeeded but the Ford dealership there. Bill Carter, as you remember, ran the Ford dealership, owned it and ran it, and owned the building. And he also owned the lot where he used to have the used cars which was right next to Birch’s Funeral Home on the corner of Thomas Jefferson Street.
The Birch Funeral Home wanted to sell me their lot which was contiguous to my hotel. I said, “Well look, I don’t need to. All my plans are drawn, and I’ve got a certificate, permit to build the hotel here. You have come too late. I can’t do it.” He finally said, “What would you give me?”
So I said, “Well, I’ll give you X dollars,” I forget exactly what it was, but it was alot. And he said, “Well, I have to go home and talk to my wife about it. My wife and I own this together. And we’ll come back.
I said, “Very well.” He came back and he said, “Well, my wife says that’s not enough. You have to give me $25,000 more.” I said, “Go back the other way. Do you deal with your wife?” If I am dealing with your wife, I’d like to talk with her.”
After all, I’m going to have to go to quite a change to go through and get my plans changed so that I could ‑ “That would give you an M Street entrance.”
“I don’t need an M Street entrance. I don’t want an M Street entrance, too much traffic.”
Anyway, I said, “OK. I’ll give you $25,000 more. But if you come back a third time, that’s the end of it.” Well, this fellow came back the third time.
Michele: Oh dear.
Al: “My wife says that she wants $25,000 more.” I said, “Fine. This is it. Forget it.” That was the end of the deal. However, I said, “I’ll rent your garage space where you used to keep the hearse and so forth, the embalming room in that place, on Thomas Jefferson Place. And I’ll rent it to build a hotel out of it. So I built a hotel out of that garage.
Michele: My goodness. So it was your staging area, construction staging area, kind of.
Al: Well, I had no superintendent the superintendent I have is [Inaudible 1:07:41Wheati] and still happen to have a trailer, kind of a trailer. You build it up, I’ll build it out of the garage.
Michele: Yes, that’s good.
Al: And we had the Lunch Up. There was the third famous local sandwich shop called Harold’s. Do you remember Harold’s?
Michele: Harold’s, no.
Al: That was in the middle of the block between Thomas Jefferson and 30th Street, on the north side of the street. He had the best Weenies.
Michele: Those are the things you remember.
Al: That’s right. Everybody used to go over there and get a Weenies from him. And all the workmen did in the hotel, while they were building the hotel. Anyway, coming down M Street, the next most important place, I suppose, is where Sam Levy lived. Sam Levy, you know Sam Levy?
Michele: I’ve heard his name but I didn’t know he lived there.
Al: Oh yes, he raised his family there, his two sons. He was on the second floor. And his haberdashery shop was on the first floor. This is where ‑ right next to the parking lot. You know the parking lot down there? He tore down the building next door to get the back to use as a parking lot.
That’s right there by the ‑
Michele: ‑ by the old stone house.
Al: ‑ old stone house.
Michele: Right, yes.
Al: And ‑
Michele: That’s very deep lot.
Michele: Very deep lot there.
Al: Yes. That became the parking lot. That was only one of two parking lots that we had. The other one was Billy Martin’s parking lot. You know Martin’s Carriage House?
Michele: Sure, I know Martin’s, yes.
Al: [Inaudible 1:09:43]
Michele: Yes, across the street, right, was the Carriage House?
Al: No, the Carriage House on the same side of the street. We call it the Cabbage House. The Cabbage House is the corner. And the Carriage House was on the corner of ‑ what’s that little street there? Anyway, it was on the first street north of M Street, on the west side.
Michele: What is the name of that street? OK. So it’s on the west side…
Al: He was on the northeast corner of that ‑ the Carriage House was on the northeast corner. And it extended three or four stories up.
Al: And across the street was the parking lot. And it extended all the way to the alley. And that’s where the new building is, and there are new companies coming in. What’s the name of the new company that’s coming in? This tall, new building in the middle of that block?
Michele: Apple? Is that the Apple store?
Al: Yes, the new Apple store.
Michele: Yes, I’ll be darned.
Al: That building was not there. That was the entrance to the parking lot.
Michele: I’ll be darned.
Al: And that was the only other parking lot in Georgetown.
Al: But going down just the M Street without the digression there ‑
Michele: Sorry, it’s so interesting.
Al: Going down M Street, we’re on 31st Street and then we’re going down there to Thomas Jefferson. Right across the street, there are two stores that belonged to the charitable society. And Walter Macomber did them over, and they were really nicely done.
Michele: What was Walter’s name? I’m sorry I didn’t hear.
Al: Walter Macomber.
Al: He was an important architect. And Carol worked with ‑ let’s see what’s Carol’s last name. He’s been dead now for ten or fifteen years. But he was his right‑hand man. And he did a number of ‑ Billy Barrington and Carol did my architecture. They were both good colonial architects. Walter served on the…from time to time, he served on the Fine Arts Commission.
Yes, he was chairman. He was well‑respected. He did Williamsburg.
Michele: It’s pretty good credentials.
Al: Yes. So he was well‑respected and wonderful guy and Walter Macomber and Peters, Macomber and Peters, both of them were good architects. Peters was from the George Washington family up on ‑
Michele: Robert Peters’ lineage? Robert Peters was the first mayor of Georgetown way back? That group.
Al: That family.
Michele: OK. Oh my, my goodness. So were they local, did they have a local office?
Al: Oh yes, they moved to Georgetown when the Weaver’s hardware store caught on fire ‑ do you remember that?
Michele: I didn’t know it caught on fire.
Al: And burned pretty badly.
Michele: Oh, what a shame.
Al: And they rebuilt ‑ Walter rebuilt that store, the architect and moved there, together with Carol.
Al: That used to be the group that we used to have luncheons around a round table at the Carriage House. And the people who had gone to it were the owners of the various stores in Georgetown.
There was Mr. Bryce Weaver, who was Jimmy Weaver’s father. There was Abel Ladette, who was a real estate agent, and owned a property, property over there. There was Stanley Cobb, another pretty prominent Georgetowner. There was Ray Dufor, he was the insurance man.
There was ‑ the other hardware store in Georgetown, Menahan. George Menahan. Johm…
Michele: Imagine you had two hardware stores.
Al: Yes, but Weaver’s weren’t exactly a hardware. They had some of the hardware. But Manahan was actually the hard ‑
Michele: Just the good old hardware store.
Al: Good old hardware store. And it was located on the north side of M Street, west of Wisconsin, between 33rd and 34th Street, Menahan’s. And he’s still around, I think. He went out of business. He went into jewelry business. Jewelry business of some sort 1:15:41].
Anyway, those were some I remembered. We’d have various other people come from time to time. And we would come down there and I would walk down from where I was. I moved out there in 1960.
Michele: So 1522 was constant?
Al: Yes, I moved from my offices down, it’s on 711 14th Street to Georgetown in 1960.
Michele: Was this probably a smart time to do it?
Al: Well, it was close enough to my house where I can walk to it. And that was the main attraction. I’d almost been robbed a couple of times walking from my office to my house. You can’t get a ‑ in rainy weather or bad weather, you can’t get a taxi or anything. So I was determined not to get into that cabby saved me a couple of times from being ‑
Al: Yes, accosted.
Michele: Was this when you were on 14th Street? That was the case? Yes. It’s gotten better.
Al: Yes. So I’d work late at night so that ‑ writing briefs and so on. And I couldn’t get a cab home, so I had to walk. And I was determined not to do that. And so this is why I moved to Georgetown, back in those days.
Michele: Was there a period of time where ‑ I’ve always been curious as just, not specifics but in general, about landownership in Georgetown, in the commercial spaces where a certain group of landowners, property owners, was there a shift and it then turned hands, turned over to other people? Was there any kind of a pattern to that or…?
Michele: ‑ it just happened as it…?
Al: People who owned commercial property, owned them for a long time. For example, I still have the Guards Restaurant and the one next door which is another restaurant. And I’ve had that 50 or 60 years, both restaurants. I’ve been in my building 50 or 60 years. I own the hotel. I just sold the hotel a couple of years ago.
Michele: So is your experience, do you think that’s fairly typical with people?
Al: Look at Weaver’s, they’re there. Stohlmans, that’s another place. There were two car companies at Georgetown. There was a Chevrolet company during the war and right after the war; and the Ford. And the Chevrolet was Stohlmans.
Michele: They still sell cars different places but ‑
Al: In Virginia.
Michele: Yes, in Virginia, but not ‑
Al: They had the lot where the shopping center was built between ‑
Michele: ‑ between the canal and M Street?
Al: No, on the other side. Between, I’d say, 33rd Street and 34th Street.
Michele: Oh! South of M, you mean like Cadie’s Alley?
Al: North of M.
Michele: Oh, north of M. OK.
Al: Well, those new buildings over there. That’s where the Stohlmans shop used to be.
Michele: I see.
Al: And everybody, if you bought a new car, they wouldn’t ‑ why didn’t you buy from one of those two dealers? They helped them out. They want to drive people who are trying to help the merchants out at that time.
So doing that of course, I’ve been thinking about this in the last few days. I wrote down a couple of names of the various people that came to me. In that area, there was Big Cheese after Arpan. Arpan, subsequently, built a building up on O Street next to or near, I should say, St. John’s.
Al: He put a store there and built a nice large building out of it. And Big Cheese, you probably never heard of that. They moved into the building that is now Old Glory.
Michele: Oh. What kind of a place was Big Cheese? A restaurant?
Al: Yes, a restaurant.
Al: Big Cheese, most with cheeses there. And then there was another one, I was thinking about it, Chez Odette’s. Have you ever heard of that?
Michele: No, I haven’t.
Al: Back in the 1950’s, there was only one, to start out with, there was only one good restaurant at Georgetown. And that was the Carriage House. The Cabbage House was there, but it was more of a bar. The other restaurant that all of us locals used to go to was called Brits. Does that name mean anything?
Al: That was a lunch room. And that was on the first store on the other side of Wisconsin Avenue from Martin’s. On the alley there, you know the alley that goes right behind Rigg’s Bank? On that corner, there was Brits, which is an old‑fashioned lunch room, southern lunch room.
Michele: Oh, southern. Oh.
Al: Old‑fashioned southern ‑ roast beef, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, things of that sort.
Al: Anyway, what I was telling you about, the other restaurant which was not quite in the class of the Carriage House ‑ the Carriage House was a wonderful restaurant. Jimmy is still around the restaurant like [Inaudible 1:22:08]. Have you ever heard of him?
Michele: What was his last name?
Al: His name is Jimmy Stilla.
Al: He ran it for Billy, for Billy Martin. Billy Martin was a ‑
Michele: ‑ Senior, right?
Al: Yes, huh?
Michele: Billy Martin Senior, yes.
Al: Senior. There are all sorts of stories about Billy Martin, which I don’t want to get into you particularly. But anyway, Jimmy ran it for him, and he ran it like it ought to be. And, they had some wonderful dishes. I can still remember ‑ Jimmy would go fishing down in North Carolina and ‑ You call me?
Michele: I’m afraid I can’t hear her very well.
Michele: It’s awful when those great restaurants go and they take their wonderful dishes with them.
Al: Yes. What happened is the hippies drove them out of business. Billy Martin rented this room in the evening to this fellow who was a hippie and developed a hippie business. And the hippie business is nightclub business, a hippie nightclub. And the customers of the Carriage House didn’t mix. The hippie business ran them out of business.
Michele: Oh, that’s a shame.
Al: Then without business, they had to close. But they had wonderful dishes. The flounder, they get a small flounder, about that big, and they cook it in bacon grease.
Al: We get the thing and eat one side and flip it over and eat the other side. It was delicious. Then they had the ‑ of course, the eggs Benedict was tremendous. And they had good roast beef. It was a very good restaurant, and these various dishes that Jimmy Stilla had. And he ran it for maybe 40 years.
Michele: So, when you would gather, like the round table that you were talking about, was that just the group of friends, or was that an organization?
Al: No, we used to call it the confab.
Michele: The confab.
Al: But it was not any organization.
Michele: Not formal, just friends.
Al: Just what Jimmy called them, a group of businessmen who wanted to have lunch. And we’d discuss and re‑discuss all the problems of the day and solve them.
Michele: [laughs] That’s what’s nice.
Al: Yes, and it was very nice and very pleasant and enjoyable. I miss that. I’d try to get down there two, three, or four times a week. I’d walk from my building down there and we’d have lunch there together. It was a very pleasant deal.
This Odette, Odette is what I was talking about. He had some very nice dishes that he would go make. One of which, I remember particularly, brains the French way, French‑style brains.
Michele: It seems like there were a number of French restaurants at one point.
Al: I was getting ready to tell you about the problem of the restaurant business at that time. When he was there originally, he was one of the original people. Like when the Carriage House was there, he was there. And so, I’d eat occasionally at the ‑ when I was down at the hotel, I’d go by there and eat at Chez Odette’s. That brains was outstanding. All that they got me was the gout.
Michele: Oh yes. The gout wouldn’t like brains.
Al: So I had to watch that after a while. But anyway, that was an important place. I was thinking about whether it was closer to ‑ whether it was west or east of the Stone House. I’m inclined to think it was west of the Stone House, between that and 31st Street, this Chez Odette’s.
There was another nice restaurant later called [Inaudible 1:28:32]Night and Day?. It was on the second floor. Do you know where Garrett’s is?
Al: On the second floor of that building, was this restaurant. It was a French restaurant. But that came along much later. Underneath it was a fellow named Blair, Blair Lighting Fixtures. And that was Blair Lighting Fixtures.Sam Levy lived in that block. Across the street was a funeral home, Birch’s Funeral Home.
Michele: Yes. [Cell phone] Please go on, I’ll just turn this off permanently.
Al: The used car lot that just recently has been built on. And then there was a filling station on the corner which I bought and built the Mulberry House, which is now the Latham.
Michele: Yes, I’ll be darned.
Michele: And that used to be a filling station.
Al: Filling station, yes. That used to be a filling station. There was another filling station on the opposite corner.
Michele: I’ll be darned.
Al: This filling station was a BP station, which I bought. And the one across the street, in which the bank is located, was a Texaco station. And then I bought the two buildings right next to the Texaco station, which is now the Guards.
Michele: The Guards, yes.
Michele: That’s so pretty.
Al: The Guards have been there. I built that. I bought that about 1958 or ’60, something around there. And there was a woman who ran a very fine restaurant during the war, called Jane Moran. Does that name mean anything to you?
Michele: Sorry, no.
Al: She was from New Orleans. And she was right across the street in the old morgue. The morgue was on the corner of 29th, on the southwest corner of 29th Street and M Street.
Michele: But this was the morgue for the district or…?
Al: For Georgetown.
Michele: Just for Georgetown.
Al: I suppose.
Michele: Oh my goodness. [laughs]
Al: And she was anxious to get another restaurant and close that one. And so she moved. She talked me into building a new restaurant for her underneath, which was a tailor shop when I acquired the building.
Michele: Where the Guards is now, you mean?
Michele: I see.
Al: And she decided to call it Rue Royale. She had some fancy restrooms where men would pee on the rocks. The only thing is she wouldn’t pay for the water bill. She was quite something ‑ that was a big mistake. But she stayed there until I finally evicted her. And the Guards came along. The Guards came along with ‑
Michele: The Deans?
Al: She was in the family of Clayton Gore.
Al: Jimmy Gore. Does that name mean anything?
Michele: Yes. So, did they change the interior?
Al: Oh yes, they changed it entirely.
Michele: I see.
Al: And they established the East India Sporting world. Does that name mean anything?
Al: That was in the basement.
Al: They dug the basement out ‑ all these in my building ‑ dug the basement out and so on. They did very good and it was very popular particularly since Mitchell who was then the Attorney General, he used to hang out there.
Michele: Oh, that helps.
Al: And he and his granddaughter, who you know.
Michele: Deborah Gore Dean?
Al: So finally, Jimmy became very successful with the Jockey Club and the hotel above the Jockey Club, which Colonel Gore owned.
Michele: And that’s downtown, right?
Al: Well, no.
Michele: No? Where is that?
Al: It’s on this side of DuPont Circle. It’s on the second street from the circle, going at Mass Avenue. It’s on Mass Avenue and this street. That’s where the Jockey Club was. And Colonel Gore owns the hotel above the Jockey Club. [Inaudible 1:34:18]. And they did good business.
But Jimmy decided that he wants to go down in Virginia and do something. So he just left. And Colonel Gore had to take over the restaurant.
Michele: Oh my.
Al: He tried to sell it, and he finally did sell it to the present tenant.
Michele: I see.
Al: Hussein is the present tenant. I gave him the new lease, the new tenant the new lease, and he’s been there ever since. And they do very good business.
Michele: Popular place.
Michele: It’s a popular place.
Al: And they have good food.
Al: Then I bought the building next door to it. And I rented it to a Chinese restaurant, Number One Son. And then he sold his business to another fellow who operated Guipetto’s.
Michele: Oh, I’ve heard of that.
Michele: I’ve heard of that.
Al: Guipetto’s. And they had specialized in deep dish pizza, which was something special at that time, plus they got a recipe for chocolate cheesecake. And they used to have people standing in line to get into the place. Very successful.
Eventually, last year, they sold it to this fellow who had Mendocino’s.
Michele: Oh, yes.
Michele: And that’s in your building?
Al: The building next to the Guards which is my building.
Michele: Is your building, right.
Al: There was another building across the street, La Rouche. Are you familiar with La Rouche ?
Michele: Cafe La Rouche? Yes, on 31st, right?
Al: Well, they started out at this building, one building north of where the Night And Day was, on the corner of M and 31st Street. There was a building there. This fellow wanted to sell the building. And so he called me. He had somebody call me. And I went over and looked at it.
I think he wanted $125,000 for the building at that time. That was in the ’70s. And I didn’t think it was a good deal. And so I passed. And he rented it to La Rouche. And La Rouche started there. And they had lines going. It used to Madame Vivian’s and Laundry. It was on the first floor.
Michele: And then the restaurant was on the second floor.
Al: That was in the building on the corner. The restaurant was on the second floor. This is on one building, north of the corner.
Michele: Oh, I see. OK.
Al: And they made a big success out of it, La Rouche did. And he somehow and La Rouche disagreed, and La Rouche had to move. And they moved to 31st Street. He continued to operate it as La Rouche, but La Rouche got a lawsuit that stopped him and…
La Rouche was an important restaurant in the ’80s, I’d say. It still is an important restaurant.
Michele: Yes, it’s a good one.
Al: Yes, it’s a good restaurant. The second important restaurant in Georgetown was different. It was called the Townhouse, Gaston Miller who is now out in Honolulu, ran the Townhouse. It was on the corner of O and Wisconsin.
Al: Where the bank is now.
Michele: Yes, OK.
Al: And they were really a French restaurant, and the first real French restaurant that came to Georgetown, and had good French food.
Michele: The Townhouse?
Michele: The Townhouse, yes.
Al: Townhouse, yes. And that was. And they stayed there for maybe 10 years. And then Gaston had itchy feet. They went out to Honolulu. And that was the end of the Townhouse. But that was quite a gallery. A lot of people gather from time to time. And that was a real nice restaurant. They served good French food.
Before that, another restaurant came in. As People’s moved from the corner of Wisconsin and M Street, the southwest corner, where the ‑
Michele: Banana Republic is now.
Al: ‑ Banana Republic is. It moved out to a half‑way, no I’d say two‑thirds of the block, between 31st Street and Wisconsin Avenue. It was four or five stores in that block. It didn’t have a big front, but it was a very deep building. And Riv Gauche came there and became… They moved from 17th Street downtown, 17th and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Michele: And they moved there.
Al: And they moved there. [Inaudible 1:40:38] and Riv Gauche They established great food for Georgetown. It was really a good restaurant, much like the restaurants that’s in my hotel.
Michele: Oh, I see. Yes. I’m sorry, I’m forgetting the name.
Al: Yes. Richard ‑
Al: Citronel. It was the Citronel of the day.
Al: Yes. In the meantime, it started there. J. Pauls started. That was Eric Stanley’s auction house. Does that name mean anything?
Michele: It was an auction house.
Al: It ran in competition to Wessler’s and ‑ you know Wessler’s downtown, the auction house?
Al: This was in Georgetown. Eric had a wonderful personality. And all the ladies used to go down there just to listen to Eric speak. They’d buy a few things, but I bought a few things there from him. I bought that rug from him [Inaudible 1:41:58]. They had a very nice stuff. And the girls had loved it when I bought that picture there.
Michele: Oh, that’s beautiful.
Al: Yes. The teacher of Velasquez with Harman Ford. Do you know Velasquez?
Michele: No, it’s beautiful.
Al: He is one of the four great painters of Spain. Velasquez, not the fellow that painted that.
Al: This was the teacher.
Michele: But the teacher.
Al: Yes. Anyway, Eric was quite a fellow. And he was a good friend of mine. He moved out to ‑ the auction business didn’t turn out to be as profitable a business as he thought it was going to be. And so he owed a lot of people a lot of money. He eventually decided to get out of the auction business and moved out to Bethesda.
Occasionally, I have lunch with him. I haven’t had lunch with him for several years. But he was a wonderful guy, and the people of Georgetown loved him. They used to come down there. And whenever he had an auction, it would fill up with the ladies of Georgetown.
Michele: It was a show.
Al: Yes, but he was a delight to see, and his talk about various things. Anyway, Eric and mother‑in‑law had these buildings between 34th and 35th Street, on the north side of M Street, all those buildings where the bicycle shops are down there.
Michele: Yes, with the interesting treatment at the top.
Al: Two stories.
Al: Well, Eric says, “My mother‑in‑law has got a contract to buy those buildings on the whole block for $85,000. She wants to sell it. She’s willing to ‑ if you give her deposit back, she’ll sign the contract over to you.” And they wanted $85,000 for it.
I said, “I will buy those buildings and put an apartment house there, which I think would go. And it’ll take me a little time to do this because I have to get the finances worked out, and I have to get it approved by the district.
In the meanwhile, the Citizens Association decides to file a subpoena. So I go get the district to approve my preliminary plans. And so I go try to get my finances. And the finance people said, “Look, you’ve got premium view of the river on one side, but you’re looking to the bank on the other side. So you don’t really have a premium location. So we can’t give you premium prices for this location.”
I said, “I will design the building so that all the units will have a view. That’s means an L‑shaped building like that,” bedroom on one floor and the back, another room on another floor. So you’d do all that. Oh, better have a floor here and do it, kind of innovative, yes?
Michele: Yes, definitely.
Al: So in the meanwhile, this Lewis plan had re‑zoned that area where you couldn’t build that apartment house because of the new zoning.
Al: But I had gotten it under the old zoning.
Al: So Mrs. Hinton and the Citizens Association go down to the district building, “Make him build it now or get out.” I said, “I’m not going to build it unless I get my financing. And I have to get these things ready straight with the financing.”
So they gave me another two or three months to get it done, a couple of months anyway. In the meanwhile, finance companies, you don’t move them very fast, you know. So they she comes back and she says: “Get on or off the pot.” Citizens Association. So they said, “Well, you only have to do that.” I said, “You have to do it. You take the thing[inaudible].”
I can’t use it. I don’t think those stores will ever amount to anything. At the end, they might amount to anything. But my apartment house would have been something special for Georgetown. In the meanwhile, Sam Levy comes along. He pays $300,000 for it and he’s still business [Inaudible 1:47:07].
Al: All these things, by the Citizens Association. The problem with the Citizens Association at that time, and possibly now, and I wasn’t a member of the , I was so disgusted with them for opposing this proposition when it was on the best interest of Georgetown. And now they consider it the joy of Georgetown, that I didn’t join it.
Well, one day, one of the presidents of the Citizens Association called me up and wanted to have lunch. I did, and he said, “We agree with you. I agree with you. And if you’ll join the Citizens Association, I’ll assure you this will never happen again.”
So I joined the Citizens Association, and I was made chairman of a committee on taxation. And put on the special committee of the president’s and so on. About 10 years ago, the Citizens Association changed leadership. This leadership went back to where the old leadership was, and that’s where we are today.
I don’t have anything against the Citizens Association. I don’t have any problem with them. The only thing is they have to distinguish between what’s good for Georgetown and what’s not good for Georgetown. What’s something, people trying to help Georgetown, and people who don’t. And not just playing politics with various people around here, who they think can help them. Some of them do, but some of them don’t.
You got to distinguish between what’s good and what’s bad. That’s the problem.
Michele: Sometimes it’s hard to tell, isn’t it?
Al: Pardon me.
Michele: Sometimes it’s hard for people to tell.
Al: But you don’t constantly make, consistently make mistakes.
Al: Anyway, going back. We’re going down M Street pretty good. There was another good restaurant on M Street, a Spanish restaurant. They had flamenco dancing.
Michele: Flamenco dancing?
Al: Yes. Not for the people, but they would have people dance on a square about six or eight feet square.
Al: Where La Chamiere is. Do you know where La Chamiere is?
Al: It was a very good Spanish restaurant, and had very good food. And La Chamiere came and changed it. La Chamiere is a very good restaurant. Then there was this building that was really a mess. It’s now an embassy. But it was on the corner of M ‑
Michele: Ukraine Embassy?
Al: On the corner of M.
Michele: Was that where that Apple Pie was? Apple Pie, it was a restaurant or something?
Al: There’s something down there, Hot Potato, Hot Diggety Dog or something.
Michele: That’s a great name.
Al: And then that area developed, as you know, with the Four Seasons Hotel replacing the gas company.
Michele: Oh yes.
Al: That hotel and my hotel changed the image of that area down there.
Michele: Definitely, yes.
Al: The Mulberry House which is now ‑ as well as the Monticello, they did a lot for that area, as has the Guards and so on.
Al: Anyway, going on the other side of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, J. Paul’s came along and replaced Eric Stanley’s auction house there. And that’s been a very good success. And on the other side of the street, you got where Stohlmans was, down there. You got all these modern buildings out there [Inaudible 1:51:51].
On the other side of the street, Georgetown Park. That used to be were the Capitol Transit mechanical warehouse was, mechanical warehouse where they used to maintain the buses.
Michele: And I think the horses before then, right? This was a long, long time ago. But anyway, yes.
Al: Speaking of horses, there was this saddle and bridle shop, that was a very fine shop, moved out to Maryland. That was on the corner here. And there was a Carib restaurant there. Have you ever heard of the Carib? That was a fine South American restaurant right next to the parking lot there which is on 33rd Street, south of M ‑
Michele: The parking lot for Dean & Deluca?
Al: Next to Dean & Deluca. The saddle shop was on the 33rd Street. And right next to the saddle shop, they had all these fancy leather goods shop from the horse and buggy days. It was right there on that corner.
Michele: My goodness.
Al: And it moved out to Maryland. And the horse country out there.
Michele: And that’s more sense, I suppose.
Al: I was sorry to see that saddle shop, leather shop, move because it was a very important asset of Georgetown. The next important point there was the house there, that Mulberry, Mulberry House.
Michele: Oh yes.
Al: Which George Gerber bought. The BA Coal was there, the gas company, distribution of gas appliances there. It was BA Coal and Company. And Lanier bought that whole block there fand assembled it for his development of Cadie’s Alley.
Michele: It’s been quite a transformation, hasn’t it?
Al: That’s what he calls that. And that was very much of an asset, getting rid of all those junk shops. One thing we lost on that corner there, which is a park now, is the Key house.
Michele: Oh, yes.
Al: They said the government was going to take it down in pieces and store it and put it back someplace else. But they can’t find it now.
Michele: What a shame.
Al: What a shame. Of course, there was this ‑ another important part. It was the Cellar Door, which was on the corner of 34th, on the northeast corner of 34th Street, where the Philadelphia Steak Sandwich Shop was there.
Michele: Yes, it just left.
Al: But the Cellar Door was there for years. And they brought, again, jazz and ‑
Michele: Yes, music.
Al: There was another one that did things there. There were two other shops that were really important, but in that aspect of music. The Bayou, ever heard of the Bayou? That was on K Street, between Wisconsin Avenue and 31st Street.
Michele: Oh, that was the very popular one, wasn’t it?
Michele: Yes, everybody talks about that. When I say where I live, they always bring that up. Yes.
Al: The Bayou. And that was very popular. And then we have one other one in that alley, Blues Alley.
Michele: Blues Alley. That’s still there.
Al: That came along maybe 25 years ago, in the alley there. And when Coyia (?) came ‑ here’s another thought ‑ came to Georgetown and built this building on the canal there, 31st Street, at which it has its restaurant, seafood restaurant.
Michele: Oh yes. That’s in the old IBM building? That one, the Sea Catch?
Michele: Richard Bernstein is ‑
Al: Well, before Richard, Coyia did it.
Michele: Oh, I see.
Al: Richard bought it from Coyia.
Michele: I see. He did a beautiful job.
Michele: Beautiful job. I love that setting.
Al: Yes. He’s done a very good job. He had a house down ‑ Coyia…
Michele: Do you spell that c‑o‑y‑a? Goya or…?
Michele: Is it a C, that kind of a sound or a G?
Al: No, it’s a C. Coyia, I think. He went to jail. I do not know, I forgot what the reason is. He went to jail, and did ‑ he was trying to sell his house to me. And his house was located on 30th Street and O, on the southwest corner.
Al: Very nice house.
Michele: Nice place, yes.
Al: But I have a house. I don’t need any other house. Anyway, but he did a lot of good things, Coyia did a lot of good things for Georgetown although he was a slippery sort of fellow, you had to be very careful with him.
Michele: [laughs] You know, Mr. Wheeler, I’m just fascinated by all of this. But you must be getting a little bit weary. We could set up another day to talk, or if you feel like you’ve ‑
Al: Well, I haven’t given up Wisconsin Avenue.
Michele: Yes. Well, we could just have a short time another day to come back ‑
Al: Oh, I don’t know. Maybe we’ll do it again. But I think you’ve got enough here for you.
Michele: I’ve got wonderful stories. These are terrific. And I’d like to ‑ if I can take your picture outside before the sun goes down, I was thinking that.
Al: Oh sure.
Michele: That would be lovely. But is there any other particular note that you wanted to get out today before we go on and do it another time?
Al: Well, I don’t think so. I think I’ve told you about the Georgetown Inn and ‑
Michele: You’ve told me a lot, yes.
Al: First the ice cream company, then the parking lot, and then the Georgetown Inn. I understand it’s going to be redone and it’s going to be a complete luxury hotel. They have very small rooms.
Michele: Yes, very small. I stayed there once.
Al: But now they’re going to combine some of the rooms.
Michele: Oh I see.
Al: And make a large hotel. And the For George restaurant, that’s quite a story.
Al: That was a very good restaurant, the For George. And, you know, the Riv Gauche moved into the For George’s restaurant. The Riv Gauche subsequently moved from M Street at Wisconsin Avenue, to the Georgetown Inn.
Al: And after, they moved to For George’s. And that was a very good restaurant. Many meals I’ve had ‑ and I still go down there. I like that. The Daily Grill ‑ I first ran into [Inaudible 1:59:57] in Palm Springs where I used to go and spend my vacation time there in California where we’d [Inaudible 2:00:09].
And I try to get them to come to Georgetown. Subsequently, they did come to Georgetown. Not because of me, but I think they saw [Inaudible 1:00:17].
Michele: They saw the potential.
Al: And they have the same restaurants, same menu that they had down in Palm Spring. They came first down in the Rain building downtown.
Al: And then came to Georgetown. And they are very good.
Michele: They are good.
Al: Some of these. I’ll try to make one more point. This is, again, the Citizens Association and mirror the opposite sides of it. After the 1957 remake of the zoning regulations, all of Wisconsin Avenue is zone C2, C2A and C2B. And the lot occupancy was 60%. My occupancy was not 60%. My lot was 80%, 90%. So you could build almost only on your lot. And you wouldn’t have any backyard.
Mrs. Hinton comes along and the Citizens Association and tells all these people whose buildings were built under the old regulation. You’re going to be a non‑conforming structure. I’m going to get it passed to be 60% rather than 90%. Why do you want to have all these backyards on commercial stores, which is nothing but place for rubbish and so on.
It’s too dense, and we want to reduce the density. Well, that doesn’t make sense to me. Not M Street, not Wisconsin Avenue This is a non‑conforming structure because it was built in 1790. But nevertheless, she testified and the zoning people granted it, that all the people ‑ most all of the people ‑ who have buildings on Wisconsin Avenue are non‑conforming structures.
That makes little sense to me. And I’m sorry that she did that. I tried to tell her about it, but she wouldn’t believe me. She had her own mind, and the Citizens Association went along with her. You know Mrs.Hinton.
Michele: I’ve heard of her. I don’t know her personally but I ‑ in fact, I don’t even know if she’s still alive. But I’ve read about it.
Al: I’ll tell the whole story, and then it’ll also be the end of it. This is somewhat coarse so I warn you. We went to testify on something up on the Hill, on district building I should say. And I’m standing up, talking with the rest of the boys. We were talking about Mrs. Hinton. And I characterized her as a “debutante in menopause.”
But she heard about it. So one day she comes to see me and says to me, “Mr. Wheeler, did you say I was a debutante in menopause?” Not a word of truth in it but ‑
Michele: That’s a good ending. That’s a perfect ending. [laughs] Well, I really appreciate this. This has been so interesting. Did I do that right?
Al: The modern Georgetown.