Ann Satterthwaite is committed to the preservation of the environment and the community – and is also very interested in historic preservation. What better place to settle than in Georgetown? Ann arrived in Washington after finishing her graduate degree in city planning at Yale University to work with the Outdoor Recreation Resources Commission in the early 1960s where she helped to create parks and green spaces for the city. Having worked in several cities and countries throughout the world, Ann set roots in Georgetown and committed herself to the decades-long project of the creation of Georgetown Waterfront Park. In her interview with Catherine Habanananda, Ann details the struggles and victories during the transformation of the commercial hub south of M Street into the beautiful, peaceful green space it is today. She sums up the unique character of Washington, DC and Georgetown as: “The marvel of this city is that it is so green. It is called the City of Trees.”
This interview took place at Ann Satterthwaite’s house in Georgetown (1615 34th St NW) on June 13, 2012 at 10:00 am.
Catherine: Good morning!
Ann: Good morning! This is Ann Satterthwaite.
Catherine: My name is Catherine Habanananda. Ann, I am going to be doing your interview today on behalf of the Citizens Association of Georgetown. I am very pleased to meet you and to be able to spend some time together with you this morning. In the first part of the interview I would like to ask you about yourself: we would like to know who you are, where you come from, and when you settled down in Georgetown and why.
Ann: I grew up in a New York suburb, in New Jersey, at a distance of about five miles from Manhattan. I have an urban/suburban background. I went to girls’school there. Then I went to Radcliffe for my undergraduate work and I majored in, concentrated in American Intellectual History. Then I did my graduate work at Yale in City Planning.
I worked for Christopher Tunnard who was head of the program there, and who was very much interested in historic preservation. He and I shared the same interest in seeing how we could integrate changes which are occurring in modernization and yet retain a continuum of history within a place. I was particularly interested in how you maintain a sense of community.
When I went out into the job world – that was in the early sixties – women couldn’t get very far within City Hall, so I decided to concentrate… instead of being in an office, a city planning office, I concentrated in Environment and Amenity Planning.
I came down to Washington to work on a temporary commission: the first national program that was dealing with recreation needs nationally. I worked on the metropolitan and urban part of that study. It was called the Outdoor Recreation Resources Commission. It is quite well known now because it was the first and the most prominent.
Catherine: Was it with the DC government, or…?
Ann: No. President Eisenhower had set it up and it was a joint…
Catherine: Federal agency?
Ann: It was a federal… It was federal and it was both a Congressional and an Executive Commission. Lawrence Rockefeller headed it. We had representatives from all the various government agencies as well as a board of outside people. Our recommendations were taken up. We recommended a department within the Department of the Interior for outdoor recreation, and a funding source, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It was successful, and it brought public attention.
Catherine: This was which part of the century, let’s say?
Ann: This happened about 1962 or 1963, I would say. When that commission ended there was a temporary program in the Housing and Urban Affairs Department, HUD’s predecessor on Outdoor Recreation and Grants, giving grants to cities and towns to buy parks. I worked on that, and then I went to the Conservation Foundation and I worked on not only parks but environmental concerns. It was a very exciting time because in the ’60s all the environmental programs we now have were started then. The Council for Environmental Quality, the National Environmental Policy Act were set up, and all the legislations for water and air, they were all established then. It was a very exciting time.
Catherine: Indeed it was very early for those concerns.
Ann: Yeah. This was in the ’60s. Actually it was under President Nixon, whose record for domestic policies will go down in history. It was really a remarkable time. Then Kennedy came in and it was carried on, and then Johnson carried it on. We haven’t had that excitement and national commitment to environment and community since, I would say. We still have the same legislation, but a lot of the funding has been cut and they’ve had a more difficult time in the recent years with that.
Catherine: Would you call yourself a “Green”, today?
Ann: I guess you would. I call myself an “environmental planner”, but yeah, that could be “green”. I’ve been very much interested to see how we can introduce more green space into our communities. This metropolitan area we have in Washington is so well endowed with parks. It is quite remarkable.
That is really my background. I came here in the early ’60s, and I’ve been here off and on. I’ve done consulting, I haven’t done any work for the District (of Columbia) Government. No. But I’ve done a great deal of consulting around the country. I’ve worked in Charleston, South Carolina, and in Denver, and San Francisco. I’ve been away a bit, and I’ve been very much interested in how the English have handled their parks and open space. I worked in England for a while. I haven’t been here consistently. I’ve had a domicile here, but I have not lived here all the time.
Catherine: I see.
Ann: I am an old timer. I have long been interested in the community of Georgetown. And I will say that I feel as the real estate values of property in Georgetown have gone up our sense of community has gone down.
Catherine: How so…?
Ann: When I came here in the 60s and the 70s, we had a far more diverse population. The people who had smaller houses and lesser incomes have been priced out in that they have been offered such extraordinary high values for their property, they could not help accept them, and so there is a much more homogenous community now economically speaking.
Catherine: …even though there are big and small houses…?
Ann: There are big and small houses, but they are all expensive!…
Catherine: Ah yes.
Ann: But before…I mean, I lived near 27th street, and there was a black couple that lived a bit up from me and he was a butcher… You had quite a mix of people.
The same holds for the commercial area. I think that we had a lot of small scale mom-and-pop stores… but when the shopping center Georgetown Park came in with very high per-square-foot-cost rents the other property owners realized that they could up their rents, and that changed the nature of our economy so now it doesn’t serve us the way it might.
Catherine: By the way, what is going to happen in Georgetown Park?
Ann: In Georgetown Park, ah…well…
Catherine: It’s pretty depressing right now.
Ann: Well, around the country shopping malls are having a difficult time. Especially, these interior malls like Georgetown Park.
Catherine: Yeah, it is very enclosed.
Ann: They’re enclosed. Georgetown Park also had the handicap of having very small spaces for their stores and very small storage areas for their stores. It is very limiting for the type of retail they could have.
Catherine: The parking situation…
Ann: …the parking…They have very inadequate parking, so they are looking to see what will happen to that. I hope that there will be things that would well serve the community, which we haven’t had…
Catherine: Would you have any idea about it?
Ann: I haven’t really been involved with it. I did write a book on shopping, “Going Shopping…” The focus of the book is that, and this pertains to our commercial area, that shopping has had a public, civic and social function in communities through history. It is part of a community glue that keeps people together.
I was interested in after the second World War — when the suburbanization occurred and the malls were way on the highways and were taking people out — in that towns and cities were losing their commercial core. Now that is changing. Of course, a lot of these malls… People don’t want to drive a great distances to big boxes. Some of the big boxes are finding that they can have smaller scale stores in cities and in towns. Wal‑Mart is doing that a lot. What could maintain that civic life within a place I found was the shopping. That was the pitch of my book.
Now I’m much more interested in this community in seeing that we have a strengthened civic community life. Most recently, in the last year or the last two years or so, I’ve been working on the Georgetown Village, helping older people stay at home.
Catherine: Oh, you did? Oh, this is excellent.
Ann: We see that not only providing programs and services are helping the older people stay at home, but we also see that as enhancing community life. People do have a lot of transportation needs and other needs and services which we are able to…
Catherine: I have a 92 year old mother and friends, so I know how much that can be helpful.
Ann: Oh yeah, you need.
Catherine: Aging brings problems, they need all kinds of services.
Ann: All kinds of services.
Catherine: Of course if they can stay in their home, it is so much better, psychologically at least.
Ann: That’s right.
We’ve only been operating six months. We’re going to reassess and see how we are meeting people’s needs. But one benefit we hope will be that it will help to bolster our community spirit and enhance the communal feeling amongst, not just older people, but younger people. We have younger people who are providing the services. It’s not just…
Catherine: Are there students coming to help?
Ann: We have students who are working, providing help for us, we have people under 55 who are helping us. We’re trying, hoping, to have a more integrated community.
Catherine: The immediate neighbors are being involved?
Ann: Neighbors helping Neighbors is our motto.
Ann: We have found that aside from the services people need, the social activities have been unusually popular. We have a coffee hour. We have a happy hour at the Georgetown Inn. We have events. People like art gallery openings. We have docent tours. The sociability is a big factor. I think these people are lonely.
Catherine: People do need that. They need to speak, they need to know what it is to talk about something else than their ailments.
Ann: Exactly. I think within communities of all types hopefully you have a diversity of people and you mix and learn and help. That’s being part of a community. That has been something I’m very interested in. I’m now working on a book on that same theme of community life.
In this country, after the Civil War, when the trains started going all over the country, the country was growing and moving West, towns built little opera houses. They called them “Opera Houses” because they were fancy, they sounded like very important, civic, urban places. They were basically community halls which had a theater and a stage. There were thousands of traveling troupes, there were opera companies, and there were lecturers. There were thousands of them. Every town had one. It was a period when there was more live entertainment than at any other time in this country. They were… COMMUNITY. Everything took place in it, because it would be the only large hall in town aside from church halls. They became civic centers in a place, politicians spoke there, elections took place there.
I’m working on a book on that because when the movies came and the car and whatnot, these Opera Houses faded. People could then listen to the radio, then they could watch television, they didn’t need to go out for this. There were no more traveling troupes. But, interestingly, now, in the last 15 years, these little Opera Houses are coming back to life, all over the country. There are people who, not only are questing for creative activities and since there aren’t as many traveling troupes…
Ann: I’m not going to get that.
There aren’t as many traveling troupes. There are now mostly local creative activities. In a sense there’s more communal creativity than there used to be. It is happening all over. It’s not always that you have a revival!…
Catherine: Things come and go…
Ann: …and this is coming. I am interested in that, so I am interested in Georgetown.
I have in small ways done things.
When the Peabody Room had no director, no librarian, – this is about 1998 or so – I worked with people in the community and the downtown library to get someone there.
I’ve tried to get trucks off the street.
I wanted to get bicycles off the street.
Catherine: wow, I’m impressed!
Ann: I’ve done little things.
The major thing I’ve worked on, and — it’s hard to believe — for over 30 years I’ve been working to get this Georgetown Waterfront Park.
The documents with all my files on that are at the Peabody room. I have some here too. I’m going to supplement it, because we’ve just had another chapter of activity.
For any scholar it’s a very interesting study of community activity. Local, city involvement, Georgetown community involvement with the national government, with the National Park Service…
Catherine: Are you one of the first people who thought of a park?
Ann: Of course, this was an industrial commercial waterfront historically. It remained that even though the commerce petered out. There was a flour mill that kept going until the ’60s or ’70s. There were very smallish activities along the waterfront. There was a rendering plant that was not very popular… The final death nail… There was a very handsome, gigantic power plant down at the base of Wisconsin Avenue… They were all condemned. The power plant was no longer being used. They were condemned when officials were anticipating an interstate highway, which was going to come down from the inner city, coming down Florida Avenue and coming through the waterfront, then going across the river where those three island rocks are. They were going to have a big interstate highway there.
Catherine: That was when? in the ’60s?
Ann: This was later than this. This was late ’60s – early ’70s. In any case, it was all condemned. It was city property. And there was a big cement plant, which was on privately owned land where the Washington Harbor now is. Along the piece by the Rock Creek there were just sheds and things.
Well, of course, when they were building the Parkway on the other side, the Rock Creek Parkway, they wanted to check the vistas, so the Department of the Interior had an easement preventing any building over 19 feet along Rock Creek, because the CSX Railroad was still having the old train tracks from the Georgetown Barge Cie down on the waterfront.
Catherine: train tracks, indeed…?
Ann: It’s hard to imagine… South of M Street was very commercial. There was a big lumber yard. There were…It was all commercial…
Catherine: yeah. Actually I arrived here in ’73 and I remember…
Ann: The cement plant site was privately owned and the highway was not going to hit that. It was… west, at least from 31st Street on, that was condemned. That part was city land.
I would say that certainly people had thought of that as being green, as being a park.
Both banks of the river, up and down, are in the National Park Service. Certainly the National Park Service had contemplated that and on the National Capital Planning Commission’s plans they’d always had it green.
After the condemnation of the land that had belonged to the city — they had a parking, a big parking lot down there. You remember that?
Catherine: Yes, I remember the parking lot very well.
Ann: The city owned it. At that stage, after all that was condemned, it was very clear that it should be a park. The land could only be used for transportation or parks because it had been condemned for the highway. Legally, that was all you could do.
However, Marion Barry was mayor then, and he saw the waterfront as much more commercial development, he was NOT a supporter of the park.
At that juncture (late 1970s) we, I and a group of people, organized the first organization.
I’ve had three non‑profit groups.
The first one was called the Committee for Washington’s Riverfront Parks. We thought then that because we were considered an exclusive Georgetown…, that Anacostia River was crying for a park as well. We, in the early stages in tandem with people over there in Anacostia, tried to see how we could join forces…
Most of our energies, however, in that early stage went, number 1, to see that the land that had been condemned for highways would be transferred to the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior.
And the second part, which took most of our time, was that we wanted to see a park where the Washington Harbor is. That is the only wide piece of land. Most of the land along the river is just a narrow strip between a parkway and the river. This was a very wide piece, and it also was the closest to the inner city, so it had access, you could walk from Dupont Circle and West End and places, and you could take the subway.
Catherine: I have a question. What was your position about the metro?
Ann: I wasn’t here when the metro was planned, but I certainly felt the metro should be here. They always are saying that Georgetown objected to the metro. It was one woman who was very vocal and very well known who did object. However, the Citizen’s Association never took a position, in my understanding.
The real reason why the Metro didn’t come had nothing to do with whether we wanted it or didn’t want it. It was economic. Georgetown is built on a hard rock base. As we know, when they were building the theater down on K Street, at the back of the Ritz it was a much slower process because they had so much hard rock. The decision was that it would be much more costly to tunnel through the rock in Georgetown, which they would have had to do to have a metro. Instead, Foggy Bottom was all swamp inland. It was much cheaper to go down through Foggy Bottom and then over to Arlington.
Catherine: So, that’s the reason? Everyone is saying the Georgetown community didn’t want it.
Ann: Well, that’s a myth, and it fits this image of this exclusive community.
So, we spent our time trying to block…That was private land, and the developer of the Georgetown Park shopping mall had gathered a team of people, and CSX, the railroad, owned the land along the Rock Creek. They formed this Washington Harbor Development Project, and they had wanted to build the building that’s there now, and then they wanted to build a hotel abutting the Rock Creek.
We went through years of hearings on that, and the major problem was that the Department of the Interior did not have the money to buy the land. If they had had the money, I think we could have gotten it. It was 25 million dollars, and at that point Secretary Andrus and Secretary Watts did not have the money.(1977-1983.) We had a coalition of all the national environmental organizations, local environmental organizations, and the Urban Coalition, the Black groups, the Spanish groups and what not because we saw this as a public park. In any case, we worked hard on that and we lost on that.
We were very disappointed and we also had got the legal case regarding the easement on Long Rock Creek. That had been put in place to prevent development over 19 feet. These railroad sheds had just been 19 feet high, so the Department of the Interior said that they could continue to have the railroad activities but they couldn’t have anything built over 19 feet. It was an easement that was in place, so they had to lift that easement to develop the Swedish embassy and what is there now.
Catherine: What does it take to lift an easement?
Ann: Well, it just took the Department of the Interior to…
The National Park Service lifted the easement in an Exchange of Interest Agreement with the developers of Washington Harbor. However, we challenged that action in court. We said: if you can lift an easement that was put in place to protect the park, which was needed all the more now here, then you could lift and easement in Yellow Stone or Grand Canyon, or anywhere. We won and had a very strong decision in our favor at a federal district court.
Then we went to the Federal Court of Appeals and Mr. Bork, who was one of the judges in that case, said: “anything the National Park Service wants to do is ok with us.” We were using the Ralph Nader’s (Public Citizen) Litigation Group and they didn’t want to take it up to the Supreme Court, so basically we lost that. That was the first organization we had. By then we had people who were pretty worn out. That was our first chapter.
The next chapter was that we did get the land transferred to the National Park Service and nothing much was happening.
I should go back because after that defeat, our groups were disbanded. It occurred to me that we’d had a new democratic President with new appointees. (President Clinton.) Bruce Babbit was the Secretary of the Interior (1993) and it seemed to me that we might have a chance to get the Department of the Interior interested in developing a park in the rest of the condemned land.
I went on an annual walk they have for Justice Douglass who was in the Supreme Court. He was responsible for our having this canal park because the Washington Post had editorially supported they wanted to have a highway. This was in the highway era.
Catherine: I’ve read about that.
Ann: Yeah. Justice Douglass got the head of the editorial page at the Post.
A lot of people got together and they walked from Cumberland all the way down to Washington. It took, I think, two weeks.
Catherine: oh …
Ann: He was able to convince the Washington Post to change their policy to support having a park instead of a highway. So each year they have a “Justice Douglas walk” that starts up in Cumberland and comes down to Washington. Secretary Babbitt, I heard, was going to be on it the last couple of days. I joined them on the last day.
Catherine: You are brave!
Ann: Oh, I didn’t go up that far. I went up to Glen Echo or somewhere. I came down and I talked to people. Then I talked to Secretary Babbitt and I said I was concerned about the Georgetown Waterfront which we wanted to see as a part of the National Park System. He said he had always wondered why it just seemed like a junkyard. He got the Regional Director Robert Starton over and he said: “I want to see something happen here.” I knew it was time we could get something going. I spoke to Bill Cochran, who was head of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, and he agreed. I said I thought it would be helpful, since he was head of CAG, for us to work out something.
And so we set up the Commission for the Georgetown Waterfront Park. (1997.)
Catherine: It was a citizen’s…
Ann: Right… It was a citizen’s effort. It sounds more formal than it was. We got Senator Charles Percy to be the chairman of it. That was an important period because we got the land transferred from the District (of Columbia) to the National Park Service. There was a plan that we worked on and got approved. We had a boathouse committee and a boathouse plan that was approved. We had monthly public meetings. Anyone could come.
That was a period where we moved ahead. Senator Percy, because of his political connections, was the most helpful. We got the City on board and the Park Service. That really established the park. Senator Percy was older then and, in a sense, the mission has been… It was a commission where the Park Service representatives… We were partners with the Park Service, basically, working together, the Commission and the Park Service.
Catherine: You were a force.
Ann: We were a force. We were also seated with equal weight on that, so it was a real partnership. We knew, however, that it was necessary to establish an organization quite independent from the Park Service for fundraising, so as to take a larger role in the funding and in the management of the park.
We then set up The Friends of the Georgetown Waterfront Park.
Catherine: That started at what time?
Ann: Oh God… [sigh]
Catherine: Sorry! Sorry!
Ann: Oh don’t worry about it, but I’ll have to dig up the date… We had people in this living room and we decided…
Catherine: The 80s already perhaps. The 1990s.
Ann: Oh, I think it was the early ’90s, maybe later that that. We’ve been going for about 12 years. I think it was nearer to 2000, likely.
Catherine: It’s amazing how long…
Ann: Oh yeah.
Catherine: …and how difficult it has been.
Ann: In any case, we decided to get something going and I met with Bob vom Eigen, who was interested in the park. Meanwhile, there was a need for money because the Park Service had no money, so the major task of the Friends of the Georgetown Waterfront Park was to raise money for the park.We had all the machinery ready to go, but we didn’t have any money and the Park Service had no funds available. That was our major mission. Bob Vom Eigen is a very energetic person, he was now on CAG’s board, he and I we were able to raise $22 million.
Catherine: That’s huge.
Ann: We got it, we got it. The City was an enormous help. Mayor Williams and Mayor Fenty were big supporters, and they were very helpful. City councilman Jack Evans was a great help. We got an important Challenge Grant from the Department of the Interior which helped us get funded and start setting up an endowment fund to assist the Park Service in the whole maintenance of the park and towards the goal to complete the park.
I think that will keep going, the Friends group will keep going, because its mission is perpetual in terms of fund raising and raising interest in the park, whereas the two other groups had more specific missions.
Catherine: I find this park quite extraordinary in the way it has been organized and built.
Ann: Well, because of the funding problems we had, we couldn’t develop it all at once, so we developed the area west of Wisconsin Avenue first, and the aim there was to be more bucolic.
Catherine: The boathouses were always to stay?
Ann: The boathouses is another issue, and that was one we will be dealing with, because we did have a boathouse plan and it had been worked out with the Park Service and we had sites for it. Because, at this juncture, the public boathouse down at Thompson’s at the base of Virginia Avenue, is desperately, desperately overcrowded. The two universities (Georgetown U. and George Washington U.) are there, plus 900 high school rowers, and independent rowers, and they all row at the same time, in the early morning or late afternoon. There’s a desperate congestion. A great many of the skulls are outside, these are very expensive and precious pieces of wood…, in any case they’re in a compound outside.
We had anticipated all along, and everyone had agreed, and we had public meetings to which anyone was invited, they were publicly announced, that Georgetown (University) was going to build just west of the Canoe Club, and George Washington (University) was going to build between 34th Street and the Key Bridge. Then there was going to be an independent boathouse for rowers, and then the old Thompson’s Boathouse would be mostly for the high school rowers and for some independent rowers.
Everything came to a grinding halt when people objected to the Georgetown University design for their boathouse, they thought it was too big. G.U. lowered it, we had zoning hearings, it was approved by the zoning, and then there was just an enormous outcry about it. The Canoe Club didn’t want it as a neighbor… and it has stalled. Nothing is happening because George Washington University doesn’t want to proceed independently, they want the whole plan to go through.
Until the Georgetown U (boathouse) issue is settled, the park is not going anywhere. North, just west of the park, from 34th Street to Key Bridge, as you can see, it’s overgrown and whatnot, and that is where one boathouse is to be. That is something that we are working on. In fact, we’re having a meeting next week on it. We’ve been trying to get together on that.
These things will get complicated because the public Thompson Boathouse, owned by the Park Service, is run by something called GSI, which is a concession which I thought just ran restaurants and cafeterias in government buildings, but, obviously they do more than that. Their contract has expired. We’d like to see perhaps a community rowing group take over that contract and run the boathouse. But that’s in the future. That is where we are now.
Catherine: Still battling and struggling!…
Ann: Well, the power of these things…! Nothing happens on its own.
Catherine: Anyway the park is there and people already really enjoy it. I like those steps going all the way to the river: this was such a marvelous idea!
Ann: Aren’t they nice, going down to the river? Well, you know that… I don’t know if you’ve been to New Orleans. But the Park Service has some park right near the French Quarter, and they have steps going down, you can put your feet right in the Mississippi.
Ann: These steps are also at the finish line for our regattas. We anticipate people sitting there to watch the finish of the regattas…
Catherine: Oh yes, this is what people will do. Or they relax there too, even when there are no races.
What I find wonderful is that not only it’s good for the people of Georgetown, but it brings people from all over…
Ann: All over, yes. You know, it’s interesting. We were trying to get support for the park, and first we got a walkway along the river’s edge, initially. Just to have something down there. We were trying to drum up interest, and we had petitions. We went around with petitions to people down at the park, asking would they support the idea of having a park… It was interesting how many people, not just from other parts of Washington, but from around the country, and foreigners, people from all over the world, they’d come and they just…
Catherine: They were supporting it…
Ann: Yes, and they just wanted to get…Many of them wants to get down to the water and touch it…
Catherine: Now that the park is there, it seems so natural that it’s there. That’s the magic of it.
Ann: Yes, it looks as though it’s always been there.
Ann: One doesn’t know that it was quite a struggle to get it. As I said, the challenge still is to get the boathouses built. For example in Philadelphia, they have those boathouses along the Schuylkill River. When you go up by train to New York and you sit on the right hand side, right after you leave the 30th Street station, you look over and there is a row of boathouses. The Philadelphia Art Museum is up there. And they’re just handsome. It’s quite iconic, those boathouses …
Catherine: This could be done here too? Something like that?
Ann: Exactly. That’s what we were interested in…I mean, I’m very much interested in trying to maintain water dependent activities on the riverfront.
Ann: I mean, you can have restaurants and other things everywhere, but the…
Catherine: …but here…it’s the river.
Ann: It’s the river. That’s right.
Catherine: The core is the river, and the park has been designed magnificently, I think, for that.
Ann: The papers which I gave to the Peabody Room show…I mean, I have all the various court hearing battles we’ve had. We obviously opposed the development of Washington Harbor, and when that was obviously going to be built we then objected to the design of it. We had hearings before they started preservation review board.
Our point was you could not be building something which had no relationship to Georgetown or its past in any way. We had an architect say it was more suited to the Federal Triangle, the scale of it and what not, than to Georgetown. If you’re going to have something, you know, we thought it could not be something that wasn’t appropriate. We didn’t win on that, either.
Catherine: Is it working well?
Ann: I think they have a lot of problems. First of all, we used the flood issue. We had many hearings. That is in a flood plain and it’s where there’s a curve so it’s especially vulnerable to flooding conditions.
Catherine: I know they have these walls, these metal walls…
Ann: They dismissed that…, they were very cavalier… If there had not been a federal, presidential, executive order…, which is understandably trying to prevent development in flood plains… That’s just a natural hazard. There are life and property losses all the time. We thought this was not the place to have such a large structure. The developers were very cavalier about the flood issue: “it will be no problem…” But soon enough…
Catherine: There was a flood?
Ann: …I always go down and watch. They were very cavalier…It is constructed…it’s just filled land down there…It is constructed in this very soggy land. It floats, in a sense! You never want to park your car in the bottom level when it’s going to rain.
Catherine: [laughing] Ok, I’ll remember that.
Ann: Because it’s built so the bottom level will flood.
Catherine: What about the Swedish Embassy?
Ann: The Swedish Embassy, they had a very difficult time getting someone to locate that site. The man who bid for the site, he had a lot of trouble. We didn’t know what was going to go in there. The hotel that had first been proposed would not have been financially feasible. It was a Rosewood hotel. H.L. Hunt’s daughter. They backed out. For a long time they had trouble finding someone, the Swedish Embassy was saying “no”…
Catherine: Now it’s beautiful.
Ann: It’s a wonderful solution for us. They have water problems because…
Catherine: …there is the creek and flooding…
Ann: Right. There’s the creek, and when they had the most serious flood with (hurricane) Agnes, not only did the river flood, but of course the creek flooded. They have water pumps in the embassy.
Catherine: In any case, that is no longer the park over there…
Ann: Well, when we had…when they…I mean, it’s long and tangled…when we were dealing with the development of Washington Harbor, we did get some concessions. We got a walkway along Rock Creek, which you have to be very sober to walk on, because it’s very narrow, but in any case it is a public walkway right along there.
We have…there’s an easement. The most important thing is that we have an easement in front of Washington Harbour, for public park use. Actually the Corps of Engineers was responsible for promoting that with the Park Service, to make it a continuous park, because otherwise it would be… People I don’t think realize… we’re having signs put up -I hope- by the Park Service, with maps showing, when you’re over near the (Thompson’s) boathouse, showing you that this is park, this easement in front of Rock Creek, in front of the Washington Harbor, and it is for public use. That is the continuing of the park. There the park extends.
Catherine: Ah, that’s not actually part of the Harbor!…
Ann: It is park, it is dedicated for public use.
When they were pushing their tables out in the restaurants in the Harbor, we got the Park Service to push them back, because that is parkland, as far as we’re concerned… which people don’t know now…
Catherine: Oh it’s very important to remind people about that.
Ann: That’s right, because who knows what’s going to happen to Washington Harbour…? You asked how it was doing. I don’t think it’s been the most successful real estate development, let me put it that way, that big building, I think they’ve had lots of problems.
Catherine: What about this idea, I don’t remember where I read about it, the idea that the path along the river would go all the way to the Kennedy Center? Is that a dream?
Ann: Oh, that’s still…
Catherine: That’s still a possibility?
Ann: Yeah, that’s in process, because the Park Service…the idea is you’d walk along by the (Thompson’s) boathouse, and then you’d go down along the pathway near the river. Then, right at or after the Kennedy Center, there would be steps coming down.
Catherine: That would be wonderful.
Ann: Initially, Arthur Cotton Moore, who designed Washington Harbor, designed some rather massive steps that went out into the river, and you’d think Cleopatra might arrive!… But there, nothing can be put into the river because of the flood conditions and problems, so the Park Service has designed something which is narrower, which… I can’t tell you what’s happened, I’d assume it’s money problems…, but yes, something is in the works.
Catherine: It is more than a dream then.
Ann: It is more than a dream: they have the drawings for it. That would make a big difference, because now, if you walk there, it is very awkward, while this would take you right up to the terrace (of the Kennedy Center.)
Catherine: I would love to see flea-markets or fun activities alongside the river…!
Ann: Yeah, it’s very barren now.
Catherine: So we would walk a little bit, and then we could stop at something when we don’t feel like going for a long walk.
Ann: That’s right.
Catherine: We need that. And it is going to happen one day – if you are pushy enough…!
Ann: Yes, I think it is.
The other park issue we have at the moment is the Heating Plant, the West Heating Plant, on 29th street, with the back of the Four Seasons Hotel on the other side. That was built in the earlier part of the Second World War, when the government really boomed, and buildings were going up, some were temporary buildings, and they had had only one heating plant, which was somewhere near the Capitol. This one here heated all of the western federal buildings. It hasn’t really been used for a while. In fact, they used to have those railroad tracks down on K Street which brought coal to the Power Plant. Well, that Heating Plant, now the General Services Administration is putting it out for sale, and its boundaries go right to Rock Creek and right to the Canal.
And so we’re trying to get the GSA to…, we do have several alternative ways of making sure that the land along Rock Creek and along the Canal goes back into park use. Because, now, it’s totally blocked off.
But we haven’t heard yet from the GSA.
Catherine: How big is it? I don’t visualize it very well.
Ann: The space along the canal is probably about as wide as this room, and then it curves around, and then on the creek side it’s even wider.
Catherine: Can we walk along now? I think I would go see it, I’m curious.
Ann: No, you can’t. You can walk on the north side. You can walk on the hotel side… You can see…, from the hotel side you can see where it’s walled off and where you could get around. That is the only parcel of land that CAG is involved with now, along with our Friends of the Georgetown Waterfront Park.
Catherine: You are doing so much.
Ann: Of course, The Georgetown Waterfront Park is under the jurisdiction of the Rock Creek Superintendent and so we have an interest in seeing that going into a park. These things can take a lot of time…
Catherine: Do you think we should stop here? Or we could talk a little more? (You would not be too tired?…)
Ann: Well, you may have some other questions.
Catherine: Yes, I would like to talk a little more about The Waterfront Park itself because it is an unusual park. For example it’s funny it has no railing going all the way for children to stay safe.
Ann: We are putting up a…There has been some concern where there’s a temporary fencing up on the west.
Catherine: Is it on purpose that there is just the grass or the bushes?
Ann: Well, there were bushes and whatnot. But then there was an error on the park side. It’s a long history. But when the Park Service was thinking of designing the park they came up with a very pedestrian plan and we complained about it and said we’d like to have an outside professional do the job. They put out requests for proposals and they had quite a lot of applicants… They narrowed it down to four applicants. We citizens were able to go see the discussions when they had those various hearings. A very well known Philadelphia landscape planning firm got the contract: Robert, Wallace, and Todd. We worked with them on the design.
We were interested in having it be as green as possible. There are two aspects. One is that there are several corner areas where you’ll see a lot of wild flowers and whatnot. Those are “rain gardens” which are supposed to filter the water before it gets into the river.
Catherine: I see.
Ann: Then there was part of the bulkhead in one area which was in very bad shape. We decided that instead of rebuilding it as a cement bulkhead we would have what they call a “bio‑edge,” it’s got rocks and a lot of plants and what not. That area has an interim fence. People were concerned about safety there and so there is another more secure fence to be put in there… Obviously, there are always safety concerns and questions about access.
Catherine: That adds to the charm of the park too, because young people, students, teenagers sit right on these (bio-)edges. They love it, of course.
Ann: Well, it is wonderful because so much in a city where everything is cement or bricks is confined.
Catherine: Yes, the part of Georgetown below M street is a lot of brick.
Ann: A lot of brick, and you’re confined.
Catherine: Right, and, all of a sudden, not only we find this Park, but then the (Potomac) River, and then the (Theodore Roosevelt) Island. This is a beautiful vista…!
Ann: You do see teenagers sitting. I see people just doing their homework and what not, sitting over there…
Catherine: I’ve seen 2 older people fishing… [laughs]
Ann: Yeah, we are very pleased with it and how popular it is with people picnicking for lunch and children romping.
There are going to be signs of different sorts. You know there are always problems. We don’t have signs up to segregate bicycles and pedestrians. We had a bicycle path…These people on the bicycles have been going along the river and they can go up the Capitol Crescent trail which is also adjacent to the river. We thought in this stretch we would have the river walk for pedestrians. We have a bicycle path which is parallel to the sidewalk, it’s in asphalt. There haven’t been signs up yet indicating that we don’t want bicycles on the walk and we are very concerned. We’ve been pushing the Park Service to get…
Catherine: oh yes, if there are toddlers…
Ann: Yes, there are people walking and these spandex bicyclers whiz by and don’t even show if they’re going to go left or to go right…
Catherine: Have you seen the Labyrinth being used by people meditating quietly? I’ve never seen that yet.
Ann: Well, they seem to. You know, there is a bench over just beyond it and underneath the bench there is a little booklet in which people write their feelings and impressions and thoughts…
Catherine: Ah… Thank you for mentioning this. This is delightful.
Ann: I’ve been…no, go to there sometime. You pull it up… Some people, some children just have written up in it.
Catherine: I have been there with my grand‑children (nine and six years old) and of course they run on the labyrinth… it doesn’t matter, if they are alone there, but some people may want to really walk around the labyrinth quietly…
Ann: Wait. No, it seems to be very private.
That was given to the Park by a foundation in Annapolis that is interested in labyrinths and solitary religious areas of sorts. Meditation and what not.
Catherine: Ah yes, meditation and peace, peaceful walk in circles…
Ann: …and it’s in the right part of the park too.
Catherine: Absolutely. It’s beautiful. It was one of the very first things that we’ve discovered …
Ann: Yes, that was built early because they gave money!
The green paint that they initially put on that labyrinth was supposed to be absorbed in the cement, but it has not worked out. They experimented with different paints and it’s going to be repainted, so the green will be much more permanent.
Catherine: Oh it did work well already.
It’s really such a gem, this Park. The whole Georgetown to me is a gem, and the Waterfront Park itself is also a gem! It’s very special.
Ann: As you say, I mean, after you look at it you’d think it has always been there.
Catherine: Yes, it looks so logical. And it enhances the river. I don’t know Anacostia… I definitely want to discover that part of Washington. But river edges, river shores are so extremely important in a city. And it’s so nice when they are well used.
Ann: You know there are always controversies. In the initial plan a Philadelphia firm had hired an artist who had worked all over the country for them. They have projects all over the country. We have these lookout areas and she designed a steel rod with mesh that looked like a sail and there was a bench underneath. We thought it fit in with the river and the waterfront and it was appropriate and it provided a place where you could sit, this would shelter you a bit.., but there were people within the community who felt that… who didn’t like this thing.
Catherine: oh so it didn’t come to be…?
Ann: The result was that there was a great deal of feeling about them being out of keeping with Georgetown. We had to redesign those areas and they’ve been redesigned with those granite slabs with the historical pictures etched.
Catherine: That’s not a bad idea….?
Ann: That was a compromise. Unfortunately, they’re very popular with skateboarders.
Catherine: Oh…they will be damaged very quickly then.
Ann: That’s right, so we’ve had…with the Park Service we have experimented with many different…, we have had all kinds of deterrents. But frankly the deterrents haven’t been that successful.
Even the lights, when you get into the details… There was a lighting expert. We were trying to get a light that was diffuse, and that lit up for safety reasons at night a wide area. That was not a glaring light, but a soft light. That is why the lights are the ones we have, they’re very soft diffuse lights. Now a lot of people in the community have objected to those lights. They wanted street lights. But then…
Catherine: Oh, but then it’s much too strong.
Ann: Yeah, too intense.
Catherine: Yes, for a park, I agree with you.
Ann: For the park we didn’t want to have that glaring light, we wanted to have the diffuse light. I think it’s worked.
Catherine: Yeah, it works very well.
The fountain also is a success with everyone. It is so perfectly placed at the bottom of Wisconsin Avenue.
Ann: Ah, we wanted something iconic there…
Catherine: The Park is superb. I see how you have been pushing and working all the way through.
Ann: Well, you have to keep at these things, because otherwise…It really is persistence. I’ve been the one person…because I’ve organized the three groups. We had some down periods, I would say…
Catherine: But you did succeed.
Ann: It hasn’t all been victories.
Catherine: I can only applaud, I applaud… [laughs]
Ann: Of course, it’s at the end of Georgetown. But we do see it as a community gathering place too.
Catherine: Oh, sure. People from Georgetown go down there. It’s a logical place to go for a walk, absolutely. We go there at the bottom, or we go up to Montrose Park in the opposite direction. I have seen that you have also worked for the Volta Park?
Ann: Oh, Volta Park. I haven’t been that active in Volta Park, no.
Catherine: …something is going to be done about the Tot Lot…
Ann: No, I haven’t been involved in that.
I would like to have seen the community partner with another park in a different part of the city. I’m on board with different groups, and there are so many good Washington parks and people that deal with parks in Anacostia and other places. I would have liked to see us partner, work with others who have greater needs than we have.
Catherine: Ah yes, Anacostia. Sure, that would be a very good thing.
Ann: But I wasn’t…It didn’t go over so well…
Catherine: Why? Because of misunderstandings?
Ann: I don’t know. This is very neighborhood oriented.
Catherine: Well, maybe it should be like this…
Ann: Yeah. In any case, I certainly support the Georgetown Waterfront Park. I mean, it is wonderful to see how well used it is.
Catherine: This tiny one, Volta park, is a very good one too because it’s needed.
Ann: Oh absolutely.
Catherine: It’s not very big, but it’s a little bit of fresh air for the houses all around.
Ann: Oh essential, essential. Yeah.
Catherine: Yes. We live at the corner of P and 35th, right across from the Visitation. When we are in a hurry, we just go to Volta Park, to do things with my grandchildren [laughs] . Yet as soon as we have a little more time we go to Montrose, or to the Waterfront.
Ann: Or to the Waterfront, right.
Catherine: This is fabulous for Georgetown residents.
Ann: Early on, CAG (The Citizens Association of Georgetown) was involved. From the early stages there were some people in CAG that wanted to see development on the waterfront. Yet there was a division within CAG: some people wanted a park, and some people wanted more development on the waterfront. Charles Poole was president of CAG then and he asked me to come and be a mediator between the two groups.
Catherine: Was it difficult?
Ann: No, we won, we got them interested in a park…because… you can have townhouses anywhere…! Yes, CAG was involved in the early days and has been all along.
Catherine: You did an awful lot. I admire you for doing all that.
Ann: I’m professionally interested in it too. The access to open space, I feel, is so important for everyone. The marvel of this city is that it is so green.
Ann: It is called the City of Trees.
Ann: We had very good planning in the early days of this city. The McMillan Commission made possible and really established the whole park system. Then in the 1930’s, all these green valley parks that go into the Potomac are parks, like Glover Park and others. It’s wonderful to have these green rivers going through suburban areas up and down the river.
Catherine: Yes, trails even go all the way to Mount Vernon…
Ann: Yes, we’re blessed with a superior park system.
Catherine: Well, YOU did so much. I am very grateful ….
Ann: There have been a lot of people working on it. I was not doing it alone. There have been a lot of people. I’ve been the one person pushing at different stages but we have had a lot of people supporting.
Catherine: Now people may also be looking forward to your new book.
Ann: Ah my new book, yes.
Catherine: Do you have the title yet?
Ann: Right now I have a title called “Local Glories, small town opera houses”… No, “The Opera House on Main Street”, I guess it is. It’s not easy to get published today. Publishing is getting truly difficult today.
Catherine: You would not go to the same publisher as for your first book?
Ann: I think Oxford University Press is currently interested. Let’s hope the readers are. They send it out to readers and you see what happens. Yale published this book, so we’ll just have to see. (this book = “Going Shopping: Consumer choices and Community consequences”, published in 2003 by Yale University Press.)
Catherine: Maybe I should make a photo of this cover? This book: “Going Shopping”?…
Ann: Well, the title…One of the things that is not easy when you’re dealing with these presses is… The editor who’d been at the Press for 30 years left right before this book was coming out. I would have had a slightly different cover, because my subtitle, I thought, was important. The title was: “Going Shopping” and the subtitle was: “Consumer Choices and Community Consequences.”
Catherine: Ah, that makes it clearer, yes.
Ann: Yes. I thought that was important. But that is lost. It should have been over here, where you could have seen it.
Catherine: … in bigger letters, also.
Ann: But in any case… I was interested in the French Market, because I spoke to them too. That was indeed a local institution.
Catherine: It was, for many years. It was created by a family of three brothers, trained by their father at the start…
Ann: I would be interested in your interview of them…I’d like to…
Catherine: The tape of that interview is probably at the Peabody room already. Plus there is a transcript, as there will be a transcript of this interview as well. It may take a few months before the transcript comes out.
Ann: Oh, god. What a lot of work, oh.
Catherine: It is done by the CAG’s office.
Ann: They take your tape and type it up?
Ann: Then you edit it?
Catherine: I do not really edit it since it is supposed to be kept “pure”, that is, exactly the way it was recorded.
Ann: Oh, really?
Catherine: Yes. I will simply check the transcript when it’s done to see that it’s accurate. Actually this is a marvelous idea, I find, this “oral history”. Its goal is to capture real life.
Ann: Oh, I think it’s an excellent idea. You learn things. There are so many people in this community who have done things we don’t know about.
Catherine: Exactly, fascinating things. Like what YOU did which is really magnificent.
Ann: I will go and Google, because I’m interested. I interviewed them…
Catherine: It must be CAG slash something…
Ann: Oh, I’ll search around.
Catherine: I don’t remember it now, I’m very sorry. But yes, it’s available, you can read it. That was my first interview, and I am not a professional interviewer. I spoke with Georges Jacob.
Ann: Was it in French, or English?
Catherine: In English. He spoke English with me. That interview was simply chronological. He talked about his life.… He didn’t go very much into the decline of the French Market, and I didn’t push.
Ann: Well, I think one of the problems was that some of his big customers, like the (french) embassy, were dealing directly with…
Catherine: The market changed.
Ann: The market changed, and instead of the embassy ordering from the French Market, they were ordering direct from the Swift Meat Packing Company.
Catherine: That’s right. He explained also how the Safeway became quite different, opening a meat department with a butcher in there and people became also much more educated about pieces of meat and cuts of meats…. He explained that very well.
Ann: I would like to see that, because, I think, in historic preservation there have been efforts to retain different characteristics of a community. In some cases it’s a style of architecture, and in some cases it’s a type of people, and in some it’s types of activities.
I’ve worked in communities where if you want to maintain a mix of people or maintain low‑income housing, you can set up a revolving fund. You buy a building, fix it up, and then you can maintain the rent levels that you want. If you want to sell it, you can then put in a restriction so …you have stipulations on the various income levels that have to be respected in that particular building. Then you sell the building, you’ve got the money from that and then you can buy another building. And you can do the same again and again. That is what these revolving funds have done in different places. They have been used for commercial buildings too.
I would have liked to have seen, whether it was CAG or something else, but no…I’ve spoken over the years to different people about that…, I spoke to the BID (Business Improvement District) people too, about getting a building, these run‑down buildings on Wisconsin Avenue, fixing it up, and then… You could rent offices upstairs for people, or you could have apartments. You could also have a community gathering place, you could have a coffee place or something.
Here we have no gathering place.
Catherine: That we would need, yes.
Ann: We have no Town Hall. We have no Center. It seems to me that the community is falling down on that.
We just let the market place call the shots and the community has lost an important community asset.
Catherine: Perhaps the Georgetown Park (shopping mall) was a mistake, because the lifestyle of Georgetown is to walk outside, isn’t it?
Ann: Interestingly in the shopping mall field, this happened 10 years ago, it was clear that the malls were having trouble, large enclosed malls were in trouble. The new type of mall, they call them “villages”, and it’s open‑air. They’d have down there two gigantic stores, one at each end, they’d be called “anchors”. Then you’d have all your little shops, and your parking and whatnot. They’re all over. There’s one at Dulles, there’s one out in Bowie, and different ones around, and that has been more popular, because I think that people feel that they’re in a real place. They don’t feel enclosed where every footstep is being watched and manipulated.
Here that was a turning point, there’s no question. When Georgetown Park came in, there was a turning point, because they had high rents, and they also induced some local places to come into Georgetown Park, and it changed the nature of our commerce. Not that there wouldn’t have been changes anyway, but the community could have had a stronger hand in controlling the commerce to serve the community. I now have to go to Arlington to buy my stationary, I go across the river to Office Depot to buy my filing things. The rents are so high that Staples couldn’t remain down on M Street.
Catherine: Barnes & Noble had to leave.
Ann: Barnes & Noble left and we couldn’t even maintain a 7‑Eleven at Q and Wisconsin.
Catherine: I am missing the Olsson’s bookstore enormously.
Ann: We had wonderful bookstores, we had Francis Scott Key, and we had had Saville, were you here when we had the Saville Bookstore?
Catherine: Yes I was. We can’t have enough good bookstores. Or good books…
Ann, let me now thank you very, very much.
Ann: Well, thank you. How nice to meet you!
Catherine: This was wonderful.
Ann: I’d like to hear more about what you do!
Catherine: We covered a lot of ground and you did clarify so much for me, thank you very much.
Ann: I would like to hear more about what you do too.
Catherine: We’ll do that. We’ll have tea…
Ann: We’ll have tea, that would be lovely!
(Looking for some documents to give me)… Honestly, I don’t think I really have anything of value for exhibits.
Catherine: That’s fine. Everything is already in the Peabody Room… You mentioned that all your files are available there…
Ann: Yes, in my files, all that history …
Catherine: Ann, thank you. Thank you so much.