Margaret and Franz Oppenheimer bought their home on O Street in 1950, raised three children in Georgetown, and continue to live there. While they aren’t completely positive, they believe a relative of Napoleon Bonaparte may have lived in their house before them. In their April 1, 2010 interview with Joyce Lowenstein, the Oppenheimers describe how they came to Georgetown in 1947 when Franz as a young lawyer got a job at the World Bank and Margaret worked at a school for children with learning disabilities. The couple loves living in Georgetown even though Franz actively opposed buses and wishes we still had trolley cars. Read more of their candid interview to learn how Georgetown has changed over the last sixty years.
Joyce Lowenstein: I am just going to start this. This is Joyce Lowenstein and the date is April first. I’m interviewing Margaret and Franz Oppenheimer at their home at 3248 O Street. OK, that’s to start that. So, now Margaret you started to tell me about this painting so maybe we should start there.
Margaret Oppenheimer: Fine.
Franz Oppenheimer: It has nothing to do with Georgetown.
Joyce: I know, but it’s…
Margaret: No it’s about me, she said.
Margaret: Well, that is a portrait of Samuel Foote who had a clipper ship and brought back the blue chair in the living room there on his ship. But when clipper ships became unprofitable, he went to Cincinnati. And there he started something which was quite unusual at the time, a literary group that had both men and women in it. Usually they were one sex or the other. Among the people who came was his niece Harriet Beecher Stowe, who also moved to Cincinnati. And people presented a paper. And he was so impressed with Harriet’s that he said, “Harriet, you really should write and publish something.” “Oh,” said she “do you really think so?” And he said, “Yes.” And so that’s how she started the first chapters of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.
So that’s who Uncle Sam Foote was.
Joyce: That’s very interesting! I’m glad I asked about it.
When did you first come to Washington?
Margaret: We came to Georgetown in 1947. Franz had gotten a job as a young lawyer with The World Bank, which was just beginning. And so, we moved down and rented a little house up on O Street, 3619 O, [laughs] which was not an entirely satisfactory house. I got a job at a really specialized little school. When I came home one day, I was greeted by little boys with their eyes wide open. They said, “There’s folks; there’s snakes in your coal bin.”
Margaret: Said they with delight. And I guess there was, but I had a maid named Molly. She killed the snake, and I took it up to the zoo to see what it was. It was a perfectly harmless little snake, but that was my introduction to living in Georgetown.
Franz: We had visited friends in Georgetown before.
Margaret: Yes, that’s why. They lived on 35th Street.
Joyce: Who was that?
Margaret: Agnes and Sam Mercer who have long ago left Georgetown. They got divorced, and she lives in Omaha now. Anyway, that’s what brought me down.
Joyce: And you worked at a little school here in Georgetown?
Margaret: No, it was an offshoot of the learning center. What was her name? I can’t think of her name, she had. It’s still going, that learning center. But they started a little school for children who were having terrible dyslexic problems. We would take them on for a year, and get them fixed up and send them back to their own school.
Joyce: I see.
Margaret: I was a student teacher there. I enjoyed it very much. It was very interesting.
Joyce: How long did you live at 3619 O Street?
Margaret: Well, we bought this house in 1950.
Franz: This home has been enlarged.
Margaret: Yeah. It used to stop where that line is.
Joyce: I see.
Margaret: Then one day, one of our boys chased the other one down the stairs and knocked something down. I said, “Franz, this house is too small for this family,” [laughs] and said, “Well, I’m not moving.” Then, our solution was to enclose all we were allowed to under the regulations. But because there was a roof over it already, we were allowed to close it. That five feet made a huge difference in the whole house. It’s funny, but it did.
Franz: It just was such an old place, it wasn’t really very comfortable.
Franz: There was an enormous difference between some of that. When you look out optically, it is enlarged on the floors, too.
Joyce: Oh, right. Yes.
Franz: We raised the porch to be on the same level as the rest of the house.
Joyce: Very lovely. Maybe I could take a picture of that afterwards, just for the history of Georgetown.
Joyce: The way you’ve enlarged it.
Margaret: Yeah, sure.
Joyce: And so, you came for a position.
Franz: At the World Bank.
Joyce: At the World Bank when it was just starting.
Franz: It was just started.
Joyce: What was that like?
Franz: The first two years, that was great, because it was interesting. Everything was new. There were no precedents, no legal briefs. We had to write our first loan agreement with Belgium. We had no forms, no precedents at all. The closest we came to was in New York, some respecters for public offerings of corporations‑‑five before 1929.
So, it was fun because it was very creative. We started something new.
Joyce: How long did you stay with the World Bank?
Franz: Longer than I had meant to. [laughter]
Franz: I had two years leave of absence from my law firm in New York at the time, and I stayed 10 years. That was probably too long, but anyway, I can’t undo it.
Joyce: So, you had come from New York. Is that where you lived before?
Margaret: Yes, we did. Yes, well, we spent two years in New York. He was working as a‑‑what was your title on the 2nd Circuit? He was a…
Franz: A law clerk.
Margaret: He was a law clerk on the 2nd Circuit.
Franz: Judges Swan and Leonard Hand.
Joyce: Where are you originally from?
Margaret: I grew up in New Haven.
Joyce: In New Haven. So, and then after New Haven, where did you…?
Margaret: Well I got married to him and I followed him around wherever he went. We moved to New York, that was our first move, and then down here.
Joyce: What year were you married?
Margaret: 1944, 65 years ago.
Joyce: Oh, how wonderful, wonderful. And Franz, where are you from?
Franz: I’m from Mainz, Germany.
Franz: M‑A‑I‑N‑Z, as in zebra or zero or zest.
Joyce: And when did you come to this country?
Franz: Well, I came twice. I came on a student visa in 1937 and I came back on a regular resident immigrant visa in 1939, or 1938. 1939, I think.
Joyce: And when did you meet? Or how did you meet?
Margaret: We met at the University of Chicago.
Joyce: You were both students there?
Margaret: Yes, I’d been two years at Bryn Mawr and then decided that it was all too vanilla, as it were, and also there were no men around. I didn’t know any and I was very awkward and shy with men anyway. So I thought it would be good for me to go to a big coeducational university. That was a very interesting place at the moment, Chicago: Hutchins and Adler were there, giving their famous course. I’d read about that and it sounded intriguing. My family had a hard time understanding what I was doing. My mother had been at Bryn Mawr, my sister had been at Bryn Mawr, what on earth was I doing? I wasn’t flunking out.
Anyway, I said, “If I go anywhere will you’ll pay my tuition,” and they said they would, so off I went. My mother said, “I’m sure you’ll come back with a Turk in a purple turban on,” but I didn’t. I came back with Franz, which was almost as much of a shock, to New Haven!
Franz: Almost as bad.
Margaret: Yes, not quite as bad.
Joyce: So how did you meet? You were both students? Were you there as a student as well?
Joyce: So that was almost…
Franz: I was living in the international house, I remember.
Joyce: Yes, I’ve been there. So, then, you moved here in ’47 and you started raising a family, or?
Margaret: Yes, we have three children.
Joyce: What was that like, living in Georgetown?
Margaret: It was wonderful because you had all the advantage of meeting very interesting people of all kinds, including a lot of foreigners who were bank executives, was stimulating. At the same time, the children could ride their bicycles around, which would not have been true in New York. I taught in New York and thought New York was a terrible place for children because you had to supervise them all the time and know exactly where they were at every minute. They couldn’t just get on their bicycles and take off, which they could here. So, I loved living here. I loved it. The change from New York.
And besides when we were in New York he’d come home every night and say “This God damned city,” so that was a relief too, to get away from that.
Franz: I couldn’t stand New York. They liked my work very much in New York.
Joyce: So you were happier here, too. What was it like for you, living here?
Franz: In New York?
Joyce: No here in Washington. When you came here to Washington, what was it like for you?
Franz: I loved it.
Joyce: You loved it.
Franz: The big thing in Georgetown was Eva Hinton. She certainly saved it, I guess.
Joyce: How so?
Margaret: Eva Hinton?
Margaret: You know anything about her?
Joyce: I don’t actually.
Franz: Oh, oh, she was always in the trenches for Georgetown. One of the big threats to Georgetown was a project of a new bridge, the Three Sisters Bridge, have you heard about that?
Franz: And so, that would ruin Georgetown because it would affect interstate commerce, so she fought, that was, I think her biggest fight.
Margaret: Well, the fact that we have no high rises in Georgetown is very, a lot to do with Eva Hinton. She was a fighter, a real fighter.
Joyce: And what years, what, like when was that? When was she…?
Margaret: I don’t remember, do you?
Franz: Well, we came here December ’47.
Margaret: Yes, but we didn’t get involved with that right away.
Franz: We rented this house in 1950.
Franz: And, so wait a moment‑do you recall the famous painting, French painting, Le Marseillaise, about the French Revolution,…a woman…
Franz: …and her breast half open. I always saw Eva Hinton in that role. She was a wonderful character.
Joyce: Are there other people that you remember fondly that were…
Margaret: There was Colonel Shepherd.
Franz: Colonel Shepherd, yes. Other people?
Joyce: Who was Colonel Shepherd?
Franz: Well he lived on Q.
Margaret: He lived on Q Street in one of those wonderful, big houses on the left on the thirty hundred or thirty‑first hundred block, I’m not sure which.
Franz: And there was another, Captain Belin.
Franz: Captain Belin had this wonderful house with a park around it.
Margaret: Well it’s…
Joyce: Captain, what was…?
Margaret: Belin. Captain Belin, well he lived at Evermay.
Joyce: So these were people that you knew and socialized with?
Margaret: Well, let’s see, did we socialize with them? No, I don’t think we…
Margaret: No, they weren’t part of our social life, they were part of our interest.
Joyce: The color of Georgetown.
Margaret: Yeah, and we were interested. We were active in the Citizen’s Association at the time. We haven’t been for a long time, but we were then.
Joyce: Is there some reason you’re no longer?
Margaret: No, no. One’s life just gets kind of filled up.
Franz: What was your question?
Margaret: Whether we were still active in the Citizen’s Association. Not really.
Franz: Yes, we’re member, but not active, no.
Margaret: Remember there were two Citizen Associations and Eva Hinton started the second one because she didn’t like the first one and that was called the…
Margaret: …Progressive Citizen’s Association. And, so it was split between the two, with a lot of hard feeling and passion.
Joyce: Oh, it sounds like Georgetown in those days was really full of vigor.
Franz: Citizens rent asunder.
Franz: Citizens rent asunder. The house is distressed.
Joyce: I’m wanting a flavor of Georgetown as you’ve lived in it, how it was to live here.
Margaret: Well I’ll tell you one of the little tales when we lived up at 3619 O. It was quite a mixed neighborhood then, it was not at all distinguished, shall we say, and there was a horrid little boy who lived next door to us. And one day I came back with my car, and there he was, his name was Clifford, and he was putting broken glass in the street and he said, “You can’t park here,” and he put broken glass right where I was going to park my car.
Franz: I’d forgotten that.
Margaret: Does that give you a little flavor of Georgetown at the time?
Joyce: Yes. So what did…?
Franz: He was like that comic.
Margaret: Yes, there was a comic strip, I can’t remember what his name was.
Franz: Well the comic and the comic cards, for stories…
Franz: Something about a child [indecipherable 0:15:00] .
Joyce: What did you do?
Margaret: Well, I don’t know that I did anything, there wasn’t much I could do, I guess. He was a horrid little boy.
Joyce: You just didn’t park there. Do you remember the trolley?
Margaret: Oh yes.
Joyce: Did you use the trolleys a lot?
Franz: The trolley what?
Margaret: The trolleys, the trolleys.
Joyce: Did you use the trolleys?
Margaret: The street car.
Franz: Oh yes.
Margaret: And we miss them very much. And Franz fought against putting buses in, but they lost, as you know, but he thought it would be terrible and it is, a lot of things that are‑‑the light bulbs and the landings get slightly shaken and don’t last very long because of the buses.
Franz: That was, there was a conspiracy between Standard Oil and General Electric, to get the buses out.
Margaret: Get the buses in.
Margaret: Get the buses in.
Franz: Get the buses in and get the street cars out. It was outrageous, and they gave false testimony in the hearings, lies about, they said, one thing they maintained was that buses would be cheaper and more economical than street cars. And I got some testimony by economic experts and experts on mass transportation in the hearings to testify that was not true at all.
Joyce: Sounds like you were quite active in trying to keep the buses out.
Franz: Yes, I was very active in that and I learned a lot about how big corporations, and [indecipherable 0:16:57] corporations’ lawyers could make things inside and that was just at the beginning of my career and how they use their power mischievously, anyway. I was outraged about doing away with street cars.
Margaret: He’s speaking so softly, are you sure you’re getting it recorded?
Joyce: This is supposed to be very good in pick up, but thank you.
Franz: I wasn’t speaking softly at all.
Margaret: Well you are.
Joyce: So, and, then in terms of your children, how old are they? When were they born, actually, just in terms of giving a…
Margaret: Well, our older son was born in 1948, my daughter was born in ’56 and another son in ’57.
Joyce: And they went to school here in Georgetown?
Margaret: Well they all started out in public school at Hyde. But, none of them stayed very long. Martin stayed after, kept in the school every day for being naughty. And the reason was clear, Hyde at that time had second and third grade together. And he did fine, but when he was in second grade, he’d show up to second grade but he also absorbed all the third grade stuff so he was bored stiff. And then he’d put the girls’ pigtails in the inkpot and throw spitballs, and so he got kept in and so it seemed that wasn’t a good match then at that point so I put him into private school.
Joyce: And which school did you put him in?
Margaret: I put him in the Friends, which I hated but I put him in anyway.
Franz: Was there only a year?
Franz: How long was he there?
Margaret: Well, he was there until he went to boarding school, which was, oh let’s see, I don’t know the year, but he went to boarding school for the four high school years. And my daughter and younger son were quite close together, they were only thirteen months apart and they went here, what did I have, why did I pull them out? Well, schools were getting very tight. If you’re going to go to private school at that time, you really had to get going on it. So I applied and they didn’t get in the first year, but they did eventually.
Joyce: And when did desegregation of the schools occur?
Margaret: Oh that was very dramatic.
Franz: The one teacher resigned over it.
Margaret: Well at the end of the year we invited the teachers customarily to a lunch. The parents who were active with the parent teachers or whatever they called it. One of the teachers said that she wasn’t going to sit with any black teachers at this. So we had two tables.
Joyce: So the teachers had a hard time of the integration.
Margaret: Yeah, they did. Some did, and some didn’t. And the ones who had difficulty were sometimes the very best teachers too. But, it was not an easy time for everybody. But, we got over it.
Joyce: What other events do you think were big events in the history of your living here in Georgetown? Certainly we had the Kennedy assassination and there were a lot of things, a lot of big things happened.
Franz: One thing I remember which was‑‑what were these things? These parties we went to‑‑everybody went to.
Margaret: Oh, yes. What were they called where you send in a dollar, and then you get sixty‑four dollars at the end? What do you call those?
Joyce: Oh yes. Right.
Franz: Some kind of Ponzi scheme. [laughter]
Franz: But, that was quite interesting because we got in a lot of our neighbors houses. Other neighbors that otherwise you might not have met.
Joyce: What was that like? What do you remember about that?
Franz: Well, I remember it as very pleasant occasions. I don’t remember anything specific about it.
Margaret: What did they call those things?
Joyce: I don’t remember. But I know what you mean.
Franz: Accepted the person became accepted, you got to know your neighbors.
Joyce: And have you been friends‑you’ve lived here for many years. So you’ve seen neighbors come in and out probably. Have your neighbors changed very radically?
Franz: Since we owned this house?
Margaret: Clifford and his ilk moved out.
Franz: What did you say?
Margaret: I said Clifford and his ilk moved out. [laughter]
Joyce: Clifford being that little boy?
Margaret: The hard little boy. No, when it got too expensive for a lot of people. Clifford’s family and other people too. I mean we bought this house for under $40,000.
Joyce: Oh my!
Joyce: Oh my.
Franz: What is this now evaluated for tax purposes?
Margaret: $1.4 million I think was the last.
Joyce: It was a good buy.
Margaret: Yes, it was.
Joyce: So what about the Kennedy years, or politically you’ve seen changes. Quite a bit of changes. Have you been involved in any of them?
Margaret: Well, 1952 was the most politically passionate time. And you couldn’t invite for dinner people who were both democrats and republicans. You just couldn’t.
Franz: [indecipherable 0:24:39]
Margaret: Because there was so much passion in it. That’s the one that really was passionate.
Franz: Adlai Stevenson was running.
Margaret: When Adlai Stevenson was running. When we went to an election party and there was Herb Block with tears rolling down his cheeks because Stevenson had lost. [laughs] Well there was Doc’s. Doc who had the pharmacy at the corner. And he was quite a character. He had a, what was it? A Sunday morning kind of a welcome [indecipherable 0:25:24] . But everybody wasn’t welcome.
Franz: Breakfast. Ben Bradley was there and who else.
Margaret: Oh, and who was the cartoonist?
Franz: Herb Block.
Margaret: Herb Block was there. But, if you wanted to muscle in on it. Doc, could make it very clear that you weren’t welcome. I wasn’t there. I wouldn’t have dared show my face. But Franz was there.
Joyce: And why wouldn’t you dare show your face?
Margaret: Oh, because I was not of interest politically. And I would have felt awkward.
Joyce: But Franz you went.
Franz: Yes. Religiously.
Joyce: Where did your kids play? They could ride up and down the street on their bicycles.
Margaret: Well, they played in the school yard.
Joyce: And they played in the school yard.
Margaret: The boy’s anyway.
Joyce: What about‑‑where did you shop? What were the shops? What was in Georgetown?
Margaret: Little Caledonia of course. That was where you went if you needed to give a wedding present or a birthday present. We missed that very much when that left. When we first came there was a Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue that was quite close in here. Then they moved up, and then they moved up further to where they’re redoing it now? I hate‑‑I don’t know why they tore down that fine building, it was very serviceable, pleasant building. I don’t know what was on their mind, but they did. They didn’t ask me about it.
Joyce: They had just redone it too.
Joyce: Do you remember the Martin Luther King assassination and the riots? What was going on here in Georgetown then.
Margaret: Yes, I was helping out at the church. That was the day of the house tour, the Martin Luther King assassination. And I was over at the church tea. On Sunday this happened and it was like an electric shock then. The [indecipherable 0:28:02] at St. Johns, called father John, and I can’t think of what his last name was. Is the one who is running So Others May Eat now.
Franz: What is he doing now?
Franz: What is he doing now?
Margaret: He runs that organization So Others May Eat, which I think is a wonderful organization. I’ve never been down there. But, I get their appeals and where they tell you something about it. It’s quite an amazing organization. Anyway. Father John. Anyway he was very young. When he was here.
Joyce: And he was here at that time. During the assassination?
Margaret: Yes, because he was the one that called me when‑let’s see. No. That’s not true. Another curate called me when Kennedy was shot, which was nice of him. Before they knew that it was fatal. They just knew that he had been shot, but didn’t know [to] what extent.
Joyce: And the riots? Did it affect Georgetown? The riots after the…
Margaret: No. I went out and helped out on sixteenth street actually during the riots. What was it? They were handing out clothes and things to the people who needed them. It was very interesting to me. Some people were terrified. I wasn’t terrified. It didn’t occur to me. It wasn’t that I was particularly brave. Maybe it was lack of imagination.
Franz: See, I never go out in Georgetown anyway.
Margaret: No. That’s true.
Joyce Lowenstein: What was it like living here during Watergate?
Margaret: You answer that one.
Franz: [laughter] I don’t know what specifically happened, Watergate.
Joyce: Just was there a lot of back and forth or issues between people?
Franz: I thought The Washington Post reporters blew it totally way out of proportion to the significance of it.
Joyce: Any other thoughts you have of what, historically, living here‑‑oh, I have a question. When you moved into this house; what year was this house built? Do you know?
Margaret: Oh, somebody did some research on it. You know who really knows is Harry Hogan. Do you know him at all, Harry Hogan?
Joyce: I don’t.
Margaret: He knows an awful lot about Georgetown houses. He lives on Q Street in that sort of retirement place.
Margaret: You know where I mean?
Margaret: The 2700 block, something like that.
Margaret: Harry Hogan. And he’s a good historian. He might be…
Joyce: OK. If they haven’t interviewed him, I’ll ask.
Margaret: Yeah. He’s a bachelor.
Joyce: OK. [laughs] But, do you know anything about the history of the house‑‑how old it is?
Margaret: This house? Yeah. Well, I don’t remember precisely actually at all.
Franz: What was that man who came into the…
Franz: The man who came with the chauffeured car.
Joyce: Oh, that’s a funny story. One day, those days we had a maid and she came and said, “There’s a man in your backyard.” So, I went out to see. And there was a man, very well‑dressed and he said, “Oh, excuse me, but I used to live here.” And I said, “Oh, well, would you like to see the inside of the house then?” And he said, “Yes, but I’m quite lame, if you could help me up the stairs.” As I got close, I realized there was a strong smell of drink on him, but he was perfectly correct. So he came up here and he looked down there and there was a ball in one corner of our yard and he said, “The last time I was here, there was a ball in that corner too.”
Anyway, he looked here and then he said, “Oh, you’ve done what…” What was her name? I’ve forgotten what her name was. “…did, but she’s dead now.” And he said, “Well, now if you can help me down the stairs, I’ll go.” Well, I was curious where he was going.
And we went out the garden gate and there was an enormous limousine with a uniformed chauffeur who came around to meet him and help him into the car. And I said, “Oh, and what is your name?” And he said, “Bonaparte,” and left. Napoleon had a brother or sister, I forget which, who settled in Baltimore and there are still descendants of the brother of Napoleon around Baltimore. So I thought maybe he hadn’t just made it up, maybe it really was a Bonaparte.
Joyce: How interesting.
Joyce: Yeah. Quite interesting. And, Margaret, (who was wearing a tennis outfit) you play tennis.
Margaret: I do. Badly.
Margaret: Yes. [laughs]
Joyce: Badly. Uh‑huh. And who do you play with?
Margaret: Well, I used to play with quite a good group and then I realized, as I got older, I wasn’t holding up my end. So now I play with a group of old ladies and old men ‑ that’s much more my style. So, we have fun.
Joyce: That’s wonderful. Have you played tennis, here in Georgetown, all the years you’ve been here?
Margaret: No, very little in Georgetown, almost never.
Margaret: No, we’d go out to 16th Street to where we have a reserved court.
Joyce: How often do you play?
Margaret: Well, there are more than four of us ‑ it’s once a week, but not every week, most weeks, but not every week, maybe four out of five weeks, something like that.
Joyce: That’s wonderful. Mm‑hmm.
Margaret: Despite my great age.
Joyce: Which is?
Margaret: I’ll tell you if you guess. How’s that? [laughter]
Joyce: Well, let’s see, I think you said you got married in ’44.
Joyce: You certainly seem very young to me. I would say you’re in your 70s, but…
Margaret: I’m 88.
Franz: I’m 90.
Margaret: And he’s 90.
Joyce: Are you really?
Joyce: How wonderful.
Joyce: How wonderful.
Joyce: Well, you must do something right.
Franz: No, that’s a wonderful year to start looking beyond the grave as one of the principle hymns has it. It was a martyrs first with eagle eyes could see beyond the grave. It’s a hymn.
Joyce: Well that’s wonderful. So, any other things that you would like, just thinking about your lives in Georgetown, anything else that you think would be interesting?
Margaret: I was very active in Saint John’s Church.
Margaret: I was vestry, taught Sunday school.
Franz: I was treasurer one year.
Margaret: Started the junior choir. So, I was very much involved. And then, the new prayer book came along and Franz got disgusted first and I followed behind. So now we go to the wonderful little church, Christ the King at 2727 O Street‑‑which was originally a little black church, but an Anglican organization bought it to differentiate itself from the Episcopal church and it’s a lovely little, old church with a very tiny congregation, but it’s very satisfactory, nice [indecipherable 0:37:05] .
Franz: I was treasurer of the Citizen’s Association, right?
Margaret: No, of the church.
Franz: The church, yes, I was treasurer of Saint John’s and I had‑‑the board of people, I swear didn’t know the difference between stocks and bonds. When they all went away at the end of the summer, I wanted to have the authority‑‑say some bequests came in, to immediately invest it and didn’t want to report it to them because it couldn’t wait. I said, “Quite often we get sizable bequests from people, but I didn’t want this money lying around uninvested.” And, as I said, they didn’t know the difference ‑ they were totally ignorant about financial things. They wouldn’t give me that authority for the summer when they wouldn’t meet. So, I resigned as treasurer.
Joyce: You resigned. Uh‑huh. But it must have been quite difficult to‑‑actually a church you’d been very active in for many years and then to decide that it really was not meeting your needs and leave.
Margaret: Well, I don’t know. It was…
Franz: …when they started having fairy bishops, I…
Margaret: That came later.
Franz: I couldn’t stand the new prayer book. I don’t know whether you know about that.
Franz: Well, the book of common prayer was essentially, hardly changed since the 16th century. It was first done by a famous bishop, Cranmer.
Franz: Cranmer. But anyway, then they did away with that prayer book and had a new prayer book which was virtually illiterate and I left the church at that point.
Joyce: So, when did you move to the other church, what year?
Margaret: I don’t know. It was‑‑let’s see, I had my heart attack when I was there. So, I think it must have been about nine years ago, something like that.
Joyce: You had a heart attack?
Margaret: I had a heart attack. Yeah.
Joyce: Well, I’m glad you’re here to talk about it.
Margaret: Me too. You’re turned…
Joyce: You want me to stop it?
Margaret: Yeah, this is really nothing to do with Georgetown. But I was complaining to my cardiologist…
Joyce Lowenstein: After you were at the World Bank, what did you do after that?
Franz Oppenheimer: I had a solo practice for one year during which I was constantly in Europe, virtually. I found out it didn’t work because when I was in Europe my client’s here wanted legal advice, I wasn’t there. So I was taken in by a good law firm of which I became a partner. And so that was that.
Margaret Oppenheimer: Then you were in Leva, Hawes, Symington.
Franz: Yes, that’s right.
Margaret: He joined…
Franz: I joined this law firm, which was then, in those days, it was already Fowler, Leva, Hawes, and Symington.
Margaret: Leva, Hawes, and Symington.
Franz: When I joined it was Fowler, Leva, Hawes, and Symington. Fowler became the Secretary of the Treasury and we changed the name. It eventually became Leva, Hawes, Symington, Martin, Oppenheimer. I got my name in with them. That’s what I did.
Joyce: And, are you retired now?
Franz: Yes, unfortunately.
Margaret: Yeah, he hates it.
Franz: One thing happened in the church. This fellow, the priest, said he wanted me to write something for the newsletter. And I said, “What do you want me to write about?” He said, “Could you write how you converted to Christianity?” And I just looked at him and said, “I never converted. You converted.” [laughter] Because it was just something generally not known. For about 100 years you couldn’t be received in the Christian community unless you were a Jew. That is just very little known. Christianity was just a Jewish sect. And I think, basically, that today is what happened, Christianity and Judaism, which used to be pretty much rival religions, made it universal. It has not otherwise changed.
Margaret: You know, it was Cornelius the Roman centurion who said he wanted to become Christian and they said, “But you are not even Jewish. How can we let you?” And then, I guess it was Saint… Was it Saint Paul had a dream in which a curtain comes down and it’s filled non‑kosher foods, lobsters and crabs and pork chops and everything on this thing. And a voice out of heaven says, “Take and eat.” And this is dream is interpreted as saying it is all right to be a Christian even if your not Jewish.
Franz: Now the other thing that happened, when Saint Paul came to Rome he wanted to enlist new members of the Christian community and he couldn’t find any Jews so he started enlisting non‑Jews. As I said, he couldn’t find something better. [laughter]
Franz: That didn’t have anything to do with Georgetown. These things are funny. [laughter]
Joyce: Any other things you might want to share?
Margaret: No. Have you got any other questions?
Franz: They’re called pyramid parties. Margaret. That’s right. They are pyramid parties.
Joyce: Oh, good, good, very good.
Franz: With all those neighbors, we got to know a lot of neighbors.
Joyce: Yes, yes.
Franz: What is wonderful about Georgetown is you essentially live in a village and yet you’re a 20 minutes walk, when I walked fast, from the center of town, from the White House. Now it takes me 50 minutes to walk that, to walk Metropolitan Club. I used to do it in 20.
Margaret: How many people have you interviewer?
Joyce: You’re the second person that I’ve interviewed, the second people, and there are oh, probably, 15 people that are doing…
Margaret: We’ll try to get hold of [abrupt end of audio]
Following is a story Margaret told of a picture she was showing me.
Joyce: OK, and so the story about taking the picture.
Margaret: Well, at that time, my older son was out of college. He didn’t know. He was a child of the ’60s. He didn’t quite know what to do with himself, so he decided he’d become a photographer. His way to become a photographer was not a bad way. He just started taking pictures all day long, all the time. So, he was out, and down the straight, came a Miss Bunny Ferguson from Sarasota, Florida, who thought that she would like to major in French at Georgetown, which had just opened. It was my birthday in September.
Franz: She wanted to model, too.
Margaret: I was staying here with a Frenchman named Alan Torrere who had been… this gets very involved, but he had been the barman in a hotel in France where we had been skiing.
Franz: We knew him for a while.
Margaret: We became very good friends. It’s quite a long story.
Joyce: That’s OK.
Margaret: Well, we’d been skiing with our children there, in this French hotel. My younger son had hurt his leg. He’d sprained it badly, so he couldn’t ski. So he installed himself at the bar and talked to Alan, who was a wonderful bartender. Alan said to Edward, our son, “You know I’ve done, had a stage in Germany and in England, but I’d really like to come to America.”
Edward said, “Oh, my father could arrange that.”
Margaret: So, he was about nine years at the time. He kept bugging Franz to help Alan find a job in the United States. So, finally, Franz went down to the Mayflower. They said, “Oh, yes. For a French trained barman, no problem at all; just tell him he’s got a job waiting for him when he comes.” But in the meantime, they changed the laws, so it became more complicated. You had to be a chef. So Franz and I went down to Luz, fortunately we speak fluent French, and interviewed the head of the hotel school where Alan had been. He gave us a certificate saying any diplomat of this school is automatically a chef.
Armed with that, we got Alan a visa to come in and work here. So, that’s the background.
Franz: I had to oversee it. I had to oversee the general counsels, the immigration services because they made difficulties, but that’s another story.
Margaret: But anyway, we did. So, he called me from New York and said, “I’m here.” I said, “Well, come on down; stay with us. Until you find a place of your own, you can stay with us.” He was staying with us when Martin was out with his camera and down the street comes Miss Bunny Ferguson, who was very pretty. She had decided to major in French. And she had hoped that she could do a little modeling, which she’d done in Sarasota, while she was here, to help with her tuition. She was one of six children in a big, Catholic family.
Alan. fooling around, sees this pretty girl coming down the street, and he said, “Ooh, Mademoiselle, here is a photographer from ‘Paris Match,’ he wants to take your picture.” That’s why I thought of it now.
She was very pleased because she pictured herself being on the cover of “Paris Match,” I think. Anyway, he took the picture, and to make a long story short, three years later, Martin, my son, gave them a frame as a wedding present, a framed picture of their first meeting in front of our house. That’s my tale.
Joyce: Isn’t that lovely?
Joyce: That’s a wonderful story. That’s a wonderful story.
Joyce: Yes, very good.