Sofia Owen moved to the west side of Georgetown with her new husband in 1940 from her hometown of Monte Video, Uruguay. After a brief departure while her husband was stationed in Brazil by the State Department, the Owens returned to Georgetown in 1958, this time on the east side where they have been here ever since. In her interview with CAG Oral History interviewer Ingrid Beach, Mrs. Owen remembers raising four children in “a very different Georgetown,” where fewer young families lived in the neighborhood. Nonetheless, the friendships her children forged at that time remain strong to the present day (including with their friend Jimmy Wheeler, son of Oral History Project pioneer Al Wheeler). She cannot say enough about her wonderful neighbors, the history of the neighborhood – one house nearby used to be the Emma Brown School which was opened just after the Civil War as a school for neighborhood black children – and what it was like to have Secret Service stationed on her street when her neighbor was former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
Ingrid Beach: Now it is on and I will start by introducing myself, I’m Ingrid Beach and I am introducing Mrs. Sofia, do you say Sofia or Sofia, which?
Sofia Owen: Sofia.
Ingrid Beach: Sofia, Sofia. So Sofia Owen on this date, September, oh I wrote 7th, I think that’s tomorrow, I think that’s just as good.
Sofia Owen: Maybe 6th.
Ingrid Beach: It’s actually the 6th yes and Mrs. Owen is living at 3018 P Street?
Sofia Owen: Yes, indeed.
Ingrid Beach: What a lovely old house and please start by telling me something about yourself and how you came to settle in Georgetown?
Sofia Owen: My husband and I moved to Georgetown soon after we married in 1940. I was married in Monte Video, I am from Uruguay.
Ingrid Beach: Oh, interesting, yes.
Sofia Owen: I met my husband in Uruguay. He had been in the war but he was sent with the State Department to Monte Video to be a member of a committee called El Comite de Largencia Politica and there we met and there we got married.
Ingrid Beach: Oh, wonderful.
Sofia Owen: And when we came here, we came here earlier but we lived in several apartments before until we bought a house on 34th Street… And it was a very different kind of neighborhood then…
Ingrid Beach: Oh…
Sofia Owen: It was not so affluent…
Ingrid Beach: I see.
Sofia Owen: Our house was on the other side of Wisconsin, the west side on 34th. One of our neighbors in the block was a very nice black family.
Ingrid Beach: Nice.
Sofia Owen: We had also a grocery store, across the street run by some black family indeed. It was at this time also, that we, left soon to go to Rio de Janeiro, where my husband had to be on another judicial committee. And when we came back, we bought this house on the east side of Wisconsin…
Ingrid Beach: What year was that?
Sofia Owen: 1958 and we have been, rather I have been here since. My children grew up here…
Ingrid Beach: And how many children?
Sofia Owen: And they were very happy always in Georgetown, familiar with not any other neighborhood in Washington than Georgetown.
Ingrid Beach: How many children do you have?
Sofia Owen: I have four children, two boys and two daughters. When we came here, they were all born. They have been born in different places. Except my oldest son who was born here in 1950, when we were in 34th Street. But when we arrived here my youngest daughter was already born. And, we have been very happy here. My children have had very nice friends all around. They were not familiar with any other neighborhood in Washington but Georgetown.
Ingrid Beach: Oh, it does seem like such a nice neighborhood.
Sofia Owen: And many who were kids still live here for many years. They are friends, even now, they are in their 40’s and 50’s, good friends like… Cashville who just moved away who lived across the street. He’s a writer, also James, Jimmy Wheeler whose parents also still live here in Dumbarton Street, no Dumbarton Court.
Ingrid Beach: I see.
Sofia Owen: And I think the father of the boy was the one who built these new houses, in a property that had been a, I think a Catholic Convent…
Ingrid Beach: Oh, really?
Sofia Owen: But that was before our time.
Ingrid Beach: That’s not the convent over, near Georgetown University, is it? No, no.
Sofia Owen: No, no, this was a property that now are many modern houses on Dumbarton Court and as a matter of fact, I was very interested to hear recently that long ago, across the street on P street, there is a very nice house, and the present owner was telling me that she has a plaque at her door saying that that house had once been a school for black children.
Ingrid Beach: Oh, really, that’s very interesting.
Sofia Owen: And it speaks about the, the old owner of the house was Emma Brown. Seems to have been a Black poetess and a teacher…
Ingrid Beach: Interesting.
Sofia Owen: Yes, in her own house, she opened a school for Black kids…
Ingrid Beach: How long ago was this?
Sofia Owen: I don’t know really. It might have been in the 1860’s or 1870’s, I suppose, after the…
Ingrid Beach: After the Civil War?
Sofia Owen: After the Civil War.
Ingrid Beach: So you just learned this…
Sofia Owen: I just learned it not long ago. It has a very nice, how do we say, balcony with sort of roses in front and I didn’t know that that house could be so, must be a very old house but it’s a very different style of house from the many federal houses we have on this block.
Ingrid Beach: Yes, I’ve noticed that right around here.
Sofia Owen: Some Victorian too…
Ingrid Beach: More like yours.
Sofia Owen: But this house that was once a black school seems to have been very old, too. It’s a lovely and attractive house…
Ingrid Beach: I must look up the address.
Sofia Owen: And I have been there when the family, the family who lives there now called Botea…
Ingrid Beach: Botea? B?
Sofia Owen: They are of Romanian extract but…
Ingrid Beach: B‑O‑T…
Sofia Owen: B‑O‑T‑E‑A.
Ingrid Beach: OK. So the Citizens’ Association might look that up and trace the history…
Sofia Owen: The plaque is outside and you can read it. It explains about Emma Brown, I think it was called Emma Brown School when it opened. She was a poetess and she opened a school at her own house for black children, but we also had, right next door, we had a school for, I suppose for, white children, too.
Ingrid Beach: Oh really?!
Sofia Owen: On our east side. In our east side…
Ingrid Beach: Where was the other school that Mrs. Brown started for black children?
Sofia Owen: Across the street. On our side, in the middle of the 31st street and I think, 3044…
Ingrid Beach: 3044…
Sofia Owen: 3044 P street.
Ingrid Beach: 3044 P street. OK, we’ll look that up. That’s very interesting.
Sofia Owen: And of course when we moved in, we are Catholics, and when we moved in, we started going to Epiphany church on Dumbarton Street. By then my second son received his first communion and he was the only white boy there.
Ingrid Beach: Really?!
Sofia Owen: And of course all the black families continued coming to Epiphany. Epiphany had also been a church before for the black community but of course I’m speaking about at the end of 58, at the beginning of the 60s.
Ingrid Beach: When you moved here.
Sofia Owen: And then of course it was already part of the archdiocese of Washington, but the black families continued coming. They all lived on P street. Many live in P Street, but around 27 and 28 Street…
Ingrid Beach: Still today or?
Sofia Owen: There are still some black families, I believe.
Ingrid Beach: I think maybe there are only one or two maybe.
Sofia Owen: I don’t know exactly now because you know things have changed so much in Washington.
Ingrid Beach: There is also that Jerusalem Baptist Church that still has a black congregation.
Sofia Owen: Yes, they all come to the Baptist church, and also a church on 29th Street, there is the church also that across the street from Scheele’s, the grocery store. I don’t know which community that church is. But the Baptist Church is really active in Georgetown.
Ingrid Beach: Yes, yes.
Sofia Owen: My children played baseball in Rose Park, they were all black kids then. And of course when we moved here, the nicest thing I had experienced, I guess I have to say, is the great neighbors I have had. They all have been so kind and so wonderful to us.
Ingrid Beach: They seem to stay so long.
Sofia Owen: Next door we have neighbors, the Levin’s. He’s a lawyer: June and Jerry Levin. They have been neighbors of ours for 25 years or more. And you know I am very grateful to them because they are very special neighbors, they are simply helpful to everybody. They are really kind, with goodwill for everybody.
Ingrid Beach: That’s a wonderful neighbor to have.
Sofia Owen: When we moved in, there was the family Gill. He was the real estate agent in Georgetown. And I think this house was built on their property.
Ingrid Beach: I see. They had a large lot and then…
Sofia Owen: They had and it was built in there. And Mrs. Gill was simply lovely to us and also…
Ingrid Beach: You met them before the Levin’s moved in?
Sofia Owen: Of course. And Mrs. Gill’s children and grandchildren were friends with my children, and also on the other side, on the east side after the house of the school, lived Campy Beach, her grandchildren also sometimes living with her. She was a lovely friend of mine and …
Ingrid Beach: That’s interesting that her last name was Beach since mine is Beach too. But apparently we are not related or my husband is not related…but what did Campy Beach do?
Sofia Owen: Campy Beach, was really Elizabeth Beach and her husband was called Samuel Beach.
Ingrid Beach: Samuel. I see.
Sofia Owen: And her grandchildren have always been friends with my children. My children grew up here but it wasn’t like today, today you see so many prams, so many young young kids you know. That is lovely today because we have so many young families around.
Ingrid Beach: I like that too, yes.
Sofia Owen: But before not really. But there were always children in the corner of 30’s and P, lovely children of the painter Nolan, Kenneth Nolan.
Ingrid Beach: Kenneth Nolan. Yeah.
Sofia Owen: They were very good friends even now. They are good friends with my children. They don’t live here anymore.
Ingrid Beach: What school did your children go to? The one next door or… Where did your children go to school?
Sofia Owen: No. They all went to different schools. My children at that time went to Marie school. But my sons after went to St. Anselm’s Benedictine in the northeast and my daughters, one went to Visitation for a while and after she went to the French school. But in the beginning they went to Cherryvale school and also my young daughter went for a while to Sacred Heart. Everybody was in different schools.
Ingrid Beach: [laughter] And you were carpooling. I know that, because my former neighbor, do you happen to remember Paul Desan?
Sofia Owen: Of course.
Ingrid Beach: Yes, well you took him to school, everyday for years.
Sofia Owen: Yes, I used to take, and I used to take also the son of the other sons, and he’d walk on my side, and he was the, he’d been the captain of the submarine, that went under the North Pole.
Ingrid Beach: Exactly. Very good friends of ours, because his…
Sofia Owen: Friends of yours?
Ingrid Beach: Yes! His wife…
Sofia Owen: I used to drive that boy was very intelligent, I don’t know what happened to William Anderson, his father..
Ingrid Beach: Yes. Well, he remarried, and is living, I think, in Virginia, but his first wife, Bonnie, died.
Sofia Owen: Oh, she died?
Ingrid Beach: But she was a real estate agent, while they lived here.
Sofia Owen: Yes, I remember that.
Ingrid Beach: Remember that?
Sofia Owen: And she moved to The Watergate.
Ingrid Beach: Yes, that’s right.
Sofia Owen: Yes.
Ingrid Beach: She actually sold us our house on twenty‑ninth street, but…
Sofia Owen: Next door to them, they were very nice family, called the… well, I don’t remember the name now.
Ingrid Beach: Yes. Well, that’s O.K.
Sofia Owen: Well, they was the father, the mother and then three children, two daughters and then one son. And one very nice thing they told me was, and they invited me to their house to look at their collection of silver.
Ingrid Beach: Oh!
Sofia Owen: That has been made by a silversmith in Georgetown.
Ingrid Beach: I see.
Sofia Owen: …Called Riggs.
Ingrid Beach: How do you spell that?
Sofia Owen: Riggs.
Ingrid Beach: Riggs?
Sofia Owen: Riggs.
Ingrid Beach: Like Riggs Bank? I see, I see! And, did he have a store here in Georgetown?
Ingrid Beach: The Woodville, the Woodville family.
Ingrid Beach: Oh, the Woodville family?
Sofia Owen: The Woodville family. There were two sisters and one son. And I felt very privileged, because they were very much be living in their own, they had no friends.
Ingrid Beach: Very private? Private people?
Sofia Owen: Very kept together.
Ingrid Beach: Mm hmm.
Sofia Owen: But, once they invited me, very private, to see the silver. It was a lovely silver collection I went, maybe it went to the Smithsonian, I don’t know.
Ingrid Beach: I see.
Sofia Owen: I don’t know what happened.
Ingrid Beach: Let me see, so he…
Sofia Owen: One of the sisters, I remember, own a very old Ford at the time of the, you know the old Fords, the real classic old Ford.
Ingrid Beach: Ford? Yes! [laughter] .
Sofia Owen: And it was a sight in another time, to see her going up to market every week in her Ford.
Ingrid Beach: Yes, what a sight.
Sofia Owen: But speaking about my neighbors, that always have been near us on the other side, on the west side, there was a lady called Margaret Ames. She claimed her house was the first to get electricity in Washington.
Ingrid Beach: Oh really?
Sofia Owen: In Georgetown, probably.
Ingrid Beach: Mrs. Ames, on the east side of Wisconsin.
Sofia Owen: She was very nice. As a matter of fact, one day she had one of my sons to go to her attic and she gave him a bed, and I still have that wonderful bed that she said… Lafayette has slept there!
Ingrid Beach: Oh, really!
Sofia Owen: That is what she said, believe it or not!
Ingrid Beach: Very hysterical.
Sofia Owen: But believe it, why not?
Ingrid Beach: Yes, why not?
Sofia Owen: How must have slept in many ways here, Lafayette. But it’s a very lovely old bed, and was a present, really out of her good will, she gave it to us.
Ingrid Beach: Do you have it still, today?
Sofia Owen: What?
Ingrid Beach: Do you still have the bed?
Sofia Owen: Of course!
Ingrid Beach: Oh wonderful, goodness. Is it upstairs?
Sofia Owen: Upstairs, of course.
Ingrid Beach: I’ll have to beg you to see it.
Sofia Owen: Next door to her lived next Dorcas Hardin, who was very chic and always beautifully dressed.
Ingrid Beach: Harding, was her name?
Sofia Owen: Dorcas Hardin.
Ingrid Beach: Oh, Dorcas Hardin, yes, I’ve heard of her, yes.
Sofia Owen: She owned a little boutique in Wisconsin Avenue. I suppose she only bought things from the American designers in New York.
Ingrid Beach: So she had a dress shop, is that why I remember?
Sofia Owen: What?
Ingrid Beach: Did she have a dress shop?
Sofia Owen: Yes, she had a very nice dress shop.
Ingrid Beach: On Wisconsin?
Sofia Owen: On Wisconsin.
Ingrid Beach: That’s probably what I remember.
Sofia Owen: What’s the grocery store there?
Ingrid Beach: Neams?
Sofia Owen: Yes, Neams, Neams was there. I think it was next door, or the after next door, to Neams.
Ingrid Beach: I think I remember that.
Sofia Owen: She had lovely stuff, I only went there for the sales, of course.
Ingrid Beach: Yes, I wish she was still there!
Sofia Owen: There were very lovely stores then, in Wisconsin Avenue, I still miss Little Caledonia.
Ingrid Beach: Oh yes, yes, I miss that.
Sofia Owen: It was so nice to go there, and we always find something there.
Ingrid Beach: Yes, beautiful fabrics.
Sofia Owen: Never mind what kind you were looking, there it was.
Ingrid Beach: Yes, absolutely.
Sofia Owen: There were, also of course, Dumbarton Pharmacy that closed. The owners…they were not on Wisconsin Avenue, they were on Dumbarton Street. The owners had been working for many years before, at Morgan’s, before Morgan’s changed owners, or whatever. Morgan’s has changed owners many times.
Ingrid Beach: Yes, so glad they’re still there on the corner of 30th & P.
Sofia Owen: There were many nice shops, you know, across the street from us. Also there was a shop called Wilhelmina Adams, now there is a, [phone ringing] . I’m sorry.
Ingrid Beach: Now we will record again. We were just talking about the stores in Georgetown that we miss now, like the French Market, for instance.
Sofia Owen: Oh, the French Market! Before the French Market we had also the cheese and wine store, and we had many, many years ago in Magruder’s on Wisconsin Avenue, I remember. But the bookstores that are gone are really much missed.
Ingrid: Yes, I miss them too.
Sofia: Like Saville and Olson’s. They are really very much missed, because they were very nice to know that. Also Saville was very good at French collection of books, and Francis Scott Key, of course.
Ingrid: That was quite close to this house.
Sofia: Yes, that was a very nice place. It had a room to sit and talk about books, and the owners or the help were very nice always.
Ingrid: Very. Do you remember the name of the owner? I don’t remember.
Sofia: I don’t remember.
Ingrid: Francis Scott Key was the name of the store. Then there used to be a tram here in Georgetown, too. Do you remember that? The little streetcar?
Sofia: The what?
Ingrid: A tram, the streetcar.
Sofia: Oh, yes! I remember the tram, of course, of course, of course! We still have the rails.
Ingrid: Yes. [laughter]
Sofia: I avoid them, I avoid that part of the Georgetown for driving.
Ingrid: It’s uneven.
Sofia: Uneven for my old car.
Ingrid: Yes [laughter] I must mention one thing that struck me was that your wonderful trees in the back of your garden were written about in the Georgetown Citizen, I believe, or the CAG newsletter, once. Can you tell about those fascinating trees in the back?
Sofia: The trees are not as old as all that, to say the truth. They grew much too tall, and I didn’t know it, but no one ever knew much about them. When I found them in Johnson’s, just here in Wisconsin Avenue, in Johnson’s, no one told me.
Ingrid: What kind of tree?
Sofia: The kind is a sequoia, it’s a variety of the sequoia trees, but these loses their leaves at the end of November, beginning of December, early winter. I didn’t know they were going to grow so tall, but I suppose they are not growing anymore.
Sofia: They are very heavy trees, the roots are supposed to be very deep. Whenever I have some tree expert looking at them, they say they will be there after you, and after many generations!
Ingrid: Yes! They’ll live forever.
Sofia: Then I don’t worry about it, but they grew much too tall, but I didn’t know it was going to be so…
Ingrid: Yes, so tall! How tall are they?
Sofia: Oh, I don’t know. There was this lady from the Washington Post that once wrote an article about the trees, Mrs. Marke Neon.
Ingrid: Yes she did, she did, and I think she said that they were 110 feet tall.
Sofia: She was very nice to write about it, and was interested in the trees, but as I told her, it was a mistake of mine, I didn’t know about these trees. But I was told, that probably at that point, no one knew them well, because they were a variety that was thought to be extinct for some time. And then it was found by someone somewhere in China, and brought these seeds here. And that might have been in the early ’60s that I had those trees planted. And of course you will be trying to remove them at an extreme expensive job.
Ingrid: Well, they are beautiful and they are so nicely shaped.
Sofia: They are lovely, they are simply lovely, but they are a nuisance to the neighbors indeed. And I recognize that, because the needle…
Ingrid: The needles fall.
Sofia: Sometime in the year all the needles fall. I leave them there, you know, it’s like a red carpet. And I like it very much in my own garden. My red carpet.
Ingrid: Yes, why not?
Sofia: But it’s a very interesting thing, but at the same time something that probably does not belong in Georgetown.
Ingrid: It’s rather unique, it’s the only trees of that kind in Georgetown, that’s for sure.
Sofia: You think so?
Ingrid: I think so.
Sofia: They tell me they are the tallest, I don’t want to think about it.
Ingrid: All right, all right. Well, instead, think about maybe some interesting events in Georgetown that you might have been a part of, or observed, or something during your many years here? For instance, some presidential inauguration or what else has happened here… or anything during World War II?
Sofia: Well, we had neighbors, at one point, that were involved politically, like the… one of the Kennedy sons. I think it was Edward, lived in this block for a while during the year of Jack’s inauguration. But other than that we had the Kissingers and he housed two doors to my west. I never exchanged more than “Good mornings” with Mr. Kissinger, who used to walk to walk his dog.
We only had a little incident with the Secret Service, they were a little annoyed sometimes with my sons coming back from school or you know, with guitar in hand and wanted to park in an old car in front of the Kissingers house. The Secret Service didn’t want that because that was not allowed in Georgetown, they said. But my son said we live right here.
Ingrid: You mean the Kissingers complained about…
Sofia: No, the Secret Service.
Ingrid: Oh, the city service?
Sofia: The Secret Service. [laughs]
Ingrid: [laughs] But the city service…
Sofia: I was throwing away, so…
Ingrid: What was the Secret Service doing?
Sofia: They were around there walking, watching Kissinger’s house.
Sofia: And of course the Gills were next door. And the Gills kept their garage…and of course, Mr. Kissinger didn’t have a garage and I think that was really odd that they rented a house without a garage.
Ingrid: So he wanted to park in front himself?
Sofia: Whatever it is, one day I was throwing away some newspapers and there came Kissinger with his dogs. And the Secret Service pushed me into my gate again.
Ingrid: [laughs] Oh, dear!
Sofia: No! We didn’t have any problems really. But we didn’t have any special celebrations here for any of the nominations. But I remember I had been here…you know, one thing I always remember, I was already here in Washington when the nomination, or when the election of Mr. Truman.
Ingrid: Oh, yes!
Sofia: And I remember that very much was a great surprise, that Mr. Truman was elected.
Ingrid: Yes, that was so…
Sofia: I remember that very well.
Ingrid: That was so exciting because everybody thought that…
Ingrid: …that he had lost the election and yet he had, so that was…
Sofia: He was… we were living then in 34th Street. [pause]
Ingrid: That was an exciting time.
Sofia: I know … my neighbors had always been so nice always. Now I have neighbors across the street that are wonderful with me too. Like Mrs. Page and you know, all the neighbors in the neighborhood had been really great.
Ingrid: That is so…
Sofia: Also, the only family that live next door. And we keep very much friends and sometimes we meet for coffee or for tea.
Ingrid: Yeah, sort of a close neighborhood?
Sofia: Like a neighbor group.
Sofia: But it’s really nice.
Ingrid: Well, I’m sure that you are a very good neighbor too!
Sofia: Well, I don’t remember about that…
Sofia: …let’s put it that way. And more than anything I’m grateful. For instance, we had across the street Mrs. Lee who was entertaining very often. We also had in this block …their name was…well, I don’t remember. Bu they also we had next door a very Christmas, a very nice party given by the Levine’s, very traditional, for the neighbors. A very lovely Christmas party.
Ingrid: Evans was their name?
Ingrid: Did you say their name was Evans?
Sofia: Levins. Living.
Ingrid: Oh, Living. Levine.
Ingrid: What did he do? Was he, did he…
Sofia: He’s a lawyer.
Sofia: In town, a lawyer in town.
Ingrid: Oh, I remember…
Sofia: And she’s a lovely person and she’s great with everybody. And very social, much more social than I have been. That’s a point I wanted to point out, you know? That I’m not very…well, I had a quiet life, my husband died many years ago and I feel very much…I feel well at home.
Ingrid: Yes! Well, we are…I’m not too far away, so I count you as a good neighbor also. And I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity to sort of interview you today…
Sofia: Oh, you are very kind! You are very nice!
Ingrid: …for the Georgetown Citizens Association’s historical project. Thank you so much.
Sofia: This is great that you think that. I don’t know…it’s not very exciting my…but I think it’s very…a block, two blocks that really we have been very close, very nice…
Sofia: …and we’re neighbors.
Ingrid: And it gives a very interesting historical aspect to just this little part of Georgetown and also when you mentioned the downtown area too. Very interesting. Oh, one last little thing maybe? Do you remember the C&O Canal, when that came about? When they started having little barge trips on the C&O Canal. Did that…
Sofia: Yes, I remember that.
Ingrid: Yes, yes, yes! That’s another aspect of this wonderful community.
Sofia: I remember a tremendous relation, we had once with the Potomac…we here could not have been…that the Potomac it was inundated…
Ingrid: Oh, yes! Oh, yes!
Sofia: Maybe there was water way up the…
Ingrid: That terrible hurricane!
Sofia: K street. Way up, way up.
Ingrid: Yes, yes! Well, I will just go back to saying how wonderful it has been to talk to you and thank you ever so much.
Sofia: Well, I hope it makes sense, whatever I… [laughs]
Sofia: Whatever I remember! But it has been really nice for me. It’s lovely to be in Georgetown, really.
Ingrid: Oh, that’s…
Sofia: I used to go…my foot and with the weather now, I cannot do that anymore! But it dislocated…the location is so, so, so…
Ingrid: Yes, it’s close to everything. And you have those granddaughters living with you who help you.
Sofia: I have two granddaughters who live with me. And my sons visit sometimes. One of my daughters lives in south, in Virginia, south of Mount Vernon but she comes sometimes and spend nights here too whenever she has something to do in town, in Washington. And I have another daughter who live right here on 32nd Street.
Ingrid: She has not moved far away from where she grew up. She grew up here on P Street and now is living on 32nd. My second son lives in Massachusetts and I have his daughter here. And my other son comes home when he’s in between jobs. And now he’s away and then I have his daughter too. And of course, you wouldn’t want to be alone!
Ingrid: [laughs] You’re not alone!
Sofia: Well, thank you ever so much!
Ingrid: And I thank you.