In an interview in his home with Linda Greenan and Cathy Farrell, John Laytham talks about his 50 plus years with the Cyldes Group and his involvement with a growing and changing Georgetown. John was a freshman student at Georgetown University in 1964 when he applied for a job at Clyde’s. It was a new establishment at the time, having opened on M Street just 6-months before in the precise location where it stands today. John’s first job was as a dishwasher from which he was promoted to every other job in the restaurant before he became manager and finally, full-fledged partner of Clyde’s founder, Stuart Davidson.
Together John Laytham and Stuart Davidson built one of the finest and most recognized “saloons” in Georgetown; in fact, in the District of Columbia. It was the beginning of a remarkable era in Georgetown where hippies, bikers, and the Camelot cronies of the Kennedys, all co-existed to put Georgetown on the map as a destination for locals and tourists alike. Laytham, Davidson and Clyde’s played an integral role in the development of Georgetown. John’s recollections provide an interesting read on Georgetown then and now.
JOHN LAYTHAM 5/23/2016
Laytham home, Chain Bridge Road, McLean, VA
Linda Greenan : Interviewer Cathy Farrell : Interviewer
John Laytham: We sat down, and any issues that came up…
Cathy Farrell: The name of the committee, again, was called?
John: The Common Committee.
Cathy Farrell: You formed that in what year?
John: Let me think back… probably around the mid ’70s.
Linda Greenan: Not quite 10 years after Clyde’s opened?
John: No. Clyde’s opened in 1963.
Linda: I was going to ask that very question. What was the leadership like at that time? What was the community of Georgetown like at that time, when you opened?
John: Well, it was in some ways, it had been vitriolic until we sat down and agreed to discuss everything. That really made an enormous difference, I think, in the way Georgetown worked. Instead of just constantly bickering, and fighting, and having something that is brought up in the newspaper, and that became the story.
At least we were creating our own story by sitting down and agreeing to discuss all these issues. It was, I think, really kind of incredibly successful that way. I was involved in it, and I was on the committee for a number of years. It was really, really successful time for all of the parts of the community in Georgetown.
Linda: Was the university involved, as well?
John: The meetings were all held there.
Linda: At the university?
John: They were involved, and they always had a representative there, although I’m not sure he was actually part of the committee, but he was there and could voice their opinion.
Cathy: Was it just the merchants that formed this common committee? You said CAG was involved.
John: You had the Citizen’s Association of Georgetown, the ANC.
Linda: The ANC existed at that time?
Linda: It must have been new, then. Who was the representative, was it Bill Cochran? He was on the ANC common committee, and was involved in setting it up. He was really, really a good guy. It was really sad, the way he ended up dying.
Just go back a little bit, when you walked into Clyde’s to work there, as a student at Georgetown, what brought you to Clyde’s? Why not some other organization? Why not some other business?
John: The only reason I got involved in it is, I had spent my senior year in high school, they had a strike at a local hotel. They were looking for people to get them through it. I took a job there, working, and doing that. I came out one night, started to drive my car away, and all four tires fell off. It was a “whatever” thing.
Anyway, it got me started in the whole service industry, because I was a front desk clerk. I was a bellman, I was a waiter, I was a busboy. I cooked in the place, I did almost everything in the hotel. It was a great experience, in a way, no matter what happened, whether my tires fell off or not.
It was interesting, but that’s how I got involved with the whole restaurant business. When I came to Georgetown, I needed to make money for my dates on the weekends.
Linda : You went to the university, and you went to Clyde’s, to go to work there, to get some money for your dates. My question was, you went there because you had been in the hospitality industry, but did you know of Stuart [Davidson] at the time? Did you know the reason, did you know about the Blue Laws, did you know about the change to any of them?
John: No, I didn’t know any of that. I just walked in, and started working there. I was the dishwasher for the first three weeks, and then I was a busboy, and then I was a waiter, and then I was a bartender, and then I was the day manager.
Then the person who is the general manager had a big fight with Stuart over, I don’t know, his wife was quitting, or he didn’t like the way his wife was doing the books. He quit, too, so I became the general manager. He made me the general manager of the restaurant at the time.
Linda: How long was that, after you had gone in and been a dishwasher?
John: Probably about six years. It was a while, it wasn’t instantly.
Linda: Did you continue to go to the university? Were you still a student?
John: I was, but I was only part time. Still, if I went back to get my degree, I’d need 36 credits to graduate. I’m 72. I don’t think I need my degree.
Linda: You got bit by the restaurant industry. That’s what happened to you.
John: I did, because I enjoy dealing with people all the time. When I was behind the bar, you got to talk to people every day, find out what’s going on in their lives, and they were interested in what was going on in your life. It was such a nice interaction that I got to enjoy it. We had all these things, as I say, the Common Committee, Bill Cochran. Bill Cochran was an interesting story.
Linda: Let’s hear it.
John: The Business Professional Association, Bill Cochran decided to run for, I guess it was the ANC at the time. We endorsed him, and raised money for him, a decent amount of money, too, by the way. He was running against Jack Evans, and Jack Evans beat him.
Linda: This is for the Council?
Linda: He was running for the City Council, yes?
John: Jack Evans beat him, so Jack Evans has been there ever since.
Linda: I remember that, because I was Jack’s campaign manager, and I remember Ginger Laytham was the treasurer for Bill Cochran. I always thought that was such a great name, Ginger Laytham.
Linda: Then, of course, we met the following year. Going back, you became the manager at Clyde’s. Did you start working with the community leadership at that point, this Common Committee?
John: I was vice president of the Business and Professional Organization, and so we discussed how we were going to approach all of these issues, and that’s how we decided to try to get everyone together and come up with the Common Committee.
Believe it or not, it was something that was pretty quickly accepted, and I think everyone liked it, because it took it out of just being splashy newspaper headlines about citizens hate the Business and Professional Association, the Business and Professionals Association thinks that the ANC is communist.
John: It was like that kind of an attitude, and the great thing about the Common Committee is, it really just ended all of that, because you had to sit down and talk.
Cathy: It created a way for people to work together.
John: Exactly, which believe it or not, is sometimes why I think things don’t happen, because that never is created.
Linda: Who was chair of CAG at that time? Who was it that you worked with, with CAG? It was Bill Cochran on the ANC.
John: Kathy Graff, that’s exactly who it was. Kathy Graff.
inda: I love this book [looking at book that cronicles the history of the Clydes Organization.] I’d love to have this one.
John: Take it.
Linda: I’ll have you sign it for my friend Helen, who was a hostess at Clyde’s, and talks about, some bartender had a funny name, Rufus or something.
John: Rufus Crockett. He’s still out in Colorado, has a beautiful house in the mountains. He now lives a very nice life.
John: He was an interesting guy, Rufus Crockett.
Linda: That’s amazing. What was Georgetown like then? I’ve always heard that it was kind of seedy. Do you think that Clyde’s changed that?
John: It really was seedy, and that’s one of the things that the Business and Professional Association did do, is that we got together and called for a moratorium on new licenses, which ended the proliferation of these really bad places that were opening. They were all over Georgetown at that time.
There were probably a dozen and a half of them, and most of them eventually closed or were bought out by some legitimate restaurant. Georgetown wasn’t…you wouldn’t have found it attractive then.
John: No, you wouldn’t have.
Linda: It wasn’t a tourist destination, like it is today?
John: It was always a tourist destination, but there were strange things going on. There was this policeman that was setting up burglars, because as a policeman, he found out when people were going on vacation, because they let the police know they were going on vacation. He would then have burglars come in and rob their houses while they were gone. Eventually, he ended up committing suicide. There were weird things that went on.
Linda: Was “The Georgetowner” still the local rag?
John: Oh, yeah. “The Georgetowner” has been the local rag forever.
Linda: David Rothman, he was there?
John: He was here, I think, in the beginning. Ginger would know. She remembers better than I do about it, but we dealt with him all the time. We had a pretty good relationship with him.
Linda: Who were the leaders, in the city, when did you start to work with the city? At that time, was it John Wilson?
John: Yeah, it was John Wilson for sure. We absolutely love John Wilson. It was just sad what happened with him. It was actually terrible, but we always really, really liked John Wilson, and we were very supportive of him.
Linda: He was helpful to the businesses?
John: Yeah, he was. He was a really, really good guy, I think. Deep down, obviously he ended up with these problems, but when you had the mayor running around doing drugs at the time, and stuff like that, he looked pretty straightforward.
Linda: Upstanding. [laughs]
John: Upstanding, exactly, by comparison.
Linda: Was the community of Georgetown integrated like it is now in the city, or was it off to itself? How did it work with the city?
John: I would say, at the time, it was pretty much off to itself. It wasn’t that related to the city, although we did support things like John Wilson. I’m not saying we never supported anybody who was running for political office, but we weren’t regularly involved on a weekly or monthly basis. We tried to make the changes that we wanted to make at Georgetown on our own, and we were pretty successful doing that.
Cathy: Was it more of a good faith effort where people came together, raised a problem, and then found a solution, and everybody pulled together? Is that the kind of…when you say working together? You didn’t have to change laws to have some sort of political solution?
John: Well, in some cases you did have to change laws, like the liquor license thing. We did have to change the law to limit the number of liquor licenses, and make it an injunction against any new liquor licenses. You had to have the city pass the law to make that possible.
I can’t say we weren’t involved at all with the city, but it was less than we are now. Today probably more involved with the city, even though today we have a business improvement district, which I think has been really, really successful for Georgetown, in terms of unification, in terms of keeping it cleaner. I don’t know if you remember what it was like.
Linda: It’s safer.
John: 15 years ago, there was just trash all over the street all the time, and on the sidewalks. It’s really made a difference in terms of being able to clean up the city, and it doesn’t really cost much… about 17 cents, or something extra in your taxes.
Linda: I remember when Jack became a council member in 1990, that Georgetown was viewed as being washed up, and that there were lots of businesses that had closed, and I think the “New York Times” had written an article saying that Georgetown is dead. Richard Levy came on the scene, and started to…
John: Promote it, yeah.
Linda: But the business improvement districts were always viewed as a way to help out those, and that was hard fought.
John: I know it was. I know, it was hard getting it passed.
Linda: It was very hard. What role, impact do you think Clyde’s had in the development of Georgetown, in the development of even the city?
Clyde’s was such an innovator in farm to table, customer service, get in and out quickly, but you get good food, all of that. It’s beautiful, the way it’s decorated. It was upscale but reasonably priced. How do think it impacted the city and the community of Georgetown?
John: It did have an impact. It really came about… we’d go away and retreat to discuss what improvements we could make in the company. We came up with the whole idea of creating our own in-house training center for managers, waiters, bus boys, every job basically existing in the company.
It really made a difference. We added to that the whole idea of empowerment that meant that instead of having to go find the manager, which is what you hear many, many times if you’re out having dinner in a restaurant. You had a complaint, they say, “Well, let me get the manager for you.”
We made it so that employees felt free to make their own decision on how it should be handled. It really changed that whole relationship between customer and employees. That was a really, really successful change that we made in the company that impacted the way the whole company worked.
It was really an interesting time. As you know, we’re buying food from people who grew the food way before anybody else was. Now you go to that Giant today and they say, “Locally farmed fresh,” whatever, but they never did anything like in those days. They had no interest in that.
We were flying in our own, flying in salmon and halibut from Alaska, and having it flown in fresh. In advertising that now you see Copper River Salmon at, you know, the Giant, or Balducci’s, or wherever, at such and such a place.
Linda: Everybody’s doing it now.
Cathy: But it took them 40 years to get there.
John: I know. It really did take them a long time. They were not really quick on the trigger with making the kind of changes they should have probably made pretty quickly. But, all in all, I think it’s improved the products that people can get today though, even though it took a long time.
Linda: Clyde’s was so upscale, relative to everything else around it, right? Wouldn’t you say? Is that a fair statement? Do you feel like you lifted up in some ways the…I know there were always boutique places in Georgetown, but the quality of food in other restaurants?
John: We did a lot of different things. I think we always worked on the quality of the food, and always felt that it was really, really important to make food special, but we did a bunch of other things, too. We were the first restaurant in Georgetown to hire women.
John: Yeah. We were the first restaurant in Georgetown to hire women. The only other woman that worked in Georgetown was the woman that was the maître d’ at the…what was the French thing on the corner?
Cathy: Léon D’Or…
John: She was the only other woman that had had a job in Georgetown that I knew of at the time anyway.
Linda: You hired women to be not just hostesses, but to be wait staff?
John: To be waiters and waitresses.
John: Bartenders, managers, yup. It really kind of changed the company, because I think women have an entirely different perspective on business and things than men do. I’m not saying it’s any better or any worse. I’m just saying it’s very different. Having that combination of men and women in the company, I think, was really, really positive for the company, and for the people involved.
Linda: That’s so interesting.
John: Who wouldn’t have had an opportunity otherwise. Women went into the 1789. We actually hired women as waitresses. In there[the 1789 Restaurant], the whole place went crazy. The Jesuits were crazy. They wanted to close down…
John: They wanted to close down the 1789 because we had women as waitresses in the dining room.
Linda: You’re kidding?
John: Oh, no. I’m serious.
Cathy: That I had no idea about.
Linda: Was that Father Healy?
Cathy: When did you buy the 89?
John: I think it was Father Healy, as a matter of fact.
Cathy: Did you purchase it…the group purchased it from McCooey in the 80s?
John: McCooey in 1985.
John: It’s been pretty long now. I’ve had it for 31 years.
Linda: When did you purchase the Ebbitt, the Old Ebbitt?
John: Trying to think about that.
Linda: Did you get that…?
John: I think the older Old Ebbitt we originally purchased in like 1970, but we didn’t have any lease, and so we had to go to the bank, American Security, and get a lease. They gave us a year lease period.
Linda: Did they own it? The bank owned it?
John: They owned the property, yeah. Then eventually, when they were going to redo the whole property where the Ebbitt is now, the…
Linda: [inaudible 06:47] It was Oliver Carr.
John: Yeah, I’m just trying to think of what it was called though, the building. Anyway, when that happened, it really changed a lot about how all the downtown was.
Linda: That was 1970. That was really…and you moved the bar.
John: Yeah, it’s pretty long.
Linda: I always heard stories about you moving the bar. Talk about that.
John: Yeah. We moved part of the bar. We moved the chandeliers that were over the bar. We moved the lighting fixtures there against the wall, behind it, and we moved the animal.
Linda: Were they really…
John: We moved the animal heads that were…
Cathy: You did move the animals?
John: In theory, I still claim that they were heads that were shot by Teddy Roosevelt.
Linda: Yes. I was going to ask you to validate that.
John: Yeah. It’s a story. I don’t whether it’s true or not. It could have very well been true, because he shot a lot of animals and mounted them.
Linda: Did he hang out there?
John: I don’t know that. He would have been before my time, our time.
Linda: I know. Of course.
John: No, I wasn’t…
John: I wasn’t serving him drinks or anything.
Linda: About that time then, because 1970, he was…
John: In theory, every president, since 1865, has been a customer at the Old Ebbitt.
Linda: Is that right?
Linda: To this day?
John: Yeah, till now. Yeah.
Linda: President Obama’s been in there and…?
John: His wife and kids have been in there. I don’t think he has been in there. Or if he was in, it was for a meeting or something. He didn’t come in for dinner, but his wife and kids have.
Cathy: I always go for the oysters.
John: I love you. I think we have…
John: I think the Ebbitt has the best oysters in the city.
Linda: I agree.
John: It’s fun, because we save all the shells and they take them to the Chesapeake and create these banks…
Cathy: The oyster banks, yeah.
John: …of shells for baby oysters to mount themselves on and grow.
Linda: That’s great.
John: They actually use the old shells.
Cathy: If it comes from the sea, it goes back to the sea.
John: Yeah. That’s kind of great.
Linda: That’s really nice. I didn’t know that. You have the Oyster Riot. Have you ever been to the Oyster Riot?
John: Oyster Riot is fun.
Cathy: No. I haven’t gone.
John: It’s crazy.
Linda: It’s the best party in town.
John: Yeah. It is a great party.
Linda: It’s fabulous.
John: All kinds of women get all dressed up for it.
Linda: How did you all start that? How did that come about?
John: That was actually, I think, Tom Myer’s idea. He’s always been into the whole oyster thing. He loves it. He gets his own oysters in Nantucket and stuff like that. He just loves the whole idea of the oyster thing. He started doing that. It just got bigger, bigger and bigger. I think originally it was only one night, then it was two nights and then it was two days and two nights. Now it’s like a whole weekend of Oyster Riots.
John: …there were a lot of people, particularly people that were older, that would much rather go on a Saturday afternoon. It’s not loud and it’s not crazy. You still have 24 kinds of oysters or whatever we have that you’re…
Linda: You walk in. They give you a little wine glass, too.
John: Yeah. It hooks like…
Linda: With every oyster, there’s a different Sauvignon Blanc.
Cathy: How wonderful…
John: …wine glass, it fits in your plate. You just stick it in the plate. It’s got a thing that holds it.
Cathy: When I started in Georgetown in the late ’60s, Clyde’s was really a long room with the area for the booze in the back with the bar in the front and the tables. Then you started to expand. Is that when you also added brunch on Sundays? That was sort of a first.
John: That’s how I got to be a bartender in the first place, is that we were never open on Sundays. I talked to the general manager at the time into letting me put together a brunch menu. I had to go in and cook it for the first four weeks.
Cathy: Jack of all trades!
John: I didn’t mind cooking, but I wasn’t used to cooking for 100 people…
John: …or 200 people or whatever it was, but it was immediately incredibly successful. I got to tend bar because of it. It instantly became the first bartending shift at Clyde’s because it was nothing but other waiters and bartenders that came in.
It was just packed with employees who were used to getting tipped and are great tippers. You had some of them coming in and buying Nebuchadnezzar bottles of champagne and passing it out to all the women. It was wild and crazy. It was a different kind of time, but it was really fun.
Linda: Sunday brunch, yes.
John: Sunday brunch.
Linda: I guess that’s because none of the other places…
John: Stuart started making Sangria.
Cathy: I was going to say I remember the Sangria. [laughs]
Cathy: We always did Sunday brunches. It was famous in Georgetown, Sunday brunch.
Linda: The Omelet Room, that’s what I remember. That was so unique about Clyde’s.
John: The Omelet Room was great. Susie Thompson did that. She just actually sent me a really nice note about a week ago or 10 days ago or something. She’s out in California and has been there for quite a while.
She worked at all these resorts and stuff like that. I think she’s now been in the insurance business for 10 years or something, but she still loves cooking. In fact, she came back here about three years ago and took all of the chefs in the company and trained them how to make omelets properly.
John: Yeah, omelet soufflés properly and all of these things. She’s great. She has really had more to do with the Omelet Room than anybody.
We went up and met…what’s the guy’s name? “A Man and His Pan,” some really famous cook in New York City that had gotten into doing omelets and made them famous up there. He taught us how to do it and actually came down and I think worked at the restaurant for a couple of weeks. He was great. It was fun. We were not afraid to do nutty things. That was one of the hallmarks of Clyde’s over all the years, was that we weren’t afraid to do something different and it worked.
I remember I ordered 6,000 pounds of squid because I was up in Nantucket. The squid boats were out just outside of the harbor. They come in every day with these thousands and thousands of pounds of squid. I ordered 6,000 pounds of squid. Everyone just thought I was absolutely nuts. It was all gone in two and a half months, 6,000 pounds of it.
John: We were frying it. We were grilling it. It was just incredibly popular. They were also just beautiful little squid like this. They weren’t big squid like you see sometimes. They were little baby…
Cathy: I like ordering calamari and getting something that looks like a squid on the plate. [laughs]
John: It was great. There’s nothing wrong with that. You should be able to do that. We did off the book kinds of crazy things. We paid for our friend… who did our flowers for 30 years or something in all the restaurants. We paid for him to build three greenhouses that we were going to heat with solar power. We tried it and did it, but then we had a bad winter or something. We lost all of the tomatoes in the winter. Not everything works, by the way.
Linda: But you tried it.
John: I don’t mean to claim that everything always has worked that we’ve done, but if you don’t continue to try things and try to improve what you’re doing, you’ll just never get better. That’s been my view of the world, things here, they get better or get worse, they never stay the same.
Cathy: All of your locations are relatively unique as far as decoration. Have they been decorated by different people?
John: A lot of it was done with my friends from Weather Hill Restoration, who brought my houses to Nantucket from Vermont. We worked with them on doing different things. We’d go to them and say, “We want the Gallery Place, the Upstairs Bar, to feel Victorian.” They would come up with the perfect Victorian.
That’s what they did for a living, designing and building things that were old, so they were very, very familiar with the way something should look and could look and how the things could be turned. They could do it themselves, actually. They were great.
I hated the idea of stamping out five places that were the same. Why would you ever do that if you didn’t have to? To me, each place would have some reflection of where it is. The place in Chinatown has a lot of really nice Chinese pottery in the dining rooms. Why shouldn’t it?
Cathy: How did you decide on the theme of the trains for the Chevy Chase location? And the old cars…it’s transportation.
John: The theme was transportation. There are three cars downstairs plus some bronze, really nice silver bronze car trophies. We just liked the idea of running the train behind the walls and coming out, seeing it again, and having it run all the way around. You just wouldn’t believe the people that come up to me today and say, “My kids just love going there. They love the train.”
Cathy: You feel like you’re sitting on a train.
Linda: Like you’re waiting for a train or you’re at the station.
John: The whole room right in the front there was designed to look like the interior of…
Cathy: …a dining car?
John: Yeah, the dining car of the Orient Express.
Linda: Oh, The Orient Express. I didn’t know that. That’s interesting. You just mentioned that your house is in Nantucket. You did something similar with one of the restaurants. You brought in experts who moved historic homes.
John: Oh yeah. The place out in Ashburn is an old…
Linda: I’ve never been there.
John: It was originally called the Samuel French Tavern. It didn’t have a stone exterior, but we put a stone exterior on because we were doing it in Virginia and we thought that was more appropriate. To the right, we have the carriage barn that is made up of all the pieces, although it wasn’t originally in a carriage barn.
In the back, we have really original dining rooms that were from that period, had period paint on the walls. Then we had that little bar in the back out there, which is an old Central Virginia cabin. It’s just fabulous. The corner posts are shaped like this and they were all cut out of one piece of wood. They’re just gorgeous.
It’s the original fireplace in there, the fireplace mantle from the little house, so it’s great. We had somebody special come down and do the brick work in the fireplace, so that it looked exactly as it should have looked in the period. It’s fun to do things like that.
Cathy: The attention to detail…As I told you earlier, my son was trained as a busboy at Clyde’s of Tysons and he sets the most beautiful table.
John: That’s great.
Cathy: That’s how they taught him to do it.
John: There’s nothing wrong with that.
Linda: It’s true. Each restaurant is so unique and so beautiful. You really have fun doing that, don’t you?
John: Oh, yeah. I do.
Linda: I thought that one of the…Maybe it’s at Loudoun County. One of the buildings was brought down from Vermont. Is that right? That’s what you were just describing?
John: Yeah, the Samuel French Tavern.
Linda: I have to go there.
John: It’s gorgeous inside. It’s got all the original paint on the woodwork in the room to the right and the room to the left. It’s all original paint.
Cathy: How many properties now or establishments are you responsible for?
Cathy: You have 14?
Cathy: All from Clyde’s original two rooms!
John: When I started there, there were 13 employees. Now we have 2300.
Cathy: That’s a huge difference. [laughs]
Linda: It does run itself almost like a good oiled machine.
John: We just have a lot of good people. The head of operations, Claude Anderson, has worked there since 1973. Ginger’s worked there since 1973. Tom Myer’s been there since we found him in Nantucket. He came down, he was just going to work for a week and teach the chefs how to make some pastas.
I took him out for dinner the night after his week was over and gave him a really nice leather overnight bag that I brought him. He just asked, “Is there any chance you’d have some kind of a job open in the company for me?” We never had a corporate chef and I just made him, that night, the corporate chef. Crazy.
Linda: You would do that, and then you’d call Stuart and say, “Stuart, I just hired…”
John: Oh yeah.
Linda: That’s how you all worked together.
John: Stuart really pretty much let me do what I wanted to. The only thing I can remember him getting really mad about was when I broke through the wall from the old Clyde’s into what was the Omelet Room. Now, that’s one of the most popular places in the whole restaurant to be, sitting in the Omelet Room where you can see what’s going on at the bar and hear that…You’re not intimately involved.
Linda: He got mad at you for doing that?
John: Oh, yeah. He was furious. He threatened to fire me.
John: We had some great times together. I’ll never forget the last time I saw Stuart. We were at his house for dinner. Sally loves the birds and the animals. Stuart was not particularly fond of them.
Linda: They fly all around.
John: He just didn’t like them very much. He could have easily done without birds in the house. Sally had a lot of them. She still does.
Linda: I know.
John: But there was one bird that really didn’t…A couple of kids had brought it in. They found it out in the neighborhood, brought it in. Sally tried to husband it or whatever. The bird really didn’t like her, but the bird decided he liked Stuart.
The last time I saw Stuart alive was he was sitting at the end of the table. We just had a great dinner. He was sitting there with the bird on his shoulder, very proud of the fact that the bird was sitting on his shoulder.
A month later, we were in Nantucket, I think, and he went away on a cruise up towards…I don’t know. Way north.
Cathy: Nova Scotia?
Linda: Scandinavia…A Danish country?
John: Then he came back and wasn’t feeling well and went into the hospital. They gave him an antibiotic and sent him home. He died the same night. He had acute myelogenous leukemia, which is very…He had a complete physical three months before. It was shortly before he died. It’s not something that takes a long time.
Cathy: I have one final question. As you look at Georgetown, with your history, what do you see coming in the next 10 years?
Linda: That’s a good question.
John: I think considering the people involved today and owning the businesses, it’s not like back when Johnny Snyder and Sam Levy owned 150 some properties between the two of them and did whatever they wanted to do. It’s really different today because of the involvement of big corporations in it.
I don’t see it doing anything but improving over time. I think it’s become more interesting over the last 10 years than it was before then in a lot of ways, in terms of what’s here and what’s available. I guess that Herb Miller’s Georgetown Park ended up being a disappointment. I’m not really happy with what they did with turning it into these giant stores inside.
That’s what people seem to want and it hasn’t hurt our business, even though we don’t have any access to that area anymore. We used to open right up to the mall, which was great, although it meant our bathrooms got used all the time.
Linda: They were right there.
John: I know they were. I know where they were.
Cathy: Level two.
John: I guess what I, in a way, miss from the early years in Georgetown is there were so many real characters, whether it was Dick McCooey, or whether it was Howard Joynt, or Nathan Detroit. Imagine we had somebody actually who was named Nathan Detroit.
Linda: Stuart Davidson.
John: Oh, yeah. It was such an interesting cast of characters. You know, I’m not sure you’ll ever see that kind of a thing again. Or maybe you wouldn’t want to either, but it was fun at the time.
Cathy: It was inventing itself at the time. Now it’s corporate being imposed over it.
John: Yeah, that’s true.
Linda: That’s a nice way to say it, that it was inventing itself. It’s really true.
John: It was inventing itself, but there’s still some really nice people involved, and good people involved. It’s not like it’s just falling apart because it’s become awkward or something. They’re interesting people there often.
Linda: I think Georgetown is on a very good path now.
John: You were at the university for a long time, so you know. Even the university seems to be getting along with the community.
Linda: I know.
John: Which is positive. That was such an antagonism for so long, that it’s just nice not to see that anymore…or not much of it anymore.
Linda: No, it’s true. When I first started, it was a very difficult job because people really didn’t like the university. I would get yelled at. I would go to meetings, and get stomach aches. It just worked itself out.
John: Anyway, as they say, I guess that’s what I really miss the most was just some of the old characters and the way they interacted with each other.
Cathy: What an interesting life you’ve had.
John: I have had an interesting life. I don’t complain about it.
Linda: And you’ve made a difference. You made a huge difference. Not everybody can say that, and look at what you’ve accomplished.
John: I’ve been excited by it, and it’s nice to have built a company. It’s nice to have seen a lot of the changes that have happened at Georgetown, things like the BID and things that have really made a long term difference, I think, at Georgetown.
Not everything worked. The Christmas tree we had in the whatever…whatever we did at Christmas we put together down there didn’t work.
Cathy: The one by Key Bridge?
John: Yeah, the one by Key Bridge. It didn’t work. We tried.
Linda: We tried the light in the middle of Wisconsin and M. The star in the middle and that didn’t work either. That was a great idea. That was a great idea, but it didn’t work.
John: As I say, not everything always works, period, in anything.
Linda: That’s right, but you got to try. You got to try.
John: Anyway, thank you.
Linda: Thank you.
Cathy: Thank you.
John: I hope I was helpful for all of it.
Cathy: Very, very!
Linda: Oh, it’s been great.
John: I will talk to Maureen and see if she can really find you some great pictures from that period.
Linda: That would be wonderful.
Linda: That’d be wonderful.
John: I don’t know what we have and what we don’t have personally right now. I haven’t dealt with any of that material for a while.
Cathy: What we’ll do with this is get it posted onto the website for people to read.
Linda: The transcript will come back to him.
Cathy: The transcript will come back, and we can edit and go over things and make sure that there’s no problem.
John: No problem.
Cathy: This is a good interview, we won’t have any problems. Then eventually all of the documents as well as a paper copy of the transcript will be archived at the library in Georgetown.
John: Fine. That’s great.
Linda: We’ll put this in the Peabody Room too.
Linda: This will be great, but I’m going to have you sign this to my friend, Helen, who was a hostess in the 70s. Her name is Helen, and you can just say, “Great job in the 70s, Helen.” [laughs] I appreciate it or something silly.
Cathy: I’m going to stop this now. Is that OK?
Transcription by CastingWords