The Georgetowner’s March Through History . . . and Georgetown
By January 29, 2014 0 4062•
As The Georgetowner newspaper closes in on its 60th Anniversary, it seems fitting that your town crier will be relocating to new digs, of course, in Georgetown. Unlike other newspapers that call Georgetown theirs, this is the only newspaper that makes its home in Georgetown — and has for six decades, albeit at 14 different locations in the neighborhood.
The Georgetowner newspaper was the brainchild of Ami C. Stewart, who at the age of 66, began publishing it on Oct. 7, 1954. She knew the newspaper business; she was a longtime advertising representative for the Washington Evening Star. Her sales territory was Georgetown and its surrounding environs. She dreamed of starting a newspaper for Georgetown for several years when, with great encouragement from the Randolph sisters, owners of Little Caledonia, a small department store of delightful surprises at 1419 Wisconsin Ave., N.W. It was on the second floor in Little Caledonia, where Ami Stewart created Volume 1, Number 1, of the newspaper. It was The Georgetowner’s first address.
Some of us still cannot get used to the idea that there is no Little Caledonia in Georgetown. Then again, most of the shops that existed here in 1954 are long gone: Neam’s Market, Dorcas Hardin, Dorothy Stead, Baylor Furniture, Little Flower Shop, Doc Dalinsky’s Georgetown Pharmacy, Chez Odette, Rive Gauche, the French Market, the Food Mart, Magruder’s, Muriel Mafrige, the Georgetown University Shop and on and on. All have left us. But The Georgetowner marches on.
Soon after its founding, Stewart moved into 1204 Wisconsin Ave., NW. The building was headquarters for the National Bank of Washington. The Georgetowner occupied a small room in the back, one desk, two chairs, one window. Riggs Farmers & Mechanics Bank was across the street. Both banks are long gone. Our third location was 3019 M St., NW. We were next to a funeral home. We, however, lived on.
Stewart finally found an office more to her liking. It was situated at 1610 Wisconsin Ave., NW. Ami and her right-hand gal Sue Buffalo ran the newspaper from these premises for close to eight years. The staff also included Carol Watson, a wonderful artist; Marilyn Houston, who wrote many articles of historic interest; and a young man, fresh out of the army, Randy Roffman, my older brother. It was he who drew me into the wonderful world of Ami C. Stewart. I never would have guessed at the time that I would spend the next 42 years with the newspaper, but it happened.
In the early 1970s, with Ami’s health failing, we moved to 1201 28th St., N.W. The lone brick building at that corner was our home for the next eight years. From our second floor windows, we watched the construction of the Four Seasons Hotel across M Street. We also witnessed the mass arrest of the yippees who tried to shut down the government in May 1971, protesting the Vietnam War. They marched en masse down M Street from Key Bridge. They were arrested and put in huge detaining trucks right below our windows. I remember a National Guardsman yelling at us to get away from our window and quit taking photographs. Protestors who were rounded up were transported to RFK Stadium where they were held for processing. (The May Day 1971 protests in Washington, D.C., provoked the largest-ever mass arrest in American history with more 12,000 individuals detained.)
Our sixth location was on the third floor above Crumpet’s, a pastry shop in the 1200 block of Wisconsin Avenue. John and Carol Wright were the owners. This was when writer Gary Tischler joined the staff. Britches of Georgetown was a few doors away. Billy Martin’s Tavern was across the street, as was Swensen’s Ice Cream Parlor. (There was formerly Stohlman’s Ice Cream Parlor, now memorialized at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.) Climbing those three flights of stairs was rough, especially when balancing two cups of coffee and four Danish. We survived.
A few years later, we moved across the street to 1254 Wisconsin Ave., NW, to the third floor above Swensen’s. It was the final years of disco, and Michael O’Harro’s Tramp’s Discotheque was closing. The Key Theatre, next to Roy Rogers at the corner of Prospect and Wisconsin, had them lined up around the block each weekend night for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” After several years high atop Swensen’s, we had to move again.
You might be asking yourself at this point, why did you move so often? Usually, it had to do with the landlord renting out the entire building to a new tenant. Because we were second- or third-floor occupants on short leases, well, we had to go.
Our next location was Hamilton Court, the beautiful courtyard developed by Al Voorhees. The courtyard was fronted by a row of new storefronts which included the Old Print Gallery, Cliff and Michelle Kranick’s gallery, an antiquarian book store, and Ann Brinkley’s antiques store. Behind it was a series of spacious offices, of which we occupied one at the rear of the courtyard. We enjoyed our stay here, the setting was in the heart of Georgetown across the street from our beloved, landmark post office. But we had to leave when the architectural firm above us had to expand … into our space.
We next occupied the top floor of the Georgetown Electric shop on M Street, next to Old Glory restaurant. Spacious quarters indeed, and once again we climbed a lot of stairs every day. But we were close to Harold’s Deli, the Food Mart and Nathans. What more could we ask for?
While running the newspaper from these quarters, we also founded and ran the Georgetown Visitor’s Center in Georgetown Court off Prospect Street. Robert Elliott, owner and landlord of the courtyard, gave us the space rent free, the merchants chipped in and afforded us the opportunity to publish brochures and pamphlets. Robert Devaney joined our staff at this point in the early 1990s.
When Duke Rohr closed the GE shop, we moved once again. This time we returned to familiar digs at 1610 Wisconsin Ave., NW, way up the hill. We felt so removed from everything. The block had changed drastically. There was a 7-Eleven at the corner of Que and Wisconsin, the legendary French Market was gone and Appalachian Spring crafts had moved down the street. We felt like strangers up there.
We moved after five years, down to 1410 Wisconsin, another empty upper floor spacious room, with no wiring. It dawned on us that we had probably wired half the second and third floor buildings on M or Wisconsin by this time. Thank goodness for Randy at Reed Electric.
While at 1410, Sonya Bernhardt joined the staff at The Georgetowner. In 1998, Sonya became the third publisher and owner of The Georgetowner. Many offices, few publishers: Ami C. Stewart, David Roffman and Sonya Bernhardt.
The Georgetowner moved to its 13th location in 2001. The building at 1054 Potomac St., NW, had once been the home of Georgetown’s first mayor. Now it housed “the newspaper whose influence far exceeds its size” – as well as the Georgetown Media Group, which publishes The Georgetowner and The Downtowner newspapers and their websites. From late 2001 until this week, the offices were at this address.
Now, as we near our 60th anniversary, we are in the process of moving once again, to the northwest corner of 28th and M, the building which once housed American Needlework and then Schrader Sound — not to mention the Bryn Mawr Bookshop and the office of Captain Peter Belin, famed president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown. Lots of history here. We hope to see you there and all around town when we set up our business office in February.
Find us at our new address:
Georgetown Media Group, Inc.
2801 M Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20007