-I freely confess that I regard it as a triumph if I can balance my checkbook. My father was a certified public accountant and surely despaired of his second son (the first became a CPA!) who had no head for numbers. Like most Americans, though, I find it laughable, if not outright mockery, when the White House and the lapdog media tell me that the nation is now recovering from the recession. The media, as just one example, is bleeding thousands of jobs that are unlikely to ever return. What I do know is that, as of Nov. 1, 115 banks have failed this year. They represented combined assets of $19.5 billion at the end of September. Most have been gobbled up by larger banks. In 1989, at the height of the savings and loan crisis, the FDIC closed 534 banks or about 10 a week. Ron Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas, flatly says, “A false recovery is under way. I am reminded of the outlook in 1930 when the experts were certain that the worst of the Depression was over and that recovery was just around the corner. Instead, the interventionist policies of Hoover and Roosevelt caused the Depression to worsen, and the Dow Jones Industrial average did not recover to 1929 levels until 1954.” It took ten years and a world war for America to dig out of the Great Depression. The president’s economic team — Christina Romer, Peter Orszag, Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner and Jared Bernstein — scare the heck out of me. I would much rather have Ben Stein running the treasury and Larry Kudlow overseeing the national economy. The waste of billions of taxpayer dollars in the bilious “stimulus” bill was the ultimate wet dream of legislators, the opportunity to tap the treasury for every “pork” project they had been promising the voters. Far worse, however, is the healthcare “reform,” if passed. As reported recently in the Weekly Standard, Medicare fraud now costs Americans an estimated $60 billion a year. Compare that with the annual $8 billion in profits of all the private insurance companies combined! The Pelosi-Reid bill is Medicare on steroids, but the yet unanswered question is this: If Congress can require you to buy insurance even if you don’t want to, what else can you be compelled to do? Christiana Romer recently testified before Congress that the stimulus bill has accomplished little at this point. The abortive “Cash for Clunkers” program has been calculated to have actually cost the government six times the rebate whose effect lasted all of a month. Meanwhile, when its treasury notes are not bought by foreign investors, the nation buys its own debt, a scheme that is impossible to maintain. I do not loan money to myself. I either save it or spend it. Congress should be reducing taxes — the U.S. tax rate on corporations is among the highest in the world — and taking steps to relieve the tax burden on small businesses which are the heart of employment and the economy in general. Congress is also getting ready to raise the cost of energy for every American family and enterprise with the hideous “cap and trade” bill. Energy in America has long been one of the most affordable elements of the economy, but the Obama administration is throwing billions at the least productive elements called “clean energy,” solar and wind, while declaring war on coal that provides just over half of all the electricity we use every day. The figures cited for unemployment are a bad joke. Officially set at 9.5 percent, it is actually likely to be closer to 14 percent, about the same amount as during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Everyone is aware that the economy is not recovering. It is reflected in reduced inventories. It is reflected in continued layoffs. It is reflected in retail advertisements offering two-for-one deals. It is reflected in less consumer spending. On Halloween, my local mall already had a big Christmas tree on display. I find it insulting that the government is eager to give money to people defaulting on their mortgages because they couldn’t afford them when the government was pressuring mortgage lenders to make them. I find it insulting to be told about jobs “created or saved” by the White House when this is a pure fantasy. Only private enterprise creates real jobs. Government jobs add nothing to the economy except another layer of bureaucracy. What America needs is productivity. I find it insulting to be told that the recession is over when it is just taking a breather before the mounting debt from White House initiatives overwhelms us all, rising unemployment continues, and senseless legislation is still in the pipeline. None of this is good news, but it is, at least, the real news.
Sitting smiling, talking on the phone at a desk in the back of Saks Jandel amid racks of stunning Armani creations, Harriet Kassman seems to have shaken off much of the heartbreak the last few months have thrown her way. Flipping through papers with hot-pink nails that match her lipstick, the Washington legend, renowned for dressing area celebrities and politicians for the last 35 years, looks comfortable amid the luxury labels. Though perhaps not quite as comfortable as she would have looked a year ago, among her own hand-picked designer goodies. “I’ve come full circle, I’m right where I’ve started from,” says Kassman, looking around Saks Jandel. Kassman worked at the high-end clothing store for two years when it opened in 1975, but then set out on her own adventure. In 1977 the spunky grandmother, standing just a shade over five feet tall, opened her namesake luxury store: Harriet Kassman. For 35 years she did business that seemed more like pleasure: perhaps a cool aunt helping to dress friends and family in garments that happened to be stunning couture. But in September of this year, the crumpling economy got the better of Kassman’s revenue stream, and she had to shut the doors. “I didn’t just open a store, I put my whole heart and soul in it,” says Kassman, stopping smiling for a moment, “and when you lose it it’s like losing part of yourself.” Though understandably deeply affected by the loss of her beloved store, Kassman refuses to wallow. She allows herself only a few moments sadness to ponder the year’s events, a solemn reflection not at all bogged down by self pity. “I've learned over the past couple months that you’ve got to go on, that you cant just live in the past.” And boy has she lived by those words. Instead of moping about past misfortunes, Kassman has thrown herself into a new venture: consultant for her onetime rival Saks Jandel. The owner of Saks Jandel, Peter Marx, is the same age as Kassman’s middle son Nicholas, who worked with his mom at the boutique since graduating college. “He’s such a nice human being,” Kassman says fondly of Marx. When he heard that Kassman's store would be closing, he did something many people would never have even considered. "He walked up to my store and said ‘what can I do to help?’" says Kassman, "And you never hear that from people.” Marx’s generosity has given the 88-year-old Kassman a new lease on her lifetime in fashion, something she is deeply invested in. Kassman's career in fashion began in her home town of Daytona Beach, FL. Then twenty years old, she began a lifetime among famous designers in her father's dress shop, and in the intervening decades her desire to work in fashion hasn't wavered one bit. “Some people just work at their job, and other people have a passion," says Kassman, looking around at designers whose names have become something like family: "I have a passion. Where it came from, I don’t know, it doesn’t matter. But I like it.” Her love of beautiful clothes has lasted for nearly seventy years, and not even the economic collapse forcing Kassman to shutter the doors on her beloved store has dimmed that passion. So now Kassman lends her expertise to another renowned boutique in D.C., and so far is loving it. “I’m so pleased when somebody walks out in something that’s beautiful, and they love it and they get compliments on it,” says the effervescent grandmother of seven, looking around at the Vera Wang bridal boutique in Saks Jandel. Adorned with two long rows of frothy tulle confections and stunning lace numbers in white, ivory and cream, this is one of the most high-end rooms in the store. But, insists Kassman, there is something at Saks Jandel to fit every price range. "I mean, you can spend $5,000 if you like, but you can also spend $200,” she insists, pointing out lovely autumn cashmere pieces that are a priced quite reasonably. Citing quality as one of the premier factors in deciding which brands to buy, Saks Jandel focuses on stocking beautiful clothes of exceptional quality, regardless of the number on the price tag. Kassman's boutique featured many of the same designers as Saks Jandel, and many of the clients she worked with have now come to do business at Peter Marx's store, which Kassman couldn't be more pleased about. Pulling a stunning red Valentino cocktail dress off the rack, Kassman looks right at home. It would be unfathomable for her to consider retiring: she simply has too much fun in fashion. “When the clock runs down, you’re finished," says Kassman, smiling around, “But I'm not finished.”
The year was 1963, and the place was Washington, D.C. It was the year Martin Luther King Jr. inspired the country with his “I have a dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall. A few months later, the unthinkable happened when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas and the nation recoiled in horror and grief. For three days, people sat in front of their television sets, watching the memorial services for the fallen president unfold in front of the White House, the Capitol, through the avenues of the city and finally to the cemetery at Arlington. It’s hard to believe that all of this happened almost 50 years ago. To illustrate just how long ago this was, take a look at prices. The average American home sold for less than $20,000 and a gallon of gas cost 30 cents. In the pop music world, Elvis was the undisputed King, and teenage girls swooned by the thousands when he came on stage. But popular music fans in this country were barely aware of a new musical group called The Beatles, who were taking Great Britain and Europe by storm. A Washington teenager named Marsha Albert heard about this group and couldn’t figure out why we weren’t listening to their music here in America. She wrote a letter to DJ Carroll James of WWDC radio and asked him to play their records. When he asked around, the DJ found out that while Capitol Records had the rights to release their music here, the president of the company didn’t think “foreign bands” did very well on this side of the pond. Even worse, when Capitol asked for the scoop on The Beatles, a music critic told him that they were “a bunch of long-haired kids” and to forget about them. And so Capitol Records put the group on the back burner. That is, until the DJ and the teenager took matters into their own hands. Carroll James found a friend who knew a British stewardess who agreed to bring a Beatles record back to the U.S. with her. And so, at 5:15 p.m. on December 17, 1963, the 15-year-old Marsha Albert announced on WWDC, “Ladies and gentlemen, appearing for the first time in America, the Beatles singing “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” The radio audience response was overwhelming and James said his switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree. He played the recording all week and the listeners loved it. Capitol heard about the phenomenon and decided to bring the record out on Dec. 26. It went to the top of the charts. In fact, it became the fastest selling single in recording history and eventually went on to occupy all five of the Top Five positions on the Billboard charts, something which hasn’t been duplicated or surpassed since. In February, the Beatles arrived in New York to be on the Ed Sullivan Show, where an unprecedented viewing audience of 73 million people tuned in to see the group. But their first live concert was here in the District at the Washington Coliseum. They couldn’t fly into National Airport because of a snowstorm, so they had to take the train to the then-dilapidated Union Station, where a screaming group of 2000 teenagers waited in the snow behind police barricades to welcome them. They drew a full house at the Coliseum, where tickets, by the way, started at $3.50 apiece. The Beatles went on to dominate the popular music scene around the world for an amazing two decades, and Washington gets the credit for giving them their first introduction to what turned out to be a huge American audience, thanks to a determined teenager and an enterprising DJ.
There’s so much ado about Georgetown, so much bustle, so many dollars and words and honks exchanged at a daily clip. It’s nice to know there’s always time for a little history. That was true at CAG’s monthly meeting on Feb. 22, held at Mt. Zion Methodist Church on 29th Street, a nod to Black History Month. Dozens of congregation members and other Georgetowners filed into the pews to hear the stories and words of an unlikely pair: Carter Bowman, the official historian for Mt. Zion, and Mary Kay Ricks, a one-time attorney who founded a walking tour company and, fascinated by the tales she uncovered, wrote a book on the rather hush-hush topic of slavery in Washington. That book, “Escape on the Pearl,” is an exhaustively researched work on the tangled web of human bondage that clung to the capital’s upper classes: presidents, senators, powerful socialites. It is also concerned with the little-known yet bold escape attempt of 77 slaves on a chartered schooner from Philadelphia named the Pearl. While historically the event is overshadowed by John Brown’s raid of Harper’s Ferry and the Kansas wars, it was viewed at the time as enough of an abolitionist shenanigan to spark riots across the city. The year was 1848 and secession was barely a decade off. What ties the two speakers together is that Mt. Zion played an integral role in the daring flight of the Pearl. And, as Bowman explained, the church served as a refuge for those in shackles for much of the antebellum 19th century and a community locus thereafter. Mt. Zion was founded in 1816 by black members of the Montgomery Street Church (now the Dumbarton Avenue United Methodist Church) who, though they usually comprised half of the congregation, were fed up with being segregated from white worshippers. Autonomy was not all theirs, however — members of the newly formed Mt. Zion still held services under the auspice of Montgomery and, as it turned out, were presided over by white pastors. But it began a rich cultural and religious identity for blacks in Georgetown, who made up nearly a third of the population, the majority of them free men. It became one of the few places under law where blacks could congregate in large numbers, and it was, at the height of the abolition movement, a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Whispers would travel electrically through the congregation: who was being hidden in the churchyard, who was up for sale, which families were close to being rent apart. The success of the cotton gin in the early 19th century ignited a demand for slaves in the South, and so with it a widespread sundering of families as mothers and sons and sisters were sold downriver. Around 600,000 slaves were fated to endure this “Second Middle Passage” to New Orleans or other Southern cities. As Bowman explained, church “classes” really became organized sects for keeping abreast of the latest news on local slaves and, when possible, spiriting those away who were being bought up for market. Mt. Zion, then, is immutably wrapped in the history of slave resistance in Washington. One of the Pearl escapees, Alfred Pope, was a member of the church and later bought a plot of land in Georgetown on which to build a permanent house of worship. After the war, after Emancipation, it burned to the ground in 1880, but was rebuilt four years later. Walking through it now, you can almost taste the history, the stories it has witnessed. You almost hear small noises, something like ghosts or singing voices long past. CAG President Jennifer Altemus called it the “perfect venue” to discuss Ricks’ story. “[This church] puts you in a place, gives you a feel for the history,” Bowman said. At 87, he has seen a good portion of it. Ricks is much younger, a scholar at heart, with a soft and wavering voice that teems with emotion. Her book centers around Mary and Emily Edmonson, daughters of a free black man from Georgetown. Because their mother was a slave, however, they inherited their bonded status, along with 12 other siblings. The year was 1848. At that time, slavery was hardly taboo in Washington. Having been comprised of land ceded by slave states, the city was firmly rooted below the Mason-Dixon line, and slavery, as Ricks put it, “literally came with the territory.” Dolley Madison owned a slave late into her life, which she sold to Senator Daniel Webster the year before the Pearl made its dash for the North. That slave, Paul Jennings, was one of three men who conspired to charter a ship that would whisk away the slaves of Washington. The other was Samuel Edmonson, the older brother of Mary and Emily. The plan was simple: gather up the slaves marked for sale, steal away in the night to the ship and sail up the Chesapeake to safety. For a few, it was the only option. “Many of the people boarded the Pearl that night because their security … was threatened by the slave trade,” Ricks said. She went on to tell how, on a foggy August evening, the Edmonsons and the rest boarded the Pearl, moored close to the future site of the Washington Monument, and sailed away. They made for Point Lookout, the mouth of the Potomac, but when they arrived they found the weather had made it impassable. The captain, a white Pennsylvanian, had no choice but to anchor the boat in a leeward cove. Slaveowners in Washington had already awakened, discovered the plot and were in hot pursuit. Anti-abolitionist riots had already begun surging across the city. The Pearl was eventually discovered right where it was anchored, its passengers manacled and dragged back to Washington. Most were sold and sent to New Orleans as punishment. One of the luckier Pearl escapees was Alfred Pope, whose owner took him back and freed him in his will two years later. He was serving on Mt. Zion’s board of trustees when he appointed the 29th Street space nearly 30 years later, a free man. Mary and Emily Edmonson became one of the first causes for a young Henry Ward Beecher, the flamboyant abolitionist preacher who later would ship rifles (“Beecher’s Bibles”) off to Bleeding Kansas. With his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, they secured the Edmonson sisters’ freedom and their admission to Oberlin College. It was a story the audience had trouble digesting. A silence, an eeriness hung in the air a moment, the realization that those on the front line of this country’s greatest conflict, the figures in old daguerreotypes, the names in textbooks, had once been a part of or helped this congregation, now housed in the very church where they sat. It was black history, American history, animated and made real. Also in Georgetown: As always, store openings and closings are making a few headlines this week. No word yet on the rumors surrounding a new Nathans tenant. Late-night junk foodies will be disappointed to learn Philly Pizza has been ordered to shut down by the city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The Potomac Street pizza parlor, which is open until 4 a.m. on weekends, was found to have exceeded its allotment of carry-out orders, a violation of their license to operate as a sit-down restaurant. This would routinely attract a throng of noisy bar-hoppers and students, who clashed with neighbors across the street. This may not concern you if you’re somewhat of a pizza connoisseur, but the opening of Il Canale (1063 31st St.) should. We stopped by for a slice and were impressed. If you need a break from Pizzeria Paradiso, check out this new addition to the Georgetown restaurant scene. Finally, Georgetown’s Benetton store recently closed for remodeling. It should be ready by April, just in time to pick up some pastels and cashmere for spring. Last month’s Jelleff imbroglio at the ANC meeting should be enough to convince you community politics are heating up this year. Ready for more? Stop by the next ANC meeting on March 1 at Georgetown Visitation, 35th Street and Volta Place, 6:30 p.m. [gallery ids="99060,99061" nav="thumbs"]
So, the great pizza affair finally looks like it’s drawing to a close. On Feb. 19, the city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs served an illegal use notice to Potomac Street’s Philly Pizza Company, echoing a Board of Zoning Adjustment decision a few days earlier to close the University’s favorite huckster of sauce and cheese on the grounds that it was operating as a fast-food establishment, not as the sit-down restaurant for which it is zoned. It had been a lingering, painfully slow fight — last November, Philly suffered a similar ruling but lucked out with a temporary reprieve until the BZA could reconvene this month. Clocking in at over seven hours, the final hearing was one of near-mythic proportions, a kind of neighborhood armageddon where the issue’s major players could take the field, voice their side and duke it out one last time. Neighbors were finally given the opportunity to speak (in the interest of time, citizen testimony was not heard at the November meeting), and ANC commissioners again submitted their two cents, reinforcing the claims of their unhappy constituents. Of course, Philly owner Mehmet Kocak and his legal team took the floor as well, arguing that the handful of cocktail tables dotting the cramped pizza parlor cemented its status as a proper restaurant. When the dust had cleared, the neighbors came out on top, and while Philly might have enjoyed a few days’ respite until the city could enforce their decision, the DCRA notice three days later effectively put to an end all the revelry, the good times for students and headaches for everyone else. At that particular corner, at least. For the record, it’s worth noting that Kocak’s cooperation and diplomacy on this issue had been lukewarm at best. He seemed to hardly notice the clamor over his late-night clientele until the blogs, populace and community boards were all screaming about it. Even then, the solutions he offered were cursory: roll a few trash cans in the street, ask a bored policeman or two to check in every once and a while and hope the situation works itself out. The whole time, his put-upon attitude earned him few friends or allies. Georgetown students, when the ruling was reported on the University blog Vox Populi, seemed to shrug their shoulders and move on. There are other places in town to grab a slice. To be sure, the BZA’s decision was the right one. Philly had been operating beyond the parameters of its license and indirectly made lives miserable for its neighbors across the street — all of whom have lived on the block for far longer. The community, however — the ANC, neighbors, students — will have to work hard to prove that this wasn’t an isolated lynching. The precedent set by the ruling must be upheld when dealing with similar problems at Tuscany, Domino’s and others, which very likely will inherit the crowds once commanded by Philly. After all, inebriated, early-morning revelers bent on greasy food will gravitate toward the nearest alternative. Which warrants a word or two about the early-morning revelers: as those directly responsible for the complaints of neighbors, they bear much of the responsibility here, and deserve to be held accountable more than they have been. We urge the neighborhood boards (the ANC and BID especially) to allocate the necessary funding to ensure, if problems continue to arise, that officers are regularly on hand to halt the littering and noise at the source.
So, how do you like the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver so far? If you’re an American, quite a bit, thank you very much. If you’re one of the NBC sportcasters here, you like it even more, because now you’ve got an almost legitimate excuse to talk about practically nothing but Americans. If you’re Canada, the host nation, probably not so much, for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. If you’re from Russia, even less. You and your president are mad as hell about it all. This has been an unexpectedly dizzying and surprising winter Olympics, at turns exposing everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with these every-four-years efforts. If nothing else, we’ve seen a couple different sides to the host nation, for better and worse. That image of the Canadians as bland, modest, mild-mannered folks who are patient and have things in perspective and proportion, well, that one took a small hit. They are as crazed about gold as anybody else, and carry as much bellowing national pride as the next country, which happens to be their too-good neighbor, the United States. The Canadians, in their efforts to create a really fast luge and bobsled competition, created a course that athletes and experts complained was way too fast. It certainly proved to be too fast for a young luge competitor from Georgia who was killed when he lost control at somewhere around 90 miles an hour. That tragedy, right before the start of the games, was a huge controversy with charges, tortured explanations, and countercharges in the midst of competition. It’s not being talked about too much any more, except perhaps in the Georgian village where they’re still mourning the loss of their hometown athlete. The Canadians, who should be good in these events because there’s lots of ice, mountains, and snow there — as opposed to Washington — haven’t fared well. Last two times they hosted the winter Olympics they got no gold. They finally broke the spell this time, but then the United States — with most of their NHL stars playing for Russia, Sweden and Canada — managed to knock off the Sidney Crosby-led Canadian team, a huge upset. The Russian hockey team, with Alex Ovechkin at the helm, lost to Slovakia. Russia was shut out in the medals for pairs skating, where China finished first and second, and when defending gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko, a boyish Putin look-alike in sequins, lost the gold to American Evan Lysacek in men‘s figure skating, he got peevish. He waltzed up to the gold podium at the medals ceremony then, after some comments about skaters who don’t do a quadruple jump not being manly, he walked out. Russian President Putin and his wife also complained about the loss. And then there was our country ’tis of thee. Even if the Americans don’t win another medal, they’ve kicked butt. This would be really wonderful to behold if we didn’t have to listen to the various broadcasters point out the obvious to us, instead of letting us enjoy it. This, in spite of the fact that this has not turned out to be the Vonncouver Olympics. We’ve seen too much of the golden girl, in both senses of the word: her hurt shin, her pained grimaces, her bikini poses, her personal life, her long hair, all of that. She won a gold in the downhill and flashed her gutsy brilliance, fell in another race, and raced conservatively in the super-G for a bronze. Not bad at all, but just modest enough to let others shine. Others won big also, with Shani Davis taking gold and silver in speed skating, Julia Mancuso winning two silvers and Apolo Ohno setting a record for Olympic medals with short track skating. Then there’s Bode Miller. Remember him? Like Vonn, Miller was the hyped American athlete in Torino and crumbled like a cookie, with no medals. Here, he’s been about as good as he can get, getting a bronze, silver and gold so far, and a lot less attention, while looking like the scruffy skier Robert Redford might have played once. Finally, there’s Shaun White, the red-headed snowboarder in a class by himself. I think I saw him working his way to the moon after one of his runs. Confident without being arrogant, articulate, shrewd and funny, he’s the coolest guy in Vancouver. Canada has enjoyed a few victories, though. The gold medal win by dark-horse moguls skier Alex Bilodeau, the country’s first in a Winter Olympics, prompted a fire of excitement nationwide. More touching was seeing Bilodeau’s older brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy, weep with joy when the results were announced. One of the great things about watching ski runs is to see how the Vancouver’s mountain setting revealed itself every time. It was breath-taking. And there’s the city itself, gleamingly hip and cosmopolitan against a backdrop of fierce nature. Even if Canadian athletes aren’t sweeping the podiums, the country has the shown the world a remarkable culture full of natural beauty and modern elan. Now there’s something to be proud about. Plus, we got to see fiddle players who could tap dance. What more could you want?
It began to snow. And then it snowed and snowed. It stopped then it started again. The record snowfall of 2010. I used to talk nostalgically to my three children about the blizzards of 1979, 1983, 1996, and 2003. Now they have lived through the biggest one of all. They got to relive the famous Fred Maroon photo of Wisconsin Avenue taken on February 19, 1979. First, some observations and facts. The snow started late Friday night. At 6 p.m., it was still coming. By 11 p.m., it was real snow. It snowed until 10 p.m. Saturday night. It was a steady, heavy snowfall. The city had been preparing for several days and our fleet of 250+ vehicles, as well as our contractors, were out in force. The plan is to always clear the main streets first so that emergency vehicles and public transportation can get through. As soon as they are done, the City hits the residential streets. However, no sooner did the main streets get plowed than they filled right back up with snow. By Saturday night, we had two feet of snow everywhere. It took all of Sunday and Monday to get the main streets plowed and then it snowed again. Beginning Monday night and through Tuesday, another 20 inches fell. Same story. By then the main streets were again covered and residential streets had up to three feet of snow on them. The point being that it was not possible to stay ahead of these storms because of their duration and consistency. Being from upstate Pennsylvania, I have experienced this many times as a youth. This partially answers why the residential streets were not plowed early on. Several persons asked why my street, P Street, was plowed. P Street is one of the three main bus/emergency vehicle routes into Georgetown (the others being M Street and Wisconsin Avenue) and is always plowed in the initial stages of a storm. On Wednesday, the big clean up began. I was personally in contact with Mayor Fenty, DDOT Director Gabe Klein, and DPW Director Bill Howland through this entire period. Also, thanks to Ron Lewis, ANC Chairperson, and ANC Commissioners Ed Solomon, Bill Starrels, and Tom Birch for their constant help. The mayor and I walked the streets of Ward 2 Wednesday through Saturday identifying potentially problematic areas. By Saturday, Feb. 13, almost every street in the ward had been plowed in some fashion. In Georgetown, because the streets are so narrow and have cars parked on both sides, it was a particular challenge and necessitated smaller equipment. I want to thank everyone for their patience and participation. And it is not over yet. The author is a city councilmember representing District Ward 2.
As February comes to a cold, long end, with it ends the annual celebration, commemoration and acknowledgement that we call Black History Month, celebrated and noted in an especially strong and defining way in Washington, D.C. Events throughout the month noted one aspect of black history or another — Frederick Douglass’ birthday and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, because the two leaders are intertwined and wrapped up in the times of their time, the agony of the Civil War, the triumph of Emancipation. At Mount Vernon, there were commemorative services and wreath-layings for the slaves at the first president’s Virginia plantation. The Smithsonian Black History Month Family Day Celebration will be held Feb. 27, rescheduled from an earlier day in the month and featuring the theme “Tapestry of Cultural Rhythms.” The idea of a black history month, first begun as far back as 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson as “Negro History Week” before becoming what we know as Black History Month, remains strangely controversial. Some of this is, of course, due to the lingering feeling that the very existence of a black history month forces people to think about, and often actually talk about, race in America. In Washington, the longer you live here, the more the idea of Black History Month seems hardly novel at all, as natural as breathing. This city, in function, culture, politics, economics, identity and social structure, is so Sybil-like, schizoid, diverse, multi-faceted and multi-tasked that it resists a wholesale identity. It is the capital of the United States, politically and governmentally, but that doesn’t necessarily amount to an identity. The White House, Capitol Hill and Congress are hard-core presences of the city’s function. They are not its heart and soul. That honor belongs to us: we the people that live here. If the city has a defining identity, in terms of history, the idea of black history has played itself out here from the beginning. How black and white residents have built, lived, worked, created a social and cultural environment here tells you an enormous amount about the history of race in America. In this city, you don’t ask the question of whether there is a black history here, because you’re living it every day, and confront it, embrace it, see it in every neighborhood and ward of the city. One of the things you find, past the historic homes and buildings, past the large number of churches, many of them built from the ground up after emancipation by black pastors and ministers, is that black history is everybody’s history in this city, it is, as a young essay contest winner wrote, “American history.” This is the city where in all the time of Jim Crow, local blacks, their number swollen by the great migration to northern cities in the first decades of the 20th century, created a thriving black community apart from all the places in the city where they could not shop, eat , hear music or go to school. Thus a large section of Washington, spurred by Howard University, had its own lawyers and doctors, its shops and shopkeepers and businesses, its culture. While lots of major urban centers in America have large black populations, Washington is different because of its politics and structure. Until the 1970s, it had no self-rule of any sort, and even now has no voting rights in Congress. Its history of home rule is brief, only some 40 years or so. Every street, and maybe every street corner, and certainly every neighborhood large and small, is a part of black history. Three of the major churches in Georgetown on or near P Street are reminders of a large black population that existed early in the century and thrived for decades before dispersing into the suburbs. Walk the African Heritage Trail, a guide to the entire city’s heritage of black history, and you’ll discovery all of our history here, along with the rich contributions of African American civil rights leaders, educators, teachers, politicians, political leaders, athletes and artists. Memories of segregation and Jim Crow live in memory here. In almost every ward and neighborhood of this city, you’ll find the strong presence of African American men and women who made history, who helped create institutions, movements and ideas that live on, who lived here, day in and day out, who created or were leaders in their communities. Black history resounds in the homes, buildings, institutions and churches of Washington: at Howard University, at the Lincoln Theater and the True Reformer Building in Greater U Street, where Duke Ellington lived early in his life, at the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum at the old Howard Theater, the Black Fashion Museum and the Whitelaw Hotel, at the Supreme Court where Thurgood Marshall became a towering figure. You can find it at the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women, which Bethune founded, and which is still led by the indomitable civil rights leader Dorothy Height, who in turned founded the Black Family Reunions held annually on the Mall and across the country. It lives in the Shiloh Baptist Church in Shaw, in the slave cemeteries in Georgetown, at the DAR Constitution Hall, where Marian Anderson was not allowed to sing by the DAR, and at the Lincoln Memorial. It’s in the Frederick Douglass National Historic City at 14th and W Streets SE, at Fort Stevens in Brightwood and at the Summer School Museum and Archives. And all along the Heritage Trail, you’ll find the names and homes of familiar historic figures: Willis Richardson, Paul Dunbar, Anna Julia Cooper, Christian Fleetwood, Ernest Everett Just, Charles Manuel “Sweet Daddy” Grace, Alain Locke, Mary Jane Patterson Carter G. Woodson, Anthony Bowen, Benjamin Banneker, Howard Woodson, Lois Mailou Jones and many others. The National Mall is where the Revered Martin Luther King gave his resounding “I Have a Dream” speech, which energized the entire country and fired up the imagination of generations to come. His assassination in 1968 sparked a full-scale war and deadly, destructive riots — known simply as “the riots” — the effects of which devastated the local economy for years to come. That too is black history. All the changes — downtown development, the decline of black population, the rise of condoland, our loyalties to schools and sports — make up the common knowledge of living here. We all see this all of the time, yet, it’s fair to say, we — black and white — don’t know as much about each other and interact as much as we should, and certainly could. Race is an integral, if not integrated, part of this city, and black history is also a history of race in America. This is a city where, in one mayoral election consisting entirely of black candidates, one of them was designated by others as the “white candidate.” Major political, emotional and cultural discussions about crime and education inevitably have components of class and race to them. But our city’s history is a shared one. It exists for all of us in memory, if we access it. It snows on everyone, on all the neighborhoods, even though some might fare better than others when it comes to snow removal. We are a string of connected neighborhoods, with a history that we all own and share. Whatever you might say about our transit system, it moves on tracks that criss-cross every part of the city and outside of it too. All of us lead daily lives, and in this way, we are more closely connected to each other, like a family, than to any temporary residents in the White House, in Congress and on K Street. [gallery ids="102590,99062,99063,99064,99065" nav="thumbs"]
In the midst of a grisly recession with a tight grip on Georgetown, it’s nice to know we have a few fine eateries that are still setting up shop. Take a walk to one of these restaurants, freshly opened — or nearly there — and eager to please. Il Canale — 1063 31st Street In a city where pizza is an art and the competition is stiff, our first impression of this new Italian gem was, well, we were impressed. Have a look at this new addition to 31st St., serving the gamut of gourmet pizza and other Italian delights. Puro Cafe — 1529 Wisconsin Ave. Puro has been in the works since early last fall, finally opening in January 2010. The patisserie has gathered to itself all the finer accoutrements of modern Europe: uber-modern decor, cozy, quaint lounging and some of the best muffins, croissants and sweets you’ll find in Georgetown. Morso and Morso Express — 3277 M Street The flagship wing of the Turkish eatery, headed up by Chef Ed Witt, won’t open until April, but kebab junkies can get in on the action as early as March 22, when the next-door Morso Express will begin serving its more casual fare of flatbread and shish kebabs. Crepe Amour — 3291 M Street Sri Suku and Surag Gopi set up shop in the space once occupied by Amma Vegetarian Kitchen, naming their project Crepe Amour and offering a rich menu filled with crepes for both dinner and dessert (their sweet crepe menu is particularly impressive). We tried a Da Vinci crepe recently — filled with pesto, chicken and tomatoes — and left feeling stuffed and happy. Don’t miss it. Serendipity 3 - 3150 M Street As we noted above, the New York frozen dairy craze will soon arrive at the lonely corner on M and Wisconsin. What’s got the Yankees so abuzz over a dessert joint? Well, besides its long list of celebrity patrons and appearance in a handful of Hollywood flicks, the restaurant boasts a thickset menu of sundaes, “frrrozen” drinks and, if you’re the type to wait on dessert, a long list of crepes, burgers and foot-long hot dogs. Look out, Georgetown. [gallery ids="99066,99067" nav="thumbs"]
Georgetown’s newest retail addition, M29, invited us for a peek at the new place last week in the wake of their grand opening on March 1. The shop, operating under the auspices of the Four Seasons Hotel and labeled a “lifestyle store,” is touted by the owners as the first of its kind in Georgetown. The idea? Eschew any sort of theme or niche and offer up a wide breadth of artisan clothing, accessories, games and knickknacks from which customers can pick and choose. “It’s meant to be an experience,” says Allyson Wilder, who manages the store’s retail inventory. Actually, scratch that: inventory’s not the word. In fact, the shop carries no backroom stock of any kind — the items on sale, everything from Moyna handbags to Stewart Stand cufflinks to John Derian’s delicate decoupage, are on display in their entirety, and when they’re gone, well, they’re gone. It’s part of a shrewd business plan that both discourages customers from passing up on an item they might never see again, and instantly adds value and cachet to wares that quite often are one of a kind. The trademark concept behind M29, though, is that everything in the store — save perhaps the walls and windows — is up for grabs. Customers can buy up a swath of handmade ceramicware and, if they like, the table it sits on. Named for the intersection where it stands, M29 is distinctly Washington, offering its visitors an industrial, minimalist feel, naturally lit by floor-to-ceiling windows stamped with a rash of cherry blossoms. The store imports items from artisan craftsmen, designers and artists hand picked by Director of Retail Deborah Bush, whose years in the design industry — and the Rolodex to go with it — have afforded her a keen sense of what residents in an affluent, artistic neighborhood might like. So far, she boasts a roster of 35 designers, none of which are local, the idea being to refresh the Georgetown art scene with crafts it won’t find anywhere else. Experience, indeed. Also: It’s been confirmed: Nathans, which has stood gutted and boarded up since the iconic Georgetown restaurant closed last July, will be the new site of Stephen Bruce’s Serendipity 3, a New York-based upscale ice cream parlor famous for its frozen hot chocolate and patronage by Andy Warhol. The effort to bring in the shop was spearheaded by local restaurant owners Rodrigo Garcia and Britt Swan, who signed a contract last Thursday, according to local blogger Kate Michael. Serendipity 3, known in New York’s Upper East Side as one of the most visited corners in the city, could make its debut on M and Wisconsin as early as spring 2010. [gallery ids="99068,99069,99070,99071" nav="thumbs"]