Francis McKinley: Remembering Glover Park in the Forties

 

Francis McKinley’s reminiscences first appeared in the Glover Park Gazette in 1998.


Put on your imagination hat and I will take you back to the 1940’s and give you a glimpse of what Glover Park looked like.  The US was in the middle of World War II, and from time to time children would be on Tunlaw Road and Beecher Street and hear sirens signal that they needed to run home quickly.  Sirens would also go off some evenings, and heavy black shades would be pulled to hide the lights inside the house.  From time to time a Civil Defense Deputy would knock on doors and counsel families to draw the black blinds more favorably to keep out all lights.  The skies would be filled with heavy spotlights — the Army searching for enemy aircraft overhead.  Tiny flags with a blue or gold star graced the front doors of homes to signify the family had a son or daughter serving in the armed forces.

The rental of 2452 Tunlaw Road during World War II was $70 a month, including utilities. This residence was split into an upstairs and a downstairs apartment, and two families lived there repeatedly. When one apartment became vacant during the height of the war, an ad was placed in the Washington Evening Star, and nearly 100 telephone calls were received from those wishing to rent. Housing was in critical short supply during the entire war.

In 1942 Miss White was the kindergarten teacher at Stoddert Elementary School. In those days there were two classes of students. The morning session housed children who were the oldest of those enrolled in the class, and the afternoon session included only the youngest who were enrolled in the class. Partial day kindergarten was the norm during World War II. The older students had more time in the classroom than their younger counterparts did in the afternoon sessions.

The story of how Tunlaw Road got its name comes from an 81 year old plus lady who says the builders of that street wanted to name it Walnut Street. But there was a problem. There was already a Walnut Street in the District of Columbia. So, they did the next best thing: they reversed the letters and called it Tunlaw Road.”

People dried their clothes using clotheslines and many a telephone pole was used as a stanchion for a pulley that ran from the back of the house to the pole.  Some homes had one from the upstairs and another for the downstairs.  Mt. Alto Hospital was a very large dormitory home in the 2600 block of Tunlaw Road that housed nurses who treated the men at the hospital.  Directly across the street from the home was a very large home that had a huge round pond in the rear.  It was about three feet deep and fifty feet or more in diameter.  It was the home to bull frogs and large snails.  In back, where apartment houses exist today, was a small creek that was filled with tadpoles.  Children would spend hours there trying to capture these amphibians and put them in their bathtubs and watch them in captivity.

Halloweens were very special.  Children could walk anywhere in Glover Park unsupervised.  One family on Huidekoper Place near W Street would be out of town or didn’t wish to answer the door.  They would place bushels of fresh apples on their front porch and the children would respect how much they could take by taking only one.  Devil’s Night was the day before Halloween and many children participated by knocking on doors with the familiar “Trick or Treat.”  Their attempt was honored by the families.  Apartment houses were special because children could cover more doors in less time and acquire more “treats,” and these were targeted by many.

Another characteristic of Huidekoper Place was the “Stink Bomb” trees that graced the block.  The leaves were always lovely in autumn and the fruit buds that smelled so bad were great to throw at one another.  The Jenkins family on this block had one of the first television sets and children would sit and watch Notre Dame football in the fall.  At the other end of Huidekoper Place lived the Lang family.  Mr. Lang was a professor at Georgetown University and every four years he would visit his native Germany and along with other members of his family would perform in the famous German passion plays.  The Lang family also had a marvelous Christmas display each year.  One particular item was a dead tree root that had been hollowed out to look like a manger and filled with hand carved nativity figures.

Playing soldier was a part of living in the 1940’s and children could find more ways to come up with experiencing this activity.  In the 2200 block of Observatory Place was a vacant lot just across the street from 2222 where the Webster family lived.  When Christmas trees were taken down, children would haul the abandoned trees to the lot and make large and small forts by taking the trees and stacking them atop one another forming small caverns underneath the mass of trees.

Another favorite pastime was building forts in the Glover Archbold Park out of what they called rabbit stalks.  They were so called because rabbits would frequently hide in the two- to three-foot high reeds.  By taking tree branches and the stalks, small forts were built all over the park.  The creek at Glover Archbold Park was not a bold stream, but water regularly flowed and sometimes dams were built just to see how much water could be captured.  The creeks were filled with salamanders and crayfish, and children were spotted carrying small glass containers filled with trophies from the creek.

The Archbold family raised German shepherds and frequently ten or more could be seen walking with their masters throughout the park.  The park was also known as “BT” wood.  I have no idea who named it “BT,” but it meant “Big Trees.”  Holy Trinity elementary students used the field at “BT” as their practice baseball field since none was available to them in Georgetown.  The field was also used by Cub Scout troops to sponsor touch football games on Saturday mornings.  At one time there was even a basketball goal in the back of the baseball backstop that was used by children for small pickup games and playing “horses.”

At the end of the park was a very large “Victory Garden.”  Tomatoes were a favorite as well as flowers that included mums and zinnias.  It was a great place for children to go and catch bees and grasshoppers in small glass jars modified with an ice pick to allow for holes in the top of the jar lid.

There was a man who lived in the 2400 block of Tunlaw Road directly fronting Beecher Street who was responsible for lighting at Griffith Stadium where the Redskins and original Washington Senators played.  He was particularly popular with the children since he would often have tickets to the games.

There was also a maintenance man who would come to cut lawns and trim shrubs.  For some reason he never got along with children and they would taunt him.  They knew he would respond by running a few steps after them with noises as if he were the devil himself.  His nickname was “Bow Wow” and he probably got the name because he barked so much at the children.  Every child growing up in Glover Park knew him.

The Calvert Theater on Wisconsin was the center of entertainment for children on Saturday mornings with cartoons, a serial feature, and a main film.  The lobbies of the Calvert were filled both in the morning with children and at night with grown ups.  “Duel in the Sun” and “The Outlaw” were two motion pictures that Catholics were forbidden to see at the theater.

Whitehaven Parkway on the east side of Wisconsin extended about half a block where the Holiday Inn is today into a large field.  It was a great place to take dogs for their exercise and allow them to perform acts of nature.  The field was filled with violets and buttercups and we used them to take home to our mothers when we thought we might be in trouble for being late.

At the bottom of the hill, there was a bold stream that was filled with crawfish, small frogs and salamanders.  We would take small rocks and mud and try to build dams to hold back the stream.  Occasionally we did manage to hold back the rush of water but when we returned the next day, the dikes we had built were all but gone.  This creek flowed into Dumbarton Oaks and occasionally we scaled the fence and followed the stream into the grounds.

In the 1940’s there was traffic on Wisconsin Avenue, but nothing like it is today.  The small piece of land in back of the Lutheran Church at 35th and Wisconsin and Whitehaven Parkway was used as a softball field and outfielders were actually positioned in the street on Whitehaven Parkway.  From time to time the ball would be hit on to 35th Street and would end up in one of the nearby gutters.  Children learned how to take a coat hanger and lift the iron manhole covers and then drop one another down into the hole to retrieve balls while someone above was holding their legs and belt to insure they would not fall into the sewer.

There was a ball field at the northern end of Gordon Junior High School, but it was covered in a very thin layer of coal shavings.  A ball hit on this granular type surface never bounced true and the field was avoided as much as it could be.  Each year there was a May Day at Gordon and a new dogwood planted on the hills surrounding the baseball diamond.  Those trees would be over 50 years old today.

The woods on Whitehaven Parkway between 37th and 35th Streets were a great place for children to play.  Forts were built up and down the hills of the two block area.  There was no fence between Holy Rood Cemetery and the woods and grave markers adjacent to the woods were broken and scattered about by vandals even though a full time caretaker resided at a small cottage on the property adjacent to the entrance of the cemetery on Wisconsin Avenue.

There was a small shopping center across the street from Holy Rood Cemetery about 100 yards up the street.  It is still there, but the composition is very different than it was in the 40’s.  The south end of the shopping center housed an A & P Grocery Store, then an alley and a 5 & 10 cent store operated by Mr. Fiedler with Mrs. Sawtell as a supervisor.  Each day a kind of wax sawdust was placed on the floors of the 5 & 10 and brushed up and down the sides.  It served as a waxing of the floors and at the same time as a cleaner.  Mr. Fiedler was there for many years, later he moved the 5 & 10 to near Pearson’s Drug Store at Calvert and Wisconsin Avenue.

In the same complex was an Aristo Cleaners and a bakery that made the best cinnamon buns on earth.  Sunday after church, people would come from all over and buy bakery goods, and I remember seeing their fresh bread sold in whole loaves or sliced there in the store.  At the other corner of the complex was a drug store and in one end a pinball machine where people would enjoy the entertainment of trying to win.  The drug store was equipped with a traditional soda fountain and a long marble shelf where one could enjoy sodas, sundaes, milk shakes and sandwiches.  Across the street was a new supermarket called “Giant.”  I feel certain it had to be one of the chain’s “firsts” in the Washington area.

Montrose Park was very a very special place for many reasons. The day after Easter, Easter Monday was one of the highlights of the year because families came from all over Washington and the suburbs to roll hard-boiled Easter eggs down the hills in back of the R Street tennis courts. That area overflowed with families and every area of the park was used to lay blankets and meet and talk with friends. It was the custom of children to bring their Easter baskets filled with jelly beans, chocolate rabbits and other sweets and partake in this annual outing.

During the summer Montrose Park was opened all day and staffed with park counselors who helped both children and adults alike with games, crafts and events. Basket weaving and making lariats out of plastic reeds were commonplace each summer. From time to time amateur track and field events were held that included such sports as the long jump, relays and running over a modified obstacle course that included crawling under see saws and through swings. Prizes awarded were passes to the Calvert Theater.

Archery was another event held in back of the small house that could be found at the end of the long paved walkway in the rear of the park. Once a year a costume contest was held and the children would put on any garb they could find and be judged on their creative talent and how hilarious they looked. I remember putting my brother in a baby carriage and dressing up like a mother wheeling him into the park and winning first prize. Ladies hats were a fad at that time and I am certain I used one of my mother’s to impress the judges,

I remembered something that will surely be lost for the ages if it is not documented. It involves a kind of baseball game that young boys played in Montrose Park on R Street [called] “turkey softball”. At Montrose Park there is a softball diamond in the rear of the park overlooking Rock Creek Park and adjacent to Oak Hill Cemetery. The ball field has several century-old oak trees in the outfield areas but two of the trees are very strategic since they are the fair or foul lines for the game of turkey softball.

The game is played like this: two to four players constitute a team. (Often times the number of children in the park was small at the beginning of the day, and this game could be played with only four boys, two on each team.) There is no running or other base running in the game, merely offensive hitting and defensive catching. One of the players on each team is designated as pitcher. The softball is pitched underhand at slow pitch speed to a batter who must hit the ball in the field between the two large oak trees that are located in right and left center field.

If the batter hits a ground ball that is retrieved by the pitcher, he is out. If the ground ball is hit past the pitcher, he is out. If the ground ball gets past the pitcher but not past the second fielder, a single is awarded. If the ball gets past the second fielder, a double or up to a home run is awarded depending on whether the third or fourth fielder allows the ball to get by them and cleanly fields the ball.  If one of the fielders merely stops the ball but does not cleanly field it, the opposing team is awarded the higher base total.

Any ball hit over the head of any fielder including the pitcher is awarded the base count provided the ball is not caught on the fly. If the ball is hit into one of the two large trees, an out is made if the ball is caught on the fly by any of the opponent fielders. Conversely if the ball is not caught, the batting team is awarded a double. There are three outs and seven innings given to each team. Strike outs, foul outs were permitted but no base on balls was allowed.

 

 

Notes

 

B.T. Field is the old name for the ball field in Whitehaven Park; before Glover Park was developed, the children who played there were from Bryan Town, at 35th and Reservoir Road.

Mrs. Archbold lived at Hillandale, just south of B.T.Field.

The Russian Embassy was built where Mt. Alto Veterans Hospital used to be.  Across the way from the Nurses’ Home was Mrs. Benedicta Regenstein’s “sunken” garden: the pond with the bullfrogs is now the basement of 3850 Tunlaw.

The  1937 Park and Shop Center that had the A & P, the Calvert Pastry Shop, the five and dime and the soda fountain was replaced in 1980 by the Meridian, at 2201 Wisconsin Avenue.

The church at 35th and Wisconsin, Mount Tabor Methodist Church, became the Divine Science Church in 1953.

Mr. McKinley’s informant was correct that a reversal of walnut gave rise to Tunlaw, but was unaware that the road got its name from Tunlaw Farm––now Wesley Heights.

 

________________________________________________________

Carlton Fletcher

 The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.

All rights reserved.

 

 Questions and corrections may be directed to

carlton@gloverparkhistory.com

 

The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.