Friday, April 19, 2013
1842 Monroe Street, NW
In late summer of 1950 after I had gotten a job at PASB my college roommate arrived, also with a new job. She wasn’t allowed to mention where it really was – we could vaguely say, oh… State Department. It had become crowded quarters at 16th and Park Road, so Fran and I coped a Sunday Post and took the first place we checked out after circling the furnished places near the streetcar lines. It was one side of an old double house – three stories high and a basement. We were to rent the first floor. The owner Ann Foster took us on the short tour: the front room (an old parlor) toward the street served as a bedroom with twin beds and bureau, then there was the main hall with stairs to floors two and three, and on the wall an old player piano. Sliding doors with drapes opened to what had been a dining room. In here was a sofa bed, coffee table an old easy chair, a bathroom off one end of the room and a door leading to a big, eat-in kitchen. There was a back yard leading to an alley.
The rent was very reasonable and we took it on the spot. We quickly packed and decamped from 16th and Park Road, loaded Fran’s Nash Rambler (won in a raffle that summer) and went west the three or four blocks on Park Road, Past the end of Mt. Pleasant and then on to the 1800 block of Monroe Street, which was one block long (Monroe reemerging again somewhere on the other side of 18th Street). In the District it seems to be a given that there are no square blocks. Streets leave off and take up almost as an afterthought.
To get to work I walked to Mt. Pleasant Street, picked up the streetcar and got on a car to Dupont Circle, where my office had moved. Fran had to drive much further to… uh, State, but had no trouble. There was much less traffic in 1950.
It was liberating to have our own place and I stayed there for two-and-a-half years until I married. Fran left a year-and-a-half later to go to Panama for … State. Two other college classmates moved in. It was a rather homey setup. Mr. and Mrs. Foster lived up on the third floor with their black and white cocker spaniel Amigo. They actually had a television set and occasionally invited Fran and me up to watch. I do remember variety shows and sterling movies such as Dracula’s Daughter. On the second floor were two government girls – Elaine, who worked on the hill for Senator Wayne Morse and joked about talking to people in Senator McCarthy’s office who even whispered conspiratorially when they answered the phone. Her roommate Corrie had a Siamese kitten named Pandora, who occasionally visited our floor to swing on the velvet drapes separating the living room from the front hall...
I called a piano tuner immediately for the player piano, having fond memories of pounding player pianos at the homes of New York relatives. He informed us sadly that the whole inside was eaten away and non-useable, but he tuned the keyboard as best he could. Our first meal, which took great skill to get to the table at the time, was hamburger patties, boiled potatoes and canned peas.
There were interesting time at 1842 Monroe – like when we discovered roaches and called the exterminator ourselves. He gassed the house, effectively driving out the bugs and ruining supper for the people in the upper floors, and causing Amigo to throw up. Or our Fish House punch party (recipe from the friendly Mt. Pleasant liquor store), where we had invited our usual odd lot of friends: Georgetown seniors, Hood graduates, the Czech couple down the street who rented their alley garage to Fran for her car, Ann McCloud from my office and her alcoholic husband, who got into a shouting match (a near brawl) with a Mt. Saint Mary’s grad. He eventually passed out on our couch. The next morning after his breakfast of beer and cigarettes he informed us that he’d used one of the toothbrushes in the bathroom. Needless to say, we suffered dirty teeth until we could get out for replacements.
Once we released Freon into the kitchen after trying to defrost the ancient refrigerator. This necessitated us moving into the back yard until the fumes dispersed. It also got us a larger, more convenient model as a replacement.
There was the night that Fran got a call from her office, telling her that she had forgotten to get rid of a carbon and had to go all the way back downtown and shred it personally.
There were walks over to 14th Street (past blacks, whites and Latinos, all coexisting peacefully) to shop at the 5 & 10 and go to the movies at the Tivoli Theater.
There were parties with our Georgetown senior friends, our first magical trip to the ballet, courtesy of a visiting Hood senior who wanted to go. Fran dragged me to hear a near-peasant conductor named Leonard Bernstein. We went to the Lisner to hear Andres Segovia play and I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a little more flamenco-y like popular guitarist Vicente Gomez. We went to the refurbished Gaiety Theater (near the Shubert) to see The Lady’s Not for Burning and to the monument grounds for fireworks.
We drove to Mexico City in Fran’s Nash Rambler.
Once, just before she left for Panama, Fran, a lapsed Lutheran, piled us in her car and rushed us downtown for a surprise. We ended up at Thomas Circle, where she stopped and triumphantly pointed out an unimposing statue of Martin Luther.
After she left for Panama the next roommate, Joann, a veritable busy bee, decided we should paint and re-do the living room. The horrified landlady watched as we coated the wooden fireplace with white paint, did the walls a light gray and sanded and waxed the floors. My mother, living at this point in Arlington, made a flashy flowered slipcover for the couch, and we hung my red curtains from college at the windows. Miracle transformation. Even Mrs. Foster passed the final result and brought in friends to show it off.
My final memory of 1842 was a surprise wedding shower.
My two Hood college friends stayed on for awhile, then each moved on and married.
About ten years into my own marriage I saw a picture in the paper of a house fire that had destroyed the building located at 1842 Monroe Street NW. I cut out the article and sent it to Fran, and we separately mourned the end of an era.