Seven area residents recall the days of dinner dances, wartime rationing and memorable encounters with celebrity.
Brad Patterson, 87, and Shirley Patterson, 86, Bethesda
Brad: We drove by here [Kenwood Park] in 1956 from Cleveland Park. This street was gravel, and a sign said: “Lot for sale.” I attended PTA back-to-school night at Radnor Elementary, and it was an intelligent, enthusiastic faculty, and I said, “That’s the sort of neighborhood I’d like to live in.” The street was full of children; it was the baby boom. Our son, Bruce, was in fourth grade, and it was so crowded that fourth grade met on the stage.
Shirley: On at least one anniversary before we moved here, we took the streetcar all the way to the end at Glen Echo and danced to an orchestra at the Spanish Ballroom. It was completely segregated then.
Brad: It cost $39,000 to buy the land and build the house. We moved in in 1957. The builder, Edwin Bennett, worked with me to design it. His father was high up at [the Department of] Justice, director of the Bureau of Prisons. The street backs onto the Kenwood [Golf and Country] Club. We were required to plant two cherry trees out front, though ours are a different kind than Kenwood’s.
River Road Unitarian Church started in Radnor School. From our house we saw people go in and out on Sundays and wondered what was up, and we decided to join.
Shirley: Sen. Frank Church of Idaho lived across the street. Frank’s son, Forrest, was Bruce’s age—he was named for the forests of Idaho—and their other boy, Chase, was nicknamed “Spud” for Idaho potatoes. When JFK was assassinated, the minister called me, knowing we were close friends of the Churches. Would Frank give the memorial service there? He was very pleased; he was close to JFK, but not a church member. People cut through our yard to the Radnor School for the service. It was the first Unitarian service the Churches had ever been to.
When we moved in, the Safeway at Arlington Road and Bradley Boulevard was just being completed. We went to movies at the Hiser and the Bethesda. Jelleff’s department store, which was smaller than the one downtown, was the only place for children’s clothing. When Richard Nixon was vice president, I ran into [his wife] Pat once at girls’ socks.
Woolworth’s was on Wisconsin Avenue in the block where the Pier 1 is. I remember putting nickels in the parking meter and eating at the lunch counter. There was an A&P where Strosniders is now, and at Arlington and Elm—where the old Giant was—was a huge, ugly gravel yard, the Maloney Concrete Company. They’d smash rocks and sell gravel, with trucks going in and out. It was completely out of place.
Brad: I was active in the county PTA, lobbying for a new high school. B-CC was not big enough. At the budget hearing, I said, “Will all those who are with me please stand up?” and a mass of people did. The county council was impressed. The original Whitman High School had a geodesic dome over the gym. One time, Bruce and his pals climbed it, unscrewed the top, and lowered a spare tire inside; they didn’t get into trouble. The dome was a rather popular, revolutionary design at the time, but the acoustics weren’t good, and eventually it was removed.
Shirley: This area was unique recreationally, with the C&O Canal, Rock Creek Park and more. Lots of wildlife. Ducks, herons. We met a copperhead a few times. At a wide spot in the canal called Widewater, we saw beavers. Swain’s Lock had a store where you could rent canoes and buy food and soft drinks for a picnic. We and some friends would park at Great Falls, go to White’s Ferry in another car, and canoe down. We piled everyone in the station wagon with no air bags or seat belts—never thought it was dangerous.
There’d been plans to pave over the canal and make a highway out of it. [Supreme Court] Justice William O. Douglas led a hike of media people and others [in 1954] and saved it. [In 1961], he’d planned to eat at Old Angler’s Inn, but they wouldn’t serve him because he was in hiking clothes. We’ve eaten there a few times, but I think we were more dressed up.
Ellen Ryan fondly remembers Little Tavern, Peoples Drug and getting cookies with her grandmother at the Heidi bakery.