16
Dec

Close to Home

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About five years ago I submitted an article to the Washington Post, “Close to Home” section that was published. The article featured my memories of the busy shopping area of F Street, NW before the rise of the many strip centers and regional shopping centers had been erected.
A recent visit to the Warner Theater on 13th and E Street NW brought back memories of a different downtown Washington.
Back in the ’40’s a dollar would get you into the Earle, now the Warner. Your buck paid for a full-length movie, a vaudeville show, cartoons and a newsreel. The vaudeville show, usually featured singers, comedians, dancers, and occasional magician or acrobats. Without a doubt, the most memorable performer, I saw at the Earle, was the King of Swing, Benny Goodman and his orchestra.
Before he became famous, Red Skelton often played the Earle. Often, he would greet patrons at the theater entrance. One afternoon, as I was handing the usher my ticket, I spotted Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney ahead of me.

The Earle wasn’t alone downtown-other popular nearby movie houses-all segregated-included the Fox theater(later called the Capital),between 13th and 14th Street, on F, and also Loew’s Palace and the Metropolitan on the same block as the Capital.

The headquarters for stage plays was the National, located near 13th and E Street, NW, (Still there). My older brother, Sam, ushered occasionally at the National. One of his most important duties was distributing paper fans and cups of water during the summer months, since there was no air conditioning provided in those days.

Before or after hitting the movies, we would walk up and down F Street, which was crowded with shoppers and visitors. The popular stores of that era were the National Shirt Shop, Eiseman’s Men’s Wear, Hahn’s Shoes, Babbitt’s Cut Rate Vitamins, Hecht Company, and Garfinckel’s–all vanished.

 

For many years, a familiar f street sight was a legless gentleman who had a small monkey solicit donations by extending a cup to passerbys. When the man passed away it was stated that he had been a lawyer at one time.

When it was time for a snack, we’d go to the mayflower donut shop across from the capitol or into the little tavern that featured small but delicious hamburgers, the price being somewhere between 5 cents and a quarter.

Bassin’s at the corner of 14th Street NW And Pennsylvania Avenue, featured a huge selection of full-course dinners and sandwiches. My favorite snack was one of their delicious hot corned beef sandwiches on rye. Snacks were also available at the drug stores that all had soda fountains and sold the average sandwich for about 25 cents, coffee 10 cents, ice cream cones also 10 cents and milk shakes for 25 cents, that retail today for about $5.00

Other popular not to be forgotten entertainment centers were the gayety burlesque house on Ninth Street, which featured comedians and strip tease dancers. Near 14th and New York Avenue there were two popular night clubs-the lotus and casino royal that offered dining, dancing and entertainment at a price affordable to the many dc government employees.

After a long absence from downtown, two movie houses are arriving-the e street cinema, with seven screens, at 11th and E Street, NW, ¬†and the regal gallery place with 15 screens, at 791 Seventh Street, NW. –both a far cry from the single-screen theaters way back.

It is difficult to predict what movie houses will offer 50 years from today, but i hope they will continue to operate down-town, I’m sure popcorn will still be offered for sale.

 

Larry Rosen
Rockville

lazer66@msn.com

When my article was published in the post,i had many comments,–at this time i welcome your comments

I welcome any of your additional memories of f street,nw.–

 

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