18
Dec

Determined To Remember, Lest All Forget

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The Washington Post

April 3, 2003 | Marc Fisher

O n the new 14th Street NW, you can buy the latest in tableware and the cutest in kitchen gadgets, the most risque greeting cards and $10 burgers. The boarded-up buildings and empty lots are almost all gone.

But 35 years after the riots that swept across the city’s busy corridors after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, those three nights of fire still burn in the lives of many who were there.

Almost immediately after any traumatic event, our hopped-up culture begins to demand healing and closure. No tragedy is permitted to linger. We’re supposed to believe that it’s good to move on.

That’s not how life works. Larry Rosen has lived with the 1968 riots for more than 12,000 days and nights, and he cannot get over it. He doesn’t really want to. He wants to remember every detail of the store he loved, the displays of sunglasses and the patent medicines, the workers from Chambers Funeral Home and Industrial Insurance who stopped by his lunch counter every day.

Rosen is 79 and retired now. He lives in Rockville, where he keeps an ever-growing pile of memorabilia from the riots that consumed his drugstore, Smith’s Pharmacy, at 2518 14th St. NW.

In a photograph from the early 1960s, Rosen stands in front of his glass storefront, hands thrust in his chino pockets, smiling in front of the sign that offered Hamburgers 15 cents and Smithburgers 39 cents. Other photos show the tightly packed shelves inside, the pinball machines, the freezer case where neighborhood kids could grab an ice cream, the soda fountain where bacon and eggs was 60 cents, the counter where black and white sat side by side — they were hardly equals out on the street, but at this counter, each person was the next plate of eggs.

And then there is a picture from April 6, 1968: The jukebox is unrecognizable, the shelves bowed and charred, the floor a sea of glass shards.

“I’ve been told many times by friends that I should forget that day,” Rosen says, “but I find it hard to do.” He is still bitter that the federal and city governments did not seek to restrain the rioters and that no one offered assistance to merchants who lost their businesses. “Victims of floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, other disasters, and even farmers who had a bad year have received federal or local aid,” he says. “As a D.C. ’68 riot victim, I received zero dollars.”

Like most businesses on 14th Street, Smith’s never reopened. Rosen misses it every day. His pharmacist and other employees, most of them black, scattered around the city. Rosen — who is white, as most of the merchants were then — sometimes drives down from Rockville and visits the few mom and pop pharmacies that have survived even in the face of cutthroat competition from the big chain stores.

Not long ago, Rosen went back to the site of his old store with Ray Flowers, who had managed the soda fountain at Smith’s and later became a maintenance supervisor for the city school system. They talked about the riots, about how even after the violence had begun, Flowers managed to get back inside to retrieve some important papers. And they remembered stopping by after the looting but before the fire, when everything was scattered, everything but a wire rack of Easter cards, which remained untouched, each card in place.

Rosen, who went on to own newsstands and gift shops in the District, is pleased to see the new life on the street, where shopping districts that sat gutted for well more than a generation are only now coming alive. He takes a certain pride in the Metropolitan Boys and Girls Club that sits on the site of his old shop.

But he is determined that people remember what used to be there, and what happened that night. For years, he has peppered newspaper and magazine editors in Washington with letters and thick piles of photographs — of looters carrying off armfuls of clothing and groceries, of National Guardsmen sleeping on the floor of a Laundromat, of an entire block of shops aflame.

On 14th Street alone, 187 businesses — and 207 residences — were vandalized or burned to the ground that night.

Ever since, when Los Angeles burned, when rage shook Cincinnati, whenever urban ills exploded, Rosen has been back in the paper, remembering who he was, reminding us of what we’ve done.

Marc Fisher

Copyright 2009 The Washington Post

18
Dec

New slights

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The Washington Post

July 31, 2010

The baby-size July 27 Metro item “Vandals deface Olney synagogue” should have been allotted more space, better location and a bigger headline.

Inasmuch as hateful expressions and German anti-Semitic phrases such as “Juden Raus” were spray-painted on B’nai Shalom Synagogue of Olney, the vandals appear to be Nazi adults, not teenagers whose anti-Semitism is usually limited to spray-painting swastikas.

A Google search shows many articles and newscasts on the incident. I worry that many of your longtime readers might not be aware of the widespread shock as suggested by the newsworthiness of this hateful crime against a house of worship.

Larry Rosen

Rockville

18
Dec

A Better Tax Break

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The Washington Post

November 28, 2001

Maryland customers can head for the District and find a temporary moratorium on sales tax on clothes, shoes and accessories costing less than $100 [Metro, Nov. 24].

But if these Maryland customers get hungry and decide to eat in a D.C. restaurant, their tax on $100 of food is $10, or 10 percent. They might have saved 5.75 percent on their clothes, but they have to pay 5 percent more for their food by eating in the District instead of Maryland, which has a 5 percent tax on restaurant meals.

If the D.C. Council wants to attract folks to the city, it should adjust the 10 percent restaurant tax to be in line with Maryland’s 5 percent tax and Virginia’s 8.5 percent tax on meals consumed in restaurants. Bringing in “West Wing” actors to promote tourism [Style, Nov. 20] and offering restaurant deals [Business, Nov. 19] and tax holidays will not produce a continual flow of shoppers to the District’s empty stores.

LARRY ROSEN

Rockville

18
Dec

KP and Duty

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The Washington Post

March 22, 1999

While in 1943 I shared the unhappy Army experience of picking up cigarette butts, pulling KP, scrubbing floors and other “pleasant” GI assignments described by Richard Cohen in his Feb. 18 op-ed column {“Binding Us Tighter”}, I now realize that these chores produced positive results including discipline, the ability to obey orders and respect for Army regulations.

Mr. Cohen’s mention of “abuse from morons with stripes” makes no sense. The “morons with stripes” were corporals, buck sergeants, staff sergeants, first sergeants, tech sergeants and sergeant majors — noncommissioned officers who had to relay orders received from commissioned officers. The Army could not function with only privates, in the same manner that a corporation cannot function without section supervisors, department managers, etc.

When my Army unit arrived in Europe in 1945 and went into action, we realized that in order to survive, we had to follow orders from the “morons with stripes.” Without discipline and law and order, the United States might not have emerged the victor in World War II.

LARRY ROSEN

Rockville

18
Dec

Put Out by Outdoor Vendors

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The Washington Post

December 22, 1997

In response to the Dec. 7 Close to Home piece “Vendors Out in the Cold,” I agree that vendors have been left out in the cold when it comes to vending near the MCI Center and “Vendors’ Mall.”

However, they have not been left out in the cold when it comes to locating their carts in front of many D.C. stores.

The vendors can offer for sale the same products sold by the nearby storekeepers, including soda, candy, T-shirts, hot dogs, umbrellas and jewelry. The similarity ends when it comes time to pay the rent. The retail store proprietor pays a huge amount of rent — the street vendor pays nothing. A few years ago, my son and I were forced to close a card and gift shop at 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW when the rent became excessive, and we became surrounded by street vendors offering unfair competition. The rent became excessive because we, like most D.C. retailers, were required to pay a pro-rata share of the landlord’s operating expense, the largest such expense being the D.C. real-estate property tax. Thus, in addition to paying a base rent, we indirectly paid D.C. property taxes. In addition, the District’s requirements for street vendors and store owners to obtain a food license differ unfairly. When we opened our card and gift shop, we were told by the D.C. Health Department that in order to sell loose candy and jelly beans in one display case, we would need a delicatessen license because this candy was an open food product. To obtain the delicatessen license we would have to install a two-compartment stainless-steel sink, a janitorial sink, a sink where the candy was sold and a bathroom on the premises. When I asked the D.C. Health Department official why street food vendors did not have to comply with these regulations, he stated that they operated under a different set of regulations and stored their carts at a facility that contained a janitorial sink, bathroom, etc. To obtain our deli license, we installed the necessary sink at a great expense. I still cannot understand why a store proprietor has one set of regulations to protect the public’s health and a street vendor selling the same food items is allowed to operate under different regulations. Even a retailer who operates a news stand or similar business that sells prepackaged food items such as candy, potato chips, soda and milk has to obtain a food-products license and fulfill the requirements for access to a bathroom and janitorial sink in the building. There is no doubt in my mind that the control board has to add street vending to the list of D.C. problems that need to be resolved.

LARRY ROSEN

Rockville

16
Dec

A year of Living Locally – Full circle in Columbia Heights

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The Washington Post

To me, the most important thing to happen in the region this year might seem small to someone else: the unveiling of permanent heritage signs in the Columbia Heights neighborhood.

In October, 19 new signs reflecting the many improvements in this neighborhood were unveiled by the group Cultural Tourism D.C., which has erected such historical markers throughout many city neighborhoods. Having attended Central High School at 13th and Clifton streets NW, and having owned and operated Smith Pharmacy at 2518 14th St. NW from 1959 to 1968, I found that the event brought back many memories — some happy, some not so happy. I was personally honored when one of the Cultural Tourism signs displayed a photo and the history of my pharmacy, right across the street from its former location.

During the riot triggered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, my drugstore was one of the many businesses that were burned down. In the aftermath, many merchants, including myself, decided not to reopen, resulting in many residents moving out of the neighborhood.

But time passed. Immigrants moved in. Social services and political organizations developed. Some rebuilding occurred. The opening of Metro’s Columbia Heights Station in 1999 speeded things up. Now, former 14th Street retailers such as Kay Jewelers, Lerner’s, Standard Drug and G.C. Murphy have been replaced by Target, Best Buy, CVS and Giant.

Thus, to me, 2009 represents the moment when a great neighborhood in the nation’s capital came full circle. Despite the persistence of occasional crime (and the notorious recent snowball fight at 14th and U streets NW), with increased police supervision, this neighborhood will thrive for years to come.

By Larry Rosen
Rockville

 

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.–

 

16
Dec

Also Destroyed By Riots

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Also Destroyed Riots

The Washington Post

April 20, 2001

In every riot description, such as the recent one in Cincinnati, little is written about losses sustained by innocent merchants whose businesses are destroyed.

In the ’68 riot in the District when my drug store was burned down, insurance did not cover or pay for loss of livelihood — the value of a business, since there is no insurance for that loss.

Despite a recommendation by the D.C. Council in ’68 to pay reparations for losses not covered by insurance, nothing happened.

The same situation undoubtedly exists after every riot in every city.

LARRY ROSEN

Rockville

16
Dec

Answering a Holocaust ‘Revisionist’

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Answering a Holocaust ‘Revisionist’

The Washington Post

July 19, 2009

I was happy to read in the July 14 Metro article “Write-In Effort Blocks ‘Revisionist’ ” that a last-minute campaign enabled Colin Mills, a write-in candidate, to defeat Holocaust “revisionist” Ken Meyercord. Mr. Meyercord had been running unopposed for a seat on the Reston Citizens Association board.

As a member of the 42nd “Rainbow” Division, certified by the U.S. Army Center for Military History as a liberator of the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945, I witnessed hundreds of dead bodies in boxcars, as well as the gas chambers that Mr. Meyercord claims did not exist.

I don’t see how Mr. Meyercord’s emphasis that he’s a “Holocaust revisionist” differs from being a denier.

A few days ago, my son, who is touring Europe, visited the Dachau concentration camp. He described to me all the structures that are still there, including the gas chambers. If the 23 people who voted for Mr. Meyercord still doubt the existence of concentration camp gas chambers, I recommend they make a similar visit. At the very least, they should do a simple Google search.

LARRY ROSEN

Rockville