A .V. Ristorante Italiano on New York Avenue at Sixth Street NW had a wonderfully gaudy marble statue of Neptune on its patio. Not long ago, the top part of a building from across the street was moved onto the site. What happened to Neptune? I hope he has a prominent, happy home.
— Ray Milefsky, Washington
That Italian restaurant was certainly a landmark. And the statue — a fountain, actually — was perhaps its most visible element. Answer Man hesitates to call the sculpture life-size, for who knows how big the god Neptune really is, but it was certainly human-size. A bearded Neptune, his nakedness barely contained by a modest drape, stood behind three snorting seahorses.
Augusto Vasaio opened the restaurant in 1949. It quickly gained a following among Washingtonians who were hungry for traditional Italian fare: spaghetti, veal, calamari, white pizza. . . . Among its fans were such figures as Rep. Dennis Hastert and Sen. Strom Thurmond . Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was a regular.
So, too, was the District’s Craig Brownstein, who dined there often with his partner, Doug Johnson. “We loved the quirkiness,” Craig wrote Answer Man in an e-mail. “Opera on the jukebox, the cave-like, dimly lit dining room, the amazing mile-long marble bar in the back room and even the sometime irascible waiters and family.”
Reviews invariably mention the rudeness of the A.V.’s wait staff. But the prices were reasonable and the ambiance memorable.
Augusto Sr. died in 1982. His wife, Sue, ran it with her sons, Augie Jr. and John DiBari. Over the years, the family bought adjacent lots in the neighborhood, and by 2007 they had amassed enough that they were able to sell their 21,000-square-foot property for more than $18 million.
The fountain hadn’t worked in years. When the restaurant closed, it reportedly had become an al fresco urinal. In December, it was broken up and put in a trash bin. The old patio area is being used as the temporary home of a historic building that once stood on K Street and was jacked up and moved over in March.
Neptune did not go easily. It took several days to demolish him and his watery equine cohorts — and then the dumpster was too heavy to move.
The old A.V.’s building now houses Fort Fringe, the headquarters of the Capital Fringe Festival. Julianne Brienza, the festival’s executive director, salvaged a few bits of Neptune.
“I have his head,” Julianne said. “I have a horses’s head. I have a hand. I have some hooves.”
And what plans does she have for the deposed god’s head?
“I think for this year during the festival I’ll put him up on the second floor of the Fort and shine a light on him.”
Answer Man’s column last week about the Southern Aid Society building on Seventh Street NW prompted some readers to write in. Michael Sussman and his partner, Roger Leventen, restored the building, which has a Wells Fargo bank on the ground floor and 12 apartments upstairs. To honor the building’s legacy as the Dunbar Theatre, a moviehouse that showed black-produced films, they had the sign restored to its original condition. For its grand reopening in 2007, they were able to find a woman who once sold tickets in the box office. She threw the switch to light the sign.
“It was a nice full-circle thing,” Michael said.
Heather Huyck, a professor of history and Africana at William and Mary, pointed out that the Southern Aid Society was just one of several organizations that sold insurance to African Americans. Many churches and fraternal organizations did as well.
She’s particularly interested in Maggie Lena Walker , a black woman from Richmond who founded the Independent Order of St. Luke, an empire that came to include the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, a store called the St. Luke Emporium, the St. Luke Herald newspaper and an insurance company where customers paid 20 cents monthly for a $200 policy.
Three years ago, some of Heather’s students were exploring the Richmond building that housed Walker’s office. In the attic they found 31 boxes of documents related to St. Luke, a treasure trove for researchers interested in black businesses.
“I’ve been working with it ever since,” Heather said.
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