A Local Life: Homer Angelos Bacas
A Touch of Greece, and a Spatter of Grease
Sunday, September 24, 2006
When Homer Bacas moved his family to the Virginia suburbs in 1960, he bought a brick rambler on an acre in Fairfax County. It was on a dirt road with a hand-lettered sign that read "Atheans Road."
He promptly went to the courthouse and got county officials to agree to give his street the name "Athens Road." The faulty spelling of an early land surveyor was corrected, but it was also Bacas's sly way of putting his Greek heritage on the county map.
His father, Angelos Bacas (pronounced BACK-us), came to Washington as a young man and eventually brought three brothers with him. They ran a series of restaurants across the city, including the Bacas Bros. Cafe on Capitol Hill.
In 1919, Angelos Bacas opened the evocatively named P.O. Visible Lunch on North Capitol Street. The "P.O." came from its location near the main post office and the Government Printing Office; "Visible Lunch" referred to the glass-front cases that allowed customers to watch food being prepared in one of the city's first cafeterias.
It was part of a quainter, more relaxed Washington that was never forgotten by Homer Angelos Bacas, who died Sept. 9 of a stroke at 82.
An affable man with a ready quip and an inability to sit still -- "Do something, even if it's wrong," he liked to say -- Bacas recalled a city of long-vanished Jewish, Irish, Italian and Greek enclaves. He rode streetcars all over town for a nickel, and the public school system was one of the best in the country.
The first home he could remember was at Eighth and M streets SE in Washington, and one of his earliest memories was of aviator Charles Lindbergh as he emerged from the gates of the Washington Navy Yard across the street. For a year or two, Bacas's parents ran a hotel in Cumberland, Md., until a fire burned the mountaintop inn to the ground. The family then moved back to Washington.
As a young man, Bacas and his boyhood friend Bowie Kuhn, who later became the commissioner of Major League Baseball, helped operate the scoreboard during Washington Senators games at the old Griffith Stadium.
When Bacas graduated from Roosevelt High School, the principal summoned him and his father to a meeting, concerned that the teenager was getting in with the wrong crowd. The principal and Bacas's father decided to send him to Virginia Tech, far from the temptations of the city.
Father and son rode the train to Blacksburg, and once they got there, Bacas began to panic.
"What am I going to do for money?" he asked.
"Get a job," his father said, boarding the train back to Washington.