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Answer Man Explores Origin of Adams Morgan

By John Kelly
Sunday, June 7, 2009

As an 80-plus year resident of the metropolitan Washington area, I have been puzzled by the name of the region now called Adams Morgan. While a student at GWU in the late 1940s, I would often take time off to go to 18th and Columbia NW and have lunch with my fiancee, who worked as an accountant at Hoffman's Upholsterers. My experience with the District of Columbia was extensive, since I was once the director of D.C. General Hospital. Never in those years and for many years thereafter had I ever heard of Adams Morgan until more recent times. What is its origin, and who so named it?

-- John Nasou, Sandy Spring

Until the mid-1950s, if you lived in the area roughly bounded by Rock Creek Park, Calvert Street, 15th Street and R Street, you might have referred to your neighborhood as 18th and Columbia. If you lived west of 18th Street, you might have called it Washington Heights. Farther west still, it was Kalorama. Up north it was Lanier Heights. Or you might simply have said Northwest. People weren't as hung up on historic districts back then.

What you wouldn't have called it was Adams Morgan. That started changing in the fall of 1956 with the formation of a citizens group devoted to improving the deteriorating neighborhood, which was suffering from what people back then called "urban blight." The Washington Post thought it noteworthy to say of the group: "Its membership includes all races."

The group's name -- the Adams-Morgan Better Neighborhood Conference -- illustrated the integrated makeup of the group. Adams was the name of the neighborhood school for white children, Morgan the school for black children. The group wanted urban renewal, but not of the sort that was turning much of Southwest into concrete canyons.

The name stuck. For years, The Post referred to the neighborhood as Adams-Morgan, but in July 2001 the paper ditched the dash and started calling it Adams Morgan.

Wrote a wag in an internal Post newsletter announcing the change: "Given the boom in real estate values in that area, we found it profitable to sell off the hyphen."

You can find more about Adams Morgan at the Cultural Tourism D.C. Web site: http://www.culturaltourismdc.org.

It's All Happening at the Zoo

After last week's column about the Anteaters Club -- the group of diners who sampled exotic meats at the National Zoo -- Answer Man heard from two granddaughters of the club's co-founder, Gordon Leech.

Nancy Leech Brannegan of Centreville pointed out that Gordon was instrumental in founding the D.C. Police Boys Club and was chairman of the President's Cup Regatta, in which speedboats raced on the Potomac. The Anteaters Club landed him a guest spot on the TV game show "What's My Line?"

Gordon's tastes did not filter down to Nancy, who wrote: "I am not a vegetarian but, oh no, I would never eat polar bear or even seal unless I was stuck in the Arctic somewhere."

Nancy's cousin, Robin Leech of Chevy Chase, remembers special trips to the zoo to see her granddad. Robin's father, Harry, worked with Gordon in the restaurant.

"One time my mother called my father and asked him to bring home steak for a company dinner," Nancy said. "When she opened it, she realized it was not beef. My dad told her to fix it as if it were beef. Her guest raved about the meal. Being that she was a picky eater, my mother asked Dad not to tell her what she was eating. . . . When he told her that it was bear she had eaten, she excused herself from the table and was violently ill."

Said Robin: "You never knew what dad would bring home."

Send a Kid to Camp

The occasional bear is spotted in the woods near Camp Moss Hollow, but the campers are content to stick with their hot dogs and salad bar. Moss Hollow is the summer camp for at-risk kids that readers of The Post help support. Between now and July 24, you can make a tax-deductible contribution by sending a check or money order, payable to "Send a Kid to Camp," to P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237. Or contribute online by going to http://www.washingtonpost.com/camp and clicking on the donation link. To use MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.

Questions? Write to answerman@washpost.com.

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