The Metropolist

On the Waterfront in '50s Washington, and Behemoth Sundaes at Weile's

By The Metropolist
Friday, August 7, 2009

The Wharves

When I was a boy in the 1950s, I looked forward to rides with my family. On most of them we drove along Maine Avenue SW (part of which today is called Water Street) to the wharves to look at the interesting boats docked along the Washington Channel. There were two old pleasure boats with paddle wheels: the Bear Mountain, which had a short, tan smokestack; and the Robert E. Lee, which had a tall, thin one. Another large white ship with a red smokestack was called the Teck. My father told me it was a yacht, very old, which he remembered from his boyhood.

Farther down was a larger ship, the District of Columbia, which transported passengers overnight between Washington and Norfolk. My paternal grandmother was from Norfolk, and every summer she would board the District of Columbia to visit her relatives. One September day in 1952, my parents and I boarded the ship to see Granny to her stateroom. I remember my awe at the tall, red-carpeted stair with shining brass railings. The only other thing I recall was my terror at the deafening whistle that sounded to warn "All ashore that's going ashore!"

Occasionally berthed at the wharves were two huge (to me) cruise ships, the Silver Star and the Tradewinds. Toward the end of the wharves was docked the Wilson liner Mount Vernon. I loved to look at its purple smokestack. I got a chance to sail on the Mount Vernon in 1955 with my Aunt Elinor, who was a teacher and invited me to join the class that she was taking to George Washington's home. The boat stopped first at an amusement park called Marshall Hall on the north side of the river. Aunt Elinor explained that we could not get off there, as colored people were forbidden in that park. As the boat pulled away from the dock there, I noted that the passengers onboard were throwing paper, candy wrappers and other refuse into the water. I remarked to my aunt, "How can they ever expect to be let in there if they do that?"

-- C. Bernard Ruffin, Reston

Weile's Ice Cream Parlor

In its heyday, following a Maryland football game, the line stretched out the door. Walls were lined with oversize ice cream bowls emblazoned with "I bet you can't" for the foolhardy who bet they could. Famous for ice cream dishes such as the Washington Monument, the Drip and the mighty Lincoln Memorial, the shop had walls lined with photos of the owner posing with famous (and some later indicted) Maryland politicians and a candy counter containing such delectable kids treats like wax lips.

-- Bill Kobren, Fairfax Station

My father would take me there on one of those long summer days. I would usually have a hot fudge sundae that came with colorful sprinkles and a rainbow fan that became a treasure in my special desk drawer. The rainbow fan was a novelty that I proudly shared with my friends. What a wonderful memory: sitting in an ice cream parlor with your dad eating a delicious sundae. I have come to realize the souvenir fan is not as precious as the memory of my Dad.

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