Since moving 68 years ago to its present Northwest location, the George Washington University has, in the eyes of some, turned into The Thing That Ate Foggy Bottom.
Charming old shops and townhouses bite the dust as the latest university monolith is pushed up into the sky. Down comes a deli, up goes the Economics Department building. And so on.
Indeed, GWU's presence in the area is as noticeable as the Incredible Hulk at a midgets' convention. Still, much of the neighborhood's old charm remains, as do numerous restaurants, shops and other spots where one can spend many pleasurable weekend hours.
ONCE UPON A TIME, in 1765, a German emigrant named Jacob Funk bought 130 acres of land in what is now Northwest Washington. The area was oficially dubbed Hamburg, but its citizens liked the name Funkstown better. A rather apt moniker, as the town was built on a marsh and became the site of a glass factory, a brewery and a gas works. The resulting stench caused Mr. Funk's malodrous little burg to acquire another, more enduring, nickname: Foggy Bottom.
It took the McMillan Commission Plan of 1901, prepared by Charles Moore and Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., to impose some order upon the lay-out of Foggy Bottom's streets and buildings. The plan also called for the reclamation of the Potomac Flats, thus enlarging the area into which Foggy Bottom could expand.
Another interesting bit of Foggy Bottom history can be found at a local pub called Tammany Hall, which during the early 1800sserved variously as the homes of the United States State Department, the British liaison to the United States, and Sam Houston. The dinning patio behind the present-day Tammany Hall is where Houston parked his buggy. BROWNSING AND BUYING: The intersection of 20th and I Streets offers four worthwhile attractions, the first of which is the Esplanade Mall. Among its two levels of stores you'll find kitchenware, greeting cards, dolls, leather goods, women's apparel, records, phonograph needles, flowers and more.
On Saturdays, the Esplansde Mall, which is closed Sundays, unlocks its doors at 7 a.m. for Sholl's Cafeteria, and closes at 10 p.m. for the Vie de France Restaurant. Most of the shops don't open until 10 a.m.
Across the street is Tony's Place, open Saturdays from 9 to 6, but closed Sundays. The merchandise includes flowers and plants, books, greeting cards, T-shirts, magazines and newspapers. The store itself, which looks more like a glorified roadside stand, may seem a bit crowed once you enter, but the veritable jungle of potted flora makes for a pleasant atmosphere. Call 833-3984 for more information.
But if you suffer from hay fever, you may want to move on quickly to the Franz Bader Gallery and Bookstore, the third of the four attractions at 20th and I. Although devoted primarily to Washington area artists, this small but provocative gallery also shows works from Germany, Japan, Haiti and other countries. Each exhibition usually highlights one artist, and lasts approximately three weeks.
All the art at Franz Bader is contemporary, and it's all for sale. Prices range from five to five thousand (that's dollars) and for a mere $750, you can walk away with an original Alexander Calder print entitled "Pyramid."
Nowadays, a popular little number at the gallery (and apparently at most galleries) is Canadian Eskimmo sculpture, affordable and accessible. Granted, your garden-variety Eskimo sculptor is no Henry Moore, but then who is? Incidentally, Franz Bader has a small Henry Moore sculpture on sale, just in case the Eskimo stuff doesn't tickle your fancy.
In a small room off the side of the gallery is the bookstore, which sells art books in both English and Deutasch. If you look closely, you'll notice a German translation of Kurt Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions" ("Fruhstuck Fur Starke Manner") tucked among the architecture and ceramics tomes. Locked away but nonetheless for sale are a book of original Dada prints from the 1920s and a collection of original lithographs by Marc Chagall. Franz Bader is open Saturdays from 10 to 6, but closed Sundays. Call 337-5440.
A block and a half from Franz Bader stands a well-known Washington institution, the Moonstone Bookcellar, at 2145 Pennsylvania Avenue. Actually, Moonstone doesn't stand -- it sort of hides at the bottom of a staircase. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk down the block or you might unwittingly breeze right past the place.
Seventy-five percent of Moonstone's 10,000-book inventory are sci-fi titles; the rest, for the most part, consists of mysteries, though the shelves hold a few conspicuous items like Letters of E.B. White and Death in Venice.
Affable owner Phil Grossfield, 68, was a retired businessman when he decided five retired businessman when he decided five years ago to busy himself by opening Moonstone. In the time since, Grossfield's shop has become the world's best-known sci-fi bookstore. Grossfield brags that his customers (many of them lawyers, congressmen, judges, government workers) constitute "the most intelligent clientele in the world."
Grossfield tells of a German visiting Washington for the first time: "He said that a friend of his in Berlin told him to visit this bookstore in D.C. called Moonstone," Grossfield explains. "So he got here, walked into the shop, looked around, and said, 'This is Moonstone?!' He was shocked because it was so small. He said, 'I was expecting Macy's!"
Moonstone, which also sells T-shirts and magazines, is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 6. Call 659-2600. The nice old guy with the friendly voice is Phil Grossfield.
Just down the street is S&W Luggage and Pawnbrokers, a funky little pawnshop at 2157 Pennsylvania Avenue. New luggage at discount prices is a hot buy, along with such second-hand stuff as watches, jewelry, silverware, musical instruments, small TVs, umbrellas, cameras, tape recorders and so on. A fun place to browse, buy or barter, S&W is open Saturdays from 9:30 to 5 but closed Sundays. Call 337-6166.