PLEASE, NO more wringing of hands over the Chrysler Building and crying why can't we have something classy like that in Washington.
There are more than 270 Art Deco buildings here, and still counting.
There is also a brand new Art Deco Society of Washington, which already has 75 members and hopes for thousands.
We give you Richard Striner, chief historian at the Capitol Historical Society, who has been crazed with Art Deco ever since he did his doctoral thesis at the University of Maryland on the machine as symbol of good or evil. For Art Deco dates from the '20s, when the machine meant progress and hope, and speed was a thrill but not yet a drug.
"It's everywhere!" he exults. "The whole town of Greenbelt is a hotbed of Art Deco! Half the movie theaters in town! Federal buildings! The Hecht warehouse on New York Avenue! The back streets of Alexandria, all down Mount Vernon Avenue!"
As president of the new society, Striner has grand plans. Art Deco is, first and last, fun. So too the society. He wants to show the Pare Lorentz film classic, "The City," about the birth of Greenbelt, at a meeting soon and then take the members off on a tour of the place in double-decker buses or a fleet of antique Packards. He has a picture of Greenbelt Center Elementary School, a gorgeous low white structure with bas-reliefs.
At the Sept. 14 meeting he will show Fritz Lang's wonderful film of the machine as Molech, "Metropolis."
Next February he plans an Art Deco Ball, with costumes and an appropriate setting and big-band music.
Awards will be given to firms that promote and preserve the dashing, elegant Deco style. "We're a preservation group too, but we'll use a positive approach."
He shakes his head as he lists some of the Art Deco tragedies of Washington: the Trans Lux Theater, built in '37, the Roger Smith Hotel, the Apex Theater, the Greyhound terminal "ruined by that stupid mansard roof."
With Hans Wirz, a Swiss urban planner who lectured here last year, he is writing a book covering the Deco scene, reviving some of the great names like John Eberson and John J. Zink, architects of nearly all the memorable movie houses in town, and G.T. Santmyers, who built dozens of apartment buildings along Military Road and Benning Road, and Alvin Aubinoe and Mihran Mesrobian, who helped give Washington the Look of the Future a half-century ago.
"Look at John Joseph Earley, who worked in prefab concrete and did those amazing ceilings at the Justice Department in 1935. You almost can't find his Polychrome House No. 1, at 9900 Colesville Rd. The stuff is just everywhere. The Manhattan Laundry at 1326 Florida Ave., a palace of glass brick! That stainless steel cantilevered porch roof at 4801 Connecticut! The Progressive Cleaners on Wilson Boulevard in Alexandria with its 1939 World's Fair Trylon and Perisphere!"
One concern at the moment is the fine old Penn Theatre on Capitol Hill, which is closed and gradually being vandalized. Another is the Governor Shepherd restaurant on Virginia Avenue.
But the society goes far beyond architecture. Striner wants to recover a sense of what the style meant for the entire culture of the '20s and '30s.
"We're getting hold of the big-band people, the classic car groups, the ballroom dance fans -- I just finished a class in tango and samba at Danceland II -- and we hope people will get into dancing so that when we have a ball they can be part of the scene."
An exploratory meeting last spring struck a nerve: Professionals came from the Smithsonian, the National Geographic, art galleries, universities, the government and scholarly institutes. The range of interests suggested a variety of approaches to the subject, from lectures to tours, from films to pub-crawls ("Did you ever take a good look at Arbaugh's on Connecticut?"). A newsletter will keep the group more or less bound together.
Striner is at Apt. 309, 4800 Berwyn House Rd., College Park, Md., 20740.