CALL IT the lobby lobby. The brand new Art Deco Society of Washington has just launched its first issue of TRANS-LUX, a singularly intelligent eight-page newsletter, full of lovely photos, literate copy and rage.
The magazine is named, of course, for the charming old Trans-Lux Theater at 14th Street and New York Avenue NW, built in 1937 and torn down in '75.
"The theater swept down the block like an ocean liner, with a prismatic mirror tower on one end and an RCA radio transmitter with thunderbolt script on the other . . . We dedicate our newsletter to the spirit of the Trans-Lux and to our determination to prevent any further loss of Art Deco monuments in Washington."
Also, if you recall, the interior walls had wonderful intaglio murals of cowboys and horses and clouds: the past as remembered by the future, which is not a bad definition of art deco at that.
Anyway, TRANS-LUX calls for action on several fronts. The Penn Theater, for instance: A great 1935 art deco building, it closed last summer after a season of Kung Fu movies and underrated thrillers like "Alligator," which had to be seen from the back rows because the whole front half of the orchestra had been scraped clean of seats, and little kids ran around in the dark on the bare concrete.
Ever since, the society has been trying to coordinate various groups interested in restoring the theater: "We envisioned the Penn rising as a Phoenix from the ashes, featuring Fred and Ginger in all their glory." Along with Design Action, the Paul Robeson Center for the Performing Arts and other groups, the society hopes to restore the place.
The centerfold: "In Danger: The Governor Shepherd Apartments and Star Parking Complex." Pictures and captions show the former, a fine old (1938) structure that might be demolished next year by the World Health Organization, which now owns it. As for the parking plaza, all that is likely to be saved is a set of concrete wall panels. The society would like to get these into a museum.
Richard Striner, who founded the society last spring and found to his astonishment that hundreds of other Washingtonians shared his madness, is a man with a mission.
"We can never re-create the past," he writes in this first newsletter, "but we can surely get a sense of how the arts and humanities affected and enhanced one another in the Jazz Age and the Depression." He sees a national movement in art deco, "a significant force in our contemporary culture, a sign of the times in a way that historians delight to study and ponder."
Not only does the local society hold monthly meetings featuring Astaire-Rogers movies and ballroom dancing and such at the Shoreham's new deco Marquee Lounge, but it also is pressing for attendance at an Art Deco Weekend in Miami Beach Jan. 14 to 16, to include a dance marathon, parties, art shows and an antique car show. Miami Beach, you should understand, is a Happy Hunting Ground for art deco nuts, and that is why it was selected by the Art Deco Societies of America this year.
So it is apparent that we are in the presence of yet another pooling of power in this city that believes itself the capital of power (though if it really were, would we talk about it so much?). Next quarter, the newsletter -- P.O. Box 11090, Washington, D.C., 20008 -- will catalogue Washington's deco sites, bemoan Glen Echo Park and examine the Little Tavern at 630 N. Capitol St., "renovated to its 1931 glory." Hold your breath.