JOHN F. KENNEDY lived for so long and in so many places in Georgetown that it's possible to spend several pleasant hours strolling around digging his old digs. And, according to Georgetown real estate broker John Pagones, there's even a moral to the trail.
"Jack Kennedy had more money than he could count, he was richer than a prince, rich as Croesus, yet he didn't live that differently from anybody else," Pagones said while leading an impromptu walking tour of the variegated neighborhoods where Congressman, Senator and finally President Kennedy once was a familiar face.
"He could have lived anywhere in town, but he chose Georgetown, which wasn't so tony in those days," Pagones said. "It had more slums than mansions. And he could have lived anywhere in Georgetown, but he chose west of Wisconsin (Avenue), which was, and is, the noisiest and busiest and most commercialized part. And he could have had any house here, but the ones he chose were relatively modest. He was a democratic person. I don't think he felt like a rich man, or anyway that being rich was important."
Pagones stepped smartly along N Street, adroitly avoiding the ubiquitous doggy do-do on the brick sidewalk. "I think he liked it here because of the noise and bustle of everyday life and plain people; I think it reminded him of Boston, although really, then, this was still a small Southern city.
"I know Mrs. Kennedy loved it because she could live normally; nobody bothered her. When she'd go up to the park with the kids there'd be just two (Secret Service) bodyguards along, and one of them stayed a block away. Even after the election it was no big deal, because there are famous and powerful people all over the place here."
Taking the last first, we whizzed past Herman Wouk's place at 32nd and N and stopped before 3307 N Street, built of red- to rose-colored brick in 1812, from which the Kennedys moved to the White House. All his previous residences here had been rented, but this one Kennedy bought while the former Jacqueline Bouvier was in the hospital bearing Caroline.
"This is in the true Federal style, without ostentation," Pagones said. "You'll notice that it's just about the plainest place on the block. You'll also notice that there's nothing to show that Kennedy lived here. I don't know what's the matter with this country, we just let our history fade away; in Paris, there'd be a plaque telling all about it."
Plaquewise, in fact, Georgetown may be rather less well endowed than your average dental patient; houses that have stood for hundreds of years, and have been home to some of the Republic's leading lights, stand in blase anonymity. However, a house across the street from 3307 N bears bronze testimony from grateful members of the press to Miss Helen Montgomery. Taking pity on the herds of reporters who spent weeks standing around in the cold outside the home of the president- elect, awaiting word of cabinet appointments and whatever, Miss Montgomery invited them in, by squads and platoons, to warm their toes and taste the cup that cheers. God bless her and hers, forever and ever.
The Kennedys sold the house soon after the inauguration. They had paid something under $100,000 for it and sold if for something over that. Now it is valued at upwards of $800,000, Pagones said, "but that's mostly from inflation. It has little or nothing to do with the fact that the Kennedys once lived there. Very few houses here can command a premium because of historical associations. For one thing, Georgetown prices are just about as high as they could possibly go anyway, and for another, most of the people who can afford these sorts of places don't want anything to do with a tourist attraction."
Wandering farther east on N, we passed 3260 N, where Kennedy lived from 1951 until his election to the Senate in 1952. "A typical good Georgetown house," Pagones said. "Nothing much to look at on the outside, surprisingly large and very nice inside." Many houses that fit that description are available in the area, he said, and a few can even be had for somewhat less than half a million dollars, unless there's a pool, or a garage, or a yard.
On the way to 1400 34th Street, where JFK and his sister Eunice lived from 1949 to early 1951, and which may have the most original window bars in town, we passed the home long owned by Harry Hopkins, FDR's right-hand man, and a former embassy of czarist Russia, both plaqueless. (Neither a map nor detailed directions are included here because the seven Kennedy Georgetown homes all are within about a five-block square, and anyway, the whole area's so picturesque that a wrong turn will be all right. Or you can cheat and use the city maps available in every drugstore.)
At 3271 P Street stands one of several former Kenedy residences that hardly anyone seemed to know about until the National Park Service looked them up. It presents a modest facade, with elegant details, but out back there's a gorgeous yard that many a suburbanite might envy. Georgetown is always fooling you that way: What looks like a tiny two-bedroom rowhouse may just be the tip of a niceberg with outdoor and indoor pools, formal and kitchen gardens, chauffeur's quarters and a guest house. Or it may in fact be a tiny two-bedroom, with one bath, a shoebox living room and a cramped basement kitchen, in which case you may be able to get it for a song -- that is to say, if you can whistle up $165,000 or so.
There's little rhyme or reason to the Georgetown pattern. In 1953 and '54, when the newlywed Kennedys lived at 3321 Dent Place, near the center of a row of lovely townhouses, the houses across the street were classic, rotting, falling-down slums -- except for one house occupied by an ambassador and another that was home to a retired admiral. One of the houses across the street still is rotting and falling down. "And you'll find student apartments and rooming houses right next to the finest mansions we have," Pagones beams, plainly pleased that the place has avoided the perils of monoculture.
Other flashes that are unmistakably Georgetown: household trash put out in packing crates stenciled Product of Malawi; and a note tacked to the tree outside 1528 31st Street, where JFK and Eunice rented from 1947 to '49, reads: Frantic: Lost Family Crest Ring . . .
Most unusual of all the Kennedy dwellings is 2808 P Street, where they stayed from January to May 1957, before they finally bought a house. It is shown on the city real estate roster as having been built in 1865, but the facade is absolutely 1940s avant-garde and the rear seems '50s moderne. In any normal community it would stick out like a sore thumb, but in Georgetown it's just charming.