While much of the rest of Washington was camped out on the Mall or in cars strewn about on median strips or on shoulders or on the curbs of most of the roads in and out of the city last night, the neighborhood around Fort Stanton in Anacostia enjoyed the best of both worlds, the comfort and friendliness of a small town celebration and a wonderful view of the Mall's fireworks.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church presides over the high ground that overlooks Washington, generous fields and a big parking lot, and by 7:15 whole families had begun to set out folding chairs and coolers of Cokes as Alfonso M. Pollard led a remarkably versatile 20-piece orchestra in assorted July Fourth-type music. There were some Joplin rags and tunes from "Oklahoma" and "Porgy and Bess," some arrangements of Duke Ellington's music with nice guitar playing by Dennis Benjamin, who plays in the Howard University Jazz Ensemble, and some folk tunes, all played with as many parts covered as possible by the broadly stretched small forces, and, of course, the "Stars and Stripes Forever."

A conducting contest in which members of the audience were invited to take their whacks at the "Washington Post" march drew several takers: Eric and Erica, a father and 18-month-old daughter team who did a workmanlike job of maintaining a steady marching tempo; Hugh, who looked like a pro; and Tenisha, who was celebrating her fifth birthday in a bright green and yellow stretch outfit and who conducted, with considerable authority and rhythmic inventiveness, while riding piggyback on Pollard's shoulders. She won.

While all this was going on, kids set off rockets and sparklers and all sorts of things that whistled and crackled and smoked. Fringe mayoral candidates introduced themselves and made small talk and other political types worked the crowd, getting petitions signed. There was plenty of room, plenty of courtesy and a lot of firecracker smoke. The big display, when it finally began, seemed almost an anticlimax.