It is a Februray morning in Washington , a leaden chill is hanging over the city, and you have just driven in from Prince George's County to the new Stadium Armory Metro station.You cannot see the station from your parking lot. In fact you cannot even see the buildings next to the Metro station, because you are about a half mile away, and as you climb out of your car with the first sleet coursing down your neck you may find yourself wondering, numbly, why?
Nine years ago, in the infancy of Metro's comprehensive plan, an above-ground station was planned for that parking lot north of RFK Stadium. Then one day back in the summer of 1970, Mrs. Beam opened her morning newspaper and saw the thing as Metro envisioned it - rail lines, commuters, buses, all right smack in front of her house on Oklahoma Avenue NE.
This did not sit right with Mrs. Beam, so she made Metro get rid of it.
Not instantly, of course - these things take time. And not by herself - the neighbors helped. But if victories belong to the generals, this one was clearly Mrs. Beam's. On July 1, when Metro opens a huge new chunk of its lines, one whole station will be missing because a retired government librarian saw it coming and got mad.
"It would have shaken the founations of the houses," Mrs. Beam, now 68, said indignantly last week. "We would have heard the rumbling of the trains. And this -" she waved her arm toward the vast empty parking lot north of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium - "this would have been a big parking facility."
That was what Metro had in mind, actually. The station was planned to be one of two Metro stations proposed for the general area of the stadium, the Armory and D.C. General Hospital. Its companion station, which was approved and is scheduled to open July 1, lies under 19th Street and Independence Avenue SE with two entrances - one by the old city jail and one by the new jail. It will serve the stadium and Metro officials say they are considering running the subway on Redskin game Sundays.
The aborted station would have been built above ground, about a half mile away, surrounded by parking places where commuters from Northeast Washington and Prince George's County could leave their cars. "What better place for a station?" asked Cody Pfanstiehl, Metro's chief spokesman.
Both sites are a short walk from the stadium entrance, Pfanstiehl explained. Although there is parking around the new Stadium-Armory Station, Armory officials say the total space in that immediate area amounts to only 2,200 places. To reach the 12,000 spaces of RKF Stadium's enormous parking lots, one has to walk a block down to East Capitol Street, another block up toward the stadium, and then as much as a half mile over the concrete toward the lot that faces Mrs. Beam.
Parking in the spaces will cost about a dollar per day, and armory officials say that if there is the demand, they will run shuttle buses between the lots and the new station. Mrs. Beam thinks the distance is far enough to turn off commuters, to discourage commercial developers who might press for rezoning, and to keep out all the buses that would have brought Metro pasengers to her front yard.
Mrs. Beam thinks, all in all, that her block has been saved.
"It is a beautiful block," said Mrs. Beam. From one end to the other, the 500 block of Oklahoma Avenue NE is a solid row of brick, two-story World War II vintage houses, prodded gently into cheeriness: concrete stairs newly carpeted in bright blue and green, aging elm trees ringed by petunias, a rose trellis climbing up a faded wall.
Mrs. Beam picks up stray paper on the lawns, automatically, when she steps outside. Now she had found an empty potato chip bag and she flatened it between her palms and said, "We've put our lifeblood into these houses. Our life's earnings."
Across the street a small field separates the curb from the stadium's north parking lot, which is motly empty these days. Just beyond that, Mrs. Beam can see from her front window a shimmering silver of the Kingman Lake portion of the Anaconda River.
In 1968 that parking lot was incorporated into Metro's comprehensive building plan as an above ground station site. Although the plan had been subjected to a long series of public hearings, Mrs. Beam said neither she nor her neighbors had realized how close and how prominent the station would be.
Then Mrs. Beam saw the design, and the battle was on. She called up the Oklahoma Avenue homeowners - the day nurse, the retired gym coach, the beauty operator, the retired Safeway trucker - and rounded them into a block club. She got hold of the nearby Kingman Park Civic Association and took the members a petition asking that the Metrorail be moved underground. And at the dining room-table of the house she has lived in for 35 years, Mrs. Beam began stacking clippings and letters in a file folder labeled "Metro Fight."
For the next few weeks they met in churches and local schools, with the neighbors and Metro officials arguing over alternatives for the proposed station. Put it underground, said the neighbors. That would cost $40 million, said Metro, and even then commuters would still use the parking lot. All right, said the neighbors - eliminate the station.
Which Metro finally did, making the Oklahoma 500 Block Club and the Kingman Park Civic Association the only citizens groups in Washington to get an entire station plan scrapped. "This is what democracy's all about," Pfanstiehl said with cheerful resignation, as he recalled the disput last week. Metro saved more than $12 million by not building the station, he observed, "but how do you figure the cost of people saying, "The hell with it - I'll take a taxi'? It's a hidden cost, and I have no way of quantifying it."
Metro officials also agreed to move the overground rail, pushing it away from the Oklahoma Avenue houses and closer to the banks of the river. It was a fine kickoff for a block club, Mrs. Beam said, and from there the exhilarated neighbors kept after the city for the small details - attentions that make a street liveable: sodium vapor lights for sidewalk. Traffic lights at 26th and Benning Road NE. More trash cans, rat control, signs prohibiting motorcycles and go-carts from the field across Okaloham Avenue.
Mrs. Beam declined to explain her particular commando tactics in all this. "Just had to be convincing," she said airily. And Pfanstiehl, recalling with some awe the woman who took on Metro, asked to be remembered to her. "Bless her heart," Pfanstiehl said. "I wish I had her on my side on a lot of things."