Balloons whipped in the breeze. Drinks were passed around, and food and joviality were offerecd in generous helpings as members of the Save 35th Street Association celebrated the rejuvenation of their cobblestone street.
With the aid of a $150,000 federal grant, help from an urban disaster to a neighborhood showplace.
After several months of work, more than three-fourths of the cobblestones on Old Georgetown Falls Street between M and Prospect NW have been relaid in mosaic fashion. The sidewalks have rebricked, and sidewalk boxes will sport trees, plants and flowers next spring. Husband and wife team Cliff Brody and Barbara De-Clerk, who led the rejuvenation campaign, have been singing the praises of city government ever since.
"There were a lot of skeptics among the residents who felt we had no (political) clout," said a grinning brody, a resident of 35th Street for three years.
DeClerk said Brody began hounding city officials about repairing the street in 1976. Inspiration for the project came from a four-year stint in Prague, where her husband was a Foreign Service officer, she said.
"This sort of street was the way it was, and we watched people in Prague putting these stones back in. So we really though it could be done."
In 1977, the city Department of Transportation (DOT) included the project and work needed on 35 otherstreets in a grant application to the federal Department of Commerce.
Last fall, city officials received approval of the full $10 million grant package and residents of 35th Street were notified their new street was on the way.
While the application was being considered DOT instructed the utility companies to make all underground repairs before the final street repair began. Residents living in the six homes on the street helped stockpile the sliding stones and worked closely with the transportation department to complete improvement plans.
"I think basically it was because the goodwill of the city was there," said Brody. "We needed no political clout or calls from Capitol Hill to get the job done."
At last week celebration, Brody showered city hall with his appreciation. DOT engineer Charles Williams was given a gift from the association for his aid.
Sgt. A.H. Herbert, police community relations officer, was applauded for helping move abandoned autos and traffice violators off the street. Also on hand for the festivities was Martin Schaller, the mayor's executive secretary.
It was city government finest hour, even though the city didn't contribute a dime to the project, said Williams, who credited the persistence of the association for getting the job done. Still, he acknowledged, "that street was in pretty rotten shape," and said DOT had planned to repair it at some point.
Gaping potholes swallowed cars whole, remembered Paul Harstall, the oldest resident on the street.
"You'd have three or four-car traffic accidents coming down this steep bank in the winter," he grimaced. Looking around, his expression softened. "It's a miracle," he said. "I didn't know anything could be done so well, so soon and so beautifully."
Credit for the artistry to do this in Spain," said Varela, who said he has worked with stone more than 25 years. "Most of the people don't know how to do it, but the crew we have does."
Varela said the work was similar to putting together a puzzle. Stones were selected individually for depth, shape, and size, and then laid in dry cement and dirt. The stones were than wetted often and stamped down to adhere.
The crew, workmen with Rubin and Janiero Construction Co., are all Spaniards, said Varela.
Emerson Duncan said he hopes the new street will mean no more abndoned autos or motorists who park their cars haphazardly up against walls of homes. They will now park diagonally on one side of the street only. The narrowing of the block, at M Street, will also halt traffic violators who zigzagged up the one-way street in the winter and got stuck, he said.
"I had a coat I called my car-pushing coat," said Duncan. No more.
The landscaping will add a park-like atmosphere to the street, said artist Joan Caryl.