Every inauguration day Lucille Lloyd stops frying hamburgers and French fries long enough to dash outside Barney's Grill, a hole-in-the-wall Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant, to watch the new president go by.
"You know, I've been watching presidents ride down this here street for 30 years," says Lloyd, wiping her worn hands on a soiled apron. "Some of them did good jobs, some did bad ones. But for me, well, I'd just tell Mr. Reagan what we really need in this town is a professional baseball team." m
Millions of television viewers will see President Ronald Reagan ride from the Capitol to his new home at the White House in the back seat of a limousine Jan. 20. Thousands of spectators will line Pennsylvania Avenue hoping to see the Hollywood-actor-turned-president in his triumphal procession.
But when the television cameras are gone, the bleacher seats dismantled and the confetti swept away, the Avenue of the Presidents is once again the avenue of the Lucille Lloyds of the District, a Washington main street that on any other chilly January day provides a microcosmic view of the nation's capital, a Washington main street that few presidents get to know.
Unapparent to both the First Walker and the First Rider are the sights and sounds of an avenue that reflects the changing times of the nation's capital. The players, problems, the ghosts -- they're all there.
The federal bureaucracy with its massive, sterile buildings; the rat-a-tat-tatting of developers' jackhammers working on new homes for countless trade associations and lobbyists; monuments to dead heroes and forgotten causes, and finally, the people.
Pennsylvania Avenue is a cornucopia of people; bums cuddled up on steam vents, sidewalk hawkers peddling fruit, lost tourists, joggers and executives toting brief cases and hailing taxi cabs.
"I don't blame him for riding to the White House," says Paul Tyler, a 29-year-old fruit stand operator busy bagging apples outside the Department of Justice when asked about Reagan's upcoming cruise down the Avenue. "He could get mugged walking around here."
Tyler grew-up in Washington and remembers when his grandfather used to pick apples from trees in Northeast and sell them for 50 cents a bushel. Tyler sells his apples for 45 cents each.
"Three hoodlums jumped me one night and whipped me with a pipe," Tyler says. "I was in the hospital six months. They broke my jaw. I had to have $1,500 worth of dental work.
"It's a real shame. You can see junkies and hookers a few blocks from the White House."
Pennsylvania Avenue has been a roller coaster street for years. Pierre L'Enfant described the Avenue, when he designed it in 1791, as a center for civic activity -- a boulevard of imposing homes, major public buildings, theaters, and a bustling market.
Instead, the Avenue grew haphazardly, becoming the home of boarding houses, cheap hotels, saloons and secondhand shops. During the Civil War, a section of Pennsylvania Avenue, near what is now the District Building at 14th Street, was this city's red light district. Gen. Joseph Hooker was put in charge of overseeing the Tenderloin and his last name soon became a nickname for practitioners of the oldest profession.
In the 1920s, the Avenue was so sleazy that Congress decided to boost the area by undertaking a massive federal building program within a triangle bounded by the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue, 15th Street, and the Mall.
The Department of Commerce was the first new building in the Federal Triangle. At the time, it was the largest office building in the nation.
"They say he's gonna cut back on welfare and the government," says Carolyn Harris, a pregnant woman in her 30s, sitting next to her fiance, Joseph Keyes, near a statue of Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
"Does that man know that some of us want to work but can't find no jobs?" asks Harris, who supports herself and three children with welfare payments.
"That man, Reagan, he got to understand," interjects Keys, a city sanitation worker. "If you cut government programs then you put people out of work and then there's gonna be more stealing and crime and nobody wants that."
New government buildings helped Pennsylvania Avenue for a while, but Washington was changing. Businesses were moving to the suburbs. By the 1950s, the Avenue housed small grills, cheap shops and old hotels.
When President John F. Kennedy rode along the Avenue during his 1961 inaugural parade, he decided something had to be done. Kennedy laid the groundwork for creation of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC).It was created in 1972 and it quickly launched a 12-year, $149 million renovation program.
"I've seen a lot of changes in this street and in this city," says Stanley Krupsaw, whose family has operated the Old Antique House, 817 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, since 1884. "Just look at some of the customers we have had," Krupsaw says, pulling a large, worn scrapbook from the corner of his paper-strewn, antique desk.
"George Preston Marshall [first owner of the Washington Redskins], Ed Murrow, Ladybird Johnson. And look at how large Liberace signed his name.
"When I told the PADC, a few years ago, that property here was worth $400 per square foot, they just laughed. Well, now I say its worth $500 a square foot an no one's laughing."
Like the rest of Washington, Pennsylvania Avenue's land values are skyrocketing. Developers, many from outside the city, are willing to pay the price, and Washington is fast becoming an international capital.
"Whatever happens here [washington] effects the world," says Maurice Aravi, manager of the Jerusalem Deli near 11th Street.Aravi, like many Washingtonians, is an immigrant who came here from Jordan in 1956. Photographs of Palestine cover the walls of his restaurant.
When Reagan turns from Pennsylvania onto 15th Street, he will see an example of an ongoing fight in Washington.
At the corner of 15th and F Streets lies Rhodes Tavern where British soldiers supped and cheered Aug. 24, 1814, while watching the White House burn.
Oliver T. Carr, the city's largest downtown developer, plans to build a huge office and retail complex on the tavern site. History buffs are fighting to preserve it.
Another ghost from the past haunts the Avenue.
"Negro life in Washington is a promise rather than a fulfillment- . . . ," an inscription at Western Plaza reads. That quote from Paul Laurence Dunbar in 1900 is still true today, according to Chlore Hudson, a clerk at her sister's souvenir shop at 601 Pennsylvania Ave. She dreams of being a fashion model someday.
"If Reagan walked in here right now, I'd ask him if he belonged to the KKK," says Hudson. "I think racial tensions are getting worse. I don't know, look at what happened in Miami and they let those guys off. And Reagan, he sure didn't seem in a rush to put a black on his cabinet.
"You think you come a long way, but really you haven't made one step," she says.
Pennsylvania Avenue: the nation's capital at its worst, the nation's capital at its best.
"This is a beautiful city," says Lloyd, dousing a burger with salt. "I think its one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
"But you know, it'd be even better if Reagan got that baseball team. The people here would remember him for sure."