Dan Radice came in from Florida, and the Jawishes drove down from Hagerstown to see their old friends. The Norrises, who once owned a string of Wisconsin Avenue pubs, were there, too. Margaret Gorman Cahill, the first Miss America, sat demurely in the corner, swathed in blue fox. She was chain-smoking cigarettes.
Tenleytown had brought them--and 400 others--together.
"You can't define what it is about this place, but there's a cohesiveness to it you don't find everywhere," said Fred Norris as he sidestepped the makeshift bar at this Northwest neighborhood's third reunion in five years. "What's special about this place? It's a fraternity and sorority all rolled up into one.
"Things are different today, of course," he said. "When I grew up here, you left your front door unlocked and could go several doors down from your house to ask for a quart of milk. But the feelings for Tenleytown are still the same. And the mix of people hasn't changed. We got cops, bus drivers, businessmen. It's real neat."
The community remained close-knit even after folks moved out to Potomac, Bethesda, Silver Spring or to other parts of the District. Encompassing part of Cleveland Park, Chevy Chase and American University Park in addition to a good chunk more of Northwest, Tenleytown is the kind of place where neighbors greeted one another last weekend with kisses and rekindled friendships made 30 years ago.
The neighborhood bash started in 1977 with 75 people jammed into The Dancing Crab, a neighborhood restaurant. Last Saturday night, what has become almost an annual reunion grew to more than 400. By 10 p.m., the gym at St. Ann's Catholic Church was packed, the one outdoor bar had moved inside and the Stroh's beer, at 75 cents a cup, was selling briskly. The designer jeans-and-polo shirt crowd was arm in arm with those in polyester pants suits, swaying gently to the sounds of Glenn Miller and disco tunes.
"I'm seeing people here that I haven't seen in 30 years. They may be fatter or balder, but they really haven't changed at all," said Don Baughman, who, like many of the party goers, attended Woodrow Wilson High School in the 1950s. In those days, Wilson was known as Washington's "Country Club High School," with the children of senators and military brass for students. It had a reputation as one of the nation's top schools in both academics and sports.
"I grew up four blocks down the street and enjoyed living here immensely," said Baughman, a Department of Labor employe who now lives in Silver Spring. "We had fraternities and sororities at the high school -- even though we weren't supposed to. It was real 'Animal House' stuff without a house."
Wilson High School, St. Ann's, Christmas parties, the softball teams, and the volunteer Bethesda Rescue Squad are the ties that bind Tenleytowners. Norris, for instance, attended the church's parochial school, graduated from Wilson in 1952 -- the same year Baughman did -- and five years later bought the Zephyr, the first of three Wisconsin Avenue bars he and his wife Joan would own.
"Jim Slater over there -- he's a retired cop -- he coached me in baseball. He's the same guy who would get after us kids about speeding or parking because that was his job," said Norris, a friendly bear of a man who now lives in Potomac. "And over there is Gary Jawish. He was an usher in my wedding."
Jawish's prowess as an athlete is legendary in Tenleytown. A star at Wilson and later at Devitt Prep, he was a boxer and a Golden Gloves winner until a 1960 defeat to an up-and-coming youngster named Cassius Clay.
"This place seemed like any other neighborhood," said Jawish, who is still in fighting trim, "but as things got progressively worse, we came to realize just what this place meant to us. It's very refreshing to come back to."
Jawish, "a city boy now up in the mountains," runs a restaurant between Hagerstown and Frederick with his wife Sheila, a National Institutes of Health worker who grew up on Ellicott Street. They still get back to Tenleytown about three times a month.
"I've got two brothers still here and two sisters here. This is my home. This is his home -- even if we don't live here anymore," Sheila Jawish said.
Tenleytowners who grew up there and stayed are hard to find these days, if only because of the skyrocketing housing prices in the area. Margaret Cahill, 77, a Georgetown native who was the first Miss America in 1921, paid $22,000 for her 38th Street house 20 years ago after her husband died. The house across the street from hers just sold for $199,000.
Judith Helms, a Tenleytowner for 15 years and the author of a 602-page history of the neighborhood, said it has attracted residents committed to preserving the sense of community Tenleytown had 30 or 40 years ago.
Although predominantly white now, Tenleytown was settled by blacks after springing up on the crossroads of two main turnpikes: Wisconsin Avenue and River Road. Blacks settled the area in the Civil War era, only to be moved out in the 1920s when the National Park Service decided to reclaim Fort Reno, located two blocks north of Tenley Circle. Fort Reno was the city's largest defense post during the war, Helms said.
"It's a wonderful neighborhood to live in; the properties are kept up and enhanced, even. The people didn't let the Wisconsin Avenue corridor get run down like Georgia Avenue and other main streets in the city," she said.
In the forties, the arrival of Sears and other large stores transformed what had been a suburb in character to an uptown "city." The neighborhood identity persisted so much that, two years ago, the Metro Board bowed to the wishes of residents and changed the name of its proposed Tenley Circle station to "Tenleytown."
"Long before the city had its checkerboard of streets, this was a crossroads neighborhood," said Harold Gray, an amateur historian who led the campaign for the Tenleytown name. "What you see here tonight is part of that: a distinct neighborhood that's part of the capital city. It's just like Soho in London or Montmartre in Paris."
Dan Radice, a Tenleytowner who attended Georgetown Prep, recalled his days tending bar at the Zephyr, the Rabbit's Foot and Maggie's, restaurant-bars that drew the diverse crowd together. Now a bartender in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Radice said he came simply "to say hello to my friends.
"I've been to all three reunions," he said. "The next one'll be even better than this."