More than 1,500 employes of The Washington Post gathered yesterday at The Post's Springfield printing plant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of financier Eugene Meyer's purchase of the then-ailing newspaper and to honor four of its longtime employes.

The newspaper held a buffet luncheon and presented the first annual Eugene Meyer awards to the four senior employes. Post publisher Donald E. Graham, who is Meyer's grandson, said the four were chosen for careers "exemplifying the journalism or business values on which Eugene Meyer built The Washington Post."

Katharine Graham, Meyer's daughter and now chairman of the board of The Washington Post Co., told the crowd how on June 1, 1933, her father had purchased a newspaper swimming in red ink and "number four in a field of five" Washington dailies.

For his $825,000 at a bankruptcy sale, she said, Meyer got the paper and a decrepit plant on E Street, where "the walls shook and the lights flickered when the presses . . . began to roll," and where "a couple having a little rendezvous on the roof once crashed through a skylight into the printers' proof room below."

A friend, she said, warned Meyer that "Washington was an evening newspaper town . . . and a morning newspaper could never compete with the powerful, ad-rich establishment Evening Star." But, she said, her father "got down in the trenches," where he worked to mold the paper into one that would be, above all, independent and an instrument of public service.

Asserting that the four award winners exemplify the principles Meyer cherished, Graham presented plaques and $5,000 checks to diplomatic affairs reporter Murrey Marder, circulation director Frank Manzon, advertising sales representative Neal Shelby and chief electrician Paul (Pat) Taylor.

The Post has announced that it will honor one or more longtime employes with the award each year. And because Eugene and Agnes Meyer "cared strongly about public education," Donald Graham said yesterday, the newspaper also will give annual awards of $2,000 each to 12 outstanding public school teachers in the metropolitan area.

The newspaper also will award $25,000 annually to local school systems to finance special projects. The selection process for those awards and grants is going on now, and the recipients will be announced in the fall, according to a Post spokesman.

Yesterday's elaborate buffet luncheon was served from silver trays on white-draped tables in what hours before had been the Springfield plant's bustling loading dock area.

Through the early-morning hours Sunday, as circulation trucks clattered through, workers hung hundreds of balloons, curtained off the dock area and finally laid carpet and set up tables for the celebration.

The giant area's Cinderella transformation had to be reversed by 8:30 last night when the circulation trucks would be back again. The event cost about $100,000, according to a Post spokesman.

The golden anniversary celebration occurred on the first bright and sunny Sunday in six weeks, prompting Katharine Graham to say she had one comment about the weather.

"I've often been described in print as the most powerful woman in the world," she began. "Well," she said, holding her hand up to the sun and winning laughter from the audience, "I've been modestly disclaiming it, but now I no longer will."