Karla Louise Harrison was born, reared and married in a lavish Romanesque Victorian mansion that her father, brewer Christian Heurich, built in the 1890s just south of Dupont Circle.

She attended Western High School with the sons and daughters of other well-to-do Washingtonians.

As a youthful athlete she fell in love with tennis, and her father built courts for her across the street from the family home.

President Wilson, accompanied by one guard and usually on foot, was a frequent visitor to the neighborhood when he was courting Edith Bolling Galt, who lived across the street. They were married at the Galt home on Dec. 18, 1915.

These and other recollections from Harrison, 77, are now on tape as part of a month-old oral history project sponsored by the Columbia Historical Society.

In the project's first year, the society hopes to interview five to 10 longtime city residents about their memories of the city.

"I don't think Americans have an oral tradition except within their own closely knit families," said Larry Baume, curator of collections at the Historical Society. "This is a way, I think, to start that; it certainly is an easy way to record impressions, recollections, events."

Julia Rose, coordinator of volunteers at the Historical Society, added: "What we're looking for are gaps in our collection -- things you can't get in a typical source, a book or manuscript.

"We have a lot about the city, the neighborhoods, but not the people. It's nonfederal Washington that we're interested in."

Interviewers have talked also with Hayden Johnson, a 77-year-old retired lawyer.

The interviews range from an hour to 1 1/2 hours. Transcribing the interviews is the most time-consuming aspect of the project, Rose said.

Harrison and the society have a special association. The organization is headquartered in her family home, and she works there as a volunteer.

Johnson, in the first of two interviews, talked of his early life in Washington. He graduated from Dunbar High School, once the most prestigious high school for blacks in the District, and from Howard University Law School. His father was born in the District and graduated from Howard's medical school in 1900.

His grandfather, the Rev. Robert Johnson, was the first minister at the Metropolitan Baptist Church at 13th and R streets NW.

Hayden Johnson recalled that his mother's father and uncle fought on opposite sides in the Civil War.

Some of the oral histories may be published in the society's annual journal, the Records of the Columbia Historical Society, society officials said.

The society is looking for volunteers to conduct interviews and transcribe tapes. Next month it plans to begin a four-week training program for those interested in learning the oral history technique and participating in the project. A second four-week training program will be held later.

"People are very enthusiastic about the project and the topic of oral histories," Rose said. "Everybody has a grandmother or a relative or friend who has something interesting to say about their past."