Frankie Pelzman, a lifelong Washingtonian, has fond memories of the city's downtown. A writer and editor for a D.C. law firm, she lives in the city's Palisades section. She worked at Connecticut Avenue and K Street before the firm moved to New York Avenue. The District Weekly welcomes such reminiscences.
Our law office has moved to the new downtown. It is the new downtown to Mayor Marion Barry, to the Board of Trade, to the firm's partners who practiced law for 15 years at Connecticut and K and to the Franklin Square Association. To me, it's the old downtown. I never got used to thinking of White Flint as downtown. Downtown is Garfinckel's at 14th and F streets, the Central Valet and Erlebacher's clothing store when it was on F Street. And it's the New England Raw Bar and the G Street Remnant Shop, Reeves' bakery and Brownley's luncheonette.
Some of those names are long gone and some are in Rockville, and while downtown hasn't yet finished deciding what to make of itself, I'm having a good time watching.
There actually are two of us at 1401 New York Ave. NW who saw "Time Marches On" and other newsreels of World War II at the Translux, which is what used to be at this address.
But I get to tell the story because I'm older and her father did not work for 30 years at Fred Pelzman's Fashion Shop at 13th and F.
It was one of downtown's fine men's clothing stores. I can say that because cabdrivers and retail saleswomen of a certain age still smile when I mention the store and recall the suit they bought for themselves or a son or husband, and how it never wore out.
When some of us from the office eat lunch at the American Cafe, which now anchors the 13th and F corner of the Shops at National Place, I am the only one who knows we are sitting at the tie counter.
Such small archeological pleasures make me terribly happy to be back, and it has nothing to do with developer Gerald Hines, who probably never got white shantung shoes dyed at Chandler's on F Street to wear to his junior prom.
I'm pleased that he and Hogan & Hartson and I.M. Pei are doing their thing on F Street, but they were terrific shoes.
Some things are gone forever. No one I know goes downtown to the movies. The Earle and the Capitol and the Palace -- long gone -- provided red velvet, chandeliers and spiraling stairways that led you to Doris Day. My first memory of an afternoon movie was going to my favorite theater, the Palace, with my mother, coming out into thin April sunlight to find that President Roosevelt had died and all the people on F Street were unmoving, like mannequins. He was the only president I had ever known.
Despite my preference for the Palace, I suppose the Capitol was the last word -- vaudeville, sequined dancers, animal acts and live musicians. I remember Sam Jack Kaufman, who led them. There was the organ that came up from the depths with a jolly tuxedoed fellow riding it -- his hands and feet danced with his instrument, and the audience sang along with the bouncing ball that underlined the words on the screen.
Some things from the original downtown remain. The National Theater flourishes. I saw "Blossom Time" at the National, and Maurice Evans in "Hamlet." The audience was all one color then, but that is another story. When we went to the National, we ate at the Neptune Room, or at Ceres, long gone, but memories of my first Napoleons remain. For great occasions, we dined at the Occidental, which has since returned more elegant than ever.
The restaurants are gone or changed, but despite a recent scare, Garfinckel's remains, and with Woodward & Lothrop and Hecht's, forms a terrific triumvirate. Fahrney's still sells fine pens and brown ink, which was one of the affectations of my adolescence. There still is strawberry pie at Reeves' and, around the corner, the Old Ebbitt Grill, now upscale.
Most changed? Alas, the Casino Royale. I hold no brief against women making a living, and I once went to see Blaze Starr at the old Blue Mirror, but I can remember when we went on dates to the Casino Royale for Chinese food and a floor show. We saw Elaine May and Mike Nichols there.
All these reminiscences tumbled from my head and hand one day some months ago because I needed pecans. I had been halfway into a recipe the night before and run out of the principal ingredient. Sitting at my desk, I realized I was two blocks from Murphy's on G Street.
I am big on five-and-tens. They make me feel at home and they smell familiar. My mother taught me that Murphy's had the freshest nuts in town.
I remember the handsome man who ran Murphy's nut and candy concession stand, where I stood, smelling the fresh oily smell of Spanish peanuts, cashews and walnuts, and the pistachios that made your fingers red before you could open them. In those less-sensitive times, the stand was called the Nut House.
Almost 40 years later, there was a handsome gray-haired man behind the counter at Murphy's. There were still trays of glazed fruits, unlikely reds and yellows and greens, piles of thumbnail-shaped pecans, cashews, Brazil nuts, salted nuts and plain ones. The proprietor must have thought me some kind of fool, grinning while I paid a little too much for half a pound of pecans. That's okay, when you find exactly what you want. And I grin some more because Petula Clark and I, we're downtown.
Since that time several months ago, I've worried a little because that five-and-ten has been shut down in the name of progress. On the other hand, the Willard and the Bond Building and the Colorado Building are here to stay. And so am I, downtown and glad of it.