Elizabeth Slattery Clare is a local musician and writer. She and her husband, William F. Clare, have three sons. Clare, who lives near Chevy Chase Circle, has fond memories of growing up in Mount Pleasant. The District Weekly welcomes such reminiscences.
When I was little, if you'd asked me what and where Mount Pleasant was, I'd have said, "It's up the street, where we go to the store and get the streetcar."
Our house at 3173 18th St. NW, was one block south of Mount Pleasant Street. In the middle of the wide, tree-lined street that gave the neighborhood its name ran deep-grooved metal streetcar tracks.
When the Mount Pleasant streetcar arrived at Lamont Street, the conductor called "end of the line," and passengers stepped out onto a yellow wooden (later concrete) platform in the middle of the street. Then, to turn around, the car proceeded slowly through a small park that we called "the loop."
Though it was exciting to us to lunch at Reeves on F Street or attend the Capitol or Warner theaters, there was still plenty to do back in Mount Pleasant. The commercial district was lined with stores, many of which were tucked away in huge apartment buildings. Young boys waited outside the neighborhood's food store on Mount Pleasant Street, with large wagons that they used to carry groceries home for shoppers.
My favorite store was Heller's Bakery, which brothers Ludwig and August Heller opened in the 1930s shortly after their arrival from their native Germany. We stopped at Heller's every Sunday morning to be greeted by the smiling Mrs. Heller, who never seemed to mind how long it took us to choose from the doughnuts, buns, cakes, breads and rolls of seemingly endless variety in the glass display cases.
Everyone walked a lot in Mount Pleasant, up and down the hilly streets. Our house was purchased in 1923 by my grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. John J. Slattery. Dr. Slattery, who was the first medical examiner of the Veterans' Bureau, and his wife, Mary Eudora Fry Slattery, were born and raised in Washington, and their 11 children were seventh generation Washingtonians on their mother's side. In 1938, Grandmother Slattery, then a widow whose children were grown and married, sold the house to my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel J. Slattery.
Our house, like many others in Mount Pleasant, was a tall (three full stories and a basement with street-level entrances) red brick row house.
While unlocking the main door or while waiting for someone inside to answer it, one could be comfortable in the vestibule, one of the many energy-efficient features of these old homes.
The vestibule once served as home for some blue jays too young to fly when their nest was dislodged from a nearby tree. When the birds had learned to fly around the vestibule, my grandfather took them outside, where he was pecked by their ungrateful mother who had mistaken his kindness for "birdnaping."
The front door opened onto a long hall, with an arched opening that led into the living room. I spent many hours playing the piano there.
The main architectural features of the living room were a trio of bay windows and a wooden, mirrored mantlepiece. When these houses were built at the turn of the century, gas jet heat was in style and the mantles in our living and dining rooms were built over a metal grate-like insert that, when lit, produced a blue gas flame that warmed the room like a fireplace without the wood or fire.
There was a little hole in the second-floor hallway wall that enabled one to talk to someone via a similar hole on the first floor -- it was a simple, nonelectric intercom system.
There were some enormous mansions in the neighborhood, such as the white frame house with stately Grecian-style columns on its portico, and the big brick dwelling at 18th Street and Park Road.
That street, as its name indicates, winds down into Rock Creek Park, where we spent many summer days at the National Zoo. When our windows were open, we could hear the lions roaring so distinctly that I used to imagine one was curled up on a tree outside our house.
One sunny summer afternoon when a friend and I walked to the zoo, a procession of policemen on motorcycles came toward us, followed by a big black convertible with the top down. The man and woman in the car smiled and waved at us. As they drove slowly out of sight, toward 16th Street and the White House, our neighbor told us that we had just seen the king and queen of England.
During World War II, my schooling began at Sacred Heart School at 1625 Park Rd.
Children from many countries were my classmates, for 16th Street was known as Embassy Row. We learned countries' cultures by learning about their music, dances, foods and customs, often from natives of the land we were studying.
Our teachers encouraged us to read and to use the library. The Mount Pleasant Library was an imposing structure at 16th and Lamont streets. A broad, sweeping stairway led up to a front portico, where high glass windows looked in on the first floor. Children used a separate entrance, a long, stone flight of outside steps up to the second floor, where the children's collection was located.
Theaters were important to the neighborhood. The Tivoli Theater's glass marquee hung in a brightly lit semicircle. Inside, a huge crystal chandelier hung from the middle of the ceiling, over red velvet-covered seats that awaited moviegoers.
The less grand Savoy Theater, at 14th and Irving streets, drew our allegiance for its Friday night show. Week after week, serial characters such as Oomahlah of the Islands survived life-threatening adventures.
In a world where there were no televisions, the only way to see the news on film was in "moving pictures." During World War II, when newsreels featured major military campaigns, movie audiences often burst into applause when the American flag was raised over a battle scene.
The war changed Washington, as housing was at a premium for the thousands of "war workers" who flooded the nation's capital. Mount Pleasant, with its excellent public transportation and spacious houses, was a perfect place for the influx. Thus "the roomers" came to our house, and many other homes in the neighborhood.
Our "roomers" were three 18-year-old telephone operators who came to Washington to work the switchboards for the thousands of calls that came to the once-sleepy city on the Potomac.
Once the war began, warning sirens were installed on schools and churches, and yellow and black signs reading "In Event of Emergency Attack Take Shelter Here" appeared on public buildings. Air-raid drills took place mostly in the evening, after dark. Every home had "blackout" window shades that were to be pulled down at the first sound of the air-raid siren.
Every neighborhood in Washington had an "air-raid warden," whose job it was to walk through the streets during an air-raid drill to see if any lights could be spotted. Our warden, wearing a big, wide-brimmed safari-style hat with a red, white and blue patch on it, came to our door often to report light shining through a window. That was invariably in whatever room my Grandmother Reilly, who lived with us, was in. She had the same attitude toward blackouts as she did toward traffic lights -- she was here before they were, and she wasn't going to pay any attention to the fool things.
When the war ended, our "roomers" returned to their home towns, and cried long and hard about having to leave us.
Many other "war workers" stayed, and as the 1950s and my happy high school years arrived, more of the big houses in Mount Pleasant were subdivided into apartments and rooming houses.
One of my brother's new friends moved to 18th Street when his father came to Washington as one of the first diplomats from the newly constituted Republic of Pakistan. The boys watched a western movie on our television one afternoon, and the next day Timaya returned with his sister, a beautiful, shy, sari-clad young girl who spoke no English. She returned every afternoon to ask for "horses." After six months, she spoke English with a western-style accent, sprinkled with cowboy idioms.
As the 1960s came to Mount Pleasant, more cars crowded the neighborhood, and parking became scarce. I left 3173 18th St. on Sept. 22, 1962, in my wedding gown.
I returned for many visits, the saddest of which followed the rioting in 1968. We drove along 14th Street in disbelief, gazing at the burnt remains of the Savoy Theater and many stores we knew so well, which looked like the bombed-out structures we used to see in the old war newsreels. Insurance rates in Mount Pleasant skyrocketed, and my parents sold the house and moved to a smaller one in Northwest Washington.
In 1985, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary here.
Today, buses run on the former route of the streetcars, and a variety of businesses operate in the old stores on Mount Pleasant Street. The Hellers sold the bakery, but the new bakers kept their name and recipes.
Most houses in Mount Pleasant haven't changed on the exteriors, although the interiors of many have been renovated. The once-grand Tivoli Theater has been closed for some time and is boarded up, but preservationists are hoping to give it a useful future.
The current generation of the neighborhood's children, who come, as we did, from diverse backgrounds, still explore new worlds in the elegant old Mount Pleasant Library. Many things about Mount Pleasant remain unchanged, as do the happy memories of those of us who grew up in that most aptly named pleasant place.