JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Sunday, May 22, 2011


I guess that houses are like people, in that if they remain standing long enough  they can become all things. First the little house on K street was a home and then it was a bordello and a bar, and then it sat empty for a few years. I mean, who would want to live in such an infamous den of inequity? That question was answered during the roaring twenties, when 1625 K street became the home of various fraternities associated with George Washington University - the campus is one block south across Pennsylvania Avenue, between 24th and 19th Streets. But the frat parties came to abrupt end with the onset of the Great Depression.
One in four Americans lost their jobs. Those who still had a job saw their wages fall by almost half, at the same time that the price of food went up. Those who lost their home or apartment threw up shacks and shanties on vacant land and called them "Hoovervilles". Empty pockets turned inside out were called "Hoover Flags". There were literally millions of Americans in agony. Industrialist Henry Ford proclaimed that the Great Depression had been caused by “an era of laziness”, and President Hoover, from his government subsidized home three and ½ blocks south of the Little Green House, seemed to agree. But to the vast army of unemployed, that did not seem to be so much an answer as a justification as to why Ford's family was not going hungry like theirs. The District of Columbia in 1930 had a population of 607,000 people, and, even many of them out of work.
Still the town should have barely noticed when on December 5th ,  1930 some 3,000 communists came from all over the eastern half of the United States to stage a “hunger march” in Washington. The march was badly organized. The timing was stupid. Two marchers died from exposure to the harsh weather, fifteen others came down with pneumonia, twenty with the flu. Still the government managed to overreact. There were more cops than marchers. Great sums had been spent to isolate the communists, far more than was spent in relief efforts. If the American Communists had been better organized, they might have posed a real threat to the capitalist system, because President Hoover decided the best capitalism could do was to encourage those with money to invest it.
In response to Hoover's pleadings, some investments were made. In 1931 the frat house at 1625 K street was remodeled into office space. But by then there was not much call for new office space, even in Washington D.C. The economy did not need old spaces given new names. It needed new purposes. The little Green house, now a little green office building, sat empty, waiting for something to happen.
In 1932 fifteen thousand well organized WWI veterans marched on Washington, petitioning their government for early payment of their long promised war bonuses. The money was supposed to be paid in 1945, but the men were hungry now, their children were hungry now. But this time the government had the tools to respond to such a petition. This was why Washington had been established. The powers that be called out their District of Columbia police force (above). Shots were fired. Two veterans were killed. A few cops were beat up. The Federal government decided that the problem was not that the working stiffs had been pushed to far, it was that not enough force had been applied to keeping them under control.
That “enough force” had a name – General Douglas MacArthur (above, left). Ordered to clear the “Bonus Army” from around Jenkin's Hill, the imperious MacArthur sent in tanks and troops with fixed bayonets and tear gas. Crowds of government workers shouting “Shame, shame” at the soldiers did not shame MacArthur.
Once the area around capital had been cleared the General led his little army across the river to attack the shackytown  where the desperate veterans had left their families (above). This had not been ordered. MacArthur did this on his own. The two infants who died in this assault were MacArthur's trophies, as were the hundreds of mostly women, who were beaten and bloodied in this lesson for the lazy. Major Dwight David Eisenhower, who was the liaison with the district cops, described the burning of the shantytown as “pitiable.” MacArthur, who had pity only for injustices suffered by himself, was quietly retired and given the job in the far off Philippines where it was to be hoped, he would never be heard of again.
In 'upper crust' Washington, “Old” Washington, the removal of General MacArthur was a defeat equal to surrender at Appomattox Court House. He had been one of them. Still, with the incoming new adminstration there was reason for the wealthy denizens of Washington to hope. Wrote the Saturday Evening Post, “No occupants of the White House since Theodore Roosevelt had been so significantly favored as to birth and material circumstances (as FDR). Even the Cave Dwellers dropped their masks of indifference and cheered openly. At last the Nation was to have a President and First Lady who have enjoyed exceptional privileges due to family position and wealth”.
The upper crust of Washington had acquired the nomen of The Cave Dwellers, because they were rarely seen outside their Kalorama neighborhood, to the North of K street. And the subsequent invasion of Washington by the army of Roosevelt's New Deal technocrats now destroyed “the incomparably delightful relationship between the official and social life” of Washington.
The small southern town inside Washington was suffering a revolution - as usual, hardest felt in the mundane things of life. In 1937 some 40,000 people jammed Washington's Union Station (above) twice a day, coming and going.
Federal clerks toiling away in the unconditioned offices now numbered a daily invasion of  200,000, since most could only afford to live outside the district. And then came the final insult.  In 1937 plans were announced to cut down 50 of the imported Japanese Cherry trees to make room for the planned Jefferson Memorial.
Outraged, a group of female Cave Dwellers chained themselves to the trees – their final line in the sand had been drawn at trees, not people. But it was a pitiable last stand. A brainy New Dealer came down in person and served the ladies coffee in china cups. He listened to their passion for tradition. He served them more coffee and promised to replant any trees damaged. Then he served them more coffee, and when the ladies slipped their chains to escape to the toilet, the trees were bulldozed, and the construction proceeded. (the trees were later replaced).
Like an anceint totem which had lost its magic, in early December of 1941 the Little Green House on K street was finally bulldozed. The safe in the backyard was plowed over. And in its place an 11 story steel frame structure would rise. And like the rest of Washington, it would be filled with lobbyists.
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