Lawrence Smith

Larry Smith recreates the Capitol Hill neighborhood in which he grew up during and after World War II, when boys played baseball in the alleys and football on teams at the Merrick Boys Club. 

His father worked as an engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad and his mother ran a rooming house at the corner of Fifth and A Streets NE. Larry was the Smith's youngest son. Memories of his school years, at St. Joseph’s parish grade school and in the very first class at Archbishop Carroll High School, are supported by a series of family photographs incorporated into the interview.

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Interview Date
May 27, 2005
Jim McMahon
Jim McMahon

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Interview with Lawrence Smith

Interview Date: Interviewer: Transcriber:

May 27, 2005 James B. McMahon James B. McMahon

This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005


MCMAHON: This is May 27th at approximately 10:35 a.m. This is James McMahon is interviewing Larry Smith. What is your middle initial Larry?

SMITH: Lawrence G. Smith.

MCMAHON: Lawrence G. Smith. And it’s at the house of the McMahons’ at number 19 Seventh Street NE, Washington, DC. Larry, to start off tell us something about yourself. Give us a bio, born and raised—suppose you are meeting someone on a train let us say. You have about ten minutes before the train stopped and you are exchanging information about yourself.

SMITH: Well, I’ll be a little more detailed with you since you know the locators. I was born at Georgetown University Hospital on March the 20th, 1938. My father, George J. Smith was a locomotive engineer on the Pennsylvania Railroad. And as a result we lived on Capitol Hill. So he could be near to Union Station, where he would go to pick up the trains. From the time I was born until I left for college, I lived at 101 Fifth Street NE, and raised Catholic. And we identified things by parishes, and that, of course, is St. Joseph’s parish. And I went to my first year of grade school, oddly enough, to a girl’s school. I went to St. Cecilia’s grade school for one year, because this was during the war and for some reason they took boys and girls during the war. So I went to my first year of grade school at St. Cecilia’s.

MCMAHON: Where is that located, Larry?

SMITH: St. Cecilia’s was at the corner of Sixth and East Capitol. There is a building there—there was an old building that was turned into a newer building. It would be on the southeast corner of Sixth and East [Capitol].... And it was both a grade school and a high school. And, in fact, later on when I was in high school I dated a girl who went to St. Cecilia’s. So it was still in existence up through the ’50s and ’60s, as both a high school and a grade school. Beginning in the second grade I went to St. Joseph’s grade school, a parochial at Second and C [Streets] NE, which no longer exists. I graduated from there, it must have been 1951. And my two brothers had gone there also.

MCMAHON: Who were the other ones?

SMITH: My older [cough].... Excuse me, we were three boys. The oldest is Danny Smith, who was born in 1933, went to St. Joseph’s and then to Gonzaga High School, and my brother David Smith, who was born in 1935, went to St. Joseph’s and then also to Gonzaga High School. I went to St. Joseph’s and then to Archbishop Carroll High School. Archbishop Carroll was literally just opening in 1951, and I was in the first entering class. There was something appealing in going to a new school, instead of the place where my two brothers had gone. And lived right at... we were always at 101 Fifth Street. And after high

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school I got a scholarship to go to Harvard College. The school was very proud as were my parents because of this new Catholic high school the first class, two of the graduates got scholarships to go to Harvard. And I graduated Harvard in 1959, and then actually came back to Washington and worked one year. A little less than a year, basically 1959, 1960 at the old Chesapeake and Potomac telephone company, down on H Street NW in the marketing office. And I decided I didn’t particularly like the telephone company and was lucky enough, I got a scholarship to go to Italy for one year on a post graduate scholarship. And that would be about the point where I would say I kind of no longer lived in Washington. Because from then on after the year in Italy I came back to graduate school at Harvard also and then from there took a job with a bank in New York, then called First National City Bank. And from then on just visited back and forth to Washington. My mother lived here at the same house 101 Fifth Street til the late seventies. And my brother David lived here til about two years ago on Sixth Street NE. He lived right around the corner from where we grew up. I come back now mainly to—I’ve a lot of—still friends here and I’m here this weekend because, in fact it’s the class reunion of the Carroll High School class of 1955. And I attended the graduation last night of the 51st graduating class. They honored the first class. I live in New York City now. And pretty much retired. I was a banker for 35 odd years or so.

MCMAHON: Great, focusing on your years on Capitol Hill, let’s talk maybe about roots. When did your family acquire the house on Capitol Hill and what brought them here initially?

SMITH: They acquired the house either just before or just after I was born. So, I think it was the winter of 1937, 1938, that they acquired the house. It’s a large corner house with a rotunda and a big bay. And I know because my mother... it was mentioned in the family—they paid either $11,000 or $11,500 for it, in the winter of ’37, ’38. And it was always—it was built as a one family house, but my mother, who was very entrepreneurial—was always run as a rooming house. And they took the big house for two reasons. It actually wasn’t closer than they used to live. They used to live on North Capitol Street, opposite Gonzaga High School or St. Aloysius Church. But this house was bigger, they now had three children, and also it had eight or nine rooms, and my mother saw the possibility of running it as a rooming house. And so for all the time I lived there, it was—you know the five of us, my mother, father, and the two brothers and myself, we always had our own room, but there were always roomers upstairs. There was—to this day my brothers and I, we... we refer to rooms by certain rooms... room 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Four and eight were little singles and one, two and three were doubles or bigger rooms, or whatever. And so, they moved there for the two—that it was close enough for my father to walk to Union Station, but also had this possibility to earn extra money by running as a rooming house. And then around my high school years my mother converted it exclusively into a residence for Capitol Page boys. There were no page girls in those days. And first she ran it fully as kind of a boarding thing for them—gave them meals.

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now. And that got to be too much, so then gradually it got down where she would just give them breakfast and then, I think in the end, it was no meals, it was just boarding. And then parents from around the country liked it because Mrs. Smith would act as kind of as a house mother, and be a little supervisor. There were house hours and things, ’cause these, after all, were teenagers. So, the a—it was always a house full of people. Different kinds people from everywhere, in addition, you know, to us. And then my friends from college used to love to come home because my mother and father on Thanksgiving or whatever got guys who didn’t live close to Cambridge because my mother and father were very sociable and very interested in the friends that I had.

MCMAHON: When you were growing up and having these rooms for boarders or rentals, did you regard that as an enriching experience, did you kind of associate with the individuals at all, what.... Where did they live, where did work, were they from Capitol Hill or were they laborers from the area or...?

SMITH: It, it—early on they were kind of laborers. I mean more blue collar kind of people as I remember. And when it was a pure rooming house they were all adults. And these would be people for one reason or another would be temporary in the city. There was one man, I remember, who stayed for a couple of years. And it was a rooming house, these were furnished rooms. So these were not people coming with established families or anything. And, I knew some of the roomers as we called them. And there were some who were really just for a night or two, who were tourists. There was a big sign in the window: Rooms. You know, in the big bay window. When it got to be a boarding house for pages, there were a couple I did become friendly with because they were my age and one I am still in loose touch with. But the adults were... they were just adults. They were going out to work and doing whatever they were doing and I was going off to school, grade school. Actually by high school it had been turned into a page school... And I never thought of whether it was enriching or not it was just the way it was. I mean, you know...

MCMAHON: You thought it was normal?

SMITH: I thought it was kind of normal. (laughter) I knew other people didn’t have roomers but you know, nobody thought it was odd that, you know, Mrs. Smith ran a rooming house. It was a big house. It was the way it was set up is that we all came in the same front door, but we had a back door that the family used much more than the front door. It never seemed an imposition, you were just used to these people coming up and down the stairs.

MCMAHON: Larry, for a moment, focus on your pre-school days. Who did you pal around with in the neighborhood, and where did you go for fun, as a kid, pre-school, let’s say?

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SMITH: Well, both pre-school and grade school, the kids were from the neighborhood. And I thought about this in talking in past about neighborhoods. The neighborhood had very clear psychological boundaries for me. I mean... I lived at Fifth and A NE. One boundary was East Capitol Street, if you went on the other side of East Capitol Street, it was Southeast, which we did often ’cause we’d go the Pennsylvania Avenue sometimes to a movie. That, really was a different neighborhood. And our neighborhood, kind of went, from East Capitol Street down to Stanton Park and little bit—what’s that north, I guess that’s north of Stanton Park. When got down to about D Street, where the number 42 streetcar ran, that was kind of one end of the neighborhood. About Second Street, where the church was, and my school was another boundary because when you got over that you got into the Supreme Court and the Capitol and got into kind of public territory. And down here toward your place [Seventh and A Streets NE] Seventh Street, it went to Eighth or maybe Ninth Street. And all my friends were from that. My very best friend lived on A Street here between Seventh and Eighth, a kid now my age, a guy named Ronnie Bennett, went to grade school together. And friends were from A Street between Fifth and Sixth, and Fifth Street between A and it was then called B [Constitution Ave]. They were all from the neighborhood. And I can’t—pre-school and grade school get mixed up but we would go frequently to Stanton Park which had more grassy area then. And also to a place I don’t think exists anymore which was Merrick Boys Club on C Street between, I guess it’s Sixth and Seventh. There was a settlement house, one side was the Christ Child Settlement House and the other side was the Merrick Boys Club.

MCMAHON: Can you spell that Merrick?SMITH: Merrick, I believe was M-E-R-R-I-C-K.MCMAHON: OK.

SMITH: And it was the focal point, because it had a gym. It had a pool tables; it had ping pong tables; and it had both organized and unorganized activities. And they ran a camp in the summer, and every summer, several summers, I was sent there, as were my brothers. And we would play in the playgrounds of the public school. There were two: Hilton and Peabody. And Peabody certainly still exists. I’m not sure if Hilton still exists. And then we would play in the back alleys here. I mean, if I look out your window and over to there, there’s an alley behind there. [Ed: seems to be referring to 100 block of Seventh Street NE, west side of Seventh.] I think there was a telephone building and you go in that alley. We would play softball, set up bases in that alley also there was an alley behind the street where I lived, between Sixth and Fifth on... between A and B [Constitution Ave]. And the alleys were favorite places to play because people didn’t park cars back there then. And there wasn’t any traffic. So you could play generally various kinds of ball games. And, I just remember playing on the street. There was a game we would play in front of our house up here on A Street: bases, which is a classic old baseball game where you just have two

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people and made up bases and manhole cover and tree. And you throw a ball, and one of the other kids tries to steal the base. And you just do that right on the sidewalk.

MCMAHON: White, middle class families, any black kids at all that you knew?SMITH: In the time when I was growing up...
MCMAHON: And could you determine, frame those years?

SMITH: I am going to try. Let’s see, I was born in ’38. So what I remember by the time I got to grade school I was five or six years old, so it’s ’43 - ’44. Somewhere in there. There were black kids around. There were none in my parochial school, although there were in my high school. The school system, of course, was segregated. I had a couple of black friends but not many at all. And the neighborhood certainly right, directly around me was predominately, if not overwhelmingly, white. Whereas, as you got a little toward East Capitol Street in the Southeast, there was more black families. We had a couple kids, black kids I can remember playing ball with at Peabody, softball and basketball. But it was segregated and you know, and the people that I knew and were around were overwhelmingly white. And to a great extent Catholic, because the schools, you know I went to parochial school. Although, the kids in the neighborhood were quite a mix.

MCMAHON: What about the Merrick Club? Was it the boys’ club, could you call that?

SMITH: It was both. It was one building with two sides. And one side was a boys’ club, it was called the Merrick Boys Club, and I was always told it was named for a Catholic philanthropist, Miss Mary Merrick, who I have a vague memory of appearing every once in a while in a wheelchair to see what was going on. And I believe that was—must have been segregated, ’cause I can’t picture in my mind black kids there. I picture playing with them on the playground and in Stanton Park. But I don’t picture them there but I wouldn’t bet my life on it. And they had a fairly—for a boys club it must have been very well funded ’cause they had very active athletic teams. I remember they had three or four football teams, tackle football teams every year, by weight: 90 and under, 110, and these teams had equipment. I mean we had shoulder pads and helmets and all. Which speaks to me of some kind of funding. If I picture the pool table and the ping pong tables, I don’t picture any black kids, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it. But I don’t picture them...

MCMAHON: Where did you go? Where there any areas that were off limits or territory that your parents told you not to go? And, you know, they would say “I’d like to be able to find you or where you’re going to be.”? You mentioned one place the Merrick Club, but were there any places that were off limits type stuff? Or was it just common sense?

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SMITH: No, somehow it sticks in my mind that down around Seventh and Eighth as you got toward H, I think the neighborhood—I think it was more of a black neighborhood, it was rougher. There were bars on H Street NE. I think common sense told us that maybe young white kids were not so welcome down there. So I have this idea that kind of down as you got farther away from Stanton Park in the Seventh Street, Eighth Street, Ninth Street, Tenth Street area, toward H Street. I seem to remember that was kind of dangerous. Otherwise, I don’t remember. In high school I remember when I—was it high school or late grade school or early high school? There was a time of gangs around Washington and there were more clubs than gangs. In fact some of them sponsored by the boys club. I guess to kind of keep an eye on it all. And I can remember some fights or... particularly one big fight in Central Park, which...

MCMAHON: Central Park?

SMITH: Not Central Park, that’s where I live now. Stanton Park. And I can’t remember whether it was racial or not. If it was whites against black or just kind of one neighborhood against another neighborhood. I don’t remember. But I don’t remember other than the H Street area, I don’t remember thinking any parts of the neighborhood were dangerous.

MCMAHON: When you got on public transportation with your young buddies, where would you go beyond Capitol Hill? Were there any favorite places you’d go?

SMITH: Oh, you would go to the ballgames at Griffith Stadium. You’d go to Glen Echo when it was open, which was a nice long trolley car ride.

MCMAHON: Were these busses or trolley cars?

SMITH: These were trolley cars, this was still the era of trolley cars. And every once in a while the—well in fact there was a point in Georgetown that when you were going out to Glen Echo where they would stop and actually put up the trolley. Where they had overhead wires instead of the under the rail as they did everywhere. You would go—there was a swimming pool over in Anacostia, over the bridge which is on Pennsylvania Avenue SE. You would go over the bridge. You would take a trolley car—I forget the name of the circle—Barney Circle or whatever the terminus of the trolley car was. It was Pennsylvania Avenue, and then you would walk across the bridge to this public swimming pool. And we would go there in the summer. But what I remember distinctly the long rides out to Glen Echo, which were kind of fun. And Glen Echo was a treat because the swimming pool was better than anything in the city. And, you know, you could spend, whatever you spent, you mother would give you enough and you go in the swimming pool and stay all day. And you would only have enough allowance to do one or two rides. But you could use the pool all day.

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MCMAHON: Any rivalries between neighborhoods and stuff like that other than racial type things? Can you remember who was the foe or whose turf would you never enter on? When you played for the teams at Merrick did you play any other boys clubs or things like that?

SMITH: The boys club... at the boys club teams, we felt a certain rivalry with a boys club in Southeast, which maybe I could find. But I don’t know. I think it was around 13th to 14th Street on the other side of Lincoln Park. And we were very jealous of them because they had a swimming pool. And it was particularly always good fun to beat them if we could. And then we—we didn’t know it intellectually but maybe we knew it instinctively that we were kind of inner city kids and so when we go to play the boys club of Georgetown we feel it would be quite something. Because they had a huge—they owned a football field, which to us was amazing. You know here at the Merrick Boys Club, they would borrow fields to go practice or we would practice at the Haines Point fields. So, I remember the rivalry with the Southeast, a little bit there. But that was really in terms of the boys club teams and with the grade school team, I played a lot of basketball in the CYO, the Catholic Youth Organizations leagues. And there we wanted to beat everybody.

MCMAHON: OK, with respect to the family now, your parents, where did they socialize, I know for instance did they do most of their work for the parish, did they have other people over, as friends that you maybe went to picnics together somewhere. Or did you go as a family to Glen Echo and so on?

SMITH: I remember my father palled around a lot with railroad men. And mother and he were very friendly with a man, a Mr. Knox, who lived on East Capitol Street between Fifth and Sixth, who was the treasurer of the local chapter of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, which was my father’s union. And they would come to dinner from time to time. I think we probably did—my family, I think, did less socializing than—among their peers and others because of the way they worked. My mother was running a rooming house and there was always some things to do, and get the rooms cleaned up. And my father up until he got seniority, had a very erratic schedule. As he was working his way up the seniority ladder, he would get called. They would say, “Smith, we have a freight train for you” or this.... He had an irregular schedule. So I don’t remember a lot of socializing. They didn’t do a lot of socializing with people on the neighborhood, they did go to church functions. We all did. You know various—spaghetti dinners, or pot luck dinners, or various fundraisers for the church. And they—and family came down very often. My mother, particularly, was from a large family and her sister or her brothers would come down and then we would go up to visit with them in New Jersey or Connecticut. But I don’t remember them doing—having, let say, friends over constantly from the neighborhood.

MCMAHON: Did your family have a car? You said you did....

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SMITH: They did, they did. We had a secret, we always had an automobile. In fact I brought some pictures with me that I went through and found out. And my father had a model A, I don’t know if was a model A, about a 1935 Ford for a long time. And then he had a ’41 Chrysler, and then we had a ’49 Lincoln for ages and he needed it because, if he wasn’t walking to Union Station, he would have to ride out to what they called the roundhouse, which is out on New York Avenue NE to pick up his trains, which was a staging point for the Pennsylvania Railroad trains, particularly freight trains. If it was a passenger train, he would pick it up at Union Station. So we always had a car and we would go, I remember, we would go to the various Maryland beaches on day trips. And then several summers, I want to say, every summer, but it couldn’t have been. They would rent rooms in Wildwood, New Jersey. We would go up to Wildwood, New Jersey, for a week or two every summer. And, it had to be rental rooms, because I remember these old Victorian houses and we would have three or four rooms in them. And my father, he taught me, he taught all three of us to drive as we got to be 16. And I never remember my mother driving, but my father drove a lot and enjoyed it.

MCMAHON: You mentioned something about Georgetown from a socio-economic standpoint, how would you classify Capitol Hill?

SMITH: When I was growing up, let’s say from ’38 to right through high school it was much more blue collar than it is now. I mean my father at his peak, he retired in 1959, his salary was around $12,500, I remember, because I was then working and I knew something about salaries. And that was about—that was a very highly paid blue collar job. I mean he was a very senior engineer on the railroad, which had good strong union. And he and all the people around could afford the houses on Capitol Hill. I mean my parents bought a bigger house than they would have normally, because of the rooming house possibility. But they could have afforded a smaller house. And the kids at St. Joseph’s, their parents were blue collar or government workers. It was very much a middle class, a very respectable neighborhood. I mean people took care of their houses and there were flowers and plants and my mother was very proud of her roses. And there were neighborhood stores that we patronized. And the sense was that it was good solid neighborhood. You know as you grow up you can put some of those things in perspective. It was—Lord knows it wasn’t any Georgetown or it wasn’t what Capitol Hill is today in terms of gentrification. But it was a good neighborhood. There was a good feel to the neighborhood that it was indeed a neighborhood. And it was a good place to be living.

MCMAHON: What about crime when you were growing up, do you remember anything at all?

SMITH: I do not remember that as being a serious issue. I mean I’m sure we locked the doors. I mean it was not like it was a bucolic area. My father was somewhat of a racist. I mean he came—he was an Irish American and came when he was two or three without a father. And he grew up on the streets of Chester,

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Pennsylvania, and I think he had a lot of trouble with blacks. Between blacks and Irish as he was growing up and he—while personally quite generous was... He had a lot of nasty remarks about black people. So he made us kind of afraid that... you know that maybe blacks would rob and do stuff. But I don’t remember our house ever getting robbed. I mean even though with all these roomers we had. So, I don’t remember crime in our neighborhood as being a particular issue.

MCMAHON: You were born, let’s say, at the end of the depression, and grew up with depression era parents, let’s say. Do you remember hard times at all, from those years?

SMITH: No, I thought about that and I don’t. And its mainly because my father by that time had enough seniority and was never fired. I mean that—the depression—he had a job through the depression and of course once the war came the railroads were just booming. That he was always employed at a good salary. And my mother ran the rooming house which—and she ran it at a profit. I suspect it wasn’t a great profit but she made money out of it. And there was no sense of want at all. I mean we were not rich but, I mean as you mention, we had a car. We took summer vacation. We probably could have gone to a private school, but it never crossed anybody’s mind. You know you go to the local Catholic school, that’s where you went. So we were lucky, we were solid middle class people without... There was no sense of impending doom over us at all.

MCMAHON: Going to the war years, do you remember much about that time? For instance rationing of gasoline, do you remember patriotism and so on?

SMITH: I remember rationing. I remember the books and going to the—there was little grocery store right across from us on the corner of Fifth and A [Streets NE]. Mr. and Mrs. Miller ran it. I didn’t ever think—they were obviously Jewish shop keepers. It didn’t cross my mind in those days because—if there weren’t many blacks there certainly weren’t many Jews around that I would get to know. But they were a wonderful couple and ran the little grocery store, now part of the parking lot. I mean it has been razed. And I can remember taking the rationing book there for getting various things for my mother. I can remember scrap drives. And patriotism, absolutely, because I have various pictures of myself and my two brothers during the war years in sailor suits. We’d be lined up in sailor suits for an annual photograph. And there was a woman who—a young woman who lived in our house for a long time. And she wasn’t exactly a nanny because she was going to school but she helped my mother with the house and helped with us, we three boys. And she married a sailor and I was in that wedding and I looked at the picture... I don’t know, I was a ring bearer or something—I was in a little sailor suit. And there were flags around and I remember that we were at war. I didn’t quite know what it meant. And of course when it ended—what I was seven years old when it ended, born in ’38, so I was seven. So, I kind of remember the end. But I remember mostly being dressed in these sailor suits.

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MCMAHON: With respect to the end [of the war] do you remember VE day? Any celebration?,SMITH: Not specifically.
MCMAHON: Anything celebratory at all?

SMITH: I don’t, I think we were visiting—staying with my Aunt Mary up in Connecticut. We would go to her place for the summer. One or two of us boys or the three of us, sometimes at the same time. And I have a recollection of being up there but I don’t have any specific recollection of it.

MCMAHON: What was the name of the railroad your father worked for?SMITH: Pennsylvania Railroad.

MCMAHON: And that hubbed out of Union Station, or is that just—did the Pennsylvania Railroad have the line there—is that the only one that operated out of there?

SMITH: No, it—no because—Union Station generally means that more than one railroad uses it. I mean if you go to Philadelphia, and they call it Penn Station, Philadelphia, only the Pennsylvania Railroad used it. So it was—Pennsylvania was main user, but the Baltimore and Ohio used it and various—Pennsylvania stopped its southward routes in Washington. So, if you wanted to go to Richmond or any of Florida, you know, you had to get on—they were often through trains but they would change engines to a different line. So, Union Station was used by a whole bunch of railroads that were there.

MCMAHON: With respect to, let’s say, the summers on Capitol Hill... there was very little air conditioning and people coped in various ways. I was wondering how—what you guys did during the summer, did it affect you at all, and was it different?

SMITH: I remember the ritual every spring or I don’t know—in May—of putting up the screens, that we would put up the screens and then you would leave the windows open. The house, particularly the big bay part of it had great ventilation because it was this big bay with three windows. So if you were in that part you would get air. I remember a lot of fans and staying outside a lot of time. And I remember we would often go on picnics to Haines Point. Just as a family, take dinner out there and we were very fond—both my mother and my father liked music a lot. We were very fond of going to the band concerts.

MCMAHON: Where were they?

SMITH: They were on the Capitol grounds—I always get my east and west—the east thing and there were the various service bands: the Army band, the Navy band, and the Air Force, I think there was an Air Force, the Army Air Force. And the Marine band was particularly good. And they would—I think

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they had a stage, they certainly had a bandstand for them and people would just bring chairs or blankets whatever. And they would play a combination of kind of old fashion band music and classical music and they were wonderful concerts. And they were free and they were a great treat. They stick out in my mind. And then just kind of hanging out outdoors at Stanton Park or where ever you could in those late evenings. And then, of course, we would go either to the Monument or up on our roof to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July, which were always a great treat.

MCMAHON: Do you remember any severe winters at all—like just when the town was shut down so to speak when you were growing up? Were there any homeless type people during the winter you might have encountered that you might have taken in your house at times?

SMITH: No, I don’t see any in my mind and I don’t remember severe weather. I remember snow, there being snow and there must have been some days school was cancelled, but I don’t remember that... I remember much more the heat. I mean the heat in the summer was—is—memorable. And also maybe because I didn’t—other than when I’d go out, when I would go over the Carroll High School, which is behind Catholic University. I would go around the city more—you actually—I didn’t go round the city a lot. I mean we would go downtown sometimes to one of the big movie theaters on F Street NW, or you would go to the department stores downtown. You would take the number 40 trolley. But, you know, I spent most of my time hanging around the neighborhood. And I don’t remember homeless people or tramps in the neighborhood. I don’t remember people camping out in Stanton Park or Lincoln Park. That’s not—I just don’t have any picture of them.

MCMAHON: Now that you have come back to Capitol Hill and compare it to what you were used to as a kid growing up, what are the big material changes that you have seen in buildings and streets? You mentioned gentrification for instance.

SMITH: Well, it’s funny, ’cause I’m staying at a hotel downtown where this high school reunion is. And the neighborhood here has changed much, much less than downtown. I mean I can’t locate myself sometimes downtown, because I’m looking for certain buildings among all these new buildings. Here, Northeast Capitol Hill has changed physically remarkably little. I mean as I look out your window there was a Safeway store at one point which is not there. But the houses look identical to my memory. The Baptist Church had got a much bigger parking lot. There were houses next to the Baptist Church which is now a parking lot. There was Mr. and Mrs. Miller’s store. But the houses here—I mean I look at my house up the street and it gives me shivers, it looks so much the same. And I walk into some—the back alleys and I can tell you where first base was. And although the alleys have somewhat changed, they somehow seemed narrower in my adult mind. But what strikes me is how little the physical part of the Hill has changed. In fact one thing, it was never called Capitol Hill when I growing up, it was just called

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

Northeast. I think it became Capitol Hill when it got gentrified. People, when I was growing up would say where do you live? I would say in Northeast, Fifth and A. And it didn’t have a real name, whereas there were other neighborhoods like Trinidad which had a name. Ours didn’t have a name, and as I said I think it came with the gentrification. But you know I’m 68 years old now and I can tell you who lived in various of these houses 50 years ago, not all of them. And the houses look the same, some have been painted, there wasn’t as much color when I grew up. The brick was just left as brick rather than being painted. But what strikes me is how much it has retained the—


MCMAHON: We were talking about what, Larry?

SMITH: You asked me if I remembered Mary’s Blue Room. And I don’t, I remember Grubbs Pharmacy, where we got all of our medicines. I remember the Stanton Grill, which was at the corner of Fifth and, it must be C, or—right at the edge of Stanton Park And there was a row of dry cleaners and various stores on East Capitol Street, going from—must have gone from Fifth to Third... Certainly—Fifth, Fourth and little bit of Third, mostly Fifth to Fourth. Grubbs was on Fourth and East Capitol Street. But Mary’s Blue Room I don’t remember.

MCMAHON: Jimmy’s [Jimmy T’s diner] across the way from there, is that a new institution?

SMITH: No, I—it was there in my high school days. I don’t remember it from grade school. I remember it from high school and college. When I’d sometimes come home in college I would go up there. And I remember the grocery store, right across from it, which we didn’t go to. We would go to Mrs. Miller until she closed. Then we would sometimes go to the grocery store on East Capitol Street. And I forget when the Safeway closed. But the Safeway was where we did all, the majority of our shopping. We would come down there with carts.

MCMAHON: All those stores on East Capitol Street, they are now owned by Koreans, do you remember who owned them when you were growing up, at all, or were they there at all?

SMITH: They were—no, I don’t know who they were. They were white people and they were kind of normal people. I don’t remember any particular ethnic group that owned them. There were certainly no Koreans. I don’t think I ever saw an Asian my whole time growing up here.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

MCMAHON: How about during inaugurations, did you ever as a person growing up feel the change in vitality of the town the week prior to, the or the week after the—or were you essentially apolitical during those times?

SMITH: We—they were big events and in a number of ways I took part in them—for instance in grade school, I guess it was grade school. We had something we called safety patrol, which is where people who were eighth graders or seventh graders, it was at school that went from first to eighth grade. You have kind of a white belt with a badge and would stand at crossings to, you know, stop traffic so the kids could cross it going to school and coming home from school. And we would—groups of the safety patrol people would march in the inaugural parade. And I did at least once, I remember once, maybe twice, two inaugural parades, although I might have been too young. And then at two inaugural parades I had a vendor’s license. And I remember at Eisenhower’s inauguration, particularly, I sold hot dogs somewhere. I was in high school by then. I sold hot dogs somewhere along Constitution Avenue route. And we would—even if I wasn’t marching we would go to see the inaugural parade. You could somehow get a spot along Pennsylvania Avenue, where you could watch it. So we didn’t—national politics didn’t affect us very much. As you know we couldn’t vote. And my parents were Democrats, but it didn’t mean much to be a Democrat in this city, where you couldn’t vote. But they were very—my father was a union man. They were very pro-Roosevelt. But the inaugurations were just kind of big parties. They weren’t really political events. It was like the Cherry Blossom Parade. I mean it was just a time for a good parade.

MCMAHON: You mentioned that you had a vendor’s license, where did you work, what type of part time jobs did you have, did ever have a delivery job?

SMITH: Yeah, I delivered the Washington Star for a while. But I didn’t work summers until... the year I graduated high school. I had a job, I don’t know, with some guy painting or something. And all my years in college, when I came home, I worked as a waiter down in an Italian restaurant on Connecticut Avenue, the Roma. And then I got a very good job for two years, it was considered a stock clerk in the Safeway on Connecticut Avenue NW. And one summer I doubled up. I was working during the day, I got a summer job a the Library of Congress, doing manual catalogues. It was—in the age of computers it seems insane. They would have all these index cards and wanted to do a union catalogue every five years. All you would do, you would sit here and you would interleave three by five index cards from five different years to get one alphabetical index, which was the most mind numbing work imaginable. And—but it was a neat little job and it paid pretty good wages and I’d do that in the day and I then I would work the night shift over in the Safeway on Connecticut Avenue. But up until then the only thing was these, this occasional thing, like selling hot dogs at the thing. I didn’t work... The summers up before the senior year of high school there was always in Junior year, my mother found out a hostel trip, an American Youth

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

Hostel trip, that my brother David and I took all across the country. It was quite wonderful. But I didn’t really start work until really after high school.

MCMAHON: You mentioned the Library of Congress... were there local libraries here on Capitol Hill?

SMITH: There was, there was, I can’t—I can’t think where it was. We had a lot of books in our house. My mother was a school teacher, and my father dropped out of school at the eighth grade. But he was—he just loved to read. He was self taught. A man of a great many—wide interests. And we had a lot of books in the house. And I did go to the public library. My impression is that it was somewhere down around Seventh and Eighth on Maryland. But I’m not really sure about that. And I do remember going into it. I don’t remember taking tons of books out because we seem to have them at home already.

MCMAHON: When you did your shopping, let say, the stores that used to be downtown, do you remember going to at all?

SMITH: Yes, yes, I was talking about one of them last night with one of my classmates, because he worked a long time at Woodward & Lothrop. There was a fixed geography of—you could take the number 40 trolley car, which went right here from East Capitol Street. And it would deposit you at Seventh and F where Hecht’s Department Store was. And there was Hecht’s, there was Kann’s, there was Lansburgh’s, there was Woodward & Lothrop’s, and then there was Garfinkel. Garfinkel was very up end, I mean that was out of our league. But we did a lot of shopping particularly at Hecht’s and Woodies. And I just... then right there you could walk from one to the other. And for us it was very convenient, because the trolley car went from a block from our house to right in front of those. It went right down F Street NW. And I think I got shoes at Hecht’s every year—to a—you know when school came around we’d need new clothes. I don’t remember any shopping right here in the neighborhood, except for food and groceries and dry cleaning and medicine. I don’t remember clothing stores or—really any kind of hard good or soft goods stores here. I remember basically just neighborhood kind of suppliers.

MCMAHON: What about Providence Hospital, do you remember Providence?

SMITH: I do. My picture of it is right on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, around, I forget. I want to say Second or Third, but I don’t think that’s possible. I remember it was there, but the closer one was Casualty Hospital. And my father had a heart attack or some stroke, or something once. He had to be taken away quickly, and he was taken to Casualty.

MCMAHON: Where was Casualty Hospital?

SMITH: Casualty was right down—it was kind of at the end my psychological neighborhood. It must be Seventh or Eighth and Massachusetts NE.

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MCMAHON: Is that the Medlink Nursing Home now?

SMITH: I guess, I’m not sure. But it was about a block or two from the Merrick Boys Club. And—it must be Seventh or Eighth—maybe Eight and Massachusetts, whatever. It gets a little confusing. And Providence I knew was there, but I don’t remember—I didn’t, I never went in it. I was very lucky I was never hospitalized as a kid. And the only time I remember visiting was really to Casualty Hospital.

MCMAHON: How about movies, Pennsylvania Avenue, down there?

SMITH: Well, Pennsylvania Avenue, was the secondary source. There was movie a house, the Stanton, which is right between Fifth and Sixth on—I guess the C Street loops around Central Park—Stanton Park, where the south side—of Stanton Park. And there was the Stanton Grill, there were some brick houses, there was the Stanton Theater and then on Sixth and—whatever that street is, Sixth and Stanton Park, as I call it was the barber shop, where I got my hair cut for all my youth. And the Stanton Theater was where we all went. And it was classic... there would be a double feature every Saturday. And I could still remember: your mother or your dad would give you 50 cents. And with 50 cents you could get into the movie and you could get a popcorn, two candies and a drink, because the movie was 25 cents and the other things were fif.... And there was—I think it was the Penn Theater. I see at least one theater, if not two on Pennsylvania Avenue between Sixth and Seventh. And we would go there occasionally because sometimes... I don’t know, maybe they had a different movie—because there weren’t all the same movies in the same houses. But our movie house that I went to as I grew up was really the Stanton, and not the Penn.

MCMAHON: Let’s see. Going down as far as... doing your local shopping was there a Woolworth’s or a five and dime store of somewhere?

SMITH: There was on Pennsylvania Avenue, next to or near, can’t say next to, on the same side of the street as the movie theater, the Penn movie theater. Must be the north side. There was and I forget whether it was a Woolworth’s or Kresge’s, but there was, very definitely, a five and ten cents store.

MCMAHON: Do you remember the segregated life here on Capitol Hill? For instance, one school for blacks, one school for whites and also do you remember maybe sit-ins or demonstrations on anything like that in your youth?

SMITH: I remember, in retrospect I’m aware of the fact of segregation. It didn’t strike me very much growing up because it was just the way it was. I—the public school system of course was segregated and I—you know it shows you how you grow up blinkered. I know where the white public schools were. I am not sure where the black elementary schools were. I knew which were the black high schools. I mean

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

Spingarn and Dunbar. But in those days, Eastern High School was a white high school and I am embarrassed, I don’t know where the black grade schools were. I know also from just my high school, and talking to my friends there, the black and white friends, it dawned on me that the black Catholics were generally segregated by neighborhood. I mean simply there were neighborhoods that were black and the Catholic churches there were predominately black. Just the way St. Joseph was predominantly white. St. Joseph was not exclusively white, because I do remember black families in the pews. But it was very, very predominantly a white church. And I remember that segregation was simply the way it was and the sit-ins didn’t start until I was away. And I was actually overseas during the riots of 1968. So I missed the really ugly parts of it. And I remember that segregation was simply the way it was. It was a big thing when I went to high school, that Archbishop Carroll High School was the first integrated Catholic high school. Even the Catholic schools were...

MCMAHON: When was that opened?.

SMITH: It was opened in 1951 and we were the—and you know it was a point—it was Archbishop O’Boyle was very liberal socially, and he really wanted to get ahead of the curve on integration. So this was an integrated high school, what’s that, three years before Brown vs. the Board of Education. And while it was still predominately white, but there were about... ten to fifteen percent of the class was black. Which was...

MCMAHON: What was your impression about that change?

SMITH: Again it kind of seemed natural. The blacks and the whites at Carroll High School I suspect like most schools that were integrated really led kind of parallel lives. The classes and the sports teams were really integrated. And I can’t remember any—taught by Augustinian priests, I can’t remember treating the whites or the blacks any differently. But in fact in my whole high school career, I never had a black kid over to my house, and no black kid had me over to his house after school. And at the dances the black kids would come but they would bring black girls. Their dates would be black girls. And I can’t remember ever seeing an interracial couple dance, even at this integrated Catholic high school.

MCMAHON: You mentioned something like dances, where else did you go to socialize, like high school dances. Where did young men meet?

SMITH: They—the Boys Club, actually sponsored—maybe it was together, it must have been together. I remember long Saturday night dances at the Boys Club. It would be all—just, you know, records. And it would be supervised. And I don’t know how late or early it went on. But that was a big thing. And various Catholic parishes, the CYO as it was called, would sponsor dances. And you would go to those. And then when you got old enough to date, you would go to movies. You know, you would do whatever

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

teenagers... would go to. But I do remember very well the Saturday night dances at the gym in the Boys Club.

MCMAHON: As far as sports teams, were you a Senators fan, when they were here, and were your family—were your brothers deep into, let say, the football team, and the baseball teams, and hockey?

SMITH: We were—yes, we were Senators and Redskins fans. We weren’t sports fanatics, but we would go. I would see, I don’t know, three or four baseball games every year. Going down Griffith Stadium with my father—I don’t remember my mother going—or with friends. I don’t—I know I saw at least one Redskin game. But I think it’s true now, the Redskin tickets were harder to get, whereas you could get to a little more baseball games in a year.

MCMAHON: What time was this?

SMITH: This would have been, as I remember, my high school years, or late grade school. So it would be ’50 to ’55. Something like that. And the—you know—of course you were Senators fan, you lived in Washington (laughter). But we weren’t rabid about it. I was very involved in basketball from the eighth grade right up through college. And so, I played for every basketball team I could find. I mean I played for the Boys Club, I played for the high school. There was a wonderful team I played for in the Chinese Athletic League. I guess this must have been my—I was in high school. And they were allowed to have one or two Caucasians because we were (laughter) it was the only time that I played center on a basketball team. One of my friends from the Boys Club, he was a Chinese-American. And he asked me to play in the Chinese Athletic League. And...

MCMAHON: Did they play in Chinatown?

SMITH: They played—we met in Chinatown and I don’t know—we played wherever the gyms were. And I don’t know... and various Chinese merchants sponsored them. And I forget... I don’t remember... my high school had a very good gym, St, Joseph grade school did not have a gym. We practiced outdoors or we’d borrow whatever we could to practice. And I just remember a whole series of small cramped gyms around the city. I mean, the boys club had a gym. It was pretty fair. I remember once—must have been a CYO championship, I got to play at the old Uline Arena, which is where the Washington Capitols played. And that—were they the Bullets, I guess they were the Bullets. And that was great treat, because that was playing a professional arena in front of lots of people.

MCMAHON: Were you a Bullets fan at all?SMITH: I was—not when they moved to Baltimore.

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MCMAHON: Where were they first?SMITH: They were here in Washington.MCMAHON: Oh, really?

MCMAHON: Where did they play?
SMITH: Uline Arena.
MCMAHON: OK, and when did they move to Baltimore?

SMITH: I don’t know. It’s... I can’t tell you. I can certainly remember them in grade school. That’s certainly in the early ’50s. My guess is that they moved in the ’60s, but I’m not really sure. They were a Washington team at first.

MCMAHON: Do you remember Kennedy’s inauguration at all?

SMITH: No, I was overseas. That was the year I had the scholarship to Italy. And I remember being in Italy and going with other Americans to... I think the consulate had set up some kind of post or room where you could come and listen to the elections in November. And I remember being very proud of him as being the president. But I wasn’t here to take part in it.

MCMAHON: Do you remember the Mall being different? There used to be these tempo houses down there, and now it’s one green area?

SMITH: I remember the tempo offices. I don’t remember any housing. I believe... I don’t know whether they put them up in the first war or the second war. But it was always a joke that there was nothing more permanent in Washington then a temporary building. And I do have the picture of those low... As I remember, they were fairly low, one or two stories. I remember them quite distinctly and I thought they had something to do with war offices—of something to managing the war.

MCMAHON: What do you remember best about growing up on Capitol Hill, things, you know, it’s never an idyllic situation but must be things that kind of stand out in your mind that you look back on nostalgically on a time maybe that maybe a time that you would like to relive?

SMITH: I remember the feel of the neighborhood and the feeling of comfortableness with my friends and the family. That it was... I had a relatively happy, unscathed childhood. I mean we had tension inside the family, like all families did but it was nothing out of the ordinary. And certainly didn’t change my feeling

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

about the neighborhood or Washington that—it was fun. I mean couldn’t imagine people growing up out on farms...’cause what do you do? ( laughter) You can’t get on a trolley car and go to Glen Echo, you can’t go down to F Street NW. You can’t go over to the swimming pool, you know, over on Pennsylvania Avenue. And I remember it being very dense life. I mean there were—my mother had this rule, on Saturdays, that before we could go out and play we had to do two hours of work around the house. You know we had this big, as I said the rooming house. But if I could get a friend, I would only have to do an hour’s work because two of us could do an hour worth [apiece]. I remember that I would want to get away with my friend on Saturdays so we could play touch football or softball or whatever the season or hang out. And I remember as—lots of people—lot of the same people because we were from the same school, same neighborhood. But I remember it as hanging out, playing. Church was—we went to church every Sunday. I mean we were not allowed not to go, but it wouldn’t have struck me not to go. And I remember the school events very much. But I just remember as being very rich, urban kind of life. I mean—and I notice my whole life, I’ve never moved outside cities. You known, when I worked overseas for Citibank, I always ended up living close to work in the city. I never was attracted to the suburban life.

MCMAHON: Any rites of passage type situation, where you had a rude awakening at all?

SMITH: No, I remember one really nasty fight at Stanton Park where I think I got—I didn’t get hit by a bat or something but I remember a really nasty bloody fight. A kind of—more of melee than a gang fight. It wasn’t organized. And I remember some individual fights. That it was—you proved yourself, you know, if you really got in a fight. “Let’s put ‘em up, let’s get at it”. And my father was the kind of a person would think it cowardly, if you didn’t. You know, I mean he grew up in a very scrappy neighborhood. I can remember when I got to eighth grade or first year of high school, I remember the first time I got drunk. And that was kind a right of passage. Somebody brought to Central Park—

MCMAHON: Stanton Park?

SMITH: Ah, Stanton Park, Central Park is the park in front of my house. Somebody brought to Stanton Park a bottle of Southern Comfort. And we passed it around. And I remember I got drunk, but I also got so sick that to this day I cannot smell or taste Southern Comfort. I just... So I think the first time you get drunk in your neighborhood, anywhere is kind of a memory. That sticks in my mind there. I remember when I went away to college it was a big rite of passage. That I had never lived away from home. And I can remember my mother—my father must have been off on a job—that her crying when I left for Union Station. I went up to Boston on an overnight train. And I think that was really the major rite of passage, because that was leaving home. And in a way I never fully came back. Even though I came back and lived a year after college. That to me is kind of when I really when I left the neighborhood, is then. Although, oddly enough, the year I—after college a friend of mine, Sam Smith and I rented a apartment together on

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

Capitol Hill. So I actually, I had another year full time residency afterwards. But that was different, I was an adult, I was going to work every day and, you know, it was the neighborhood still. But my friends from growing up had all dispersed. And so, I really think of leaving as when I was 18 and got on that train for Boston.

MCMAHON: Tell you what, let me—we are now looking at pictures of the yard.
SMITH: This is the yard at 101 Fifth Street NE, and this it’s and Easter Sunday. [Ed: photo not copied]MCMAHON: What year is this?

SMITH: According to my mother’s thing [notation] it is approximately 1945. My mother wrote these things. And these are the friends from the neighborhood. We are all in our Easter finery. That’s Sonny Lynnly (sic) who lived two doors down. These are sisters, I believe Peggy and Kay Hammis. And that’s Mary Francis Schwab who lived on Sixth Street NE, between A and B. And those are my mother’s roses that she was so proud of.

MCMAHON: Is that house now a bed and breakfast?
SMITH: It is. It’s the Bull Moose Bed and Breakfast and I slept there about a year and half ago and it

was a very odd feeling. Because it felt very much the same, the way it was.

And this is something, this is all in August, 1941, and it’s me on a horse in a cowboy outfit. [Ed: photo not copied] There was a photographer who would bring around a horse to the neighborhood on a schedule and little kids like get to sit up on it and get a picture taken. And that’s in the front of 101 Fifth Street.

MCMAHON: 101 Fifth Street, just on the corner of Fifth and A [Streets] NE?


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SMITH: Yes, and you don’t see a lot of horses there now.

MCMAHON: I guess not. This is a pony or a horse?

SMITH: I don’t know: it might be a horse. It’s big enough. This other picture—I talked about. This is going away to camp. This my brother and me and a kid named Billy Wolwine, sitting in our back yard with three duffle bags before going away to the Merrick Boys Club camp. And that according to mother’s notes it’s about 1946 or 1947. And you can see the car is a post war car. And over there is the Baptist Church on the other side of the street.

MCMAHON: What’s this on the front of your shirt, the T shirt?SMITH: That’s my brother, and that’s his Wildwood by the Sea.MCMAHON: OK, is that where you went?

SMITH: Not on this trip. We were getting ready to go camp, but that’s where—we must have been there earlier in the summer. That’s my brother David and that’s me. This is a picture of the house in 1962, in the winter. [Ed: photo not copied] It doesn’t look significantly different now.

MCMAHON: Not at all. What about the architectural design, as well?

SMITH: Oh, it was a grand house. It was a grand house. This is what I meant by the bow, there. And you asked about cars. This is me in 1942, standing on the back of my father’s Ford. And notice I’m in sailor suit.

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005


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SMITH: I spoke about the patriotism during the War.MCMAHON: Where’s the car located?

SMITH: This would be most certainly on A Street NE. I think that’s where he normally got his parking, looking, I think, toward the Supreme Court. But I’m not sure because there’s not enough houses there. But it’s the winter, and it—the license plate, I just looked at it. It expires three something ’43, does it say?

MCMAHON: Your eyes are better than mine.SMITH: But there’s an expire date there.MCMAHON: OK.

SMITH: And this is—you asked about activities. The other thing we did a lot, I was in the Cub Scouts. And this is a picture of whatever our troop or den, or whatever it was called on the corner of Fifth and A NE, looking toward the Supreme Court. Which, I guess, is looking west. And I don’t know who the lady is, but she would have been our den mother.

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005


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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

SMITH: And then some people who aren’t in uniform snuck in, ’cause Cub Scouts were only for boys.

So there’s Mary Schwab, Mary Frances Schwab.

MCMAHON: Is that near the Fall? I notice the number of leaves on the ground.

SMITH: It must be with all the leaves. There is still some on the trees and a lot on the ground.


SMITH: This is my father standing again, in the front yard. Yeah, in the front yard, George J. Smith, with the roses in bloom in back. [Ed: photo not copied]

MCMAHON: Oh, beautiful.

SMITH: Yeah, and then this is a picture of the St. Joseph grade school graduating class of 1951. And it shows you how prosperous this school system was. The Catholic school system, a local parish could have a Monsignor, and two priests. And now they are probably lucky to have one priest in residence.



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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

1) Teresa Miller; 2) Peggy Gotch; 3) Pat McDonard; 4) Joan Sansbury; 5) Catherine Purdy; 6) Jane Fontana; 7) Joan Carrol; 8) Corrine Cox; 9) Ruth Shepard; 10) Joanne Zimmerman; 11) Ruth Liberate; [12 not used]; 13) ?; 14) Mary Brennan; 15) Patricia Bell; 16) Richard Wingate; 17) Alfonso Lignelli; 18) Thomas Williams; 19) Lawrence Smith; 20) Buddy Lewis; 21) Ronnie Bennett; 22) Rocky Versace; 23) Clarence Haley. Priests: Father O’Conner, Monsignor McAdams, Father Malloy.

SMITH: And of this—this is Ronnie Bennett, who was my great friend, and a great athlete. This man actually went on to win posthumously the Medal of Honor. He was Rocky Versace, who was one of the first people to die in Viet Nam. He came from a military family and went on to West Point. And there is actually a monument to him out in Arlington.

MCMAHON: I notice the number 22 over his head, and that corresponds to the name.SMITH: Yeah. I put them all down here.
MCMAHON: So I could focus on this one.


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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

SMITH: You certainly may, you certainly may. And here is the St. Joseph’s basketball team. I tell you—it was crazy back then. And here my father put up, this is a picture of the back of 101 Fifth Street. [Ed: photos not copied]

MCMAHON: Oh, good.
SMITH: And my father put up a backboard, so I could practice on my own shots.

MCMAHON: I’ll have you know that I played 22 years of CYO basketball myself in Brooklyn, New York.

SMITH: Oh, OK. It was probably a tougher league than ours.

MCMAHON: Oh, not at all.

SMITH: And this is a December 29th, 1959, the day my father retired from the railroad. He brought his last train in from New York. And that’s me; I was working at the telephone company. My mother, Olive Smith, and her sister, Grace Lawrence, and we went down to see Dad come in for the last time. [Ed: retirement photos not copied.]

MCMAHON: Track 25?
SMITH: Yep, yep. Actually there’s a story in...

MCMAHON: Is facing the interior, in other words you would go and walk in this direction to get into the lobby of Union Station, or was that the other way?

SMITH: You know, judging from that stairway, I think you are looking toward the interior.MCMAHON: Interior, OK.

SMITH: Yeah. And this is nothing particular, except it’s 1958. It shows the Miller’s Grocery Store, still across the street. My brother had a boat at that point, my oldest brother liked boats. But this is looking south on Fifth Street, toward East Capitol Street. And that was the store.

MCMAHON: Is that a parking lot now?
SMITH: That’s a parking lot now.
MCMAHON: For the...
SMITH: For the Metropolitan Baptist Church. [ed: Capitol Hill Baptist Church] Let see.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

Oh, and this is this is the a—I don’t have names of this, but that’s the First Communion class of St. Joseph’s.


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MCMAHON: And this would be 1945?

SMITH: Yeah, and we are all in our little white outfits. Yeah, and a lot of those people would be in the graduation picture because almost all of them went to the grade school. They were in different grades, we look all... It was a big day to make your First Communion. And then this is 1949, the altar boys of St. Joseph, and it shows you how flourishing the parish system was. That’s just a little local parish could have that many altar boys. And notice how well we are dressed. I mean the money that was spent on vestments for the altar boys. And leave aside the a...

MCMAHON: I remember we had a surplice and a cassock and that’s it.
SMITH: Oh, we had different colored ones even. For, you know, different times... Notice, in fact, for

these guys, probably red, were in white. And we had sashes.MCMAHON: That’s incredible. Where are you, where are you?SMITH: I am—I am right here.
MCMAHON: OK, there we go.

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005


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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

SMITH: I know some of these names...
MCMAHON: Is this the fellow that was killed in Viet Nam?

SMITH: No, he came later to the school. His father was in the military also. And he only came to St. Joseph’s about seventh or eighth grade.


SMITH: This is a wonderful picture of my mother and her father on the steps of 101 Fifth Street. This Charles Lawrence, he was a retired telegraph operator, but a man of—he was very stern. He would kind of scare us when he would come visit. Because he didn’t...


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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

MCMAHON: That’s a wonderful picture of, let say the clothing of the era and also the house again, that’s great.

SMITH: It is, it is.
MCMAHON: I noticed that you said a stern, they are not smilers, at all.

SMITH: No, no that’s true, that’s true. You could—when we finish—you could look at... And here’s the one I mentioned about, again in sailor suits, the three boys: Danny, David, and Lawrence in the sailor suits taken during the war. [Ed: photo not copied]

MCMAHON: That is great, 1940 approximately. Wow.

SMITH: And this was the a—in fact I’m going to the library later today to try to get the original. This is the story from the Star when my father retired in 1959. I pieced together—he was 73 years old then and they would never let a 73 year old run the trains. (laughter) [Ed: newspaper articles copied for archive.]

MCMAHON: He looks the picture of health, nonetheless.
SMITH: Oh, he was, he was. I remember as he got older he had to take a physical more and more

frequently. Instead of once a year, once every six months, once a quarter.

MCMAHON: Their oldest son Danny, 26, a graduate of George Washington University and off to Geneva...[Referring to newspaper article]

SMITH: Uh-huh.

MCMAHON: Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Southern California.


MCMAHON: An educated family?

SMITH: Yes, there was a very high premium on going to school. You were not allowed to drop out. This is a junior CYO team, this is in grade school. The other one was the intermediate. [Ed: photos not copied]

MCMAHON: All right.
SMITH: And this is after the graduation, that was a friend of lived at —down around Seventh and D,

Theresa Miller. [Ed: photo not copied]MCMAHON: Did here parents run the store?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

SMITH: No, she was at the grade school. I think her father worked for the government. It’s a wonderful picture after the grade school graduation, standing on—you know near the Capitol.

MCMAHON: Was that a common practice? I mean, did people like to have it as a background for... ?SMITH: I think they did.
SMITH: I can’t remember—why I don’t have such picture, or who took her picture.

MCMAHON: Is this by the fountain, let’s say north of the Capitol?

SMITH: I think its on the West.

MCMAHON: On the west side over there?

SMITH: I think its on the west side but I can’t be totally sure. But you are welcome...

MCMAHON: This is a great archive. Just let me go through these to see if they might be... of value. Is this one at Union Station?

SMITH: Yeah, there’s a couple there of Union Station, on that day of his retirement. [Ed: retirement photos not copied.]

MCMAHON: It’s good for weather.
SMITH: There obviously was snow. [Ed: photo not copied] This is 1940, you can see the stamp of the

developer on the back here, February 1940.
MCMAHON: And this one is a good neighborhood type one.

SMITH: Yep, with another sailor suit, and it’s Lawrence with Kay Hammis in 1942. [Ed: photo not copied] That’s my brother David I think in the army. Yes, that’s during the Korean War.

MCMAHON: And this is the interior of the house here?SMITH: That is. Yeah.
MCMAHON: This is about when your father retired.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Lawrence Smith Interview, May 27, 2005

SMITH: Yeah... said something about the wallpaper.
MCMAHON: This is a good neighborhood shot, together with the kids and here’s something about the

fences and all. Is this right on the corner of your home? [Ed: photo not copied]SMITH: That’s what we called the front yard.

MCMAHON: OK, 1938. I could do that. And Easter 1945. Wow, this is great. OK, I will definitely pledge—give blood, that these will get back to you.

SMITH: OK, I’m going to make a list of what you keep.
MCMAHON: Tell you what, let’s conclude the interview now. The time is approximately 11:56. (a.m.).

And thank you so much, I greatly appreciate it.SMITH: You’re very welcome.



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