As his interview with Stephanie Deutsch displays, he also contributed his time and energy to the National Council on Historic Preservation, the Capital Yacht Club, a fantasy baseball league, and Capitol Hill Village. He served on the CHRS Board, chaired committees, and for many years assumed responsibility for the house descriptions published in the annual House and Garden Tour book. A favorite contribution is to have "just been … a neighbor," initiating, with his wife Marsha, a variety of social gatherings for immediate neighbors that have continued for many years.
Interview with Paul Cromwell
Interview Date: February 6, 2015
Interviewer: Stephanie Deutsch
Transcriber: David MacKinnon
Editor: Elizabeth Lewis
photo by Elizabeth Dranitzke
TAPE 1/SIDE 1
Material in brackets was added during editing either to provide additional details or to correct/clarify recorded statements.
DEUTSCH: This is Stephanie Deutsch with Paul Cromwell. Paul, do you want to say something?
CROMWELL: Hello Stephanie, thank you for coming.
DEUTSCH: Paul, why don’t you start out by telling me where you grew up?
CROMWELL: I was born in 1938 in New York City and lived in the Bronx until I moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, in [July, 1947].
DEUTSCH: What took you to Knoxville?
CROMWELL: My father became head of the electrical engineering department at the University of Tennessee. He had been at New York University and he had taught downtown during [World War II] as well as the Bronx campus. I can remember being in Washington Square during the war when we’d go down to meet him after his classes.
DEUTSCH: That must have been interesting, growing up in New York City.
CROMWELL: Well it’s certainly a memory of Greenwich Village that I still retain. Moving to Knoxville, Tennessee, was a challenge …
DEUTSCH: So how old were you? You were ten.
CROMWELL: I was nine going on ten. Because the south still was pretty conservative at that time.
DEUTSCH: Also New York City to Knoxville, I mean …
CROMWELL: There were still a lot of Daughters of Confederate Soldiers and they still didn’t like Yankees. They included me in that as a group.
DEUTSCH: You really felt disliked?
CROMWELL: By certain elderly women, absolutely. Not all of them. Certainly I can think of a few that were really very nice to me. It was a bit of a challenge for sure.
DEUTSCH: Where were your parents from? Were they New Yorkers?
CROMWELL: They were both from Elkins, West Virginia. So I grew up without an accent. No Bronx accent, no Tennessee accent. I stayed in Knoxville. After I graduated from high school, I went to the University of Tennessee.
DEUTSCH: Did you have sisters and brothers?
CROMWELL: No. Only child.
DEUTSCH: So you went to high school in Knoxville?
CROMWELL: I went to West High School. With the exception of three years in high school, I was able to walk to school, which certainly is one reason for living on Capitol Hill.
DEUTSCH: Absolutely. What were your activities in high school?
CROMWELL: I was captain of the tennis team and I pitched on the baseball team. I did theatrical things in terms of stagecraft [and worked on the school newspaper].
DEUTSCH: I just want to get back to baseball for a minute. Did you say you were a pitcher?
DEUTSCH: Is that an interest that stayed with you?
CROMWELL: Well, yes and no. I didn’t have a fastball. All I had was control. So by the time I got to college, I was not effective. But I did have a four and one record my senior year.
DEUTSCH: That’s good.
CROMWELL: Yeah, it worked.
DEUTSCH: Are you still a baseball fan?
CROMWELL: I am. I am indeed. Not to the extent that a lot of friends and neighbors are, but I do play fantasy baseball.
DEUTSCH: Do you go to the Nats [Washington Nationals baseball team]?
CROMWELL: Occasionally, occasionally. I’m still someone who grew up finding out baseball scores by going into the local pool hall in Knoxville and watching them put up inning-by-inning scores on a board behind the bar and listening to the radio. So I’m more a captive of the radio side of the game than anything.
DEUTSCH: And theatricals?
CROMWELL: I worked at the University of Tennessee Arena Stage both as a high schooler and partly in college.
DEUTSCH: Backstage or onstage?
CROMWELL: Backstage, backstage.
DEUTSCH: Crew? You were on the stage crew?
CROMWELL: Yes, yes, crew. Definitely.
DEUTSCH: At the University of Tennessee, what did you … University of Tennessee in Knoxville?
CROMWELL: I started out as an engineering major and ended up as a political science major and did graduate work in history.
DEUTSCH: Was that a disappointment to your father that you switched from engineering?
CROMWELL: No, I think he realized that I probably had a preference for political science. Inductive math was my downfall because I could never remember the formulas. [In] deductive math, if I couldn’t remember the formula, I could recreate it.
DEUTSCH: What was your downfall?
CROMWELL: Inductive mathematics where they gave you a solution and you had to figure out the formulas that enable you to get the solution. In other words, go back to the beginning. That did require you to memorize formulas which for whatever reason was not something I could do. But with deductive, I didn’t have to memorize the formula because, if I couldn’t memorize it, I could create it.
DEUTSCH: So you majored in political science and by now, what year are we? You graduated from college …
CROMWELL: [1960.] Because I switched, I think I graduated half a year late. The last year, I was the president of the Interfraternity Council, which was interesting because I coordinated the planning for the first [racially] integrated fraternity and sorority rush.
DEUTSCH: Wow. That was probably a fairly big deal.
CROMWELL: It was, but it worked fairly well because we had a Jewish fraternity on campus and it was quite easy to say, “Sorry guys, you do this all the time. You have people coming through rush and visiting your house and there are people you’re not going to go after to pledge. The same things are going to happen here. You can pledge who you want, but you have to open your rush.”
DEUTSCH: What was the percentage of African American students at the University of Tennessee? Pretty small.
CROMWELL: Pretty small but that was the first—I don’t know the numbers. [The first desegregated undergraduate classes began at UTK in January 1961.] In fact, I moved on before the rush occurred. I graduated.
DEUTSCH: Did it go smoothly?
CROMWELL: As far as I know, it went very smoothly. I was told it went very smoothly.
DEUTSCH: Moving from New York to the South, was that something you were aware of—race relations?
CROMWELL: Yes, but my mother, being a very liberal person, participated in a number of interfaith things, including working with black churches. I was actually an assistant camp counselor in 1952 in an integrated camp setting.
DEUTSCH: In Tennessee?
CROMWELL: In Tennessee, which was …
DEUTSCH: What was the camp?
CROMWELL: It was a church camp. A Unitarian Church camp.
DEUTSCH: Was she a Unitarian?
DEUTSCH: No, but that was kind of that world.
CROMWELL: That was the way it worked out. I did have several black friends before I graduated from high school, but not through high school—through neighborhood activities.
DEUTSCH: Did they go on to college?
CROMWELL: You know, I don’t know because they didn’t go to my high school, which was not integrated at the time. We had a lot of poor [white] people who came from the mills. Very poor people. I went to school, in grade school—fifth and sixth grade—with kids that would come to school without shoes. But they essentially were mill people. Actually, thinking about it, at least two of the kids in elementary school lived in the shadow of Neyland Stadium, where you get 100,000 people on a Saturday these days. I’m sure there’s nothing left of the woods and the ravine where these kids lived.
DEUTSCH: What’s the name of the stadium?
CROMWELL: Neyland Stadium. It’s the University of Tennessee Stadium. I lived close to the university, so I could always walk to wherever …
DEUTSCH: Because your dad worked there.
CROMWELL: Yes, he walked to work. I walked to grade school and middle school.
DEUTSCH: You were in a fraternity, I assume?
DEUTSCH: What was the fraternity?
CROMWELL: Kappa Alpha.
DEUTSCH: And you were president of the Interfraternity Council?
DEUTSCH: After you graduated, grad school?
CROMWELL: I did six months in the Army, basic training. Then in January ’62, I came to Washington as a management intern with the Office of the Secretary in the Department of Agriculture.
DEUTSCH: You did six months of basic training but then didn’t …
CROMWELL: Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Yes. It was Army Reserve.
DEUTSCH: Army Reserve, okay.
CROMWELL: I joined the Army Reserve. I guess that’s a way to put it.
DEUTSCH: ’62: Vietnam wasn’t even—I mean things were happening but were you …
CROMWELL: You’re talking about Korea now. The end of Korea.
DEUTSCH: Korea, yeah.
CROMWELL: Korea was earlier. It was in the early 50s. Vietnam was beginning to heat up but not as it subsequently became.
DEUTSCH: So you came to DC as a management intern, where? At the Department of …
CROMWELL: Yes, in the Office of Personnel in the Office of the Secretary.
DEUTSCH: Personnel. Office of Secretary of … ?
CROMWELL: Agriculture. [U.S] Department of Agriculture.
DEUTSCH: Which is right down here.
DEUTSCH: Is that what brought you to Capitol Hill?
CROMWELL: No. I was married in June of ’62, and my wife and I found a place near Dupont Circle to live because I’d been living with one of my college roommates. So we lived for a year in Dupont Circle and then moved to Foggy Bottom.
DEUTSCH: How chic, except it wasn’t chic then.
CROMWELL: Actually it wasn’t so bad. Dupont Circle wasn’t so bad in those years either. I remember my wife then walked from our house to GW [George Washington] Hospital to deliver the first child. It was only about two blocks. But by that time, after six months at Agriculture, I interviewed for and took a job as the Assistant Executive Secretary of the Peace Corps.
DEUTSCH: And this was early days of the …
CROMWELL: Yes, July of ’62.
DEUTSCH: Assistant [to the] …
CROMWELL: Executive Secretary, who at that time was a man named William Warner, who wrote several books … Beautiful Swimmers.
DEUTSCH: What was his name?
CROMWELL: William Warner, William W. Warner. He wrote several books and probably the most famous one here is called Beautiful Swimmers about the [crabs] in the Chesapeake Bay.
DEUTSCH: I’ve certainly heard of that. So that was a pretty exciting job.
CROMWELL: Absolutely. I stayed with the Peace Corps for six years.
DEUTSCH: Did you get to travel overseas at all?
CROMWELL: I did. After a year as Assistant Executive Secretary, I asked Shriver [Sargent Shriver, Peace Corps Director] if I could transfer to the Africa Region. And I’ve forgotten why I had to do that. We had a new Executive Secretary coming in. I think I had to go to him and ask if I could do that because he probably wanted some continuity. When I did that, I became the desk officer for the French speaking countries in Africa, most of the French speaking countries in Africa. Ivory Coast, Senegal, Guinea. Actually, I [also] had Morocco and Tunisia.
DEUTSCH: Nice! So did you get to go?
CROMWELL: I took my first trip overseas to Africa in ’64. September of ’64.
DEUTSCH: Probably a pretty exciting time to be traveling around Africa.
CROMWELL: I flew over with a group of volunteers on a DC-4. We had engine trouble and landed in the Azores, which was convenient. I went along the west coast of Africa on that trip.
DEUTSCH: Came back?
CROMWELL: Came back, and after a year as a desk officer, I became the deputy director in Niger, famous now for yellowcake [uranium].
DEUTSCH: And so moved there?
CROMWELL: Yes. I lived in Niamey for two years. Traveled throughout the country and other parts of West Africa.
DEUTSCH: And your family is with you?
CROMWELL: My wife and son were with me for a year, but she became pregnant and because of medical complications they shipped her back to the states. Our daughter was born in Knoxville because she went to live with her parents.
DEUTSCH: So that must have been interesting, Niger.
CROMWELL: I loved it. It was a great time to be in that part of Africa, in the area called the Sahel, which is the southern part of the Sahara. You learn very quickly what an environment can do very quickly. How it can change and how man and beast both have to adapt, fairly readily, to climate change.
DEUTSCH: Were you aware of climate change then?
CROMWELL: Well, on the edge of the Sahel you had it year in and year out. Sometimes it rained, sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes the grasslands grew, sometimes they didn’t.
DEUTSCH: Whatever’s happening. That’s the defining …
CROMWELL: It’s in the northern part of the country. We had several volunteers in the north, one of them building wells. It became very apparent to him, and then to me when I visited, that building deep wells was not a thing to do because in good years you pumped a lot of water. Tribes had a lot of cattle. Then in a down year, the tribes would come into the well with their cattle, eat all the food on the way in, and die of starvation on the way out. Very unforgiving and very hard to plan for, particularly when you interrupt the cycle of life that had been going on for a thousand years. We ran programs in public health, as did USAID [United States Agency for International Development]. So you began to see a human population increase with …
DEUTSCH: Improvement in the health.
CROMWELL: Improvements in health, which meant population increases, which meant need for more food, which then becomes difficult.
DEUTSCH: Did you end up feeling ambivalent about what we were doing there?
CROMWELL: Well, certainly about the well project. We pulled out. That’s the well projects in the north in the Sahara. Not the southern part of the country, where we also had volunteers building wells, supervising the construction of wells. Then we had a variety of programs—nursing, public health. But it was the northern part of the country that really brought home how fragile an environment can be year in and year out. When I came home in ’66, after a while I became Director of Training for Africa. That was the time when we were running training programs in the United States.
DEUTSCH: For the Peace Corps.
CROMWELL: Yes. After a couple of years, I moved from there to the Teacher Corps, which was then part of [U.S. Department of] Health, Education and Welfare [HEW].
DEUTSCH: Was that a domestic …
CROMWELL: Yes. [National] Teacher Corps.
DEUTSCH: Sort of the forerunner of Teach for America …
CROMWELL: Teacher programs. And then I did a variety of other programs including environmental education, environmental impact statements, and historic preservation. In the end, the last job I had at HHS [Department of Health and Human Services, which replaced parts of HEW] was with the Administration on Aging in IT policy.
DEUTSCH: IT policy?
CROMWELL: Information technology policy.
DEUTSCH: Making internet available for people of the age, that type thing. So hold each of our hands as we adjust to new technology?
CROMWELL: Not that directly. It was the information technology application within the organization itself within the Administration on Aging.
DEUTSCH: So your whole career was with the Federal Government?
DEUTSCH: I assume you are retired now.
CROMWELL: Yes. I think I retired 12 years ago.
DEUTSCH: So you had how many years?
CROMWELL: Well from ’62 to however it was. I think it was probably about 40 years, but I got credit for summer internships that I did with the federal government while I was in college. And I also got credit for my six months of …
CROMWELL: Yes. I’ll tell you one story about my beginning with the Peace Corps and then maybe we should move on to Capitol Hill.
DEUTSCH: Yes, but I love all this stuff.
CROMWELL: I was part of the Army Reserve. My unit was in Knoxville, Tennessee. I could just see myself being called up to have summer camp with a tank corps or some such thing. So I went out and found an intelligence unit in Arlington to join. This was probably April, maybe. You’re supposed to contact your unit. Maybe it was even earlier. Maybe it was February when I found this unit in Arlington and put in the papers to get a transfer. Nothing happened.
So I get a job offer for the Peace Corps. I’m supposed to report on a Monday in July. And then I get a call from my intelligence unit: “Your papers finally arrived and you’re due to report to summer camp on Saturday morning.” Well, if I went to summer camp with the intelligence unit, I would not get a job with the Peace Corps. The offer would be rescinded because Peace Corps wouldn’t hire anybody that had anything to do with intelligence.
So Shriver wrote a letter on my behalf saying how important I was to the organization. And I took the letter to the rendezvous Saturday morning—I got the letter Friday evening, I guess, and I took it out there Saturday morning. Letter in hand, but still fearing that I might well have to ship out with the troops in the trucks.
I found a sergeant that seemed to be in charge and I handed him the letter. He read through the letter and said, “Nah, get on the truck.” No “Sargent” was going to tell him what to do, right? So then I saw a young lieutenant walking along the floor and I called out to him and gave him the letter. He shook his head till he got down to the signature and he said, “Yeah, get out of here.” Phew. So that’s how close I came to not having a job with the Peace Corps.
DEUTSCH: I guess you felt very fondly toward Sargent Shriver.
CROMWELL: Uh huh. I certainly did. He was marvelous guy to work for.
DEUTSCH: When did Capitol Hill …
CROMWELL: When I came back from overseas in ’66, I had friends—Charlotte and Joseph Scott—who lived in a Philadelphia Row [100 block of 11th Street SE] house. I guess I had met them before I went overseas or maybe when I was back on leave. They encouraged me to find a house to buy on Capitol Hill. Without my wife seeing it, I bought 26 Seventh Street SE, which is at the corner of Seventh and A [Streets] SE.
DEUTSCH: Why without your wife seeing it?
CROMWELL: Because she was still in Knoxville. She had not come to live here then.
DEUTSCH: Did she like it when she saw it?
CROMWELL: No. [Laughter]
DEUTSCH: Too urban?
CROMWELL: As far as I know that wasn’t so much the problem. The problem with that corner house is it was very vertical. The back half of the house was a separate unit, still is. The front half was very vertical. So she didn’t like that. And there was no back yard to it. Didn’t like that. So we decided that she would find a house she liked and we would sell the one we were in and buy another one.
DEUTSCH: So, what did she find?
CROMWELL: 137 12th Street SE. So we sold the Seventh Street house after about a year and a half and bought the one on 12th, which had a nice, deep back yard. But it was three units. Before we moved in, we did a fair amount of work in it including taking out the walls around the small living room.
DEUTSCH: So you made the three units into one house?
CROMWELL: Yes. We had no tenants in there when we bought it … actually, they may still have been in it …
DEUTSCH: Is this the same block with the big funeral parlor?
CROMWELL: No. That’s 11th Street. Twelfth Street is next to the old St. Mark’s Manse, 137 is next to the manse. So Jim Adams [then Rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 301 A Street SE] was our neighbor for years.
DEUTSCH: That’s a nice block.
CROMWELL: Twelfth Street is wide at that point. It was fairly middle class at the time. Pete Glickert lived across the street. The Dranitzkys lived across the street, although probably after I came. Ruth Ann Overbeck came soon after that. The McCulloughs lived next door. The next block was owned pretty much by developers who had bought that …
END OF TAPE 1/SIDE 1
TAPE 1/SIDE 2
CROMWELL: So, the 200 block of 12th Street. There were a lot of renters in the 200 block. They tended to be lower income and black. Our block had maybe one or two black households. The next block had a large number. Then Philadelphia Row was in the alley behind us.
DEUTSCH: So, by now are your kids in school? How old are the kids?
CROMWELL: The kids, Lawrence and Kimberly. One was born in ’63, the other in ’65. So by ’68, Lawrence … I can’t remember if they started in ’68 or ’69 at the school across the river that was popular then. The farm school.
DEUTSCH: Oh, Burgundy Farm.
CROMWELL: Burgundy Farm, yes, Burgundy Farm Country Day School [Alexandria, VA]. So that’s where they both went for a couple of years.
DEUTSCH: Did Jim Adams’ kids go there?
CROMWELL: I don’t think so because they weren’t part of our car pool.
DEUTSCH: Maybe they were younger. I don’t know.
CROMWELL: They were a little older. Now I’m not so sure of that. I think they were a little older. After a while at Burgundy Farm … [Kim attended Brent public school from fifth through seventh grades], and Lawrence went to St. Peter’s.
DEUTSCH: Why did you make that change?
CROMWELL: I’m sure there were multiple reasons. Clearly one of them [was] we did not think that Burgundy Farm was the right school for Lawrence. But there were probably multiple reasons involved with it. Getting to know more people around the Hill I’m sure was one of them.
DEUTSCH: And they were certainly closer to home, which is nice.
DEUTSCH: Are you starting to get involved in neighborhood activities at this point?
CROMWELL: You know, my wife did. She’s the one that got involved, probably not to a great extent, with the [Capitol Hill] Restoration Society. I particularly remember involvement in the protest against [razing] the Blue Room [Mary’s Blue Room at East Capitol and Fifth Streets NE], where you now live.
DEUTSCH: Ah, yes. [Three townhouses were built on the Blue Room site, one of which is Stephanie Deutsch’s house.] What year was that?
CROMWELL: I would like to tell you, but I can’t remember. It was early 70s I’m sure [it was 1972]. And I’m sure I can find out.
DEUTSCH: I can find out too. That seems to have been the organizing event [that prompted the creation of the Historic District].
CROMWELL: That was one, but there were earlier things even before I arrived on the Hill. The 11th Street Freeway was a biggie. And there are interviews with people that you can find out on the web of course that know a lot more about that part of the history of the Hill than I do. I pretty much stuck to work for quite a while.
DEUTSCH: What got you out of being stuck to work?
CROMWELL: Soccer on the Hill.
DEUTSCH: Soccer on the Hill, okay.
CROMWELL: I became the coach of the oldest group, which was players born in ’62 and ’63.
DEUTSCH: I assume this was because your son wanted to play.
CROMWELL: Yes, absolutely. I got a call one day when he first signed up saying, could I come down and help. I said, “I don’t know anything about soccer.” And whoever it was that called me—it may have been Bryan [Cassidy]—said, “Not to worry. You don’t need to know anything about soccer. We just need to keep order here.” [Laughter]
I went down one Saturday, I guess, for practice, and Tuesday I got a call saying the coach had quit. Thus began my soccer career. I would like to tell you what year that is but it was ’73, ’74 or ’75 and I don’t remember which.
DEUTSCH: Somewhere early 70s, let’s say early 70s.
CROMWELL: I have a photograph of our first team.
DEUTSCH: What was the team called?
CROMWELL: I’m sorry, I don’t remember. I do have a team photograph somewhere.
DEUTSCH: Was it fun? You enjoy it?
CROMWELL: I did enjoy it. Half the team was middle class and all but one [of those], white. One kid from the Senegalese Embassy. And the other half was black with one exception. One white kid that was lower income. The kids came from inner …
DEUTSCH: The team was almost entirely black?
CROMWELL: Half of it was black. A couple of the kids came from Anacostia. So it was often a matter of going out and getting them as opposed to always having them show up for games, and at that point in time we were playing in Alexandria. Even Soccer on the Hill was organized by Bryan to provide a base, and I was a registrar too for Soccer on the Hill for five, six, seven years. Because we had to get player registration to play in the Alexandria leagues.
Eventually Soccer on the Hill set up its own league when it had enough children to form groups for six- and seven- and eight-year-olds. But aside from registration, I didn’t have anything to do with that. I stuck with the coaching. It was, I’d say, ’62s and ’63s [players born in those years], but we didn’t have enough players for any one-year age group. So one year I’d have the ’62s and ’63s and the next year I’d have the ’63s and ’64s. And the poor ’62s didn’t get to play for a year because there was no team for them to play on.
DEUTSCH: Because there just weren’t enough kids.
CROMWELL: Right. Not enough kids. We needed two years running to make up a team. One year it would be ’64s and ’65s, then the next year it’d be ’64s and ’63s. You had two-year groups for a long time. I don’t know how long it was before there was a team comprised of only one-year age group.
DEUTSCH: How long did you coach?
CROMWELL: Well, I tried to figure that out. I can remember when my son was 18, so I would still have been [coaching], even though they weren’t playing in Alexandria then. When he was 18, that would have been ’83. The last game I remember doing with them was a game against the crew of a Danish tall ship that was here, which we played at Fort McNair. I was able to set up the soccer field on the parade ground at Fort McNair, which Soccer on the Hill subsequently used. By then I was close …
DEUTSCH: How did we do against the crew of the Danish tall ship?
CROMWELL: I think we won. You know it was a group of 16-, 17- and 18-year old kids. It could have been ’82. Could have been ’81. We had a good time playing with the crew. Lee Mailloux for example, was one of the players. Lee’s still here on the Hill.
CROMWELL: Lee Mailloux.
DEUTSCH: I don’t know him. How do you spell the last name?
CROMWELL: M A I L L O U X. He’s a contractor here on the Hill. You see his signs all over the place.
DEUTSCH: Oh right. Yeah, yeah. He was one of the players?
CROMWELL: Mother still lives in the 700 block of A [Street]. Lynn Mailloux.
DEUTSCH: What’s the first name?
CROMWELL: Her name is Lynn Mailloux.
DEUTSCH: Lynn is the mom?
CROMWELL: Lee is the …
DEUTSCH: Lee, L E E.
CROMWELL: L E E, yes. Lynn Mailloux was a Jaynette. You remember the Jaynettes [a female quintet founded by Hill resident Parker Jayne]?
DEUTSCH: Oh I sure do.
CROMWELL: But in 1978, Connie—now Connie Tipton, then Connie Broadstone—formed a women’s team out of Soccer on the Hill mothers.
DEUTSCH: Women’s team. Soccer on the Hill moms.
CROMWELL: Women’s team called the Eastern Market Express. We played our first game, I think, in the fall of ’78. Then the two other women’s teams formed after that because there was so much interest on the part of mothers and older women.
DEUTSCH: Were you coaching?
CROMWELL: Yes. I coached the Eastern Market Express and then Capitol Gains, and DC Dawn came along. The second was Capitol Gains, and Dave Garrison coached the Capitol Gains. For the DC Dawn, I found someone downtown to coach them. His name I forget now.
DEUTSCH: So you coached the Eastern Market Express.
CROMWELL: Yes. And we played, of course, in the Washington Area Women’s Soccer League. The team lasted for six, seven years maybe.
DEUTSCH: Was it easier to coach moms than to coach little boys or growing boys?
CROMWELL: Certainly, crowd control was a problem with boys. [Laughter] Then 16-year-olds could be difficult when it came to games. I actually took a women’s team to Belgium in 1979. They were mostly players from a team called the Tidal Basin Blues, which was the first women’s team in DC.
DEUTSCH: So it was city-wide?
CROMWELL: It was city-wide, yes.
DEUTSCH: How did you do over in Belgium?
CROMWELL: Well, we had a good time. [Laughter] I don’t remember much about the games, but I do remember we had a good time. We stopped in England on the way over, in London. Stayed in Watford, and then went to Belgium and played games in Belgium and in the Netherlands. We also started national women’s soccer tournaments down on West Potomac Park that ran [1981–1985]. And we had teams from all over the country coming to play women’s soccer here. I subsequently was on the first USSF Women’s Committee.
DEUTSCH: You were on the first what?
CROMWELL: United States Soccer Federation Women’s Committee. The first women’s committee the Federation created. Which had to do with national teams, you now know. I also was a referee, which was probably more fun than anything else. Starting with youth league games and refereeing adult games. That could be challenging too. You learn a lot being a referee. They recommended it for anyone who wanted to coach. Go be a referee and then be a coach.
[Backing up] we skipped all of ’68 and the riots.
DEUTSCH: Okay, let’s go back. So you’re fairly new on the Hill now.
CROMWELL: In ’68, we’d just moved into the 12th Street house because it was in April. I was working for the Peace Corps. The riots started on a Friday afternoon [April 5, 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Thursday, April 4, 1968]. I could see smoke from my, what, sixth floor windows at the time looking out on Connecticut Avenue. I had a neighbor who drove a little Volkswagen Beetle. She called me and said, “Do you want a ride home? I’m leaving.” Which was about 4:30, and I said, “Sure, but I have a problem.” I had a black secretary who lived in Anacostia and she was terrified. Absolutely terrified. I said, “Can we take my secretary home?”
So we drove out to Anacostia and crossed the 11th Street bridge and probably six, eight blocks into Anacostia to deliver her to her apartment building and drove back. It was as quiet as could be. I can only remember seeing one person on the street the whole way out and the whole way back.
CROMWELL: There must have been more. I just have this one memory of the street being eerily empty.
DEUTSCH: So when did you realize what was going on? So you got home easily.
CROMWELL: Yes, well I had Peace Corps volunteers in training in Detroit, particularly in Detroit and Miami, who were affected by the riots there. They were kind of pinned down. And there was gunfire there. Most of those cities. I don’t remember gunfire here. Maybe there was a little.
DEUTSCH: But when did you become aware of what was going on in DC? As you drove home?
CROMWELL: No, because we saw the smoke.
DEUTSCH: Because you saw the smoke, you knew.
CROMWELL: We knew what was happening because it had happened in other places. I’m sure somebody came running in to tell us. It was a clear day. So we all, neighbors, were all worried about it, whatever. We were renovating the house then. I wanted to make sure it looked like it was inhabited. Beyond that we didn’t do much.
DEUTSCH: And the riots didn’t come down.
CROMWELL: They didn’t come to 12th Street [SE]. The next morning about 10:00, I saw smoke across Lincoln Park. So I walked across the park and into a crowd of maybe 100 people watching a house on fire. I worked my way toward the front of the crowd and finally asked somebody, “What’s going on?” They said, “It’s an electrical fire.”
As I turned to leave, a television reporter followed by a guy with one of these big cameras came running up to me and asked, “What happened?” And I said, “Oh, it’s an electrical fire.” He turned around and ran back. I thought, “Why did they come to me?” I was the only white face in the crowd.
That afternoon, a neighbor—and the curfew was 4:00 Saturday afternoon—a neighbor said, “They’ve asked for volunteers at the local precinct,” which is the one at Fifth and [E Streets SE], which still had holding cells. So he and I went down and we helped process people who were arrested for curfew violations. We had only one person who was at all difficult. He was an older [man and a] congressman’s assistant. Probably Chief of Staff. I’ve forgotten what he said he was and who he worked for.
After maybe three hours—we were processing in the back, not the front—we were listening to police officers make some very not uncommon, unpleasant …
DEUTSCH: Was the police force entirely white at that point?
CROMWELL: Pretty much so, yes. Very unpleasant comments about race. We thought, “This is going to be very difficult.” But we were told about 7:00 that they found two replacements for us and we could leave. As we left, we noticed our two replacements were two young black guys!!
CROMWELL: Yes. I don’t know where they came from. I don’t know what happened, but they were just [assigned] in the back of the police station, where we’d been …
DEUTSCH: To listen to all that nasty talk.
CROMWELL: Yes. I don’t know whether it continued or not when they were present.
DEUTSCH: Maybe not.
CROMWELL: Maybe not.
DEUTSCH: How long did the curfew last?
CROMWELL: I really don’t know. I think it probably went off at eight the next morning and on again at eight the next night, Sunday night.
DEUTSCH: So a couple of nights.
CROMWELL: Yes. My neighbor Matt McCullough was an assistant district attorney. I don’t know how it happened, but he came over, probably about 8:00 Sunday night and said, “Would you like to go on a tour of city?” And [I] said, “Sure.” I don’t know what we did with the children. Maybe [my] wife stayed home with their two kids and our two kids, because I think my wife [did not go] with me. [Matt’s wife Solveig was with us.] I think there were four police cars that pulled up out front. I got in the first one with the dean of the Howard University Law School at the time.
DEUTSCH: Do you remember his name?
CROMWELL: Her name. She was subsequently Secretary of HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development].
DEUTSCH: Oh, Patricia Harris?
CROMWELL: Yes, Pat Harris and her husband. We spent about an hour driving through all parts of the city. As we went up Seventh Street [NW] Pat would tell us what she expected to be on fire in the next block because she knew which stores her students hated.
DEUTSCH: Hated because they were run by unfriendly white people?
CROMWELL: Yes, exactly. Same thing apparently happened on H Street [NE] and I can’t remember whether she knew the stores on H Street to know which ones would be on fire. Apparently it was very well planned on the part …
DEUTSCH: Of course, once the fires started …
CROMWELL: There would be collateral damage, but the ones that were firebombed were the ones that, along Seventh and along H, were the ones that were despised by, particularly the Howard University students, but I’m sure high school students. And there of course would be other collateral damages as other kids joined in. The pharmacy at the corner of East Capitol and North Carolina, which is now a condo building, their windows were broken and they never reopened. There was a High’s, I think, in the next block of 11th that was—I don’t think it was firebombed. I think it too just suffered broken windows, but I think it closed. Didn’t reopen.
After our tour through the various parts of Washington [of] every place that they knew of that was on fire, we retreated to Anacostia to, as I remember, an 11th floor penthouse apartment that the Harrises lived in. We sat there on the terrace, drinking wine, I suppose, and it was high enough [so] you could see smoke clouds over the city. Just flat smoke clouds. Every once in a while a lick of flame would come up through the clouds. And somebody would say, “Oh, that’s Seventh Street.” Another would say, “Oh, that’s H Street.” Watching the city burn.
DEUTSCH: Who was her husband?
CROMWELL: I don’t remember his first name. Pat Harris’ husband? [He was attorney, judge and law professor William Beasley Harris.]
DEUTSCH: Yes, but he was part of this?
CROMWELL: Yes, oh yeah. Why I ended up in the car with them … Nobody was in the front seat. It was three people per car.
DEUTSCH: So you ended up with her.
CROMWELL: I ended up with her, yes.
DEUTSCH: What was the mood?
DEUTSCH: Somber. Yes, I guess.
CROMWELL: Very somber. There were some incidents on Capitol Hill, none which affected me, with the riots. But the next day [Monday] with a National Guardsman on the corner of 12th and Independence, about 2:00 in the afternoon, one of our neighbors [Houston Shoaf] had gone out for grocery shopping and [his wife, Beatrice Shoaf, age 61] was still at home. They were in their 60s, I think.
DEUTSCH: White people?
CROMWELL: White people. Some kids came along, thought nobody was home, kicked in the front door. [Another neighbor, Edgar Brown, 67, followed the kids into the house. The kids beat Mrs. Shoaf severely; she died on April 11, 1968. Mr. Brown was also injured and died two months later.]
DEUTSCH: Oh! On 12th Street?
CROMWELL: Uh huh. That’s in Ruth Ann’s [Overbeck] oral history. I should look up the name of the guy because I think that the house number is wrong in that oral history.
DEUTSCH: So that was that first block of 12th Street below the park?
CROMWELL: The 100 block. He was on the east side of the street.
DEUTSCH: So this would be like Monday afternoon?
CROMWELL: Monday afternoon about 2:00, yes.
DEUTSCH: Killed him with a gun?
CROMWELL: [No, she was beaten to death.]
DEUTSCH: Oh dear. So that was unsettling.
CROMWELL: I’ll find out the name and the address. I know I have that somewhere. After that [the riots] it was kind of business as usual. I’m sure I went to work on Monday. I don’t think the Federal Government was closed on Monday [correction: it was closed but he did go to work].
DEUTSCH: Were you alarmed? It obviously didn’t make you flee to the suburbs.
CROMWELL: No. Aside from seeing the impact on H and Seventh and 14th, those were other areas. I didn’t live there, I didn’t work there. I know it bothered some people that that had occurred. I don’t remember ever thinking, “Well we should leave, city’s too dangerous.” So where are we now? Back to the early 80s.
DEUTSCH: Early 80s.
CROMWELL: Following a divorce I bought a boat and …
DEUTSCH: You got divorced?
CROMWELL: Yes. I bought a boat and lived at Capital Yacht Club. At that point I couldn’t have afforded, I don’t think, to live on Capitol Hill. I wanted to be close by to the kids.
DEUTSCH: That’s down where? Under the 11th Street bridge?
CROMWELL: No. Not on the Anacostia. On the shipping channel [Washington Channel] near the 14th Street bridge where the fish market is.
DEUTSCH: That was rather exotic. What was the boat called?
CROMWELL: Mine was called Perfect Pitch, which has a soccer connotation as well as an engine connotation.
DEUTSCH: What kind of boat?
CROMWELL: It was a houseboat. I met my current wife, Marsha Crossley, at that time, and she had a house boat called Serenity. We soon had them both on the same pier, finger pier. It probably took actually a couple of years for that to happen. I also had a sailboat which we had kept down in Virginia. But I eventually brought it up and so we had three boats.
CROMWELL: Sailboat and two houseboats.
DEUTSCH: What was the sailboat called?
CROMWELL: Moon Chaser.
DEUTSCH: So you had three boats.
CROMWELL: Yes. The original name—it was a Maine-built sailboat that had been called originally Moon Cusser.
DEUTSCH: Moon what?
CROMWELL: Moon Cusser. The rum runners that would run off Long Island Sound cursed the moon.
DEUTSCH: Because it made it too light?
CROMWELL: Yes. The sailboat had been the committee boat for the Annapolis Yacht Club in the early 60s because it had a lot of deck space. I would guess it was Kimberly who did not like the name Moon Cusser. Moon Chaser seemed to work out better.
DEUTSCH: Now speaking of Kimberly, Cindy came along somewhere along in this mix.
CROMWELL: Cindy was born in 1980. Just at the time we were getting a divorce. Nice timing, eh?
DEUTSCH: Yes, well. So you were living down on the water. How long did that …
CROMWELL: From ’81 to ’89.
DEUTSCH: Wow. Long time.
CROMWELL: Long time. We bought this house [25 Fifth Street SE] in ’86 when it was seven units.
DEUTSCH: So when did you and Marsha get married?
CROMWELL: We became a couple, probably by ’84, at which point she was Commodore of the Capital Yacht Club. The first female commodore. We didn’t actually marry until ’94.
DEUTSCH: Capital Yacht Club?
DEUTSCH: Is that “AL” or “OL”?
DEUTSCH: So you got married in ’84?
CROMWELL: No, became a couple in ’84. We bought this house together in ’86. We weren’t actually married until ’94.
DEUTSCH: And it was seven units when you bought this house?
CROMWELL: Seven units when we bought it, yes.
DEUTSCH: So that was a bit of a challenge.
CROMWELL: Yes, but it certainly carried the house payments for a few years. We first moved in in ’89 when I believe three of the seven units were vacant. And I think a fourth one very quickly became vacant. They hadn’t done much to change the layout of the house because all they did was close off doors going upstairs. There was a unit on each side [of the stairs] plus one in the basement. When we moved in, we still had renters on the top floor. I must say the house had suffered from lack of care, particularly during the couple of years preceding our purchase.
DEUTSCH: What do you know about the history of the house? Well, you told me it was built in …
CROMWELL: It was built in  along with the two on A Street next to it by a man whose name was Charles Flemmer. He was from Wurtemburg [Germany]. He was a carpenter. Came to New Jersey first in the late 1850s, early 1860s. Eventually came to Washington. He bought Lot 1 [of Square 817 of the original survey of 1792], which is where these three houses are, plus the one next door [23 Fifth Street SE] which he built in 1878, although it may have been a carriage house when these were built. It had been owned up until he bought it in —it had been owned by the daughter of the original proprietor as were many vacant lots on Capitol Hill. [Her name was] Martha McKnight.
END OF TAPE 1/SIDE 2
TAPE 2/SIDE 1
CROMWELL: Talking about Charles Flemmer who built this house at 25 Fifth Street SE. [25 Fifth Street has a center staircase, 418 A has a side stair, and 416 A, the narrow one, has a cross stair.] He also built the houses at 412 and 414 [A Street SE] in 1881. His initials are in the apex of the houses, along with the date 1881. That was the eastern half of Lot 2 in Square 817.
Flemmer also built other houses here on the Hill. His houses are noted because of the [banded cross pattern under the roofline] that he put along the cornice in brick. So you see some like the three [that were built together in 1878] in the 600 block of A on the south side [603, 605 and 607 A Street SE] and one for sure at the corner of Fifth and Constitution [then B Street NE]. There were others.
DEUTSCH: Where do you see the cross?
CROMWELL: Along the cornice in brick, [as] opposed to having a metal cornice as you saw in a lot of houses of that period. He put his [cross] design in brick. [A parapet on 25 Fifth Street hides the roof from view on the A Street side, but the cornice is visible to someone standing on the street.]
DEUTSCH: But this was originally a private home, not …
CROMWELL: It was originally a private home.
DEUTSCH: And a very large one.
CROMWELL: Yes. Flemmer lived next door in 418 A. A doctor named Samuel [McKim] lived here from 1875 until he died in 1900. He had been a doctor in the District for a while. Was head of a unit here during the Civil War. Commanded the unit that protected the Bladensburg Bridge, as I recall. He was a psychiatrist [and a surgeon].
DEUTSCH: That’s a bit unusual.
CROMWELL: His office was in the house. So this house had, originally, the kitchen and dining room at the ground level—what the French would call a “rez de chaussee” [“the floor level on the road”]. And then the first floor, which we’re on now, is double parlors. Then two bedrooms on the second floor, two bedrooms on the third floor.
DEUTSCH: Where was the office?
CROMWELL: Well, it was either the room we’re in or what we now have as the dining room, which with a back porch had a back entrance to it. My guess is that that’s where his office was. In 1880, there were the doctor, his wife, three children, three boarders and a servant who lived here. Four boarders, I’m sorry, four boarders and a servant. The porches, I’m sure, were sleeping porches. They liked to sleep outside then.
DEUTSCH: We would too if we didn’t have air-conditioning.
CROMWELL: Three women and a man, I believe, were the boarders. The servant was a young kid. He was 12 or 14. He probably slept in the kitchen. McKim was his name. Samuel Auchmetry Harrison McKim.
When he died, being renters, his wife and daughter were still at home [and] couldn’t afford to live here. So they moved into a house that, I believe, is 504 Independence—then, of course, B Street, 504 B [Street SE].
Mrs. Flemmer didn’t die until 1920, but I think in 1902 or 1903, as I recall, she rented this house to the city to use as a school.
DEUTSCH: When was that, 1902?
CROMWELL: Early 1900s, 1902, 1903. I have a house history [1902–1918]. I should have gotten it out before you arrived. It was used first as a home ec [economics] school for seventh and eight graders who came here from surrounding schools. They must have had home ec for two days a week. Then it was also used as the school for—I’ve forgotten the term they used for them—but mentally ill …
CROMWELL: Yes, I’m not sure they used the term retarded, but it was a school for kids that were having a hard time in your normal school. It lasted that way for maybe 15 years. Rented to the city. I don’t recall what she did with it after World War I, but before she died she must have had some more renters in it. Then it was bought by at least one person and eventually bought by someone in 1925 who installed the electricity and central heat. It would have originally been heated by coal burning stoves in each room. [Originally], there was gas but no plumbing. [They] put in at least one bathroom into a back, bricked off section of the back porches in the 1880s. So you had sewage and you had water coming to the house at least by 1888, 1890.
DEUTSCH: Was it when you moved into this house that you started to get really interested in houses?
CROMWELL: No, I’d been interested in houses before that. I’d been an off-and-on member of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. Member of the National Trust. I had actually been the departmental representative on the National Council for Historic Preservation and did a lot of work on Saint Elizabeth’s [Hospital in Anacostia], history of St. Elizabeth’s …
DEUTSCH: Are you still involved with the National Trust?
CROMWELL: No. I was never involved with the National Trust, but I had been a member and didn’t have anything to do with it. But the National Council on Historic Preservation I was involved with in a professional sense for a couple of years, which would have been the late 70s.
DEUTSCH: So it was in that capacity that you looked at the history of St. Elizabeth’s?
CROMWELL: Yes, right. Anyway, this house was put into three units in 1925 and six units in . They built an addition to the house in 1925, which meant each of the three floors was then a unit. Oddly, they didn’t build kitchens in 1937 because most people at that time, when they rented, ate at the little corner restaurants. So you had a living room, two living rooms actually, a bedroom and a bathroom.
DEUTSCH: On each floor?
CROMWELL: On each floor. Then in 1937, the owner divided the three units into six units and built bathrooms. Here, [the current living room] they took out a piece of the hall and took away the stairs to the downstairs. And then above us you had bathrooms. There are still bathrooms directly above. So there’s still five and a half baths in this house out of seven. When we got it, it was seven units. We kept it as a legal seven-unit building until 1997, at which point we only had the unit in the basement.
DEUTSCH: Did you do a renovation?
CROMWELL: Along the way, yes. We did not clear the building of inhabitants and do a renovation as people tend to do these days. We’re still working on it.
DEUTSCH: The work in progress.
CROMWELL: Yes, a work in progress. Probably will be for many more years.
DEUTSCH: Yes, that’s the way houses are. So, the Restoration Society. You’ve been involved with [their] house tour, I know, for many years.
CROMWELL: That came along a little later. I guess we stopped in the [mid] 80s with women’s soccer. I coached my younger daughter Cynthia’s team when she was 12 or 13, 14.
DEUTSCH: What was that team? Do you remember?
CROMWELL: I don’t remember the name of it. I think I coached for two years. Actually one of the funny stories about the ’62s and ’63s was that because I didn’t know enough about soccer, I recruited a Nigerian, probably from Howard University—could have been GW—to coach.
DEUTSCH: So you recruited a Nigerian student …
CROMWELL: From Howard or GW, somewhere, to coach. He grew up in a British school system in Nigeria and he expected discipline. He had a British accent. The poor kids just could not relate to him. Poor black kids. It was a difficult problem. He left town or whatever. I thought maybe it was just his personality, so I recruited a second Nigerian. Same thing happened. Just could not relate. I had some great kids but backgrounds [were] just too far apart for them to relate. So by that point, I figured I’d learned enough about soccer that I’d go ahead and coach instead of relying on the experts. Sorry, I digress there.
DEUTSCH: That’s okay. So you were coaching Cynthia’s team.
CROMWELL: Cynthia’s team. That was the end of my soccer days. I probably was on the National Women’s Committee for three years and I also was involved with the eastern region of the United States Soccer Federation, which was actually the senior division, although it had nominal control over the youth divisions at that time. But the youth divisions were becoming so large that it was difficult for the old-line adult associations who were pretty much [run by guys with European backgrounds]. The guys that ran the programs either were second generation or third generation, from European programs, and being faced with youth soccer programs which were not something they grew up with, at least in the sense [like those that were created] in the United States.
DEUTSCH: Those were the days when soccer was just taking off here.
CROMWELL: Just taking off, yes. Well it took off here. It took off in Texas. Youth soccer did. You remember we had the Diplomats in the early 80s [a soccer club based in Washington from 1974 to 1980] in the North American Soccer League? And I actually [arranged] the first women’s soccer game in RFK [Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium]. That was a big deal then getting women to play in a stadium with a bunch of fans.
DEUTSCH: Do you remember when—I sort of remember when that happened.
CROMWELL: [Probably the spring of 1980.] We may have played prior to a Dips game. I don’t remember. It wasn’t my team. It was an all-star team, I think, from the District, maybe playing an all-star team from Virginia. Something like that.
DEUTSCH: It wasn’t professional, it was …
CROMWELL: No, there was no women’s professional league, no. There were just beginning to be women’s teams on college campuses. That’s actually when the young women who had gone through the youth program and went to college and played college soccer started coming back to the Hill. That’s when it got difficult for the existing women’s teams because the three teams we had were made up primarily of older women who had just learned soccer and in came …
DEUTSCH: Mia Hamm.
CROMWELL: Yes, 21-year-old ladies. Twenty-two-year-old ladies that …
DEUTSCH: Knew what they were doing.
CROMWELL: Yes. Actually, in terms of volunteer work, I spent a lot of time with Capital Yacht Club. I was Chair of the Bylaws Committee for more than 20 years. I’m still on a committee at the Yacht Club.
If we’re looking at volunteer activities during the 90s, aside from Cynthia’s Soccer on the Hill team nothing comes to mind. Well, actually something does come to mind and that is when we moved here to this house in ’89 from the Yacht Club, we were so used to being surrounded by our neighbors that we kind of kept the tradition going here. We would sit on our front porch and, with the help of the dog, we would meet our neighbors. It would eventually evolve into … I [keep] a neighborhood list, which means the four blocks from this intersection. There are about a hundred people that live within a block of us. For the last 20 years, we’ve known most of them. We’ve known over 150 immediate neighbors. And then new neighbors, people like yourself, that are in the second block around.
We started in ’92 with a Derby Day party with the then-renters. There [were] four units at number 17 Fifth. We had a Derby Day party in the backyard that consisted of, maybe, 20 neighbors. That has continued when Todd Degarmo and Bill …
DEUTSCH: I’ve had the joy of being there.
CROMWELL: Yes. Todd Degarmo and Bill Sales bought the house, which needed a lot of work. When they bought it, they were informed that they had bought a Derby Day party.
We started a traveling dinner in early December [possibly 1996]. Black tie dinner from house to house on the block. The first one was here, where we had 16 people. It went on for perhaps eight, nine years.
DEUTSCH: By traveling dinner, you mean it traveled every year? Or the dinner itself traveled, first course some house … ?
CROMWELL: Yes, first course some house. Appetizer, main course, dessert. It was always sit-down. It was only people from the four blocks. The last one we did was at Cannings’ [Mike and Judy], with one table that seated 42 people. You can imagine an L-shaped table in their house, right? [Laughter] The problem, of course, came as people moved away. Some people, like Marsha, wanted to invite them back. Other people like me saying, “If we do that, we don’t have room for the new people moving on the block.”
DEUTSCH: Right. “We need to bring new people in.”
CROMWELL: Yes. So 42 was probably the max the Cannings could have held. You’re talking about not only black tie, but the ladies were all dressed up too.
DEUTSCH: Oh yeah. I know what black tie means.
CROMWELL: There, of course, has been a long-standing block party in the 500 block of A [Street SE] on Labor Day. Then we started, primarily for renters who couldn’t afford to go home, a Christmas Eve oyster stew party. That was—I don’t remember when we started it—but was still at a time when we had renters here [on the ground floor]. It was more than eight years ago. It was probably 10, 12 years ago. We still had renters in the neighborhood who couldn’t afford to go home. But of course it morphed into just more than renters very quickly. Originally included neighbors too.
DEUTSCH: So obviously Marsha shares your expansive nature and likes to entertain.
CROMWELL: Yes. So it, too, went from being a small group of people to something that got so large. Last year we had 70, I think. Once you get up to about 50 in this house, it can be very difficult.
DEUTSCH: So you had 70 people on Christmas Eve for oyster stew?
CROMWELL: Last year we had 70 here. Not all of them at once, but there were probably 50 at the high point. So this year, Bill and Todd suggested that maybe we should have the party at their house. Not only because of the crowded conditions they encountered [here] in 2013, but also because Marsha had knee surgery in November. They didn’t think she should be trying to entertain 70 people. So this year we did it at their house. But it’s still pretty much neighbors that we invite. We try and invite what’s left of the rental group but the renters these days can afford to go home. I think all of our next door neighbors went home. We have three renters next door. They all went home.
DEUTSCH: But you still found 70 people to come to your party?
CROMWELL: Yes. Well, this year it was only 60. We normally have a decline rate of about 50 percent because of people going out of town, whatever, and having family in and so on. This year it was a 60 percent decline rate. So we only had 60 people.
DEUTSCH: So it seems like one of your big contributions is just been being a neighbor.
CROMWELL: We like to think so.
DEUTSCH: I was just thinking the other day that one reason one starts to look forward to spring is sitting on the front porch. Sitting on the front steps. We do that quite a bit. It’s just one of the joys of living in a neighborhood like this.
CROMWELL: We would get a lot of traffic here because of the corner store. People from south of us would come by to go to the corner store. Oddly enough, that traffic seems to have decreased in the last year or two. I don’t know why.
Todd asked me a few years ago what changes I’d seen on the Hill. Without really thinking about it, it had been a hot summer and I said, “More mosquitoes.” It was the first year, I think, of the tiger mosquitoes. “And more Republicans.” I think both were true. I could have said, of course, more restaurants and more civic associations.
DEUTSCH: But those were the things you noticed.
CROMWELL: It just came to mind with Todd sitting in front of me. I guess that gets me through the 90s to this century. I looked back to make sure I was speaking correctly. I first became a member of the Board of the [Restoration] Society in 2005. Also helped Ann Richards that year with the house tour; [in subsequent years] either as chair or co-chair or responsible for house histories and house descriptions. I’ve done it every year since.
DEUTSCH: This will be your tenth year.
CROMWELL: Eleventh year. I’m not sure this year I’m doing the house histories and house descriptions.
DEUTSCH: That’s quite a bit of work, I would think.
CROMWELL: Well after, I think, the first year, I probably did most of the house descriptions myself and I probably did the next year. But I then recruited people to actually do them. I do the house research and other people do the writing and then I …
DEUTSCH: How do you do the research?
CROMWELL: That whole bookshelf is DC history and I have city directories upstairs. Now you can do a lot more online, particularly in the last two years, than you used to be able to do. I use the [National] Archives a lot. You can now go online and find an amazing amount of stuff online.
DEUTSCH: Do you have a favorite house that you ever wrote about?
CROMWELL: Interesting question. I guess I haven’t thought about that. I don’t really know that. My thought would go back to what’s the earliest house I’ve written about and I don’t know the answer to that. I might look and see. I know Pierce School is the most fascinating place. You know Pierce School at Maryland [Avenue] and 15th [Street NE]?
DEUTSCH: What was so fascinating?
CROMWELL: It was your traditional school building with up and down staircases and four corner rooms that two guys had turned into condos on the basement and first floor level. Not condos—rental units. They themselves had the top floor plus the attic that they had opened up.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah. I remember that.
CROMWELL: But which house was the most fascinating? That’s, I mean yeah, a good question. I’d have to go back and look.
DEUTSCH: I suppose they’ve all got their …
CROMWELL: They’ve all got … You know, is it architecture? Is it what happened in the house? You find someone was actually murdered in a house. You know, there are a few of those around. Is it because the house inside looks so much like it did years ago? There are not many houses left like that. There used to be, but people who buy houses these days tend to reconfigure the insides of them.
DEUTSCH: Or what it replaced in the case of my house?
CROMWELL: Or what it replaced, yes indeed. Mary’s Blue Room and two other buildings. We also stopped doing the buses. In other words, we try to make the tour walkable so we didn’t have to hire those jitney buses because we always receive more complaints about the buses than anything else. The last year we used them, we had rented the buses until five. Well, to the bus drivers, that meant they were off duty at five.
DEUTSCH: “I’m stopping working at 5:00.”
CROMWELL: So they stopped working at 4:30 in order to take the buses back to Reston, which [meant] we were going over the Hill picking people up at some of the …
DEUTSCH: In the old days you used volunteer drivers, because I remember way back when my mother used to drive the jitney.
DEUTSCH: We used to make such fun of her because her car was just a wreck. I mean, talk about your home not being ready for prime time! She used to, yes, volunteer to drive the jitney and she’d go around and pick people up. There must have been insurance reasons not to do that.
CROMWELL: I don’t know the answer to that. I do vaguely recall that we have offered to drive people who have handicaps, although how recently we did that I’m not sure. Maybe it’s a standard item in the brochure. Therefore, we needed drivers for that. I think the last time we did it, I think I got one call for that and I did the driving.
There are a fair number of people these days that have input into what goes into the House Tour, or have in the last three years, four years. We just increased the number of people. The more people involved the better it is and the more support you get. From 2005 until last July, I was chair of the budget and administration committee, which essentially meant office supervision, equipment like tape recorders and machines …
DEUTSCH: Where is the office?
CROMWELL: The office has been at 420 Tenth Street SE, in the basement.
DEUTSCH: Is it someone’s house?
CROMWELL: It is an architectural firm [Architrave PC Architects]. We rent that from them. We almost—it was a close vote—we almost moved into the Hill Center [921 Pennsylvania Avenue SE]. Some people were afraid that the access to the top floor of the Hill Center would be a problem, particularly during House Tour because we leave a lot of stuff in that office during House Tour, leading up to House Tour. Trying to make sure we can have access to it was a difficulty, plus the amount of storage we would have had would not have been good, would have been less. Anyway, the decision was made to stay where we were instead of going into the Hill Center. Which in the end, I think, was a good decision. I really wanted to go into the Hill Center despite the obstacles, but …
DEUTSCH: Well, it’s such a beautiful space.
CROMWELL: It is. It’s a beautiful space. We would have had, I think, maybe the best room up there. What I perceived to be the best room at the time. But we don’t get that much traffic from members. So the advantages of being in the Hill Center may have been [outweighed by the difficulty of storing and moving house tour resources and other materials to and from the third floor].
END OF TAPE 2/SIDE 1
TAPE 2/SIDE 2
CROMWELL: [Continuing discussion of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society] Up until the time we redid the website, which was now a year and a half ago. But that was interesting. That enabled me to put some historic things on the website. The House Tour Brochures are on the website now. Building permits are on the website.
DEUTSCH: Building permits?
CROMWELL: Yes, from 1877 on, you had to have a building permit to build a house.
DEUTSCH: All of them?
CROMWELL: They’re all in there. Well, not the permits themselves, the listing of the permits. Who built it and [the estimated cost]. The date the permit was issued. To get details, you have to go down to the [National] Archives.
DEUTSCH: But that’s fascinating. So what’s your next project? Do you have something on the horizon?
CROMWELL: I still do three things. One is I’m involved with a committee at the Capital Yacht Club. You may not know, but the waterfront development has caused us to move temporarily.
DEUTSCH: No, I did not know that.
CROMWELL: The [second] clubhouse next to the fish market has been torn down and we moved to the Channel Inn last fall. The old Channel Inn closed in, I think, May or June. We now occupy the bar space, kitchen, whatever, in the old Channel Inn. It will be three years before our new clubhouse is built.
DEUTSCH: Which will be right down there where the old one was?
CROMWELL: Yes, and actually it will be out over the water instead of being in a building.
I’ve been a commissioner of a fantasy baseball league since 1989. In the current league I’m in, nine of the ten owners this year were Capitol Hill people.
DEUTSCH: You’ve done that since 1989. How many members did you say? Nine out of ten?
CROMWELL: Yes. The National League one that I’m in now is nine out of ten Hill people.
I first played petanque in Africa. It’s a game where you can play almost anywhere except in grass. So I started playing here 20 years ago. Was president for a while of the National Capital Club de Petanque. I’ve started a group under the auspices of the Capitol Hill Village which plays regularly on Mondays in Garfield Park. I still play in Arlington along with some of the people I’ve recruited from the Hill. On some days we find more Hill people out there than anyone else.
For the Village, in addition to doing that, the Village has, as you probably know, a dinner once a month at a restaurant with a set menu and a set price for Village members. We are members of the National Democratic Club, so once or twice a year we have a Village dinner at the Democratic Club. We do it Friday nights when there’s hardly a congressman left in town. [Laughter]
DEUTSCH: There’s not much competition! It sounds like you’re keeping busy.
CROMWELL: Yes. The house tour will take up some time in March and early April. But I need to concentrate more on the house than I have been over the last 15 years.
DEUTSCH: Concentrate on this house?
CROMWELL: Yes. This house, yes.
DEUTSCH: Yes, we all feel that way. We all need to concentrate on our houses.
CROMWELL: Cynthia now has a new baby. She lives three blocks away. I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time this past year with Lawrence and his son Alexander, who live in Baltimore.
DEUTSCH: How old is Alexander?
CROMWELL: Alexander is ten. So I helped for a while—Lawrence got caught in the same thing that I did. He volunteered to help keep order at baseball and then ended up being the coach. He played one season of baseball at the Boys and Girls Club. He was the only white kid on the team and they stuck him out in right field.
DEUTSCH: The Boys and Girls Club down there?
CROMWELL: Yes, whatever. At 17th Street and Massachusetts [261 17th Street SE]. They had a pretty good baseball team. Lawrence is much better at soccer than baseball, so while I think he enjoyed the kids, he really was clearly the … When you put a kid in right field, that means something.
DEUTSCH: Is that not a good position?
CROMWELL: Yes, that’s where you put your weakest fielder is in right field. So he got stuck [coaching] baseball with one season’s experience and has had to learn on the fly.
DEUTSCH: So he’s coaching?
CROMWELL: And now he’s coaching soccer too, which is much more his sport than baseball ever was.
DEUTSCH: So you go up and see your grandson a lot?
CROMWELL: Fairly often, yes. Unlike the grandkids in … Kimberly lives in Detroit, or Bloomfield Hills. They come down here occasionally. The grandkids are 16 and 13.
DEUTSCH: I won’t put their names in probably, but what are they?
CROMWELL: Gabriella and Eric.
DEUTSCH: E R I C?
CROMWELL: E R I C.
DEUTSCH: Any chance that any of those will be at the dinner?
CROMWELL: Kimberly will be at the dinner. Lawrence will be at the dinner. His wife Jenee will be at the dinner. And Cynthia and Joe will be at the dinner.
DEUTSCH: And Jenee?
CROMWELL: J-E-N-E-E M-A-T-E-E-R.
DEUTSCH: Cynthia and … ?
CROMWELL: Joe Wallace.
DEUTSCH: What’s their baby named?
CROMWELL: Sanderson Grace, my grandmother’s name backwards. Jenee actually is a tenured professor at Towson. She was a bookkeeper for the Monocle [Hill restaurant] for four or five years, something like that. So she’s lived here longer than Lawrence. Actually after he graduated from college, she lived here first.
DEUTSCH: Well it’s sort of nice to see children coming back to live in the neighborhood.
CROMWELL: Yes. Cindy never got away except to go to college. She went to the College of Charleston. We were sorry when she graduated. We loved to go down there and visit. She had a house [that] she rented with some other girls, an apartment in a house downtown that had parking. My college roommate had a place out on Edisto Island. It was a great place to go for three or four years.
Am I going to be involved in anything else here? Probably not. Who knows? Maybe I’ll join the Village.
END OF INTERVIEW