National Geographic : 1967 Apr
of a public space redesigned for people," Mr. Levine told me. "Shoppers are returning to the city. Sales are picking up again. Did you know F Street before?" "Sure," I said. "I was born here." "You were born here?" During the years of my youth, all Washing ton shopped on F Street. "Going downtown" was a thrilling event. Will I ever forget seeing Robin Hood at the old Palace and, in later years, finding out what "sauerbraten" meant at the small rathskeller on 11th Street? Farmland Engulfed by Urban Tide In those days a man could drive in 15 min utes out of the midst of one million people, most of them occupying 68,500 urbanized acres, into the open country. He would find himself on the flowing farmland of Mary land or Virginia, with forests of tulip trees and oak, crops and blue-green pastures. By 1960, there were more than two million people in the Washington area, the amount of urbanized land had exploded to 326,062 acres, and 500,000 acres of farmland had been paved with houses. This frantic, roaring suburban tide was draining from the central city its higher-income families and thus its com mercial vitality. "Sure," Mr. Levine said, "Washington was worried. In 1962 our committee drew up an Action Plan. What the Pennsylvania Avenue project is doing complements ours. The traffic patterns work together. The Federal Govern ment provided most of the funds for the F Street Plaza, and the District's Highway Department carried out the plan. We think downtown Washington is going to come alive again. Take a look at the store downstairs. Not even its developers dreamed it would be the success it is." Quest for Pete's Ends in a Lobby I immediately went down to Safeway Inter national, which specializes in foreign and gourmet foods. Wending my way between escargots au naturel and towers of caviar, I turned left at the djintan and sambal radja - Indonesian spice specialities-and stopped near the whole suckling pigs ($30.20, not in cluding the apple for the mouth). There, by gorry, stood a fellow native, stunned by the spectacle of a mound of feathered pheasants. I pounded him on the back and suggested that we seek out the old rathskeller. He suggested we might buy half a pound of Gruyere cheese and a crusty loaf of French bread and languish under the trees on F Street. But I was not that ready for the new Wash ington. Leaving the instant woodland behind, I headed for Foggy Bottom and an oasis called Pete's, one of the city's truly historic landmarks that once catered to cab drivers and Cabinet officers. I suspected that Pete's had gone the way of the gasworks next door, but I was convinced that in this city of new amenity, of flowering boulevards, happy cafes, and petunia-laden parks, something similar to the old place would be offered the harried urbanite. I hoped in vain. Foggy Bottom lay in the coils of a freeway. It had made the riverside simply a place to go through. I walked into the outdoor lobby of the new Watergate East, a sweeping cliff of apart ments that now dominates the Potomac, and watched waters of a stream leaping down a ladder of white concrete saucers.