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Washington Lawyer

Legal Spectator: Spies Are Back at 810 F Street

From Washington Lawyer, October 2002

By Jacob A. Stein

spectatorLast week after leaving court I took a walk over to nearby 8th and F Streets. There have been stories in the papers about a new, spectacular spy museum that just opened there. F Street between 8th and 9th has special memories for me. Zola’s, the restaurant in the museum, is located at 810 F Street, the address of my father’s law office.

Those who visit the restaurant will be unaware of the strange tricks the jocular fates can play. My father’s secretary was his sister-my aunt. As she grew older, she, as many do when they get old, became suspicious of what was going on around the office. She was sure someone was spying on her. What would she think if she came back today and saw that not only the office but the whole block was given over to spies and spying?

In another strange way she accounts for the fact that the Georgetown University Law Center is near the Capitol rather than near 5th and E, where it was for many years in those old red brick buildings. When the university decided to build a new law school close to where the old law school was, situated by the courts, it acquired the property needed except for the one dwelling that would complete the assembly. That one dwelling was owned by my aunt.

One day Milton Kronheim Sr. called me. As an aside, let me tell you something about Mr. Kronheim. His business was the Kronheim Wholesale Liquor Distributorship. More importantly he was a sportsman, a good citizen, a philanthropist, a friend of politicians, including President Harry Truman. It so happened that he and my father went to grade school together.

Now back to the phone call. He said to me, "Jacob, you know there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, that I wouldn’t do to help Georgetown University. They tell me that your aunt is holding up the construction of the new Georgetown Law School. She will not talk to the Georgetown people who want to buy the property. She will not sell at any price. Jacob, what I must have you do is to get in touch with your aunt and make her listen to reason. I want to do this for Georgetown."

I said to him, "Mr. Kronheim, you are divorced. You know my aunt never married. What you ought to do as a first step is go over to the house and propose to her. That’s what you ought to do for Georgetown."

There was a long silence on the phone. When Mr. Kronheim regained his voice, he said, "Jacob, let’s say there’s almost nothing I wouldn’t do for Georgetown."

In the 1930s 9th Street between F and Pennsylvania Avenue was filled with people and places of great interest to young men cutting school. It was Washington’s tenderloin. On the east side of 9th Street was the Gayety Burlesk. And next to the Gayety was Jimmy Lake’s Saloon. Jimmy Lake was the impresario of the Gayety. He occasionally came onstage and introduced one of the burlesque queens. He was proud to report that Justice Holmes, when he came to Washington, found his way to the Gayety.

The Gayety found its way into local law at 4934 Inc. v. Mayor Washington, 375 A.2d 20. For those of you homesick for Boston, you will enjoy footnote 8:

Last, we’ll head for Lock-Ober’s

The Copley or the Ritz
And wish the dear old Howard

had beat the building blitz.

If you’re not from Boston, you should know that the old Howard was Boston’s Gayety.

Jimmy Lake’s obituary appeared in the Washington Post on September 17, 1967. I saved the obituary. I have it in front of me as I write. Let me quote from it: "Back in 1960, when Mr. Lake was 80, his back and wrist were broken in a fracas that followed a wrestling match he had announced. For three weeks, according to him, he was unconscious in an oxygen tent in Washington Hospital Center, his fever hovering around 105 degrees.

" ’I woke up one morning and looked around,’ he said. ’I saw this nurse sitting there. She was beautiful. I gazed at her a bit and my thoughts became corrupt. "What time is it?" I asked her, and she said it was 3:00 a.m. You had better be going then, I told her.’ "

In Jimmy’s day his saloon and the Gayety Burlesk were the upper hub of 9th Street. Across the street was the New England Restaurant. Jimmy usually stayed on his own side of the street. However, on a spring day he would walk across to what was called the New England Beach, the sidewalk in front of the New England. The people on the beach taking the sun were plainclothes detectives, lawyers of some prominence such as Nick Chase, an occasional judge, visiting theatrical people, full-time character witnesses, and well-dressed, respectable bookmakers. When Jimmy Lake went from his side of the street over to the Beach he was received as a visiting celebrity from a faraway land.

There were stores on 9th Street that had been in existence for many, many years. They were like hardware stores that you occasionally see on the upper west side of New York where you can literally find anything. There were pitchmen on the street selling magic tricks and unbelievably sharp glass cutters and a special type of lanolin hair tonic guaranteed to grow hair.

Hodges restaurant was on lower 9th Street. It was popular with lawyers. Behind the counter was a man in a white suit holding a big saber knife poised above a huge piece of beef. The customer was invited to point to the cut he wanted. The beef was sliced and delicately lifted on the tip of the blade and deposited with a flourish on a soft roll.

I hope next week to drop in on the spy museum with my friend Plato, who is an authority on spies. If we have time, we shall stroll down 9th Street and recall what once was and is no more.

Jacob A. Stein may be reached by e-mail at jstein@steinmitchell.com.