Esther Yost
Interview with:   Alice Van Brakle, Part II
Interview Date:   December 3, 2001 and January 21, 2002
Interviewer:   Marie Mingo
Transcriber:   Rachel Mears, Betsy Barnett
    This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project. Not to be reproduced without permission.



VAN BRAKLE: And we had a little newspaper similar to The Hill Rag or The Voice or one of those papers. We had the Capitol Hill Community Council was the name of the little newspaper and it required a lot of time and effort and we tried to keep track of the problems and the good things that went on on the Hill and improve, help out -- oh, one of the problems that we were trying to deal with that I can remember was parking, which at one time was positively terrible. And it got to the point of where, in the mornings at 7:00, 7:30, people would come and double park by the car they recognized as one going out shortly.

MINGO: Oh, my goodness.

VAN BRAKLE: And, then, as soon as that car pulled out, they pulled in and then they went off to their jobs. And that was one of my husband's pet peeves. And he was forever out taking the tags of those cars that did this sort of thing and coming down to the precinct to see what could be done by giving these people a ticket because there was absolutely no where to park when you went to the grocery store and came back. Forget it. So, my husband even had a reputation that somebody coming down the street would say "Yeah, that's him, that's him, that's the guy taking the tag numbers." [both laugh] I wouldn't feel as comfortable about that today, not when everybody seems to have a gun in their pocket. [both laugh] But, it was a very serious matter and we finally got it solved to the point of where you -- of course, you had to pay for a [Ward] 6 sticker on your car, but it was helpful. And our parking got a bit under control.

MINGO: Oh, so you instigated that resident permit.

VAN BRAKLE: Yes, right. And, then, now, since September 11th, we're really back in the same situation again. And I think it's because many streets are blocked off and parking lots are changed and whatnot since September 11th. And I don't know where the meter people are. They are not putting out tickets today like they were prior to September 11th. And when I had left to come down here this morning there was not one space in the block. And it really is a serious matter because I just don't feel comfortable. I hate to move my car. I went to the doctor one day last week and I got home about 11:30 and I had to park about four blocks away. And it was almost dark by the time there was space and that was because it's dark by the time people get off from work now.


VAN BRAKLE: And, so, when they get off from their job -- however, there are meter people available because, or maybe that may have not been meter people, it may have been the actual police, but my next door neighbor told me that she got a $50 ticket for parking. She forgot something and she ran back to her house to get it in the middle of the day and it was on her computer and something happened to her computer and she was about twenty minutes. She thought she would be two minutes and it turned into about a twenty minute trip in her house, and when she came out she had a $50 ticket. She had parked hanging on the corner by the mailbox.

MINGO: But, she has a permit.

VAN BRAKLE: But she was illegally parked. And she realized she was. But, I told her, I said "Well, my son tells me why don't you, when you come home, find a neighbor's car that you know is your neighbor that will recognize you and double park." But, then it's a hassle because you're constantly looking out the window watching for a space because you know you can't double park forever. And not many of these cars are -- Mike and Sharon's car stays there all the time -- but most of these cars are from Maryland and Virginia that you would be double parking by and you don't which minute they're going to be on their way out. So, it needs some attention right now but hopefully it will improve. But, with the world situation what it is, I hate to complain about anything that minor. I'm just happy to be here. One thing I did want to say that is a big change, but, of course, that goes with the change of the world, prior to everybody having air conditioning ...

MINGO: Oh, yes, tell me about what that was like in Washington in the summer.

VAN BRAKLE: The humid nights would come and you would just take your kids and walk up to the park up by Pennsylvania Avenue or this one right over here. And you'd take a blanket and you'd lay out and it would be 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and ...

MINGO: That's Marion Park.

VAN BRAKLE: ... think nothing about it. And now I don't like to go through the park in the day time. And so that is a big change, that -- but we'd go to Hains Point, once we were fortunate enough and had been married long enough to have a car. We'd put the kids in the car and drive down to Hains Point and stay til 2:00 and 3:00. There was a nice breeze because your house was terribly warm. But those day have all gone.

MINGO: Then you got back at 4:00 in the morning and it was fairly liveable.

VAN BRAKLE: Yes, you'd come back once your house had had a chance to cool off. Of course, you left the window open because nobody was going to break in. And so when the house cooled off at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning then you'd come back home and go to bed.

MINGO: Now, people probably had fans in their houses.

VAN BRAKLE: Oh, yes.

MINGO: Not electric but circulating fans.

VAN BRAKLE: We had fans but we did not have [any type of air conditioning] ...

MINGO: Now, in climates like this, did it really kind of slow down a little bit when it got to be really hot and humid?

VAN BRAKLE: Yes, but everybody had the same problem because you didn't have -- no one had air conditioning.


VAN BRAKLE: When I worked at -- as I say, when I first went back to work after the children started school, I was down here in the tempo buildings and they weren't air conditioned. So, you sort of hope that it was going to get terribly warm because they had this thing that they would come around and swing this thing and it did the humidity bit. And, so, when you saw him coming, everybody got excited. "Hey, we might get off." "What is it?" "Oh, it's such-and-such." And it had a certain temperature it had to reach before the government was closed. And, so, everybody was following the guy around, you know. "What does it say? What does it say?" [interviewer laughs] "Oh, it's two points too short." So, we'd go back to work. An hour later he comes back, he's swinging it again. Everybody's running. "Oh, yes, it's -- hey, we're going, we're going." [both laugh] So, everybody would get off at 2:00 in the afternoon or 3:00 in the afternoon or whatever when it reached this unbearable point. And then you rushed home to your unbearable house. [both laugh]

MINGO: And if you could, you went to the park.

VAN BRAKLE: Well, even in the park, in the middle of the afternoon, you just sort of -- but, at least you could go home. And people weren't as casually dressed at the office as they are now. And so at least you could go home and get out of your office clothes and put on a pair of shorts and a top and chill out a little bit.

MINGO: Now where is the building you were working at? You said the tempo ...

VAN BRAKLE: It was a temporary building at Second and T SW, which is directly behind the wall of Fort McNair.

MINGO: Okay.

VAN BRAKLE: Because there was an opening there in the wall and we could go over to Fort McNair, back and forth. But I don't even know if the temporary buildings are still down there. But Second and T SW, was our address and that was the Quartermaster Corps. But, then, of course, the Quartermaster Corps was done away with and -- this is all Department of Army -- and Department of Army had tech services, Quartermaster Corps, Engineer Corps, Ordinance, Chemical, all these different services. And they combined all the services and -- I was in research and development in the Quartermaster Corps. And they made a new office, Navy Research Labs up in Natick, Massachusetts. And a lot of research and development went up there. And, of course, I didn't want to go up there. And, so, I took a secretarial job in this new agency called the U.S. Army Materiel Command which combined all these different services together and brought Engineers and Ordinance and Chemical and all the people from the Pentagon over here to these tempo buildings and wherever they were located. And we went into the temporary buildings that used to be across the street from National Airport. And we stayed there, we went over there in '62, and we stayed there til, I don't know, about three years, I guess. And, by that time, they had built the high rise on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria and that's where the headquarters of U.S. Army Materiel Command is today. So, that's -- we moved down there and that's where I retired from in 1979.

MINGO: When you went for your employment there, I'm thinking about, you know, about women's issues in hiring. Was there any problem in, you know, becoming employed at the Department of Army or ...



VAN BRAKLE: Because this started with World War II. And after World War II women found their place. And, so, there was no problem. In fact, I worked when they were first building the Pentagon.

MINGO: Really?

VAN BRAKLE: And I was just a kid then. And this was World War II time and they were begging for people. And I was in school.

MINGO: You were in college at the time.

VAN BRAKLE: Mm-hmm. But, they didn't care if you worked two hours, four hours, whatever. So, they were just begging for people. So, of course, you didn't appreciate this job. You were like my son who didn't want to go to college. You were young and silly and it really wasn't important. I can remember being in, taking this job as, like, in a typing pool or something in the Pentagon. And there was a young girl my age that, we were in this pool together. The Pentagon was being constructed and the -- of course, anybody who's familiar with the Pentagon knows all the millions of miles of halls there are there. And the messengers rode bicycles to get around to deliver the mail. So, this girl and I decided, boy, wouldn't that be a great job. So, we went to Personnel and we told them that we didn't want to be in the typing pool, we wanted to be messengers. Well, messengers were in a complete different pay scale and made less than the typing pool.

MINGO: [laughing] Less than the typing pool?

VAN BRAKLE: And, so, they said, "Oh, no, you don't want to be a messenger. Messengers only get ... " Oh, who cares, you know. We'd get to ride the bicycles. [both laughing]

MINGO: So, you did that.

VAN BRAKLE: No, they wouldn't let us. [laughter]

MINGO: Wiser heads.

VAN BRAKLE: The people in the Personnel Office were older and more mature and they said, "No, no, no. Just go back to your typing pool. Be happy. You don't want to be messengers." So, that was my life in the Pentagon. And then to show how important my job was, that was probably my first year here and I was homesick anyway, and so I had this little job but I quit to go back to Kansas to the senior prom. [both laugh] That's how important this job was to me. And, of course, my dad said "Oh, come on." He was glad I came home anyway. So I got to see, go home. So, I quit that job. But jobs were very ...

MINGO: Easy to come by apparently.

VAN BRAKLE: Right. But, now, then, by 1950 when I -- well, I worked at Office of Price Administration because there were different agencies that were wartime agencies and I worked there. My friend was working there and she said "Oh, come down here and work with me." And jobs were available everywhere. So, I went down there and I worked there until my first son was born and then when he was born I quit. And then I didn't work after '45, 1945. And I didn't work anymore until 1950. And my next door neighbor was working down here [at Quartermaster Corps], my next door neighbor at that time was working. I said you know, I think now that Craig was in preschool and Bryant was in kindergarten, I said, "I think I'm going to see about getting a job." So, she said, "Oh, let me see if they're hiring down here." So, she came back and she told me, "Yeah they're hiring secretaries," just a secretary job. So, I went -- and again I don't know how old I was in 1950 but not too mature. But, I took -- my husband had a daughter by his previous marriage and she was in high school. And, of course, there was not a job program for teenagers then like there is today. So, she had no chance for having a summer job. So, I said "I'm going to take a job and you keep Bryant and Craig for me, babysit Bryant and Craig, and I'll pay you and then we'll both have extra money for the summer." But, I wasn't bright enough to start looking for this job early enough. So, this was a very good idea and everybody agreed to it and she was a very -- she was probably like a senior in high schoool or something -- she was a very mature person. And when she graduated she knew exactly what she wanted to do. She wanted to become a nun. And she did. She was a nun for fifteen years after she finished high school. But, this was agreed upon, so -- and I should have been looking for this job, like, February, but I didn't look for it 'til summer. And by the time I did all the paper work and actually reported to the job it was the 17th of August. She has to go back to school in two weeks. [interviewer laughs] I said, "Oh, well, who cares. I'll have one paycheck so that's better than no paycheck." So, I took this job and they put me in this office. And the office was one lady, a Jewish lady, and an African American lady, and me. So, this lady was, the African American lady was teaching me what I was supposed to do. And, in our general conversation, she told me she was married to someone from Kansas City. And he had gone to the University of Kansas. And my brothers went to the University of Kansas. And, at that time, there weren't that many African American people at the University. So, I wondered why don't I know him. But, I didn't. And then I remembered my brothers belonged to the fraternity called Kappa Alpha Psi. Her husband belonged to Alpha Phi Alpha so they were not in the same fraternity. So, I knew all that my brothers friends are Kappas, but I didn't know any Alphas. So, eventually, I met her husband and he knew many people that I knew but I didn't know him. So, anyway, in our general conversation, she had two children, the same age as my two boys. She had a boy and a girl, same age as my two boys that I had at that time. This was 1950. And we became friends and, so, I told her, I said "Well, I don't have to order too much because I'm only going to be here two weeks." And, so, she said "Why are you only here two weeks?" I said, "I don't have a babysitter and I don't have any family or anybody here." I didn't have any relatives here that I could depend on. I said, "I don't have anybody to take my kids after my stepdaughter goes back to school." So, she said, "Well, you can't quit." I said, "Well, what am I going to do?" So, she said, "Let me go home and ask my babysitter if she knows anybody." So, she did and she came back and she gave me this name. So, my husband and I went to see this lady. And, it was -- again, things work out for the best. This lady was just perfect. She lived with her son but she just wanted some additional money. So, she worked whenever my kids needed her. If it was Easter, she came. If they were in school, she didn't come. Christmastime she was there for two or three weeks and she'd be back -- it was just perfect. Just a perfect match. And she kept them for a number of years. So, then, of course, I didn't have to quit. So, I didn't quit and I didn't -- in fact, I never left employment until I retired in 1979. It was when -- and I retired then because -- I retired on my birthday. I was 55 that year. And my husband had been retired since '71 and we had begun to travel because now the kids were grown up and we had a bit more free time. And this same girl who got my babysitter for me, we became very close friends. She's like a sister now. And we began to plan these little trips with other friends and, not a club or anything, just she and I would decide where we wanted to go and say "Hey, we're going such-and-such a place. Does anybody want to go?" [interviewer laughs] And we had as few as -- we went to the Far East for twenty-six days. We had eight, which we joined with another group and made up about, I think there were about twenty-five of us all total. But, eight of us knew each other. And, we went to Venezuela one time. I think we had something like twenty-two or thirty-two or something. So, just whoever happened -- we made plans and, whatever suited our husbands, and they got to be good friends, and golf friends. So, whatever pleased the four of us, that's where we were going. Anybody else who wanted to go with us could in our little circle of friends. So, they were retired and my friend, who is the same age as I am, this girl, she retired on an early out. So, she was already retired even though she wasn't 55. So, they had all these trips planned and I didn't have time for that job. So, I retired on my birthday, twenty-two years ago. [both laugh] So, as far as doing things in the neighborhood, I personally didn't get that involved with -- my close friends don't live on the Hill. I'll put it that way. I got -- this is why people say -- I say, "Well, everybody has different friends. I got church friends, I got neighbors, I got personal friends, and I got co-workers." And I still see my co-workers. We have a luncheon once a year. We get together.

MINGO: How nice.

VAN BRAKLE: So, you know, they're different types of different friends. But, still, you know, I love all of them but they're just a different -- you can't have all your friends all at one time.

MINGO: No. The Community Council -- did that evolve into the Restoration Society or is there a successor to the Community Council, do you think?

VAN BRAKLE: I don't know. And the way I dropped out of the Community Council was kind of strange. Because I really was very, very active in it and I don't really know anyone here on the Hill now -- there are two people. Merrill Pregelj lives around here somewhere, I don't know where but I know he's still on the Hill. And Bill Driscoll. You know Bill Driscoll from church.

MINGO: Yes, yes.

VAN BRAKLE: Paul Beatley. They are probably the only people that I know on the Hill that were connected with Capitol Hill Community Council, that are still on the Hill. There may be others that I don't know that are still here. But, when my husband died, then I was a bit nervous. Also, the world had changed to where you weren't as safe after dark as you used to be. Because I used to go out -- I belong to a card, a group of women that played cards. We had children, we had to see that the children were finished and in bed and we met on Saturday night at 9:00. And we played cards and came home at 2:00 in the morning. Thought nothing about it. But, heavens, I wouldn't do that now. But, when my husband died and the world had changed, now I'm concerned about going to the Capitol Hill meetings.

MINGO: Now, by this time it's called the Restoration Society. No, it's still Community Council.

VAN BRAKLE: And they're still meeting here, there, and yon, but always in the evenings, of course.

MINGO: Of course, yes.

VAN BRAKLE: So, now -- and I probably had a bigger fear when my husband first died than -- oh, I was by myself for the first time because I met my husband when I was 18 and married him when I was 20. And, so, he had always been in my life. So, I can't go to these meetings because they're after dark and I got to go by myself. So, they said, "Oh, no problem, no problem. We'll come and pick you up and see that you get home. You can't drop out." Okay. So, I made this deal -- this happened probably two or three months. And, then, they had a meeting at the Brethren Church here on Fourth Street, which is a couple of blocks from my house. And I went to the meeting because it wasn't dark. But, when the meeting was over, and I said, "Okay, who's going to walk me home?" "Oh, Alice, you're just two blocks from home."

MINGO: Oh, dear.

VAN BRAKLE: I said, "Yes, you're right. I will walk home and I will be home." So, that's the way my life ended with the Community Council. They called two or three times after that, but this isn't going to work because this is a hassle for somebody to get me home and, so, I'm just going to drop out. And I did. So, I really don't know how it actually ended or if it merged with the Restoration Society or ...

MINGO: Because this would have been mid-80's when you ceased being active.

VAN BRAKLE: Yes, yes. Right. And so I -- and I really haven't done a lot of community things since then. After my husband died, Harold Brazil, who is our Councilman-at-Large now-Harold is a member of Capitol Hill Kiwanis and he was a new member at the time. I didn't know him that well. But, Rob Robinson, who was at that time Marion Barry's right hand man, and Rob had agreed -- Rob also is a member of Capitol Hill Kiwanis. And I saw him for the first time in several years yesterday. He was coming out of the bank. He called to me and I hadn't seen him in years. He also ran for Councilman in Ward 6 against Sharon Ambrose, but Sharon beat him. But, anyway, Rob and Harold both were members of Capitol Hill, are members of Capitol Hill Kiwanis. And right after my husband died, Rob was acting as Harold's campaign manager for his first time to run as, at that time for Ward 6 Councilperson, which he won and was that person for some time before he got Councilman-at-Large. So, Rob called me and, knowing I just lost my husband and had nothing to do, and said "Will you come help me with Harold's campaign?" So, I hadn't been active in community things and I had missed it. And, so, I said, "Okay. Let's see what you got in mind." So, Harold's campaign office at that time was in the 1200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. He had a house up there. And, so, Rob was trying to set this house up for this campaign. So, when I went over there, I thought, "Unh-uh. This isn't going to work. I'm going to be in this house by myself." I said, "No, Rob. I know you too well. You're going to go off and leave me in this house with its fifteen doors and people coming and going and I won't have the slightest idea where you are and this is more than I want to take on. I will help you but I will not be in charge of this house." So, this is how I sort of started helping Harold because I went over there for a few hours at a time or I did things from the house or whatever, before Harold won that election. So, I sort of dabbled in that type of project with, but not too much. I'm too old to get too heavily involved and there's too much nighttime stuff.

MINGO: Yes, yes. Let's ...


MINGO: This is a continuation of interview with Alice Van Brakle by Marie Mingo, interviewer. This is at 429 Fifth Street SE, and the date today is January 21, 2002. Okay, as I say, there are three sides for the first interview and this is an additional side now beginning a second interview date.

Okay, so, good afternoon, and I'm glad you're here.

VAN BRAKLE: Well, I'm happy to be here and hopefully I won't forget where we left off. But, I -- not remembering where we left off I'll backtrack to some things.

MINGO: Well, excuse me just a minute. We were at, you know, had gone around right at the end talking a little bit about one of Harold Brazil's campaigns and that you did not work on that campaign because of difficulties.


MINGO: And, also, we talked about your Community Council activities and that they had ceased. So, that was sort of where we were.

VAN BRAKLE: Right. Capitol Hill Community Council I was very active in and we had our newspaper and great membership at one time. But, it was taken over by Restoration Society and there was another community organization I don't remember the name of, but, I stopped working with them at that time after my husband passed away and I didn't have, didn't feel comfortable attending the meetings at night. So, that sort of ended my active participation in the neighborhood community groups. However, I'm still a paid member but I'm not an active member. As far as Kiwanis is concerned, I still call them my other family and I do attend whatever they invite me to. And my husband was a very active member in Capitol Hill Community Council, one of the -- he was taken into that group by Paul Beatley. And last fall sometime they had their annual awards night and they invited me down at Fort McNair. And they tried to bring in the older members and spouses. And Paul Beatley attended that meeting, I saw him there. And, as I said, my husband was very active and when he passed away they [ed: Kiwanis] had a wonderful scholarship established in his name ...

MINGO: Wonderful, wonderful.

VAN BRAKLE: ... which every now and then we discuss that with them. But, I don't know a lot of the newer members but the older members I'm still acquainted with.

MINGO: And the Kiwanis I think was an important community gathering place. Did you want to elaborate about that role in the life of the people on Capitol Hill?

VAN BRAKLE: Well, for instance, when they had the -- I guess they still have it. What's the activity they have in the spring at the Market? Market Day.


VAN BRAKLE: They were active in helping to put Market Day on and all of the fellows had to take turns working. Of course, now the Kiwanis is not fellows. They're fellows and girls. But, in those days, it was an all man's organization when my husband first joined. And they were helpful in putting on Market Day and various activities for the community. And those community programs were well attended by the neighborhood, people in the neighborhood.

MINGO: How large do you think the membership was and was it only people who lived on Capitol Hill?

VAN BRAKLE: No, no. No.

MINGO: Oh, okay, because that's sort of something ...

VAN BRAKLE: I don't know -- oh, I'd hate to even guess. But, they had breakfast meetings. They had a meeting once a week at 7:00 in the morning with breakfast. And they met at various places. Over the years they met at what used to be Capitol Hill Hospital and at the Armory and at St. Peter's Church and various places they have held their meetings. I don't know where they're holding them now. But, they meet at 7:00 a.m. on Thursdays. And, oh, I have been to those meetings and I would say they probably had like thirty-five or forty members. But, the Capitol Hill group is just one little segment because Eastern Branch is just right down Pennsylvania Avenue a bit. I don't know whether it's on this side of the bridge or the other side, but there are so many chapters of Kiwanis that they are next door to each other. And that was part of their business. Each member was to visit other chapters so many -- you got an award if you visited other chapters during the course of a year. So, every couple of days my husband was off to a Kiwanis meeting somewhere. And downtown they might have the meetings at 12:00 because many of the members were working people, so they had to have the meetings so that either before work or evening meetings or at lunch time. But it's a very, very active group. And, when they have their general meeting -- I don't know whether that's once a year or when it is, I have forgotten -- there are thousands because Kiwanis is all over the world.

MINGO: Oh, yes, it certainly is. Yes.

VAN BRAKLE: And, so, the last International Kiwanis that we had made plans to go to was in Vienna, Austria. And it was just at the time that my husband got sick and we had to cancel and we didn't get to go. But, the international meetings are thousands and thousands of people, but the little Capitol Hill group -- but, it, the Kiwanis group, like everything else, changed. And when my husband first entered many of the members were neighbors.

MINGO: They were Capitol Hill residents, right.

VAN BRAKLE: Or working.

MINGO: Or working on the Hill.

VAN BRAKLE: They either worked on the Hill or lived on the Hill. But, now the members of Capitol Hill Kiwanis live everywhere, Maryland and Virginia. And I don't really know why, if you lived in Maryland or Virginia, why you would select Capitol Hill Kiwanis unless it's close to your work or -- I really don't know the answer to that.

MINGO: Perhaps they work here. Do they have social functions that involve people who do live on the, or at that time, did live on the Hill? You know, was it an important social group also?

VAN BRAKLE: It was more service than social.

MINGO: Yes, okay. So, there wasn't ...

VAN BRAKLE: You combined the service with the social. If they were having a benefit, something for a particular service, those attending, you turned it into a social function, but the intent was service.

MINGO: Was service, exactly.

VAN BRAKLE: Right. Because it's definitely a service organization. Such as, Thanksgiving time they were always getting together with baskets for the needy. But, in putting the baskets together, it turned into a social event.

MINGO: Yes, okay.

VAN BRAKLE: There was some social aspect to it, but the intention was service.

MINGO: Yes. Well, I think we talked before about the commercial aspects of the neighborhood. And are there other things that -- talk about that.

VAN BRAKLE: Yes, I wanted to get back to that because there were some places that I couldn't remember. And there was one thing that I wanted to point out that I don't think came to my mind. The stores that used to be here were more family owned.

MINGO: Yes, yes.

VAN BRAKLE: Family owned and operated. And about the only stores that I know of right now that are that type are -- Frager's is sort of, Frager's Hardware, and District Lock is still that way.

MINGO: Yes, that's right.

VAN BRAKLE: But, they seem to -- they are family owned type stores and they hire local people.

MINGO: Local people.

VAN BRAKLE: And when you went to shop the clerks were neighbors or church members ...

MINGO: Right, so you knew them well.

VAN BRAKLE: ... that were working there. And District Lock and Hardware, for instance, was where my husband always went. And, when I was by myself and didn't know a nail from a hammer ...

MINGO: You'd go there yourself.

VAN BRAKLE: I would go there and -- I can't remember the two gentlemen's names that were the head people around there. I would just ask them for whatever my problem was and they gave me the right pieces and told me how to do and, if necessary, when they got off from work, they'd run around to put it in the proper place where I needed. [both laugh]

MINGO: They'd help you out in any way.

VAN BRAKLE: So, those type of businesses we don't have anymore because no one knows anyone anymore. It was the same way I think I had mentioned last time about the gentleman who used to be the pharmacist at the Peoples Drug Store at Seventh Street. I could call him and tell him what ailments my kids had and he not only would tell me what I needed but bring it around on his lunch break or whatever to see that I got it so I didn't have to leave them alone to go pick up something or if it was cold or whatever. So, those type of establishments we don't have. And I think I also remembered a few others that -- oh, one other thing about the family owned and operated stores. The kids had jobs.

MINGO: Ah. Your children had jobs.

VAN BRAKLE: My children worked at various stores. Either at Roland's or District Lock and Hardware, Frager's, Distad's gasoline station at Ninth and Pennsylvania Avenue, which was family owned.

MINGO: That's right, that's right. Distads own that.

VAN BRAKLE: Mr. and Mrs. Distad ran that and the children are still running it. And, you know, when you enjoyed having a -- there wasn't a job program for teenagers at that time and so you wanted your children to be busy and not get into mischief during the summer. They all had jobs at one store or another and those owners of those stores helped to guide your children. They'd let you know if they got out of line and so you had assistance in ...

MINGO: A lot of community support.

VAN BRAKLE: Right. Community support, that's exactly ...

MINGO: And then there were the movie houses, too. There were movie houses on Pennsylvania Avenue.

VAN BRAKLE: Two movie houses where ...

MINGO: Did those figure in your life, your family's?

VAN BRAKLE: You mean as far as -- well, to attend the movies, yes. It was a ritual for Saturday. All the children were lined up outside the door to go to the movies on Saturday. It was the best babysitter in the neighborhood because you -- everybody walked their kids up to the movie and then you walked back up and picked them up double feature time. So, you walked up four hours later ...

MINGO: It was a good long time.

VAN BRAKLE: ... and picked them up and you had a chance then to get a lot of things done while they were well supervised, or you hoped they were, in the movie. So, for a few, fifteen cents or whatever the movie cost and some popcorn money and you had four hours to accomplish missions at home without the children. And, of course, then you get into the bit of segregation because the movies, up until -- I don't remember when they were -- and the reason why I don't know is because I didn't pay it any attention. [laughs]

MINGO: Yes I gather that -- fortunately, that was not a bar to your using the theatre.

VAN BRAKLE: My children happen to be fair skinned. No one knew the difference. My middle son has curly hair so he had to wear a hat.

MINGO: Oh, my goodness.

VAN BRAKLE: So no one would recognize that he was not a little white boy. But, other than that it was not an inconvenience for me because I just ignored it. It was a stupid rule and, so, I didn't grow up with it and, so, I ignored it, which may not have been the best thing to do but that was my opinion.

MINGO: And the other children must have ignored it also.

VAN BRAKLE: Children are all alike, they're all born the same. Children don't pay any attention if someone there as black as my shoes would have been welcomed by the children. It wasn't the children, it was the adults that created the problem.

MINGO: The ones who went to the theater or the ones who operated the theater?

VAN BRAKLE: Operated the theater. They were the ones who had the rule that you can't attend this because you're a black child. And because you were black, where did you go? I guess you had to go to U Street or there may have been a black movie on H, Northeast. I don't know because I didn't go.

MINGO: Okay. So, you yourself and your husband didn't go to movies.

VAN BRAKLE: Yes, we went to the movies. We went to the Penn.

MINGO: Okay, so you went to the Penn also. I'm so glad to hear that.

VAN BRAKLE: Because my husband is the same complexion I am.

MINGO: Oh, I'm so glad to hear that.

VAN BRAKLE: So, we sort of ignored -- we went anywhere we wanted. We went to -- what's the name of the amusement park that you get on the streetcar and ride to? Glen Echo.

MINGO: Glen Echo, yes.

VAN BRAKLE: Glen Echo did not admit black people. But, we never paid any attention to it. We just went. If we had enough money to go to Glen Echo, we went, because as far as I was concerned it was a stupid rule and I ignored it.

MINGO: Now, when did this kind -- when did the segregation stop?

VAN BRAKLE: I don't even remember because it was difficult for me to remember since it never was segregated for me. So, but as far as -- and ironical enough we didn't have any black children on our block, I don't believe.

MINGO: Really. But, the neighborhood was mixed more so than it is now.

VAN BRAKLE: No, not my block.

MINGO: No. But, even in the general neighborhood it was not?

VAN BRAKLE: Well, my kids played with the kids that lived on the block and maybe a few from in this block. But, I don't remember any black children. Now there were a couple that used to come and spend the day. Somebody was taking care of -- there was a young man that spent the day next door. In fact, he calls himself my fourth son. Right now he's a medical doctor here in town. And he came and spent the day next door to me where Bruce and Susan live. That was a black family at that time, but they had no children. But, there was an older lady there who kept, who was his babysitter. So, he came there and -- his parents dropped him off in the morning and took him back in the, picked him up in the evening. And he went to school, he was about, like, six years old, six or seven years old when he started coming. But, he was never there on Saturdays to go to the movies.

MINGO: Oh, I see. So he was at home then.

VAN BRAKLE: He was there from Monday to Friday. And he and my son Craig are the same age, born the same month so they started St. Peter's together. And, in fact, he's Craig's children's godfather. They developed very good friends from those days. But, Gary was never here for the Saturday movie thing or, you know, Sunday if you went to Glen Echo or wherever you went. He was only there from Monday to Friday. But, children that lived in the block, they were all white. But, they were, most of them were, come from families that were renting and several lived in this apartment on the corner.

MINGO: Yes, you said home ownership at that time, I think ...

VAN BRAKLE: Was low.

MINGO: ... was only about fifty per cent, maybe.


MINGO: So, that made it very different from ...

VAN BRAKLE: And they weren't, they weren't the children that I really wanted my children to play with.

MINGO: Right.

VAN BRAKLE: In fact, my boys now laugh about -- because they remember their names and whatnot -- and they'll say, "I wonder what ever happened to ... " They all had nicknames and they'll call off the nicknames of these children that were little terrors. But, you put up with them. Of course, children were different then than they are now. If they didn't do something correctly, you sort of took them by the shoulder and shook them a little bit and got them straightened out. [laughs]. But, they don't do that in these days.

MINGO: Not so much now, no, no.

VAN BRAKLE: And when my boys got to be, like, teenagers then they had little jobs in the summer at the various stores around. And, as I said, you knew everybody who owned the stores. My husband knew everybody by being Superintendent of Southeast Post Office at one time. And, so, everybody had to come to the post office and especially the business people. So, he knew everybody and everybody knew him. And, so our boys always had jobs. But, most of the kids that were well behaved had little summer jobs around. Sharon and Mike Ambrose's children are a little bit younger but as they came along it was the same way with their children. They had little summer jobs because they were good kids and they could -- everybody wanted to help keep them good kids, so that worked out. And it, as I said, the District Lock and Hardware people helped me out tremendously when I was a widow and had no idea what I was doing. And Johnny Distad, I couldn't have made it without him.

MINGO: With the cars, yes.

VAN BRAKLE: With the cars. On one occasion, my car was -- I had a Cadillac and it stopped on me. I'm ready to give it away, no questions asked, just take it. And Johnny said, "Now, wait a minute, Mrs. Van Brakle. Don't do like that. Let me take it." So, he said, "Let me keep it over the weekend." So, he kept it over the weekend. He took it home, he came back. He said he took his mother to a funeral. He told me where he went and he said I think this is wrong and this is wrong, but don't give it away. It's worth fixing. [laughs] And this kind of thing you can't do without. And the same way with, this is broken, but fix this but don't fix that. And you don't need that anyway. You don't play the radio, you don't need an aerial. So, it got broken off, don't worry about it. I'll do something here. Oh, you appreciate these kinds of businesses. But -- and also ...

MINGO: This is -- excuse me -- but, this is the John Distad who is now the proprietor of the..

VAN BRAKLE: Right. Johnny and his brother and his sister are now running Distad's at Ninth Street and they have another one on Good Hope Road I think it is.

MINGO: Yes. Okay.

VAN BRAKLE: So, they're great people, great people. And also in the 600 block we had a High's, High's Ice Cream store.


VAN BRAKLE: And then ...

MINGO: Is that preceding Ben & Jerry's?

VAN BRAKLE: Yes, yes. Well, High's were all over town way back and we had one there in the 600 block. Also there was a -- of course, the kids couldn't work there -- oh, it's about a couple of doors from Sixth Street on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue, there was a big liquor store. And the guy that owned it -- I don't know what his real name was but they called him Red because he had bright red hair. And everybody knew Red and he knew everybody. And it was, any help that you needed with anything, you could always get donations and everything. Red was always on the ...

MINGO: Wonderful. Also community minded.

VAN BRAKLE: You started there for donations. You knew you were going to get a good donation from there. But, I don't -- and, then, down in the -- the other day I was trying to remember the name of the couple that owned and operated the restaurant in the 200 block. And I finally asked one of my children.

MINGO: Yes. Their connection with the football team.

VAN BRAKLE: Right. Mike Palm.

MINGO: Mike Palm. P-a-l-m?

VAN BRAKLE: P-a-l-m. Mike Palm. And Mike was a football player with the, I believe it was the New York Giants, but it was a pro team. And his wife had been at one time a dealer at a Las Vegas casino. And, in fact, they met there, she said. And they raised their children across the street, the house that faces St. Peter's Church, the big white house that faces St. Peter's Church. That's where Mike and his wife lived and their children. I forgotten the children's names but they were the age of my children and went to school together. And, after Mike died, then his wife and children maintained the restaurant for a good number of years.

MINGO: Oh. It was in the 300 block? The restaurant.

VAN BRAKLE: In the 200 block.

MINGO: 200 block.

VAN BRAKLE: 200 block, mm-hmm. And she eventually, after the kids grew up and married and lived other places, she eventually sold the house and she lived in an apartment up by St. Mark's Church for a while. And she and the children weren't seeing eye-to-eye on how to manage the restaurant and, so they gave the restaurant up. And she moved to, I believe it was West Virginia. And I haven't seen any of the children for some time.

MINGO: Is there a restaurant in that location now?

VAN BRAKLE: Yes, but I forgotten which one it is because they changed so many up there in that block.

MINGO: Yes, there been a lot of changes.

VAN BRAKLE: It may be the -- no, it's not the Chinese restaurant I don't think. What's that -- Hunan 's or somebody?

MINGO: Yes, there's Hunan 's.

VAN BRAKLE: It's right along in there somewhere but I'm not sure exactly which building it was. I don't think it's that building, I think it's -- might be where Trover's is.

MINGO: Oh, okay.

VAN BRAKLE: But, it -- along in there somewhere.

MINGO: Yes, on that block.

VAN BRAKLE: And I just don't remember the exact, what's exactly there now.

MINGO: Oh, that's okay.

VAN BRAKLE: But, it was a very, very popular restaurant all over town. People came not only from the area but everybody came to Mike Palm's to ...

MINGO: And it was called Mike Palm's?


MINGO: Oh, good.

VAN BRAKLE: There's another restaurant, in fact I think it's still in existence, called, I think it's called The Palm. The Palms, I think is the -- but there's no connection.

MINGO: No connection, okay.

VAN BRAKLE: And, also, up in the 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue there was a gift shop and it was gorgeous. It was run by a man and his sister.


VAN BRAKLE: And it was up about two or three doors from Peoples at Seventh Street. On this side of ...

MINGO: On this side.

VAN BRAKLE: I can't visualize -- maybe where that Chinese restaurant is there. There's a Chinese restaurant.

MINGO: Right, yes.

VAN BRAKLE: It might be along -- and it was really a lovely card and gift shop. I can't recall the name, but better than Trover's. They had a wider selection. They had more space and it ...

MINGO: More than stationery.

VAN BRAKLE: And their card and their gifts were really gorgeous gifts. I mean you could do your Chris tmas shopping there.

MINGO: Oh, so a variety of items then.

VAN BRAKLE: Oh, yes. In fact, they ...

MINGO: Clothing also, or was it ...

VAN BRAKLE: Just cards. Cards and gifts. No, no clothing. Things like crystalware, beautiful crystal. And some very expensive things. It was a wide price range. But, it wasn't token gifts. It wasn't a bunch of junk. It was really beautiful things that -- you could buy a wedding present there for a dear friend. I mean, you could buy things there that cost almost a hundred dollars for a gift of crystalware or silver or beautiful gifts. And, then, some, you know, lesser priced items, smaller priced items on down to ...

MINGO: Do you recall when it closed? Or what it was closed by?

VAN BRAKLE: The brother died and the sister -- after the brother died, the sister worked at Roland's for a while.


VAN BRAKLE: You got to know everybody in these stores. You knew them and knew their background and their families and whatnot. And one of the clerks that used to be at Peoples Drug Store, she lived down in southern Maryland somewhere and came up on the bus every day. When she passed away, it was like a longtime neighbor -- she never lived in the neighborhood but she always worked there and she would -- she kept track of everybody's children. If I went to the drug store, she would beckon to me and say, "Craig was in here the other day and I told him to stop doing such-and-such." [laughs]

MINGO: Sort of being aware of that they probably minded their p's and q's.

VAN BRAKLE: Well, they knew they couldn't, whatever they did somebody was going -- the news that they did anything wrong, the news beat them home. [both laugh]

MINGO: Great.

VAN BRAKLE: And that went, not only for my children, but for everybody who was trying to do a good job.

MINGO: Wonderful community.

VAN BRAKLE: And there was a pet shop up there in the middle of that block. The pet shop was long about, oh, probably where that Western store is up there in the 600 block. And they had all kinds of pets, from snakes to birds to -- huh! My youngest son, I think my older boys knew better, but, my youngest son was there one day and talked the owner into letting him have the snake.

MINGO: Then he would bring it home. Were you pleased to see a snake come in the door?

VAN BRAKLE: I didn't see it.

MINGO: Oh, you didn't?

VAN BRAKLE: I probably wouldn't have but two sons by now if I had. [both laugh] His father saw it and said "You know your mother is not going to let that snake be in this house." Because I am deathly afraid of snakes even though I grew up on a 640-acre farm, which is a mile square. And I'm sure there were plenty of snakes there. But ...

MINGO: But not in the house.

VAN BRAKLE: No, we didn't have them in the house there and they weren't go -- I have a dread fear, almost uncanny. I can't even look at them. When our children were little and we took them to the zoo on regular -- I never went in the Snake House. My husband took the boys through the Snake House and I met them on the other end. I just can't look at them. They make me sick. But, he talked this guy out of the snake and he showed it to his dad and his dad said, "No, no. You just can't have that snake in this house because it's not going to work. So, you just have to take that snake back and say 'Thanks, but, no thanks.'"

MINGO: So, he did.

VAN BRAKLE: He took it back and gave it back to the man and said his dad wouldn't let him have it, so ...

MINGO: Were there organizations that, where the children belonged to in the area that might, where they might have encountered things like learning about snakes or wildlife or, you know, like Scouts or anything about nature?

VAN BRAKLE: Oh, yes, Boy Scouts. Yes, yes. My husband was a Boy Scout leader and my boys were out of the troop out of St. Peter's. And they went up to wherever you go on hikes and stuff with the boys.

MINGO: And those were integrated groups?

VAN BRAKLE: Oh, yes. Well, St. Peter's School was integrated.

MINGO: About forty years ago, I think you said. Sixties, maybe.

VAN BRAKLE: My oldest son was born in '45 and he was five years old in '50.

MINGO: Oh, '50s then.

VAN BRAKLE: So, in 1950, when he started school, he started at Giddings, which is on G Street.

MINGO: Yes. Right.

VAN BRAKLE: And the next year, St. Peter's changed. Whether other -- I can't tell you the years of other schools. Of course, the big segregation change came in 1954 with the Brown ...

MINGO: Brown versus the Board of Education.


MINGO: Right, yes.

VAN BRAKLE: But, St. Peter's -- Bryant started first grade in St. Peter's and that would have been in 1951. So, and Craig was three years younger, so when he started kindergarten, he started at St. Peter's. So, I had no knowledge of public school other than that one year of kindergarten.

MINGO: At Giddings, yes.

VAN BRAKLE: And the Scouts and all of their activities were at St. Peter's. And, then, after they were both in school, then I decided to go back to work. So, they went to school until three and then after, from three until five, they were at Friendship House. And they had their after school program.

MINGO: Which they still have, too, of course. Yes.

VAN BRAKLE: And, as a result, well, I always been active in wherever the children were. So, with the things going on at St. Peter's and it spilled over into what was going on at Friendship House. And, so, I always had an active part in that. And then I went on to -- well, when they left St. Peter's, Archbishop Carroll, St. Anthony's, whatever the next level of education. Then, that's the time to offer to be on the PTA. And, so, I was president of the PTA everywhere.

MINGO: I guess you -- plenty of PTA experience.



MINGO: This is the second tape in the second interview with Alice Van Brakle. All right, on the preceding tape we were talking about sports activities at your children's schools.

VAN BRAKLE: And the schools. And I wanted to mention that the PTA bit. When my son started at St. Peter's in first grade, 1951, they did not have a PTA or any type of such organization, which I wasn't very happy about. And, so, Paul Beatley and I -- Paul and Mary Ann's kids were also at St. Peter's. And Paul and I got together and did the necessary to establish St. Peter's first Home-School Association. I don't remember the fine details right now why it could not be a PTA, it had to be a Home-School Association for some reason. I don't remember the legalities of it.

MINGO: Oh, it wasn't part of the national PTA organization perhaps?

VAN BRAKLE: I don't remember. There was some reason why we could not introduce PTA, but we did the Home-School Association which was the same thing.

MINGO: And in fact was the same thing as PTA.

VAN BRAKLE: I don't know what they have down there now. They may have, still have Home-School or they may have PTA. But, it's the same difference.

MINGO: Yes, the same interaction.

VAN BRAKLE: And, you know, we started the Home-School Association and got the parents there involved. And those who really didn't want to be involved you encouraged them to, showed them the plusses of being involved with their children. So, that took care -- and, then, I used to -- when I first started working, I worked down in the temporary buildings back of Fort McNair, which is just less than ten minutes from here. And, so, I drove down there to the office and at lunch time, many times, when St. Peter's had -- oh, they had all kinds of little teams of basketball and whatever. And they had little luncheons to support the teams and buy some uniforms and whatever. So, I would hop in my car at lunchtime and run up and sell the hot dogs and whatever was necessary. [laughs]

MINGO: Oh, you helped out even on your lunch hour.

VAN BRAKLE: Helping on -- the Home-School Association would give the little luncheon and it needed all the parents to come and support. And, so, because my office was close, I could take my lunch period and fudge a bit or tell them I'd be an hour late or whatever and run up and do the luncheon and run back to work. [laughs]

MINGO: Such a good convenience.

VAN BRAKLE: So, you know, these were the type of things that really kept you busy. You were involved with whatever your children were doing. If they were involved in a sport, then that's where your interest was. But, as far as their social life, because our kids on the block were not what I wanted for my kids, then I pitched my kids in the car and took them across town to where my friends had something going on.

MINGO: Oh, okay. So their social life was not so much on the Hill.



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