Georgetown: home to the famous and the fashionable


November 14, 1993|By Ralph Vigoda | Ralph Vigoda,Knight-Ridder News Service

George Washington slept here.


So did the Marquis de Lafayette. And Alexander Graham Bell. And Bell's mother.

So did Robert E. Lee and Merle Oberon. Ditto John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy and Charles Dickens and Louisa May Alcott and Myrna Loy and Drew Pearson and Henry Kissinger and H. R. Haldeman.

"Here" is Georgetown, a delightful bit of Washington that looms large here despite being little more than a square mile in size.

How many other pieces of land of comparable size have been home to -- or host to -- so many world players, from presidents to ambassadors to movie stars to foreign dignitaries to media moguls to writers and artists?

One of the greatest joys in spending time in Georgetown is to walk in their footsteps. To stand, for instance, on the brick sidewalk in front of 3307 N St., John F. Kennedy's last Georgetown home, where, as president-elect, he held impromptu news conferences before moving to the White House.

To wander through Dumbarton Oaks (1703 32rd St.), where the conference was held that led to the United Nations Charter.

To pause near the site of Suter's Tavern (1000 block of Wisconsin Avenue), where George Washington and others met to plan the building of the capital.

Or to hop down the 75 stairs where the devil met his match: The steep steps on the Georgetown University campus are known as the "Exorcist Steps" because that's where actor Jason Miller, the priest in the movie "The Exorcist," fell and died, taking the devil with him.

A stroller's delight

Georgetown, with its chic restaurants and pubs and trendy boutiques, has few rivals as a place for strolling.

For the lover of history, Georgetown -- a thriving tobacco port long before the District of Columbia was founded -- is an obvious draw. Students of architecture can marvel at the Federal, Georgian, Gothic Revival and Victorian buildings.

And hikers and joggers can do their thing on the towpath of the C&O Canal, the 184-mile waterway that ends (or begins) in Georgetown.

For those with more modern needs -- such as a Gap, for instance -- Wisconsin Avenue is a shopper's haven. Music mavens will find every taste answered along M Street. And for those tourists who feel incomplete without some waterfront shopping, like Baltimore's Harborplace or New York's South Street Seaport, Georgetown has that, too. It's called Washington Harbour, it's next to the Potomac River, and it has all the usual high-priced ethnic restaurants.

Not that you have to pay through the nose. I had a cheap lunch at Washington Harbour on my most recent Georgetown visit. I made my own salad at the gourmet salad bar in the Columbo Yogurt store, and ate outside in the shade, where I had an unobstructed view of the Watergate complex, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and, across the river, Arlington, Va.

Georgetown has fabulous nooks and crannies too. There are -- if you don't watch carefully -- as many things to miss as there are to see.

Such as the Francis Scott Key bookstore (28th and O streets), with a shelf of interesting volumes for $1. Or the 19th-century testaments to love written on the headstones and monuments in the Oak Hill Cemetery (30th and R streets). Or Briggs Hall (1514 26th St.), a ramshackle building whose history is carved into a stone in the front wall; the stone, though, is so eroded that all that can be made out is the date "1864," leaving Briggs Hall a bit of a mystery.

Or, of course, Herman Hollerith's old workshop.

Hollerith also slept in Georgetown, but his is one name few Americans might recognize, despite its importance. A century ago, Hollerith perfected a punch and tabulating machine in his workshop on 31st Street, a few steps from the C&O Canal, that was the forerunner of today's computer. He later sold his business to a company that evolved into IBM.

Parking and places

What you'll bump into first in Georgetown depends on where you start. And where you start depends on where you park. Despite a not-undeserved reputation for clogged traffic -- especially at Georgetown's main intersection of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue -- free street parking is often available.

Just remember that nonresidents -- those without parking stickers -- are supposed to stay in one spot no more than two hours.

But that's plenty of time to get a good feel for the area. And after two hours you can get some fresh bread and cheese at a couple of corner groceries -- Scheele's Market (29th and Dumbarton) or Griffin's Market (28th and P) -- walk to Rock Creek Park, and have a picnic.

The park, on R Street, is close to a quartet of Georgetown's most famous mansions -- two open to the public, two private.

The Beall-Washington House (2920 R St.), was built in 1784, and its surrounding grounds cover nearly a block. The house is still owned privately, as is Evermay (1623 28th St.), erected in 1792-1794 by Samuel Davidson, a Scotsman who financed the construction by selling other Washington land he owned,

including the site of the White House.

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