|Title||Orem, David S. -- CCHS OHP Transcript|
|Object Name||Oral History|
|Creator||Chevy Chase Historical Society|
Orem, David S., March 24, 1988 -- Transcript of Interview with the Chevy Chase Historical Society Oral History Project
Interview with Marjorie Zapruder and Mary Anne Tuohey
For audio recording of interview see items 2008.11.53a and 2008.11.53b (tapes), 2007.58.07 (CD)
Transcriber: Techni type
Mary Anne Touhey: This is Mary Anne Tuohey. Marjorie Zapruder and I are going to be talking to David Simpson Orem today. David is a longtime resident of Chevy Chase and there's a great deal he can tell us, not only about his recollections growing up here, but also he can comment, we know, on the business experience that he's had as a prominent businessman in the Chevy Chase neighborhood. Right now we're looking at some photographs that are part of the Chevy Chase Historical Society collection that we hope he can identify. David, you have in your hand one of them.
David S. Orem: Yes. Well, let's start with one I don't know at all, and that is a photograph identified, 3406 Cummings Lane. I do remember that there was a Cummings family who lived there, and hence the name of the street. But I don't recognize the house. Whether it was the Cummings house or not, I have no way of knowing.
T: Okay, we'll put that one to one side.
Mr. Orem: And there's no date. A person would just have to estimate the date when that house was built, when the photograph was taken. Now, the next four all have to do with Williams Lane, with which I am familiar. In fact, I think I have this picture myself. This was entitled "Williams Lane, 1920s, looking east." That's interesting, because as you remember, Williams Lane began at Brookville Road and extended down the hill to the bottom. It was Williams' Farm, and the lane was the entrance from Brookville Road past his house, which still stands (3707), and down to his barn.
T: So it ran east from Brookville Road?
Mr. Orem: It ran west.
T: It ran west from Brookville Road.
Mr. Orem: But in this photograph, there is a dirt road and a pedestrian walkway alongside it, separated by sticks and stones, continuing in the direction of Connecticut Avenue, which indicates that this probably was taken after Connecticut Avenue was built, because Connecticut Avenue didn't exist during the early days of Chevy Chase and was built by the Chevy Chase Land Company. So access to these farms was primarily from Brookville Road. The house identified in this picture as Kerr or Carr was originally Williams' barn, and the barn was located in the right of way of Williams Lane. At some point in time, when it was decided to extend Williams Lane through to Connecticut Avenue, thus making Williams' Farm and the other land which he didn't own, available for subdivision, Williams realized that he would have to relocate the barn and move it back into a subdividable lot. I remember family stories about how the barn was jacked up and placed on a new foundation, and then the house built around the timbers of the barn. That's Kerr's or Carr's house (3713).
T: Excuse me. Do you remember, do we have our direction right?
Mr. Orem: This is looking east towards Brookville Road.
T: Okay. Good. So this is the house after it was made into a house from the barn moved off the right of way.
Mr. Orem: That's correct.
T: Have you any idea when that move was made?
Mr. Orem: No, I don't.
T: We'd have to find out when. We could tell that it happened after the subdivision. [See Brookville Road and Williams Lane: Oldest Street in Chevy Chase, Maryland, by Hallie Lou W. Blum, which says builder Horace Troth, Sr. arranged for the barn to be moved around ninety degrees and back parallel to Williams Lane. The period is the l920s, but no date is given.]
Mr. Orem: Well, all I remember is family stories, overhearing the men in the family talk about watching Williams' barn being relocated onto a new foundation and rebuilt into a house. I've been in that house on many occasions, and I sort of remember heavy timbers in the basement, but other than that, I don't think there's anything left that would resemble a barn. I don't really know how much of a physical barn they picked up and moved, and how much was stripped when it was converted into a house. But the interesting thing about the Carrs or Kerrs is that they speculated in race horses and had in their backyard, off to the left in this picture, a stable, where they would warehouse, so to speak, race horses that they had purchased for resale. At one time, the story went, they owned War Admiral, sired by Man of War, and at one time he was living in this stable of the Kerr's house, and they sold him, and he became a world famous race horse. I think that someone had written or engraved or carved the name "War Admiral" and nailed it up over that side of the stall where that horse had stayed, where it had been stabled. There was also the story that they purchased race horses in Europe and were bringing them back, and now my memory is hazy. It was either the Titanic or the Lucitania, and they lost everything when the boat went down.
T: Oh my. What an investment that was.
Mr. Orem: The house dimly seen to the right, behind the trees, would probably be, I don't know the street number now, but I think I see a gambrel roof, which would indicate a Dutch colonial style, and I think that was owned by people we knew named Bergman, but I can't give you the street number today.
T: And that would be also on Williams Lane?
Mr. Orem: Yes, right here behind these trees.
T: Yes, I can see it, too. Right.
Mr. Orem: So all the land, then, from Carr's in the direction of the photographer and from Bergman's, if that was the one, up to the garage was vacant. The garage is identified as "Colonel Beach's garage." I don't remember Colonel Beach or anything about him. All right. The next photograph, this one identified as "Williams Lane, 1920s, looking west." This apparently shows Colonel Beach's garage, which is on the right.
T: Right here in the corner.
Mr. Orem: Possibly, possibly. Yes. See this leaning tree that curves like that? Well, that would seem to be this leaning tree.
T: It does.
Mr. Orem: That curves like that. It curves toward the garage. So we can assume that this garage is this garage in the second picture. That being the case, the photograph was made from the rise of the hill going up towards Connecticut Avenue. Now, these three houses behind it, the three Victorians, were built by Williams as wedding presents for his three daughters, and they still stand today, of course. (3806, 3807, 3813)
Marjorie Zapruder: Connecticut Avenue is behind?
Mr. Orem: Would be up here at the top of the hill. This is the rise of Williams Lane going up to Connecticut Avenue.
Z: Is this Brookville Road?
Mr. Orem: No, no. This is about mid block. Now, you can also see power poles here and here, indicating that electricity had been brought down Williams Lane by this time. This hollow, the land in the vicinity of this garage, was known as the hollow, and there is an underground stream. In this photograph and in this time, that was an open stream. You can see the stream valley, and there was probably a culvert there underneath Williams Lane to carry it through. The stream was spring fed, it was clear water, and the stream still flows. It's now all piped and filled, and it originates somewhere around Woodbine or Thornapple; I'm not quite sure where. And it flowed down through this bottom land and then north, in the direction of what's now Glendale Road, where the culvert opens up and it flows back down to Coquelin Run, at Chevy Chase Lake Drive, and then east to Rock Creek.
Z: Down towards Rollingwood.
Mr. Orem: Well, it's north of Rollingwood. It would be in the vicinity of Chevy Chase Lake.
Z: Oh, I see.
Mr. Orem: In fact, it would flow into the creek (Coquelin Run) which had been dammed up to create Chevy Chase Lake. Now this has all been piped and filled, so that creek no longer exists, but in my day it was an open creek behind three houses, and each of the houses that had a portion of the creek decorated it with lilies and flowers. In fact, my father and his cousins built a very attractive red painted Japanese bridge that went across the creek, and there was a garden area on the far side.
T: So your house was not one of those three Victorians, was it?
Mr. Orem: No, it would be one lot this side of the Carr's house, in this vacant area.
T: I see. So you would come right up to the creek, then.
Mr. Orem: The back of the lot contained the creek. Now, this last photograph which is very much out of focus, is the same view as the first one, but taken in the wintertime with the snow. And the smaller one, entitled "Spring house and chestnut tree on lot at 21 Williams Lane" is very interesting to me, because that's where my father's house was built, 21 Williams Lane. (Now 3717) Where that picture came from, I have no idea.
T: I'm sorry that we don't either. We can only say that in the days when we began acquiring pictures, we acquired them helter skelter. Now we're trying to do a good job. Eleanor is picking up the last of the pieces. We're into double digits on our photographs now, and these few remaining ones are the ones we're struggling to get identified. It's too bad. I'm embarrassed to say we can't credit this work. This would be your father's house. And your dad's name was?
Mr. Orem: William. This shows the brick property marker. There was a brick pier filled with cement, and there were two of them located along the north side of Williams Lane and the land just adjacent to the Carr's house.
T: I wonder if that could be one. See that shadow?
Mr. Orem: No, that's a bush. This is very clear.
T: Yes, that one is very clear.
Mr. Orem: So the land to the left of this brick pier would be a lot my father bought, on which he built his house. You can see where the creek bed runs across down the lower part. The fact that there's a shed down there, called a spring house, is news to me. I don't remember there ever being a spring house there; it must have been torn down by my time. But that was the purpose of that spring, and this was probably Williams' spring house, which he used to keep his milk cold and whatever one does in the spring house. That chestnut tree, as I recall, and another tree to the right, these two principal trees, were saved when our house was built. Notice that this land has all been cleared.
Mr. Orem: So it was obviously farmed. So this would be the vacant lot directly adjacent to the Carr's house, and that's the one on which a 1950's style white brick rambler stands today, which I think is occupied by an order of nuns. (3715)
Mr. Orem: Yes. This would be the lot on which my father built his house just after World War I, I would guess about 1927, '28, something like that.
T: That's fabulous. Thank you very much for that. It's a wonderful start.
Mr. Orem: Now what can I tell you?
Z: I think it makes me want to know more about your family. If you could tell us how your family came to Chevy Chase and why they built a house out here, we could start with that.
Mr. Orem: All right. My family was very closely associated with two other families, the Orems, the Troths and the Simpsons. My grandfather, my father's father, William Orem, Sr., was a Methodist minister, and in those days, the Conference, as it was called, rotated their clergymen to various new posts. I suppose in the nineteenth century they were called circuit riders. But by the time my grandfather entered the ministry, it was a permanent association with a new location, sometimes called a stake. Is that the term? I'm not quite sure. (Stake is correct. DSO) I think maybe that's a Mormon term. Let's not say that. And they would stay there for a short while and then move on to another one. At one point, my grandfather was assigned to Forest Glen. Forest Glen was then a small community. Today it's noted for the Army Hospital, which was formerly a girls' school, and had a railroad stop. In one way or another, he was housed at Clean Drinking, which is on Jones Mill Road, near Jones Bridge.
Z: Was that associated with the Methodist church?
Mr. Orem: No, it was just his parsonage, his home. That house remained until maybe the 1950s, and I think it was owned by the Slemans. At that time, when they ran Small's Nursery here, if you remember that, Small's Nursery, where they had the greenhouses, that was the land on the Clean Drinking Manor that my grandfather lived in. Whether he owned it or rented it, I don't know. But my father was born there in that house on Jones Mill Road, near Clean Drinking.
Z: The original house is not there anymore?
Mr. Orem: No.
T: That's where the nursing home is now?
Mr. Orem: No, the nursing home's on the corner of the intersection of the two streets, and then you go north on Jones Bridge and you pass the Audubon Society. Just beyond that is a new subdivision of houses going up the hill that was built in the fifties or maybe early sixties. They were built on the land that the Slemans owned. As I say, when I was a boy, a young man, it was a Small family nursery. But it was a farm initially, and my grandfather and his wife and three children lived there. My father was born there. My father then, because there was no public school in Montgomery County this side of Rockville, my father was sent to E.V. Brown School here in the District. The District had the nearest public school. (Re: Schools this side of Rockville, I'm not sure this is correct. DSO)
Z: Even from up there? That's very interesting.
Mr. Orem: That's right. There was no other school.
Z: When was your father born, approximately?
Mr. Orem: 1897. His memories of E.V. Brown School were... I wish, of course, that he had said more or written more. My father didn't write history, he wasn't interested in where he came from or anything. In fact, no one in the family was. My grandfather left some memoirs, but only because one of the other members of the family said, "Would you please write it down?" And when he wrote it, it was a chronological history of his assignments, and it said very little about where he lived or who he met or the lifestyle of the family, or anything else. It was more or less a diary of appointments from this parish, as we would say, to that one, and so forth and so on, his relationship with what was called the Conference, and his retirement and his children and their dates of birth, but that was about it.
T: But no meat.
Mr. Orem: No, not at all. But I do remember my father went to E.V. Brown School because it was the only school in the area, and I assume that means that all the young boys and girls from Montgomery County and this down county area went to E.V. Brown or whatever school was closest. The earliest picture I have of E.V. Brown shows the iron handled pump out front. Maybe you all have seen that picture or have one. He remembered that. He also remembered that he had to memorize the Gettysburg Address, and he could still recite it when I knew him, by rote. And, that being left handed, his teacher strapped his left hand behind him and made him write with his right hand, and what a difficult time that was for him, because he couldn't do Spencerian script with his right hand. When he got out of that class, he went back to using his left hand, and his Spencerian script was beautiful. He had just wonderful handwriting. I don't remember any other family stories about E.V. Brown School. I do recall that he said they had to go to Forest Glen for the milk and for the mail, which would be dropped off by the railroad at the Forest Glen railroad station. And he would ride a horse and pick up the milk and ride back. I don't remember much more about his life at Clean Drinking.
Z: Did he actually farm the land?
Mr. Orem: No, I don't think so, because, and I'm getting to that, my grandmother, my father's mother, still on the Orem side, was a Simpson. The Simpsons were one of the largest families in the Chevy Chase area at that time. There may have been a lot of Cummingses and a couple of other families, but the Simpsons were very large. The patriarch whom I knew, I dimly remember was called Daddy Frank. His name was Frank Simpson, and he was a builder. He built many of the houses that still exist in Chevy Chase, primarily frame construction. So all the young men who were available worked for Daddy Frank as carpenter's helpers or laborers. In that way, my father and his cousins, nieces and nephews, all became associated in a common venture. So I imagine that my father's early days were spent as a carpenter. He was an expert at tools and prided himself in his tools, and we still have several tools that had "FS" stamped on them for Simpson, some carpenter's planes, the heavy wooden block planes, the type you see in antique stores today. The Simpsons married into the Troths, and the Troths married the Orems. And in fact, I have two double cousins. A girl Orem married a boy Simpson, and a girl Simpson married a boy Orem. Then Frank Troth married my mother's sister, so the three families were intermarried in a number of different ways. Well, that created so many Orems, Troths, and Simpsons, that I couldn't begin to keep them straight, and I very soon gave up. It just occurred to me that every time I came home and there were a crowd of people, that they were all related to me. (Laughter)
Z: No one has yet done a family tree?
Mr. Orem: Yes, I think so. I don't know where it is. There are still quite a few Simpsons. Well, our most illustrious member is Jim Simpson, who is a sports reporter on television. Up until recent years, he specialized in the Olympics, and he was one of the principal sports announcers at the Sapporo games. I don't know what Jim is doing now. Jim is about my age, and he and I went to high school together. (Jim Simpson was one of the TV reporters in the 1988 Olympics at Seoul. DSO) Another Simpson, Richard, is a professor at the University of North Carolina. And of the Troths over here, there were just two children, Nancy and Frank. Nancy was the same age as my sister Jean, and Frank is about my age, and so we were very close. There are other Troths who had other children, and I don't know much about them. So the venture seemed to be development of farmland and the construction of houses, from my father's earliest days. That's what was happening in Chevy Chase, and because Frank Simpson was a builder, that's what everyone did. The construction of a house in those days, of course, was typical of the small merchant builder, as Frank Simpson was. His shed and his tools and his lumber were in the back lot of his house on Brookville Road, which would be roughly between Woodbine and Williams Lane on the east side of Brookville Road. It's a large house with a nice porch set way back from the street. (7315 Brookville Road) That was Daddy's Frank's. I think the rear lots have now been sold off, but it was a very deep lot and the builders' construction sheds were back there.
Z: Is there a street that goes along beside that house on the left hand side, if you're looking at it from Brookville Road? It's a fairly new street.
Mr. Orem: No, it's not that one. This was a white frame house. The one you're thinking of, I believe, is stucco.
Z: Stucco. That's right.
Mr. Orem: And as children, those of us who were growing up on Williams Lane spent many hours, many delightful afternoons, playing around behind Daddy Frank's house, where there were things that you could build with, and the smell of rosin and turpentine and watching the workmen cut and do mill work. So it was manufacturing, as well as an office for the Simpson people. Then I believe they were called the Simpson Brothers Builders, and later two of them branched off and became the Simpson Troth Builders, and then my father associated with Frank Troth, and it was the Orem Troth Builders. So it was just in the family, that everyone either subdivided land or built houses or sold houses. And that brings me to my father's business. I should say prior, however, that like most of them, he went into the service in the First World War. My grandfather, because of his limited income, was unable to send any of his children to college, and the best he could do for them was to send them to what was called business school. They went to some business school downtown by streetcar. You remember the streetcar came out Connecticut Avenue by then, and so commuting to business school was relatively easy. There my father and his two sisters learned whatever was taught in business school. But I remember my father was an excellent typist. As I say, his handwriting was beautiful. They learned bookkeeping and stenography and whatever else was taught in business school, as did his two sisters, my aunts. But when he went in the service, he went into the Navy. I've often wondered why. I never really knew. But Frank Simpson went in the Army and the others went into this, that, and the other, and my father went in the Navy. Because of his business school training, he was assigned to what the Army would call the Quartermaster Corps. I don't know what it was called in the Navy. So his work had to do with bookkeeping and small stores and administration of supplies on board ship. He was assigned to various different ships. He would rattle off their names during his time when other World War I veterans would get together, but he talked about his posts, where his ships had been stationed in Brest, France, in Cork, Ireland, and this place and that place in England. I don't think his ship was involved in action, but he met a lot of people in the Navy who became lifelong friends. One of his memoirs from World War I has to do with a chief bosun's mate whom he admired very much. I think he developed a great deal of character from his experience in the Navy. It was not a negative experience. Others of my uncles had severe shell shock from combat or had been gassed. Those stories were very sad. Coming out of the Navy, he went to work for the YMCA and worked there for a very short time, possibly through my grandfather's connections with the Methodist Church, for some reason or another. Then got into insurance and worked for a firm called Ellet and Short, an insurance agency downtown. About, I guess, in the late twenties, he came out to work for Edward Jones, who had started this real estate company in Chevy Chase, and he came to work as a salesman, and was a salesman when Edward Jones incorporated the company in 1921, and was made one of the incorporators. So his name appears on the books in the incorporation of the company. From then on, his work was with Edward H. Jones Company, and some time later on, when Edward Jones lost the company, my father succeeded as president and purchased the outstanding stock, and owned that company from that time until his death.
Z: Was that during the Depression?
Mr. Orem: Yes. Edward Jones apparently had speculated, as everyone did in the late twenties, heavily in land, with the idea of developing the lots and selling the lots off. The Chevy Chase Savings Bank, I believe it was called, the president of the Savings Bank was a Troth, so you can see the family is in land speculation, home building, real estate, and banking. It worked together as a very efficient machine. But the bank had apparently loaned Edward Jones too much money to buy too much land. When the notes came due and he couldn't sell the land, he lost his business and he lost his building, the Arcade building, which he had built. And he lost his bank.
Z: Is that the bank that's at the corner of that same block?
Mr. Orem: No. Apparently the bank that Jones started was at McKinley Street, and when he lost it and Riggs took over his assets, they moved it to the location that they now have at Connecticut and Morrison Street.
Z: Next to the Arcade building.
Mr. Orem: That's right. And they built that building in '27. So my father then continued as president of the Jones Company up until his death. My mother's family was from Baltimore. Her family was as large as the Simpsons, if not larger. She was one of nine children. There were eight girls and one boy.
Mr. Orem: Those family stories were hilarious.
Z: Her maiden name is...?
Mr. Orem: Marie Resh Orem. Her father, David Franklin Resh, was Pennsylvania Dutch. The farm had been just across the Pennsylvania line for many years, and then he bought another farm in Carroll County, Maryland, where most of the older children were born. He got into the wholesale meat business and was trucking his sausages, German sausages and so forth, into Baltimore. He was spending a lot of his time in Baltimore at the markets, and my grandmother, the family story is, wasn't quite sure what he was doing in the big city, and finally they decided it would be better if they just moved to Baltimore, which they did. (Laughter) My mother was born in the house in Baltimore. She was the second to last of the eight girls. By the time she was born, the older girls had married and had husbands and farms of their own, and those who stayed home were yet unmarried and they raised the little ones. So my grandmother on my mother's side was saved the burden of raising the small children, because there were always enough older children around to take care of each other. Let's see. I'm not quite sure how my mother and father met. At any rate, when they married after World War I, my father was able to buy this lot on Williams Lane and the house. That's the house, that was number twenty one then. I don't recall what number it is today. (3717) That's the house where my sister and I were born. Across the street from that is a white, frame two story house with a front porch, which then was numbered twenty two.
T: Your mother and dad met and built the house?
Mr. Orem: Yes, but across the street from that, at what was then twenty two Williams Lane, that still exists with a different street number (3718), is a white frame house with a front porch across the front. That would be on the south side of Williams Lane about the middle of the block. That, apparently, my grandfather bought after leaving the homeplace at Clean Drinking, because in his notes, he mentions that they moved to twenty two Williams Lane, and that shortly thereafter, my father began construction of the house at twenty one Williams Lane. But while they lived there, my mother and father lived on the second floor in an apartment, and my grandfather and my father's two sisters lived on the first floor, so it was an apartment house. There was, I remember, a door at the top of the stairs where my mother could close off their apartment from the in laws downstairs. I don't think she cared for that lifestyle too much, and couldn't wait for the new house to be built.
Z: Did they have their own kitchen up there, do you think?
Mr. Orem: I suppose she did. All of us who grew up on Williams Lane, and there were a lot of children by the time I came along, because most of the lots had been sold and the houses had been built, the boys' favorite activity was watching new houses being built and playing around in the construction sites after school, and borrowing whatever we could to build clubhouses or tree houses. The materials were plentiful and we built some very spectacular clubhouses and tree houses, to the builders' dismay, I'm sure. (Laughter) But that was the principal activity.
Z: You were basically allowed to borrow these?
Mr. Orem: No, you weren't allowed to, but there were no night watchmen.
T: They couldn't be there all the time.
Z: But if you built a tree house, it wasn't as if it was invisible. (Laughter)
Mr. Orem: That's right.
Z: Certainly they had an idea where their materials were going.
Mr. Orem: One two by four looks about like another.
Z: It was hard to identify.
T: Which house it came from.
Mr. Orem: Sure. I remember that the, I believe it was five brick houses on the south side of Williams Lane from about mid block going up in the direction of Brookville Road, were built, during my lifetime. I remember that land as vacant. And I have a very strong memory of the foundations being dug by one man, a mule and a spade. Because I lived right across the street and watched this, it made a very strong impression on me. I don't know that, I doubt that either of you have seen a man walk behind a mule and hold a spade, with the mule's harness around his neck and the spade handles. The spade was an enormous steel shovel. It's a scoop. A scoop is probably the term for it. And the mule is harnessed to the scoop with a pivot in about the mid point, and as the mule starts down into the hole, the man pushes the handles up, and the scoop digs. When the scoop is full, the man pushes the handle down, and it slides the load back up to the top, and then over to a point where he dumps it. And then they go around in a circle, around and around. But this was male muscle and mule labor to dig out a foundation; one man and one mule and one scoop. That's how a foundation was dug. This was before merchant builders. The small size couldn't afford power equipment. Of course, there were steam shovels being used in major excavations, but that was prohibitively expensive. Then after the major hole was dug, men with shovels were put in to finish out the rectangle and level off the basement.
Z: When he did it this way, he did it in a circle?
Mr. Orem: Yes, or in a pattern so that the mule followed the same path. I don't remember the Williamses at all. I'm sure that they had gone and sold off their houses before I was born, because the families that I knew that lived in each of Williams' daughters' houses were different by the time I came along. But both the Williams farmhouse and the three homes that he built for his daughters are still there. The vacant lot, the one that's pictured in this photograph, is the one that I say now has the white horizontal rambler style of brick. That was a vacant lot, and it was the lot on which all the children from the lane played our baseball games and everything. So it was a common facility, and we were very happy to have it. It was right next door to my house and so it was very convenient for me. It seems to me that every street during those days had a vacant lot on which you played. That was ours. I'd like to say I remember the streetcar, but I'm really not sure that I do. I've seen pictures of the streetcars on Connecticut Avenue. Very likely, my first memories are of the bus. But I do remember, of course, the streetcars on Wisconsin Avenue going down to Georgetown and the streetcars we took back and forth to the city. But I think the streetcar line out to the Lake was abandoned. They converted to buses much earlier.
Z: And also the streetcar on the south side of the Circle.
Mr. Orem: Yes. The turnaround was where the bus station is now. That was a double track, and there were platforms at each stop. So you stepped off a streetcar on to a platform and then down into the street. The interesting thing about the streetcars, I think, is that we had overhead lines and underground lines. The transfer point on Wisconsin Avenue was just at the top of the hill at Georgetown, where the overhead lines stopped and converted to underground power system, and that's where the streetcar always stopped and the operator would crank down that big pole on the top. And there was a man in a pit who would reach up underneath the streetcar and pull down what was called the plow, and the plow made electrical contact with the brushes that were below the street. It was a very sophisticated in town kind of streetcar electrical system. We didn't have that out here in the county, where all the power lines were overhead. So there must have been a forest of power poles running down the middle of Connecticut Avenue to support these wires for the overhead trolley. As I say, I'm not too clear on that. My earliest memory of Chevy Chase Lake was merely of an abandoned, more or less swampy pond. All remnants of the earlier bandstand had decayed or had gone by the time I grew up. We would go up to the lake to hunt for frogs; that was the principal activity. We'd come back with buckets full of tadpoles. The car barns had been converted into automobile storage facilities for retailers, but the car barns were still there with their huge glass windows, most of which were broken out. The facility was just used to warehouse automobiles or for other reasons.
Z: And that was on the other side of Connecticut Avenue.
Mr. Orem: That would be on the same side as the Lake. It would be about where the office building is located now. I think Tom Perry had his lumber yard in that location from the very beginning. I think it was always Thomas W. Perry fuel, coal, and lumber. Coal was one of the principal utilities. Everybody's house was heated with a coal furnace. Tom Perry made his fortune selling lumber to the Simpsons and the Troths and everybody else who built houses. There were so many builders in those days. On the other side of the avenue, the Chevy Chase Lake pool was the principal recreational facility, and that pool was there ever since I can remember. In fact, it was only filled in back in what, the sixties?
T: It was filled in in the early seventies, because we came in '72, and it was still here then for maybe two years or so.
Z: I didn't realize it had been here a long time.
Mr. Orem: I can't tell you when it was built.
Z: But you remember it as a child?
Mr. Orem: Yes, I remember going swimming there. It was very popular and attracted children from all over the area. It was one of the few, if only, pools out this way.
Z: I remember I learned to swim there, too.
Mr. Orem: Did you? It was not very nice.
Z: No. But it was, as you say, probably the only pool.
Mr. Orem: Yes. The other one we all went to was the Crystal Pool at Glen Echo, but that was a long trip out there, particularly if you rode your bicycle.
T: That's a long ways, and coming home it's all uphill. (Laughter)
Z: But it's just extraordinary to think that you could ride your bicycle out there. That is, that it was safe to ride your bicycle out there, and that your mother would let you ride your bicycle out there.
T: Did you walk to the Chevy Chase swimming pool from your house or ride your bike?
Mr. Orem: Oh, sure. Well, I think we all walked. It wasn't that far.
T: We wouldn't even consider allowing that today, with children, because of the traffic.
Mr. Orem: Well, I suppose that's right.
Z: I do think the traffic has made a tremendous difference in that sense. It's not safe to ride your bike up and down Connecticut Avenue.
Mr. Orem: No, no. The sidewalks are much better now that we have the ramps at each intersection, but there are still too many pedestrians for bike riders.
Z: Yes, and also you have the cars turning into the side streets.
[End Tape I, Side 1. Begin Tape I, Side 2]
Mr. Orem: My early days were spent in school, like everybody else. Fortunately, my father was able to send me to college, something he was not offered himself, and my sister, too. After college, I spent four years in the service. After that, I went to graduate school, and after that I got into urban renewal and project development. I was very much involved with that, and taken away from Chevy Chase until the sixties. So I don't have any personal knowledge or experience of the Chevy Chase business community from the Circle south to Livingston Street, except as a resident. My work at Jones and Company did not begin until my father's death in the sixties, when I came down and took over the company. But in the process of preparing application for historic status for the Arcade Building, we have come upon some interesting material I thought you might like to have.
Z: Oh, marvelous!
T: Of course we would!
Mr. Orem: All right. The Arcade Building was built in '25 or '26, as I recall.
Z: Who was the architect? Are you in the process of doing this now?
Mr. Orem: This has been done, not by me, but by the A.N.C., and the application has been submitted to the Landmarks Commission. I don't know that the hearing has yet been scheduled.
Z: I'm very glad to hear that that's being done.
Mr. Orem: The written statement, entitled "The Significance of the Arcade Building~," and an attachment, sort of a part two, entitled "Description of the Arcade Building," was prepared by a staff writer who was hired under contract by the A.N.C. She based a good bit of her work on a preliminary description and significance statement that I had drafted. You asked the name of the architect. I'm sure it's in here, but I just don't see it. Oh, his name was Louis Moss, I believe. I was unable to discover other buildings that Louis Moss had designed. Nevertheless, here is her statement on the significance of the building.
Z: That's wonderful.
T: Thank you.
Mr. Orem: In doing that, I went next door to Riggs Bank and asked them what they had on the history of their building, and they have sent me a statement which is unsigned and undated, but as I remember, was written by Ezra Troth, who was the branch manager of the Chevy Chase branch for a great many years. So that's his recollection of the history of the Chevy Chase branch.
T: Oh, that's wonderful. Now, this is a cousin? Some relation to you.
Mr. Orem: Some relation. Now, also in our research on the history of the Arcade Building, we looked at copies of the Chevy Chase News which are on file at the Chevy Chase D.C. Public Library, going back to the 1920's.
Z: Are they in this branch of the library?
Mr. Orem: Yes, Chevy Chase branch. And we limited our search to items or ads that might have to do with the businesses that would have taken place or been located in the Arcade Building. We have these here marked out for you, and you're certainly welcome to have those.
Z: This is wonderful!
Mr. Orem: There's really not very much in the news about it at that time, but that is certainly not an exhaustive search of the newspapers. Time permits only so much.
T: It certainly does.
Mr. Orem: But we did find, by going down to the files now in the Library of Congress, they're no longer in the District building, early building permits from Washington, D.C. We did find the application to build, which is what we call today a building permit, the property of fifty five, what was then called twenty two, Connecticut Avenue, and the name of the owner is Mr. E.H. Jones. The name of the architect is Louis R. Moss, and the date was December 1, 1924. So construction started in 1925. For whatever it's worth, that's the copy of the application.
Z: That's wonderful.
Mr. Orem: And in the incorporation of my father's company, I find that Edward H. Jones was granted five shares, William Orem, Jr., one share, L. Vaughan Bowley, one share, Carl M. Diefenbach, one share, and J. Ezra Troth, one share, Paul Sleman, one share. Sleman, remember, was the family that bought the house up on Jones Bridge Road and converted it into Small's Nursery. Sleman's son, John Sleman, still runs Small's florist shop up in Chevy Chase Lake. I know John. I'm sure J. Ezra Troth had children, but I'm not sure just who they are. I don't remember who Carl Diefenbach was, but I heard the name forever. And L. Vaughan Bowley married Ed Jones' sister, and that's how L. Vaughan Bowley got a job.
Z: Who was Mr. Jones? Where did he come from, do you know?
Mr. Orem: I have very little knowledge of who Ed Jones was or where he came from. I'm sure I met him as a child, but I don't remember him at all.
Z: Was he much older than your father?
Mr. Orem: Somewhat.
Z: He was a different generation.
Mr. Orem: Yes, he was earlier. About all I remember of the businesses on the Avenue was that which anybody who went to the Circle would remember from the thirties or forties. The markets, DGS, Spund's Market, Kresge's, the Avalon. I think there was a Pure Food.
Z: We've heard there was a Piggly Wiggly.
Mr. Orem: I'm not sure. I don't remember. Piggly Wiggly was a very popular chain in D.C., but I don't know that they had a branch here. The car barn, of course, that is the turnaround, not the car barn but the turnaround for the trolleys up at the other end, and a variety of smaller stores in which the proprietor lived on the second floor. That's why so many of those buildings are designed the way they are today, with residential windows above and retail space below.
Z: At the time that you recollect this, the commercial establishments were all on one side of Connecticut Avenue.
Mr. Orem: That's right. That's right. The 5500 block, across from the Arcade Building, was all residential.
Z: Private houses?
Mr. Orem: Private houses and all developed, but they were up on a steep bank with long flights of steps that went up from the sidewalk. I don't remember the 5600 block, but that's where the Safeway is now. The next block was E.V. Brown School. That's all I remember.
T: The Presbyterian church was always in that block. Do you remember the smaller church that faced onto Connecticut, or is that before your time?
Mr. Orem: Are you talking about the Presbyterian church? No. I had more experience at the Methodist church because of my grandfather. (Laughter) And I remember what was called the little brown church, that faced on Shepherd Street. Then the groundbreaking and the construction of the new sanctuary, what was then new; it's now old, because a much larger one has been built since. [The architect of the new sanctuary was Mr. Johnson.]
Z: Do you remember a bell tower at the Methodist church?
T: In the old church.
Mr. Orem: There probably was a bell tower in the little brown church, yes. Because when the new church was built, it was built in the stone Gothic style with no steeple.
Z: Someone told us a wonderful story. Who was it?
T: Mel Moffitt.
Z: Mr. Mel Moffitt told us a wonderful story about how they took a cow up into the belfry of the bell tower of the Methodist church.
T: On Halloween.
Mr. Orem: On Halloween.
Z: What they didn't calculate was how hard it is to get a cow down. (Laughter)
Mr. Orem: Yes!
T: Cows go up, apparently, better than they come down. (Laughter) The fire department volunteers were all out, and everybody's father was there.
Z: But you weren't involved in that escapade?
T: You're much younger than that crowd.
Mr. Orem: I don't take any responsibility for that.
T: Where did you go to high school, David?
Mr. Orem: I went to Devitt, which maybe you don't remember.
Mr. Orem: Devitt Preparatory School was initially opened in the downtown location, and I think just before World War II, moved out to Upton Street. It was just the first block east of Connecticut Avenue and Upton, in the direction of Holy Cross High School. It's still there. It's a large four story boxy brick building. It was a private school, and its intention was to prepare young men for the military academies. Thus, the name Devitt Preparatory School. I was able to get into Devitt because it was important to me, in those days, to finish high school in three years so I could get in to college to avoid the draft, and I did by going to summer school and accelerating. I graduated from Devitt in three years and went to Oberlin at age seventeen. The draft was ended shortly thereafter, so that that worked and my education suffered. My freshman year at college was a disaster. But I was able to pull myself out.
Z: Where did you go to elementary school?
Mr. Orem: Rosemary was the only elementary school.
Z: Was it where it is now?
Mr. Orem: Yes, yes. It was one half of what's now a two unit building. My mother was a substitute teacher. Her work in Baltimore before she married was as a schoolteacher, so when we came here she was accredited as a substitute. She didn't work full time because women didn't in those days who had children. You stayed home and took care of your family. But she did substitute. Mrs. Rose was our principal. I still have a picture of I think it's my fifth or sixth grade class. I remember some of those children. We walked, of course; there were no buses. Then I had one year at Leland Junior High. Back in Rosemary, one of my principal memories was that Mrs. Rose assembled us all into the assembly room, whichever it was, the largest room they had, to listen to the radio, because on the radio we were going to hear the abdication speech of Edward VIII, the former Prince of Wales, who was going to renounce the throne of England. She thought her young children should hear that. We had no idea what it was all about. (Laughter)
Z: I'm sure.
T: But you remember it.
Mr. Orem: I remember that we had to sit there and listen to it.
Z: Did Rosemary School go up to eighth grade at that time?
Mr. Orem: Yes. At Leland, I have very few memories. I liked my math teacher very much, I disliked my Latin teacher very much. I didn't know what either of them was talking about, but they were just different kinds of people. I remember that we were assigned to neighbors' basements for air raid drills. This was during the Second World War. The most fun was when we had an air raid drill, and we'd all file out of our classroom and go across the street and down into somebody's basement.
Z: And all the school children were dispersed into different basements.
Mr. Orem: Dispersed into basements of neighboring houses. I was only in Leland one year and then went to Devitt. So I never went to BCC. As I say, from Devitt I went to college at Oberlin, and from there into the service, I mean, one year at FHA and from there into the service. So I was away from Chevy Chase for eight or nine years.
Z: Then you came back to take over your father's business, essentially.
Mr. Orem: Yes.
Z: Before we talk about present day real estate business, do you know anything about the way that the Jones Company did business in the early days, in terms of acquiring the land and selling? Did they buy land from the Chevy Chase Land Company and then sell it to people? Or did they build?
Mr. Orem: Well, I really don't have any first hand knowledge of this, but I don't think the Land Company sold anything. The Land Company historically did not sell anything. That's one of the characteristics of the Land Company, and perhaps the key to its success today. The Land Company is another whole story in itself. My family was not involved with the Land Company that I know of.
Z: When you say "sell anything," you mean building.
Mr. Orem: No. Land.
Z: Land either?
Mr. Orem: No. The Land Company never sold anything. In fact, I believe they still own the land on which Saks Fifth Avenue is built. I believe Saks leases that land from them. Of course, they own the Chevy Chase Center and the highrise office building up at Chevy Chase Lake, and the land on the other side where the pool was located, and I believe up to the railroad tracks, where the dry cleaners is now located, and on and on and on, plus those two parcels on both sides of Connecticut Avenue going up to Jones Bridge Road, both of which are now vacant, and the one to the left, I believe, that proposal is for the Hughes Institute of Medical Research.
Z: On the left?
Mr. Orem: On the left. That would be the west side. The future of the parcel on the right side is still unknown. I think it's zoned . . . the present thinking, I believe, is for a cluster of townhouses, but I'm not sure. That was the site, if you remember, where Bloomingdale's initially wanted to establish. Very fortunately, they did not. It would destroy traffic. Traffic's bad enough without a major commercial use there. (What I mean here is commercially zoned land, or land situated for future commercial or high density development. Obviously, the Land Company sold residential lots. DSO) No, I don't think that my father and others like him, Martin and many other builders, the Simpsons and Martins were certainly not the only ones, I don't think they bought from the Land Company. I think they operated on the periphery of the development and the momentum which the Land Company had begun. The Land Company couldn't buy up everything. The Williams Farm is an example. The Land Company didn't buy that. The subdevelopment of Williams Farm was done by others. The same thing would be true of the Cummings Farm. Martin, whoever he was, when he bought up farms on the other side of Brookville Road, and subdivided the whole thing, recording it as Martin's Addition to Chevy Chase, did this independently of the Land Company. Of course, the utility system and the county supervisory system and the street and road systems were entirely different then. They were far more free and did not have the controls and regulations and minimum requirements that we are accustomed to today. It's reasonable to assume that a number of these houses that were built did not hook into public sewer or water system, if there was such a thing, but very likely had septic tanks and wells. You see from these pictures approximately when electric service came to Chevy Chase, and that would have changed some of that thinking. The construction of a central storm drain system came much, much later. I don't think there was a storm drain system in the streets. When it was installed, it was then possible to hook the storm drains from the outside area way stair directly into the storm drain in the street. That's now illegal; can't do that anymore. Builders, if my father and the Simpsons were typical, did not use architects as we know them today, but instead, built their houses based on plans from magazines like The American Builder, which was very popular, or Sears and Roebuck. Sears and Roebuck, as you know, sold pre packaged houses. There is one on Williams Lane (3709), and I'm sure there are others throughout Chevy Chase. We identified eight or ten of them in the northwest part of Chevy Chase D.C. some years back. We had a little campaign running to see who could identify the Sears and Roebuck houses. I believe there have been some articles written on those.
Z: Where is the one on Williams Lane?
Mr. Orem: Up near the top of the hill on the north side of the street immediately left as you face Williams' house, the first one to the left. It's a Sears and Roebuck house.
Z: But your father and builders like him would not purchase the Sears houses; they would just use the plans, offer those floor plans.
Mr. Orem: Right. The Sears and Roebuck house was sold to a man who bought his own lot, hired a contractor to install the foundation, and then had Sears and Roebuck deliver the house to a site, and would contract the labor, and the labor would come out there and put it together. I remember hearing my father say that what an amazing system it was, that each piece was marked, A 3, 5 J, and there was a system of plans, just like you'd assemble a child's toy from directions, exactly what to put on where. The nails were all packaged, this size nail for this joist, that size for the other. The whole thing just went together.
Z: That's extraordinary.
T: We've been doing some research on deeds, collecting old deeds for houses for one reason and another, sometimes as a result of tours, houses on the House Tour, or when we have a fund raiser, for whatever reason. One of the things I note is the Edward Jones Company is often listed as a grantor. Do you know anything about that, how they would have been involved in the deeds transactions?
Mr. Orem: Well, all I can assume is that Edward Jones bought these lots... the grantor is the man who sells... bought these lots and had them recorded as buildable lots and sold them.
T: There are a lot.
Z: Mary Ann, does it come in before the house is built?
T: Well, you can't tell from the transaction on the deed if the house is there or not. I wondered if you knew.
Mr. Orem: No.
T: You have no idea either. We can only tell that by looking at the tax records. When the taxes go up, then you know the house is there. But when the deed is written and entered, it's just a transaction and it says, it's sort of all purpose, all the property. You know it better than I. What is the word that describes whatever is on the lot?
Mr. Orem: Improvements?
T: Improvements. That's what it says. It doesn't tell you. It very rarely tells you if there's a house on it, and only if you sometimes can tell if it's six thousand dollars and it's 1912 or 1915, you can assume there's a house.
Mr. Orem: Very likely there's a house if it's six thousand dollars.
T: And if it's one thousand, you can assume there's no house.
Mr. Orem: A vacant lot.
T: It's just a lot.
Z: So you can't make any judgment based on this information as to whether he bought just the lots or whether he bought the houses and then resold them.
Mr. Orem: No.
T: It would be interesting. We will pursue that further. I was hoping to get a start on it by asking you that question. (Laughter) We'll keep you posted on what we find out.
Z: How do you think that the business has changed since you've been there, from the way that it was in the "olden days," as they say? As all of our children say to us. (Laughter)
Mr. Orem: The olden days. I think that the interlocking family relationship that I've described was typical of small town U.S.A. I don't know that from research, but just reading other American histories, that was not an unusual situation, three of four families who were inter related all into the same business or the peripheries of that business in one way or another, and shared with each other and helped out and advanced money or provided labor or whatever was necessary for the common good. But certainly that has gone. Real estate development today is a corporate enterprise, rather than a family enterprise. As an appraiser, I get into a number of the newest subdivisions out in Silver Spring, Potomac, and Rockville, and I'm very impressed at the quality of construction, builders like Porter and Sullivan and others, and their mastery of the subdivision development process. I had some personal experience with that as a developer, both at Rossmor Leisure World and in urban renewal in a number of cities. Not necessarily in homebuilding, but more often in urban projects, highrise, commercial, and office space. It has become a speciality. It's a refined art and it takes a major corporate effort today to produce a subdivision of the quality that we're seeing, and the prices that quality costs. That is a world's difference from the family enterprise that existed in the 1920s and thirties. The building trade and the real estate profession and even banking that I described as my family knew it, did not require a formal education and did not require, in most cases, licensing. A builder's reputation was his only warranty. Of course, the idea of caveat emptor existed then. A purchaser bought a house from a builder because the builder told him it was a good house, or he brought someone with him who would help explain how the house was put together and the materials that it was made of and things to look out for, but there were no building inspectors, there were no termite inspections, there were no warranties. Just as in northern Virginia, the Joel Broyhill family made a fortune not only in building, but then putting in a hardware store in the middle of the community to sell Harry Homeowner and all the things he needed when his house began to fall down, the same thing was true here of Tom Perry, who made his fortune in part not by just selling fuel oil and lumber, but also the hardware to the homeowner, who, when he bought his house from Martin or Simpson or somebody, then had to go out and buy screens and kitchen cabinets and all the things that didn't come with the house when he bought it. So that relationship between the Hechinger chain, a more recent example, Hechinger tries to place his homeowners' market center wherever he can in proximity to the development of a residential community, because he knows he can sell so much stuff to people who have just bought houses. But in those days, it was Tom Perry at the Lake, and later Chevy Chase Paint and Hardware Store on Connecticut Avenue. If either of you remember the Chevy Chase Paint and Hardware, that was run by Lawrence Troth.
T: Oh, was it? That's right.
Z: Chevy Chase Paint and Hardware was where?
Mr. Orem: It was where the paint store is now, just down from the Avalon. Lawrence Troth didn't own the building; he leased the building from Winslow, is it, that paint company? (Now Monarch Paint & Wallcovering Company, 5608 Connecticut Avenue. DSO) Whatever paint company it is owned that building, and Lawrence leased it from them and sold their paints. But he also sold housewares and hardware. As a boy in high school, I worked in the hardware store in the summertime. It was a very popular place and because of my background and experience, I knew one end of a screwdriver from the other, and so I could begin selling hardware. But he sold their paint products. And so we have a Troth, Ezra Troth in the bank; Lawrence Troth in hardware; and we have Frank Troth, who worked for Galliher and Hugley, they were a lumber and mill work company in northeast, later with my father as a builder; and the Perrys, who were close personal friends from the Methodist Church experience. The Perry family's home was right next to the Methodist Church on Shepherd Street.
Z: Is it not still there?
Mr. Orem: It very likely is, but they moved out many years ago to a much larger place. Mrs. Perry, the last I knew of her, I think she's many years deceased, retired to one of the new townhouses up at Hamlet Place in Chevy Chase Lake. Tom Perry, who inherited his father's business, is probably now in his sixties. Tom sold his lumber yard in Silver Spring, right next to Colesville Road by the metro tracks, and there's now a huge highrise building there, and moved his main operation to Gaithersburg, but he still maintains this local branch at Chevy Chase Lake.
Z: Where did the lumber come from, do you know?
Mr. Orem: Where would they buy it?
Mr. Orem: Well, local dealers buy their lumber from wholesalers. Depending on the price and the market, it could be anywhere, because it all comes by railroad. That's why there's a railroad spur that goes right into Tom Perry's yard. Of course, that railroad is now closed, and his lumber has to come in by truck. The future of that right of way is still up in the air.
Z: Yes, we've read about that.
Mr. Orem: And that was a favorite place for young people to play. The trick was to hide in the bushes and as the train came by, particularly when it was hauling gondola cars, that was an open car with nothing in it, not a boxcar but an open car, a gondola, when the engineer wasn't looking, jump on the train, hop on the gondola car, and ride to Georgetown free. And you didn't tell your mother you were doing it! (Laughter)
T: No, you didn't mention that.
Mr. Orem: The other thing to do was put pennies on the railroad track when the train came across and watch what the locomotive did to the penny. It made it about that big around. And the third most exciting thing to do was to stand on the trestle which crosses Rock Creek Park. The big wooden trestle is still there, although now it's very charred and in very bad repair, and it's a hazard. It really should be torn down. Walk across the trestle and wait for the train to come. You'd listen for the train by putting your ear on the rails the way you saw Indians do in Western movies at the Avalon. And then when the train started coming, run as fast as you could to get off the trestle before the train came. And scare the young ones who had never done that before. It was very frightening, because there's just the ties; your foot could go through between the ties. (Laughter)
T: You didn't tell your mother that either.
Mr. Orem: We didn't tell our mother that either, no. Then during the Second World War, what Takoma Park is going through now with this whole question of whether or not the apartments should be removed to comply with single family zoning, this whole effort to provide war housing was not limited to just Takoma Park; it existed here, too. A number of houses set up rooming facilities to take in roomers for additional housing, people coming into Washington during World War II. And I'm sure that some of that still exists. Black out curtains I remember. Air raid wardens. Each block was assigned an air raid warden, and he had a hat. My father was one and his hat had a Civil Defense symbol on the front. You had to have a flashlight and you had to have a can of water and a bucket of sand, and certain other supplies in your house in the event of an air raid. Black out curtains were mandatory, and my wife, of course, who lived over on Runnymeade Place in those days, remembers that after the war all the girls made skirts out of the black out curtains. (Laughter) We had scrap drives, I remember those. It was necessary to save all the metal and all fats and all paper, and they were collected separately by different people who would come around in trucks and haul away the scrap that you'd collected. How they got the fat processed into gunpowder, I don't know, but it was used for some military purpose.
Z: That's what it was used for?
Mr. Orem: For explosives, that's what we were told. It was an ingredient in the manufacture of dynamite or some sort of explosive. I'm sure I remember seeing a gold star on a mother's window. A gold star mother was one who had lost her son in the service. A star meant your son was serving in the military; a gold star meant you'd lost one. But I can't tell you which houses and which families. I think Connie McLachlen was one of those, and he would have been the son of the founder of the McLachlen Bank. He was also in real estate, banking, development, and building. World War II did not really have much more effect on Chevy Chase than that.
T: Do you know anything about antiaircraft installations somewhere at the intersection or near Western and Wisconsin Avenue? Or somewhere near Western, near Chevy Chase?
Mr. Orem: Well, there probably was one at Fort Baird, which is further over.
T: Further on Western at River.
Mr. Orem: Yes, it's a much higher knoll and would have been an ideal place for an antiaircraft searchlight battery, very likely. But I don't really remember. I remember the searchlights and the antiaircraft guns on the reservoir at North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue, and I'm sure there were searchlight batteries all over, because when they would practice, the lights crossing looked like movies we'd see of the London blitz on the news down at the Translux. But I don't remember anything closer than that.
Z: Did the real estate business change after the war? The point you make is very interesting about the family, small town, local aspect of it. I would think that that's true of a lot of the businesses that were in Chevy Chase at that period. Do you think the change occurred during and after the Second World War? Is that when things started to change?
Mr. Orem: I don't think it occurred here that soon. Levittown won out, and its counterparts in other parts of the country, in California and the southwest, experienced massive homebuilding first. Levittown is often written up and revisited "Levittown Revisited: Did it Succeed?~" We didn't have anything of that magnitude. What we saw in the post war years was essentially in northern Virginia and Prince George's County, massive tracts, what we call FHA housing. I happened to be in FHA at that time. I was in the architectural section, and applications would come in for development of one hundred and fifty houses, and there would be three different styles, and they'd alternate A, B, C, A, B, C, A, B, C, right down the street. That was to provide housing for returning veterans. It was part of the national effort of FHA and VA in giving the veteran and his young family a place to live. But that didn't affect Chevy Chase. That was limited to areas in which four or five hundred acres could be assembled at one crack. I think that the post war construction that I remember in Chevy Chase was a continuation of the pre war but at possibly a much better quality. The new Hamlet north of East West Highway, which was a farm when I was a boy... we'd go there and fly model airplanes... that farm was owned by the Dunlops. The Dunlops were the Washington gas company. There were two brothers, Donald and, I can't think of his name, Dunlop. (George T.). One of them lived in the house right on Brookville Road in Rollingwood, as Brookville goes down and around the corner towards East West Highway. Up on the hill, a small, unpretentious brick and stone cottage. That was one Dunlop. The other one bought Hayes Manor, you know what that is, which is on Manor Road behind the trees and behind the stone wall, our one claim to pre Revolutionary architectural heritage. A gorgeous house. When I studied architectural history at Oberlin, I got an introduction and went up to the Dunlop mansion and was given a guided tour.
Z: How wonderful!
Mr. Orem: And I thoroughly enjoyed that. The staircase, particularly, and the paneling around the fireplace, the dining rooms. The two wings are added. The initial block, which was built by Reverend Williamson, is pre Revolutionary. The two wings are much later. Nevertheless, the Dunlop family owned that land north of East West Highway, and I don't know how much else, I guess behind Hayes Manor all the way up to Jones Bridge Road. That was sold off and developed after the Second World War, as was north Chevy Chase, as you go up Connecticut Avenue past the Beltway and cross Beach Drive, starting on the right, back in the woods, is an area called North Chevy Chase, which is a combination of ramblers and split levels and colonials. My father's company sold a lot of that, both as the agents for the land sales and agents for the houses.
Z: How did that work? How were you agents both for the land sales and the house? Can you explain? I don't know a lot about real estate. Can you explain to me how that works?
Mr. Orem: Well, not in great detail, because I wasn't involved with it.
Mr. Orem: I was away at college, I think, in those days, or in the service. But in one way or another, the man I think he lived in New York, I don't even remember his name, got title to this farm or this vacant land and wanted it subdivided and sold off. My father was able to get the listing as his agent and had the streets laid out, had the whole thing laid out by an engineer. That's the first step. The engineer has to go to Rockville and the Planning Commission for the roads and right of ways, dedication, and so forth, and the lot lines staked and the roads cleared. They were still mud. I used to go up there and put in for sale signs, I remember. Mud roads and the stakes where this was lot A, lot B, and lot C, and the plat would be drawn up. And the sign saying "Lots for Sale" on Connecticut Avenue, leading you in from whichever street it was we used as the principal access to it. Then there would be a for sale sign, "Lot for Sale" stuck in each of these places right down at the bottom of the road, separated by the stakes. People would say, "How much is this lot?" And it's five thousand, this one's seven thousand. They'd buy lots, and then they would contract with builders, independent builders, individual builders, for their houses.
Z: I see. So that the person who bought the lot would then build the house.
Mr. Orem: Yes.
Z: And then the only time that you would get involved in selling a house was in the resale?
Mr. Orem: In the resale. Or frequently, the person buying the house didn't know a builder. "Who do you recommend?" And we'd be able to recommend somebody, possibly one of the Simpsons.
Z: Probably. (Laughter)
T: In researching the deeds, we find the old covenants that the Chevy Chase Land Company put on the sale of lots in Chevy Chase. They talk about setbacks and single family and how much the houses on the avenue should cost. Can you tell us more about covenants? Were they on other areas as well as the original deeds from the Land Company?
Mr. Orem: Yes, I think covenants, I'm certainly not an expert on the history of covenants, but they were nationwide, and they are an interesting sociological study in themselves. It gives us all an idea of the attitude of the 1890s, 1920s toward race, creed, color, and national origin. The covenants existed, as you say, in the Land Company deeds, but I think they were also placed on the deeds recorded by the Williams Farm and Martin's Addition, and Kenwood, and on and on and on. They just seemed to be commonplace.
T: On the original deeds that we've seen, there is no mention of race, color, creed, or national origin. And yet we hear that there were such covenants on some of the property. It just so happens that so far we have actually not traced one house that has . . .
Z: We have collected quite a few deeds when we do house research, as you know, and get copies of things. There is never any actual written mention. There are covenants on the size of the house not the size, but the amount of money it has to cost, the setbacks, and all that. But we've never, I don't think, found in writing.
T: Not so far.
Z: Not so far, any of these other restrictions. So we don't know where they were written. Was this a "gentleman's agreement"?
Mr. Orem: Very likely. A gentleman's agreement was a common way of doing business. In fact, I remember my father sold the first house to a Jewish family in Chevy Chase Section Five, the Bernhardts. The house is still there, and young Max Bernhardt and I were talking just the other day. But I remember that when my father sold the Bernhardts that house, three of the neighbors on Williams Lane heard about it and marched down Williams Lane to our house, to address my father. My mother saw them coming and knew what was up, and she said, "David, you go to your room." And that's all I remember about it. It was a very difficult thing for him to do, but it was done, and that's it.
Z: When, approximately, would that have been? You were still young enough to be sent to your room.
Mr. Orem: Mr. Bernhardt came here from New York in Roosevelt's Administration, very likely as a part of the war program. It could have been '41, '42. He worked for the Department of the Interior. He was a research scientist.
Z: Were there more repercussions after that, or did it just continue down?
Mr. Orem: If there were, I don't remember. I wasn't aware of it.
T: Well, we can observe it did not seem to affect the business substantially.
Mr. Orem: No. (Laughter)
T: Business weathered whatever storm came up.
Mr. Orem: Yes. I think Kenwood, perhaps, was known as the most restrictive community. Kennedy and Chamberlain, who developed Kenwood, I haven't seen their deeds either, but I believe they made it very clear that this was a restricted community. As a matter of fact, during our sixty fifth anniversary two years ago, we researched some ads that the Jones Company had run for houses for sale in Chevy Chase in the late twenties and early thirties, and we had them reproduced and mounted in our office windows.
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T: I'm amazed at the number of people you found that still live in the houses that...
Mr. Orem: It's very unusual.
T: Yes. So you gave them copies of the ads?
Mr. Orem: Yes, but my point is that one of the people in the company, I didn't have time, one of the people went down to the Washington Star to research on microfiche through the advertising sections, because all we wanted was the picture ads, which are called display ads. A lot of real estate advertising was predominantly display ads in those days. And Ed Crowley, in my office, took these to the printer at the Martin Luther King Library and made copies of them and brought them all back. We began reading the copy with a magnifying glass, and I had to throw out about half of them because they had references to restriction, which was just an open statement to make in your advertising copy in the 1920's and early thirties: a restricted community.
Z: Isn't that interesting.
Mr. Orem: And I don't want to display that in my office window, obviously.
Mr. Orem: Because people don't understand the attitudes of the 1930s. So those ads that did not make any reference to restrictions we did have enlarged, and it was a crowd pleaser.
T: It was.
Mr. Orem: As to the Land Company restrictions, those having to do with setbacks and occupancy, minimum investment per house, I think, as you know, the reason the Land Company developed on the north side of Western Avenue was because they wanted their residents to be able to vote. You couldn't vote if you lived on the south side (in D.C.), so the Village began on this side of Western Avenue. But I think that the intention there was to develop a class clientele, and the "class" had its own limits. There was no need to say anything else about it. I wasn't involved in it, it's way before my time. (Laughter)
T: No, of course not. It's an educated observation.
Mr. Orem: Yes. Just a guess. What else can I tell you?
T: We've taken a lot of your time.
Z: I'm sure we have a lot more questions. Just tell us a little something about what the business is like now by comparison, if you will. It certainly must have changed.
Mr. Orem: Well, the most dramatic change, of course, is women versus men. In my father's day, the entire sales force was men. Women did secretarial work. He would not have a woman salesman. His reasons, as I remember him stating them, were that he feared for her well-being and security, and would not take on the responsibility of what might happen to a woman in an open house by herself or in the office in the evening by herself, and he would have no part of it. Now, whether that was the general attitude among real estate companies, I don't know. I remember when a woman named Sue Ruby, whom we knew, got her real estate license and set up business on her own as a broker over in Westmoreland Hills, and what a topic of conversation this was. This was just revolutionary, that Sue Ruby would set herself up as a real estate broker! All the members of the real estate board were men, and it was just not a profession that women aspired to. Today it's the opposite. I suppose there are four or five real estate companies on Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase, and ninety to ninety five percent of the agents are women. Now this is not necessarily true throughout Montgomery County, or in the other D.C. offices. And there are far more men involved in real estate in commercial leasing and in property management and in commercial brokerage than women, but in residential sales today, it's virtually all women. That's the biggest change.
Z: That's very interesting. In one sense, it would seem that a woman could go into real estate and still also manage a family life and all the rest, although, in fact, the time demands on a real estate agent when he or she is actually selling a house are very great, and there isn't a lot of flexibility.
Mr. Orem: Indeed they are, and it takes a lot of juggling, it does. But the income is not predictable, and a man finds if he has to bring home a paycheck, he'd rather have one that's issued every two weeks. So the women who are in real estate are primarily those who provide a second income, and that's proved to be a very workable way to do business. I think women are also better salespeople.
Z: I think you have to have a certain personality to be a salesperson.
T: Male or female.
Z: Male or female. Has the firm size changed, your company?
Mr. Orem: No, we have very limited space there in the Arcade Building. We have X number of desks.
Z: So how many people are you?
Mr. Orem: About twelve, about the same number we had before.
Z: And you don't deal now just in real estate in this area, that's different.
Mr. Orem: Yes.
Z: Oh, you do? The work that you do, then, as an appraiser, which is further out of the area, that's different?
Mr. Orem: That's true. As an appraiser, I get assignments from southeast to Potomac to Silver Spring. That's different. I wear a number of hats.
Z: But the actual selling of real estate of the Jones Company is in Chevy Chase. Is it all in Chevy Chase, D.C?
Mr. Orem: Oh, no, no. We have a listing now on Thomas Jefferson Street in Georgetown, and we have had houses on Capitol Hill. We
have had houses in Kensington and 16th Street. But typically, any small office like ourselves, its primary business is the area surrounding its office.
Z: Mary Anne, how can we sum this all up?
T: It's been a wonderful interview, and we should probably let David get back to the office. (Laughter)
Z: I think that's right. Thank you so much.
Mr. Orem: It's been my pleasure.
Z: It's been very interesting.