"Woodley Park" and "Georgetown University"
Two books are now available that focus on Woodley Park and Georgetown University's
rich history as hubs in the nation's capital.
Reviewed for the Washington Blade
by Scott Lajoie
Friday August 1, 2003
AS FAR AS U.S. cities go, Washington has a well-documented past, not only in the written word but also in memorable imagery. And the institutions and neighborhoods that comprise Northwest D.C., are where some of the most interesting local history emanates.
Gay authors Paul K. Williams, Gregory Alexander and Paul R. O'Neill have done a nice job in bringing these facts to life with deliberate pacing and to-the-point captioning in "Woodley Park" and "Georgetown University." Williams, a local historian, and Alexander, a freelance writer, wrote "Woodley Park" and are life partners. Williams and O'Neill, assistant to the president for strategic affairs at Georgetown University, wrote the book about the Ivy League school.
In the early 1800s and nearly through the turn of the next century, residents could travel to undeveloped Woodley Park to be in and among peaceful estates owned by some of Washington's elite, including John Quincy Adams, Grover Cleveland and Francis Scott Key. Of course, one cannot talk about Woodley Park without making mention of Rock Creek Park and the National Zoo, two of the neighborhood's grandest features. Although the chapter on these two highlights is not nearly a complete history, it fits nicely in this volume.
The photos throughout "Woodley Park" are well chosen, though some are out of chronological order. The authors probably thought it would make better sense for thematic reasons, but this might confuse readers at times.
What really sets Woodley Park apart from the rest of D.C., the authors say, is its emergence as a center for premier hotels and grand apartment buildings. Instead of just showing pictures of all the structures (which basically look the same decades later), they highlight a wide range of photographs - from pictures of Marines who trained at the Wardman Park Hotel to interiors and demolitions. Though most of the other information can probably be found in other popular historical literature, the telling of this phenomenon is quite unique.
THE GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY publication was not as satisfying as the Woodley Park book. The quality of the research and writing is about the same, but I was expecting so much more from the latter, because, like any institution of higher education, Georgetown has such rich and interesting history that the archives from which to choose would be so much larger.
But the beginning of the Georgetown book is rather boring. Visuals of the first seal and old photos of the founders and first few presidents were not all that interesting.
However, under the picture of the president who served from 1812-1817 is a neatly written vignette detailing the showdown between Georgetown and another Jesuit-run institution in New York for continuing existence at a time when the order was financially strapped.
The Georgetown book starts to pick up a bit in the next chapter with imagery and details of the "Second Founding" and the Civil War.
The rest of the book focuses on the institution's graduates, among other topics. There is a signed and dated photo of future publishing magnate Condé Nast as well as a 1967 student council flier for Bill Clinton.
The Georgetown book also chronicles (perhaps a little too much) the development of Healy Hall, the schools' central building, as well as other institutes and parts of the campus quads. The book picks up speed again in the final chapters, where the institution enters the 20th century and assumes an increasing global and political focus. An entire book could be written on this latter theme alone, so a single chapter actually leaves the reader wanting more.
If you're a resident of Washington and proud of the city's interesting heritage, "Georgetown University" and "Woodley Park" are manageable little readers one could plunk on a coffee table to remind folks every now and then of the rich history here.