Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Washington Social Diary

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. at the Capitol after the signing of the Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965 (Yoichi Okamoto/LBJ Library).
by Carol Joynt

As we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day yesterday one could not help but consider the kerfuffle surrounding the film “Selma” and the Oscar “snub” that has upset many. While it was among the Best Picture nominees, the omission of “Selma” from two principal Oscar categories – actor and director – was an offense to its supporters. Long before the Oscar nominations were announced, the film was tainted with controversy, and that wasn’t accidental. Dead presidents cast long shadows and they, too, walk softly with a big stick in hand.
LBJ and MLK, Jr.
Selma got tanked by Washington, and by “Washington” I really mean stealth insider factions of DC, Austin and New York, and if you connect the dots you will see they lead to President Lyndon B. Johnson and his family and inner circle, who took history and used it as leverage. But, again, with the finesse of dark arts. With the exception, perhaps, of Joe Califano’s editorial in The Washington Post, “The Movie ‘Selma” Has A Glaring Flaw,” there are not a lot of fingerprints or even overt finger pointing from the people who protect LBJ’s legacy. The media has done it for them. That’s how it works in an effective campaign and, lest we forget, this is still the capital of campaigns. 
In the film, "Selma," King is portrayed by David Oyelowo and LBJ by Tom Wilkinson.
The lesson in this episode is that Washington and Hollywood have the presumption of a BFF relationship. They bask in each other’s glow. When it’s useful, it’s very useful. Go ahead and enjoy that illusion. But Hollywood should never underestimate the power here, especially when the subject gets deadly serious (knock knock, Sony) or in how it relates to presidents and their legacies and, in particular, their families. Just Google the Eisenhower Memorial.

What happened to “Selma” in the Oscar competition is not unlike what happened to the Green Bay Packers in the last few minutes of Sunday’s NFC play-off game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Family opposition, in part, has played a role in delays of the Eisenhower Memorial being built on this 4-acre plot of land in Washington.

In last week’s WSD I suggested that Georgetown is experiencing a Camelot redux, which is contrary to the popular notion that Georgetown has settled instead into a community for assisted living for people who no longer have influence in this town. Does that mean legions of Jackie Kennedy lookalikes roam the streets in kitten heels? Or JFK types hit late night mixers with mobster molls? No, but Georgetown is still unique, the one and done neighborhood of the nation’s capital.
Georgetown street scene.
Two years ago it made news when long-time Georgetowner Herb Miller, a successful developer, pulled up stakes to move twenty blocks over to the trendy and newly fashionable 14th Street corridor. “Mr. Georgetown Moves To Logan Circle,” was the headline in The Washington City Paper, which quoted Miller as declaring, “the city’s moved east.” While not exactly issuing a judgment that “Georgetown is over,” in those words, he hinted as much in complaining the neighborhood no longer had a local grocery store, dry cleaners and hardware stores, while boasting he could look out his window onto 14th Street and see all of that.
Yes, Georgetown has lots of cleaners. This one was the favorite of Elizabeth Taylor.
There’s no question that development in the city is booming, and in charged and exciting ways – in neighborhoods to the east, north and south – but Georgetown is not only doing fine, it appears to be at the threshold of its own renaissance. The measure may not be in cleaners (btw, plenty of ‘em) and hardware (oh, too few) and our only grocery store is Dean and Deluca (though with two supermarkets just to the north). But, hey, we’ve got everything you need to get through the day, including a bowling alley.
Georgetown's only grocery store, Dean and Deluca (which opened 20-some years ago), and just north of the village are two supermarkets, Safeway and Whole Foods, and a few blocks to the east is a Trader Joe's.
There’s another indicator, too: who lives here. What made Georgetown the legend it became in the “Camelot” era was that the Kennedys themselves had been residents and when he got the White House job and started staffing up with his inner circle many of them moved to Georgetown, too. It was where the people who ran the country put their heads on their pillows at night. Sometimes there were musical pillows, but that’s what made that era legendary.

At this very moment there are three cabinet secretaries living in Georgetown – State, Homeland Security and Energy – as well as the FCC Commissioner, the House Minority Leader and quite a few other people with high titles and others, too, who know or have easy access to the President. For a while the White House senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, lived here, and when she moved it was only a block or two over from Georgetown’s border.
Parts of M Street remain unchanged by time.
But other parts of M Street have moved with the times, with chain stores in prime locations. Once upon a time this corner was home to the city's swankiest restaurant, Rive Gauche.
If the nightlife and the weekend street scenes are any indication, we’ve not become DC’s assisted living zone. There are older people. There were older people in the swinging '60s, too. But the youthful vitality is tangible – at the bars, obviously, but also that bowling alley, and at the ice skating rink on the waterfront, and the whole general waterfront scene on a sunny day. We have one sizable university right in the village, Georgetown University, with George Washington University a short walk away. Armies of young women, mats slung over their shoulders, march to yoga classes morning, noon and night.
Georgetown University translates into lots of young people hanging out in Georgetown.
The Georgetown Waterfront Park at twilight.
Alas, M Street no longer has the rave bar Apple Pie and the rowdy music hall, The Bayou, or the discos of the '60s and '70s, or the head shops, or the Condomrageous condom boutique that opened at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the '80s. But the neighborhood has a store for each trending fitness madness and, at the other end of the health scale, a vape store is opening in a vacant building that was an antiques store and the last bastion of brown wood furniture. That’s called adapting to the times.
The vape store about to open on a quaint Georgetown side street.
Does a return to Camelot mean the President comes here to party after hours, such as JFK? No. But it’s no longer that kind of city or that kind of presidency – for any man or woman who has the office – because security has become a beast. President Obama comes to Georgetown to be entertained, usually at fundraisers. He and his wife go out to dinner in notable Georgetown restaurants, and he brings his daughters to buy ice cream at a popular corner sweet shop, though along with them come a motorcade of vital staff backup, security and press pool. JFK didn’t cat around at night with anything comparable that.

Georgetown has a few of the city’s most highly acclaimed restaurants, it is home to the Four Seasons, the hotel of of the super rich and many heads of state and visiting celebrities, and the new hipster chic Chez Billy Sud is killing it. Just the other night its tables were packed with every demographic, including high government officials. For the trust fund Millenials there is the private, list-only Chinese Disco, with a line that snakes by Café Milano, enduring as the clubhouse of the older elite.
The "royal" suite of the Four Seasons Hotel, popular with the super rich and heads of state.
The Capella hotel has just hired a new chef, Frank Ruta, hoping his local popularity will add another draw to Georgetown.
The Capella dining room, from the other direction.
It’s unfortunate Georgetown’s prime commercial boulevard has become planted with big box spoilers such as TJ Maxx and DSW and H&M, and other mall stores, but since the malls are dying the stores have nowhere else to go and, anyway, this trend started on Madison Avenue before it got to M Street. In its own odd and unattractive way, it is a measure of relevance. If it is any comfort, most have 3-year leases and won’t last much past this decade, because something else will come along. Hey, maybe it will be clothing that lasts! Imagine? At least they fill otherwise boarded up buildings and disposable purchases are a definer of this century.
The Georgetown Park Mall before it got bought and repurposed as a TJ Maxx and DSW and H&M.
Georgetown adapts in other ways. In a village that prides itself on uniqueness, there's now mass market. TJ Maxx has opened at a central location.
If I say Georgetown has it going on like Camelot, that argument wouldn’t be complete without parties.  There are all kinds of parties, but the most gossiped about, which is key, are hosted by two of the city’s, and possibly the nation’s, most dedicated playboys, Bill Dean and Michael Saylor. They are hyper successful in their businesses, thus rich, and bachelors. Saylor just finished a reported $25 million renovation of his Georgetown waterfront duplex that has been described as “pure James Bond,” with a retracting dining room. His view? Key Bridge to the south, the Kennedy Center to the north, and directly out front – in the warm weather months – his yacht tied up next to the matching yacht of his friend Bill Dean.

Sheesh. Don’t tell me Georgetown is over. Any obituaries are way way premature.
One of Bill Dean's pool parties.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

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