Washingtonians at Play
Unchanging pastimes in a changing dc
Pool Game at Idle Hour Pool Hall, 1940-1950
Life’s stresses require an antidote: a hangout, a hobby, a way to relax. The men shooting pool in this photo from the late 1940s are both young and old, but their faces share a common ease. They are clearly in their element, in this case, the Idle Hour Pool Hall on U Street. A Howard University study of African-American recreation in the early 20th century ranked pool halls as second only to barber shops as oases of conversation: “To its patrons [the pool hall] is of more significance than the newspaper, since events and matters of interest are discussed here which never reach the press.” If only photos could talk.
Mayor W.B. Magruder to James M. Carlisle, November 11, 1856
A relaxing pastime, grown popular, can turn suddenly contentious. Mayor William Beans Magruder, who had just squeaked into office on a 32-vote margin, soon found himself facing fresh controversy around bowling. The sport, which had aroused concerns about vice, had been regulated in D.C. since 1844. The law required bowling alleys – or “bowling saloons,” as they were often called – to sandbag their lanes to muffle balls, cease bowling from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m., and pay a licensing fee. In this 1856 letter, Magruder seeks advice on the legal definition of bowling alleys on behalf of “some persons interested” who claimed the law only applied to ten-pin alleys. Their argument seemingly outs them as proprietors of nine-pin bowling, still popular at the time.
Postcard for DC Auto Riding Depicting a Man in Car with Two Women
The explosive proliferation of automobiles, or “pleasure-cars” as they were known, inspired similar regulatory concern. In 1915, when this postcard was published, Washington’s citywide speed limit was set at a stingy 12 mph. (Motorists clamored for 20 mph.) The law may have tamped down on drag racing, but left residents free to pursue another favorite pastime: joy riding. Wink, wink.
Capital Transit Company Weekly Pass, May 16, 1943
During World War II, gas rations put the brakes on joy riding. But thanks to trolley parks – amusement parks owned and operated by transit companies – a lazy Saturday afternoon was only ever a train ride away. The Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, Maryland, lured Washingtonians with rides, shows, and its gigantic 3,000-capacity pool, as advertised on this 1943 trolley ticket. The pool included a sand beach, diving platforms, water slide, and a fountain illuminated by rainbow lights. Despite the showmanship, park attendance fell sharply by war’s end. In 1960 the Glen Echo trolley route shut down and the park closed eight years later. Newer generations, however, have not surrendered the fun. Glen Echo Park, now a national park, has restored the ruins of the old amusement grounds – including the pool’s Art Deco façade. Local residents jog and stroll along the abandoned rail bed of the old trolley line. From Washington to Glen Echo, the laughter echoes on.