Old Post Of­fice rev­e­la­tions

As a Trump ho­tel, D.C.’s Old Post Of­fice Pav­il­ion has lost the best of its past per­son­al­ity

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Margo Christie Margo Christie (www.mar­gochristien­ov­el­ist.com) is an author, artist and ed­u­ca­tor from Bal­ti­more who now lives and works in Florida. Her novel, “These Days,” chron­i­cles her time on the city’s fa­mous Block.

Grow­ing up in Bal­ti­more, Wash­ing­ton D.C. was a fairy­land, the ob­ject of field trips and fam­ily vis­its to the mon­u­ments, mu­se­ums and hal­lowed halls of govern­ment. I re­call see­ing the Apollo 11 space cap­sule for the first time at the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum. As one who’d counted down its rocket launch, flames blaz­ing on TV, I was en­thralled. D.C. was a place of ed­u­ca­tion and even thrills — not a place where peo­ple lived and worked, ate and sent their kids to school.

This view was chal­lenged in the early ’80s when, at age 20 or so, I was hired to do oc­ca­sional work at D.C.’s Old Post Of­fice for Mel, a friend who owned a type­writer re­pair busi­ness.

The Old Post Of­fice was it­self a hal­lowed hall. Still, awed as I felt gaz­ing upon its grand atrium, the thrill sub­sided when Mel and I as­cended to the up­per floors. Here were rows upon rows of desks with type­writ­ers, the letters on the prom­i­nent keys worn clean.

Armed with Win­dex,I pro­ceeded to clean 20-some type­writ­ers. Be­side one ma­chine sat a half-fin­ished mug of cof­fee, cream nearly cur­dled on the sur­face.

“Dump that out,” barked Mel. “Spills on the ma­chines, the whole works gum up.”

I knew this to be true. My mom worked in the of­fice of Belsinger Sign com­pany in Bal­ti­more.She drank cof­fee at her desk and had once spilled it on her type­writer. It dawned on me then that D.C. women were like Bal­ti­more women. They worked at desks with type­writ­ers, like Mom. And if their of­fice was in the Old Post Of­fice, maybe they lived on the out­skirts of D.C. — like Mom lived on the out­skirts of Bal­ti­more.

In 1999 I moved to Den­ver, where I re­mained for the next 16 years. Though I flew home at least once yearly dur­ing that time, only twice did I go to D.C. Once was when my hus­band, John, and I were a new item. The sec­ond time was when Mom and my 8-year old niece, Clau­dia, met us at the Ho­tel Har­ring­ton, where I’d booked two rooms. Mom was arthritic by then; we needed a place to rest af­ter show­ing Clau­dia ev­ery­thing that had thrilled me as a child.

The Old Post Of­fice, by then called the Old Post Of­fice Pav­il­ion, beck­oned with food court fare, and we got egg rolls and hot and sour soup.

Af­ter lunch, Clau­dia wouldn’t be de­terred from ex­plor­ing the gal­leries. I coaxed John into ac­com­pa­ny­ing my niece so Mom and I could chat. The topic steered to­ward work.

“I worked here once,” I of­fered. “In ’81, I think, for a type­writer re­pair busi­ness.”

“Oh? And how is it you hooked up with a D.C. type­writer re­pair busi­ness?”

“A friend, Mel, from The Block,” I said, brac­ing my­self for the tongue cluck, the au­di­ble dis­missal from Mom be­fore she changed the sub­ject. I’d cleaned type­writ­ers for Mel on sev­eral oc­ca­sions but never men­tioned it. Mom had dis­cov­ered by ac­ci­dent that I stripped on The Block. She didn’t like hear­ing about the place. Some sec­onds passed. “Well, aren’t you some­thing,” she then­said. “Work­ing in D.C. at what — 19? And now Den­ver. Pretty im­pres­sive, the way you get around.”

Im­pres­sive? Was Mom too tired to say how she re­ally felt? Or had her feel­ings changed in light of all the “get­ting around” I’d done?

Mom­passed in 2013, and two years later, I flew into D.C. on a trip to Bal­ti­more. With an ap­petite and a few hours to kill, I made my way to the Old Post Of­fice Pav­il­ion. What I found was an 8-foot ply­wood wall plas­tered with a name all-too-fa­mil­iar in this elec­tion year.

“It’s go­ing to be so great, so beau­ti­ful,” said Don­ald Trump when talk­ing about the Old Post Of­fice, which last month re­opened as his new­est lux­ury ho­tel.

Beau­ti­ful? Sure. But great? Will grand­moth­ers with arthri­tis be able to rest in the grand hall there while vis­it­ing with fam­ily? Will they have mo­ments of life­long rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with their way­ward daugh­ters, while their grand­daugh­ters ex­plore a his­toric public build­ing?

If they are of the class that works for of­fice wages — the class that truly made that build­ing great — I sus­pect not.

JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Old Post Of­fice Pav­il­ion in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., re­opened last month as the new Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel.

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