What hap­pened to the Bri­tish phone booths that stood on the Ge­orge Washington cam­pus?

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - John Kelly’s Washington Twit­ter: @johnkelly Send your ques­tions about the Washington area to an­swer­man@wash­post.com. For pre­vi­ous col­umns, visit wash­ing­ton­post.com/johnkelly.

What’s hap­pened to those two dark blue Bri­tish phone boxes that un­til a cou­ple of weeks ago stood on G Street on the Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity cam­pus? They made me think of the TARDIS from “Doc­tor Who.” I al­ways en­joyed see­ing them and am sorry they’re gone.

L.L. Rose,

Washington

The eye-catch­ing phone booths were ex­am­ples of the sixth— and most-widely pro­duced— it­er­a­tion of the Bri­tish public tele­phone kiosk. The clas­sic “K6 box”— for kiosk six— de­buted in 1935 to com­mem­o­rate King Ge­orge V’s Sil­ver Ju­bilee. Also known as the Ju­bilee kiosk, it came from the pen of Sir Giles Gil­bert Scott, the English ar­chi­tect wh ois also known for de­sign­ing some­thing a bit big­ger: Battersea Power Sta­tion, de­picted on the cover of the 1977 Pink Floyd al­bum “An­i­mals.”

But how did two K6s end up on the GW cam­pus, painted in GW blue rather than Bri­tish red?

An­swer Man con­sulted the GW media of­fice. Aspokesman said that the booths— one at 21st and G streets NW and the other at 22nd and G— were se­nior class gifts from the classes of 1998 and 1999.

Alex Espinosa grad­u­ated from GW in 1998 and was in­volved in rais­ing funds for the se­nior class gift. The tra­di­tion of grad­u­at­ing se­niors pitch­ing in to buy a gift had started only re­cently at GW, he said.

“It was re­ally a pro­gram built to get se­niors to un­der­stand the phi­lan­thropy side of be­ing a stu­dent,” said Espinosa, who worked for a while af­ter grad­u­a­tion in fundrais­ing for the univer­sity. “It was geared to get them to give and get used to giv­ing.”

The hope was that, once ex­posed to the no­tion through some­thing en­joy­able such as a class gift, grad­u­ates would con­tinue to sup­port the univer­sity fi­nan­cially. If you went to col­lege, you know how good they are at track­ing you down for the rest of your life. Which is fine, of course. But a

Bri­tish phone booth? That was the gift most GW se­niors voted for in a slate that in­cluded a kiosk, a bench and a tree. How was it even on the bal­lot?

“I think Tracht­en­berg pushed it,” Alex said. That would be Stephen Joel

Tracht­en­berg, GW’s pres­i­dent from 1988 to 2007.

“He had a pretty big per­son­al­ity,” Espinosa said.

Tracht­en­berg re­made Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity, aca­dem­i­cally and ar­chi­tec­turally. And he had a thing for Bri­tish phone booths.

“I think I my­self had just re­turned from a trip to Lon­don,” Tracht­en­berg told An­swer Man. “I was driv­ing past the Bri­tish Em­bassy here in town, and they had one out on the Mas­sachusetts Av­enue side of the street. I thought, ‘Oh, you can ac­tu­ally get those things.’ ”

In­deed. Com­pa­nies in Eng­land still sell re­fur­bished ex­am­ples. You can get wooden repli­cas, too.

“We thought they would make in­ter­est­ing vi­su­als,” Tracht­en­berg said. “Also, it’s al­ways use­ful if you’re meet­ing some­body on cam­pus to be able to give them a land­mark, say, ‘I’ll meet you by the phone booth across from so-and-so hall.’ But you have to re­mem­ber that this was be­fore cell­phones were as ubiq­ui­tous as they are now. They ac­tu­ally had phones in them.”

A univer­sity spokesman said he wasn’t aware of the booths hav­ing phones in them more re­cently. In any event, both boxes were re­moved over the sum­mer, the ma­te­ri­als re­cy­cled. Wrote the spokesman in an email: The “univer­sity is grate­ful for their pres­ence on cam­pus for more than 15 years. Since the time that they were in­stalled, GW’s cam­pus land­scape has evolved sig­nif­i­cantly, and the phone booths were no longer con­sis­tent with the over­all cam­pus aes­thetic. Main­tain­ing them also posed a chal­lenge.”

This fall, benches will go up where the phone booths stood, along with plaques com­mem­o­rat­ing the classes of ’98 and ’99.

“No one con­sulted me one way or the other,” Tracht­en­berg said. “But I had no ex­pec­ta­tion at the time we put them in that they were nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to stay for­ever.”

Tracht­en­berg pointed out that even­tu­ally, ev­ery­thing— ev­ery­one— ends up get­ting re­cy­cled.

Keep­ing up with ‘Jones’

Af­ter last week’s col­umn on the Be­lasco Theatre, An­swer Man heard from some­one with a per­sonal con­nec­tion to the play­house, which once stood on Lafayette Square: Sheila Gre­gory Thomas, whose fa­ther,

Mont­gomery Gre­gory, was di­rec­tor of the Depart­ment of Dra­matic Art at Howard Univer­sity.

Wrote Thomas: “In 1921 he reached out to Eu­gene O’Neill to re­quest that the cel­e­brated African Amer­i­can ac­tor Charles

Gilpin, who was the star of O’Neill’s pro­duc­tion ‘ The Em­peror Jones,’ be al­lowed to come to Washington to ap­pear for one night in the Howard Play­ers’ per­for­mance of ‘Jones.’ ”

O’Neill agreed. On the evening of March 28, 1921, Charles Gilpin per­formed as Em­peror Jones with the Howard Play­ers in the Be­lasco Theatre.

Wrote Thomas: “I do not re­call hear­ing howmy fa­ther man­aged to book the Be­lasco, but I do re­mem­ber hear­ing that it was prob­a­bly the first oc­ca­sion on which there was in­te­grated seat­ing in Washington.”

JOHN KELLY/THE WASHINGTON POST

One of theGW-blue booths.

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