In shut-down Wash­ing­ton, signs of a ‘lost sum­mer’

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHAEL E. RUANE

In Ford’s Theatre, the set for the mu­si­cal “Guys and Dolls” sits on­stage in the dark. The light­ing and cos­tumes are ready. But the the­ater, which draws throngs of sum­mer vis­i­tors, has been closed. The ac­tors are gone; the tourists aren’t com­ing.

On In­de­pen­dence Av­enue, the Dwight D. Eisen­hower Me­mo­rial was sup­posed to have been ded­i­cated May 8, but that was post­poned un­til Septem­ber.

The an­nual Me­mo­rial Day Pa­rade has been can­celed. So has the con­cert on the West Lawn of the Capi­tol. And the Rolling to Re­mem­ber mo­tor­cy­cle rally, too.

The Cap­i­tal Pride Pa­rade, which had been set for June, and the open­ing of the new Army mu­seum at Fort Belvoir have been pushed back. The July 4 pa­rade in Wash­ing­ton was called off ear­lier this month.

The coro­n­avirus pan­demic, which be­gan its dev­as­ta­tion just as spring ar­rived, now presents the re­gion with a ru­ined sum­mer sea­son — de­void of many tra­di­tions, fraught with parental headaches and filled with un­cer­tainty. “A lost sum­mer,” said Brit­tany

Rheault, se­nior di­rec­tor of sports for DC Fray, which in nor­mal times hosts lo­cal sports leagues. “I don’t think peo­ple are rec­og­niz­ing that that’s where we’re” headed.

Across the coun­try, Wash­ing­ton is known as the seat of pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment, with all that en­tails: White House drama, bit­ter Capi­tol Hill ri­val­ries, pet­ti­ness and, some­times, a no­ble fig­ure strid­ing the stage.

But to those who live here, Wash­ing­ton is also a com­mu­nity — one that shows it­self best dur­ing the sum­mer, in neigh­bor­hoods, on the Mall and in the spirit of the good weather.

The virus has al­ready taken the fun out of spring, and now it threat­ens the Wash­ing­ton sum­mer.

Al­though beaches have re­opened, sum­mer camps, am­a­teur sports and recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties are in limbo.

In­tern­ships and sum­mer jobs have been scrapped. The DC Jazz Fes­ti­val was can­celed, along with vi­sions of find­ing the per­fect spot to hear live mu­sic along the Wharf.

A year af­ter the Na­tion­als won the World Se­ries, Ma­jor League Base­ball has been sus­pended at least un­til July. The Smith­so­nian Folk­life Fes­ti­val, a high­light of sum­mer, is off. And the Na­tional Park Ser­vice has voided all per­mits for gath­er­ings on the Mall at least through June 8.

“For our fam­ily, it’s just a loss of tra­di­tion,” said Heather Gon­za­les of North­east Wash­ing­ton. She has four chil­dren who would nor­mally be at the pool and camp and en­joy­ing a July 4 com­mu­nity pa­rade.

“That’s a lot of what they are los­ing, some of that pat­tern of what sum­mer means to them,” she said.

Tens of thou­sands of tourists visit the Wash­ing­ton re­gion each sum­mer to stand on the steps of the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial, visit the home of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton at Mount Ver­non or see the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence at the Na­tional Archives.

They crowd onto the Metro along­side work­ers who trade their heels for flip-flops as they com­mute. For res­i­dents, sum­mer brings the op­por­tu­nity to take longer lunches at restau­rants with out­door din­ing. Or to leave work early to catch their kids’ game, or play one of their own.

Rheault, of DC Fray, which or­ga­nizes scores of lo­cal games of kick­ball, flag foot­ball and vol­ley­ball, said all events were can­celed for April and May.

“Right now we have ev­ery­thing show­ing . . . the end of June as a start date,” she said. “My per­sonal feel­ing is that we re­ally won’t be able to re­sume stuff un­til about the end of Au­gust, be­gin­ning of Septem­ber.”

“It’s go­ing to have an in­cred­i­ble im­pact,” she said.

“On a Sun­day, I would have roughly 1,500 peo­ple down at the Mall through­out the day,” she said. “Flag foot­ball, soft­ball, ul­ti­mate Fris­bee, soc­cer, kick­ball. . . . Just flag foot­ball alone, we av­er­age about 42 teams.”

Thurs­day nights are even big­ger, she said. “On the Na­tional Mall on Thurs­day night, I’ll have prob­a­bly 15 dif­fer­ent leagues run­ning. . . . That’s 2,000 to 2,500 peo­ple.”

“It’s the best part about liv­ing in D.C.,” she said. “You get to play next to the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment and look at the White House while you play kick­ball. No other place can say that.”

“It’s been hard,” she said. “It’s hard on play­ers. It’s hard on our staff. . . . We’re do­ing our best here to try to make it hap­pen.”

Al­though the July 4 pa­rade has been can­celed, Pres­i­dent Trump said he plans an­other cel­e­bra­tion on the Mall, but one with so­cial dis­tanc­ing and prob­a­bly only about a quar­ter the size of the one last year.

But fire­works com­pa­nies have been hurt.

Au­gust San­tore, CEO of Gar­den State Fire­works, which put on part of the show on the Mall last year, said his firm has had more than 100 can­cel­la­tions and post­pone­ments.

He said it’s not yet clear whether the com­pany will do a July 4 show in Wash­ing­ton, tra­di­tion­ally the firm’s big­gest event.

We don’t know what’s go­ing on,” he said. “Ev­ery­thing is up in the air right now. . . . We’ve been talk­ing and ne­go­ti­at­ing. Noth­ing cut in stone. Just be on standby.”

“I can say if they do have it . . . we will be the com­pany do­ing it,” he said.

At Ford’s Theatre, “Guys and Dolls” had been set to open in March.

“It was sup­posed to run lit­er­ally from March 13 un­til the end of May,” said Paul R. Te­treault, the the­ater di­rec­tor.

“When we left, we sort of thought, ‘Well this might last maybe four weeks, and then we’ll come back’ ” and per­haps ex­tend the run, he said.

“We had sold $1.2 mil­lion worth of tick­ets,” he said.

They had to re­fund most of it. Ford’s is now closed un­til the end of June, but “we’re all look­ing at what hap­pens if you can’t get back into the the­ater un­til Jan­uary or Fe­bru­ary,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

The the­ater, where Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln was as­sas­si­nated in 1865, is also one of the na­tion’s most sa­cred his­toric sites, and the thou­sands who visit each spring and sum­mer are also shut out. Ford’s sees about 650,000 vis­i­tors a year, most of them from March through July.

“I think it’s go­ing to be a rough sum­mer,” Te­treault said. “I’m sad to say that I think cul­ture in our city . . . is go­ing to have a bit of a hia­tus.”

Mean­while, many par­ents are strug­gling with what their chil­dren will do.

Mike Showal­ter, of North­east Wash­ing­ton’s Park­side neigh­bor­hood, has two chil­dren, Stephen, 14, and Sophia, 11.

“All of our stuff is can­celed,” he said. “My kids were sched­uled to do base­ball. . . . My daugh­ter was sched­uled to do some rock climb­ing.”

He said he wor­ries about “the de­pres­sion that kids get from not be­ing around one an­other. . . . So we’re re­ally try­ing to find ways to be so­cial and still be safe.”

“My son has dis­cov­ered fish­ing on the Po­tomac,” he said. “My daugh­ter, we’ve been try­ing to make sure that the bikes are in good shape. . . . We don’t have a plan. We were think­ing about, ‘Is it good to drive some­where?’ I don’t even know.”

Gon­za­les, of North­east, said that in lieu of sum­mer tra­di­tions, her fam­ily plans to at­tend “Grandma Camp.”

“We are go­ing to take some long trips to my par­ents’ house,” she said. “My par­ents live in In­di­ana with a big yard.”

She said her fam­ily has a mem­ber­ship at a pool across the Mary­land line in Chev­erly, but it’s un­clear when it might open. “They’ve just been send­ing updates,” she said. “But it’s not go­ing to open on time. . . . Maybe by later this sum­mer.”

“Not ev­ery­one has the choice, but those that do . . . will try to prob­a­bly es­cape a lit­tle bit, like we are,” she said. “I know of mul­ti­ple fam­i­lies who are do­ing that, go­ing to Grandma’s.”

The com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 75th an­niver­sary of the end of World War II in Europe was to have seen the ded­i­ca­tion of the Eisen­hower Me­mo­rial, a huge fly­over of 100 vin­tage air­planes, and a big cer­e­mony at the World War II Me­mo­rial.

The events were timed to mark the an­niver­sary of the tri­umph of Al­lied forces over Nazi Ger­many on May 8, 1945.

But the cer­e­mony was small. The fly­over was can­celed. And the Eisen­hower ded­i­ca­tion has been resched­uled for Sept. 17, said Vic­to­ria Tig­well, deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the me­mo­rial com­mis­sion.

“We’re go­ing to rein­vent it a lit­tle bit for the fall,” she said. “You can’t re-cre­ate an­other event and have it be like the one you al­ready imag­ined.”

“May 8 sort of passed with a whim­per, com­pared with what it was go­ing to be,” she said.

As for the Me­mo­rial Day Pa­rade, this would have been its 15th year, said Tim Hol­bert, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Veter­ans Cen­ter, which puts on the event.

“We had thou­sands of peo­ple [sched­uled to be] in the pa­rade,” he said. “Peo­ple com­ing from all over the coun­try to take part in some­thing spe­cial. For them, it’s such a huge loss, and for the city.”

Dozens of march­ing bands were al­ready lined up, he said: “The pa­rade was . . . vir­tu­ally set to go.”

It was also go­ing to be a ma­jor salute to World War II veter­ans.

“We’re run­ning out of time with our World War II gen­er­a­tion,” Hol­bert said. “This is re­ally the last ma­jor an­niver­sary year that you’ll have ap­pre­cia­ble num­bers of World War II vets left. . . . We would have had dozens and dozens of [them] rid­ing down Con­sti­tu­tion Av­enue.”

“Now that’s all lost,” he said.


David S. Fer­riero, ar­chiv­ist of the U.S., walks through the Na­tional Archives, which would nor­mally be ready­ing for an in­flux of vis­i­tors.


Nor­mally, sites around the Mall — like the U.S. Capi­tol Visi­tor Cen­ter, above — would be brac­ing for throngs of tourists. But much of the sum­mer agenda has been can­celed.

A gift shop at the Na­tional Archives, a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for sum­mer tourists be­cause it dis­plays the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence.

DC Fray, which runs so­cial sports leagues, would nor­mally have over 1,000 peo­ple at a time play­ing kick­ball and other games on the Mall.

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