1950s

The Pentagon Goes Up in Flames, 1959

Smoke rises from the Pentagon on July 2, 1959. (Photo source: Arlington Fire Journal blog)

The call came in to the Arlington County Fire Department at 11:16am on July 2, 1959… The Pentagon was on fire.

ACFD units raced to the scene, soon to be joined by deployments from 34 other jurisdictions including Falls Church, Alexandria, Fort Myer, the District, Prince Georges County, Bethesda and the Inter-Agency Government Pool — over 300 firefighters in all.

When trucks reached the scene, black smoke hung over the building, so thick that they had to form a human chain in order to navigate. Firemen groped, clawed and cut their way to the blaze, which had erupted in the Air Force statistical services offices between rings C and D and corridors 1 and 10.

D.C. vs. The Flying Saucers... On Screen and in Real Life

Imagine what Hollywood filmmakers would've come up with if they had gotten their hands on Project Blue Book reports like this one back in the 1950s. (Photo source: Project Blue Book)

From the late 1940s until 1969, the U.S. Air Force kept a record of all of its investigations into supposed alien activity in a report called Project Blue Book. Until a few days ago, the project archive had been accessible only by visiting the National Archives in downtown D.C. But, now the records are online! So, you can see the reports on the many UFO sightings that occurred in the Washington area over the years... like this one... and this one... and a host of others.

Of course, UFO's have long been a source of fascination to Americans and images of alien invaders in the nation's capital have captured our imagination for decades. In honor of the new Project Blue Book release, we take a look at the 1956 Columbia film, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, which had a special connection to Washington -- not only in the plot of the movie itself, but in the real-life inspiration behind some of the scenes of terror.

Alexandria's Earl Lloyd broke the color barrier in professional basketball when he debuted for the Washington Capitols on October 31, 1950. (Photo source: NBA.com)

Alexandria's Earl Lloyd Breaks Basketball's Color Line

Earl Lloyd was a rising basketball star at West Virginia State College, but little did he know how soon he would become an important part of sports history. Toward the end of Lloyd’s senior season he was heading to class with a classmate and she told him she heard his name on the radio that day. Unaware of what she was referring to, Lloyd simply asked what she heard. She told him some team in Washington called the Washington Capitols had drafted him.

“You’re going to Washington and they’re going to try you guys out, so show them your best,” said Lloyd’s college coach, Marquis Caldwell. Being from Alexandria, Virginia, it was almost a homecoming party for Earl Lloyd. Before he was at West Virginia State, he graduated from Parker-Gray High School in 1946, Alexandria’s only African-American high school.

Leonard Bernstein (Photo source: Library of Congress)

The Night 'West Side Story' Opened in Washington

When West Side Story premiered in the summer of 1957, Felicia Montealegre wanted to be in Washington.

Felicia, wife of composer Leonard Bernstein, had come down with the flu while on a trip to Chile and was missing the August 19 premiere of Bernstein’s show at The National Theatre. A contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that takes place in New York’s Upper West Side, the show was scheduled to open in Washington for a three-week pre-Broadway tryout.

"Well, look-a me. Back to the nation’s capitol, & right on the verge,” Bernstein wrote to Felicia days before the premiere. “This is Thurs. We open Mon. Everyone’s coming, my dear, even Nixon and 35 admirals. Senators abounding, & big Washington-hostessy type party afterwards.”

When Washington was Nashville North

With the American Country Music awards coming up this weekend what better time to look at our local country music heritage?

There was a period, from the late 1940s until the early 1960s, when Washington, D.C. was a veritable Nashville on the Potomac, a mecca that provided country performers a chance to get their records played, and to perform before big audiences. The man who was most responsible for the District's country preeminence was a charismatic impressario who originally hailed from Lizard Lick, N.C. named Connie Barriot Gay.

Attempted Rembrandt Heist at the Corcoran

The 145-year-old Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington's oldest private art museum, recently announced that it will be taken over by George Washington University and the  National Gallery of Art and cease to exist as an independent institution. That makes it a good time to look back at one of the more bizarre events in the history of art in Washington--the attempted theft in 1959 of a painting by 17th Century master Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn.

Washington has a long history of thefts of antiquities from its museums but this attempted heist was one of the stranger assaults on artwork that our city has seen.

Salinger and the Swami

J.D. Salinger, one of the most important American writers of the 20th Century and the subject of tonight's American Masters documentary, was deeply influenced by Indian philosophy and religion. But that spiritual quest, curiously, led him to not to Varanasi or some other Indian city, but to Washington, D.C.

It happened in the spring of 1955. It was four years after the publication of Salinger's celebrated novel, The Catcher in the Rye, and two years after his anthology, Nine Stories, futher established him as a literary sensation.

Queen Up in Aisle 4

So, imagine you are doing your Saturday afternoon grocery shopping at the local supermarket. All of a sudden a motorcade pulls up. Out pops the Queen of England and the royal prince. They walk into the store and begin to wander the aisles, indulging in the free samples and chatting with customers. After a few minutes they exit the store, get back in their limo and drive off.

Seems pretty far fetched, right? Well, maybe so, but that is exactly what patrons at the (aptly named) Queenstown Giant Food store in West Hyattsville experienced in October 1957.

It Happened Here First: Arlington Students Integrate Virginia Schools

Here’s a cool “it happened here first” story.

On February 2, 1959, Stratford Junior High School (now H-B Woodlawn High School) in Arlington was the first public school in Virginia to be integrated. That morning, four African American seventh graders – Ronald Deskins, Lance Newman, Michael Jones and Gloria Thompson – started classes at the school with over 100 Arlington County police officers in riot gear standing guard. To the great relief of the community, there was no violence or disorder (though two students were sent home for setting off a firecracker in a school bathroom)

The day had been a long time coming.

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