Wednesday, May 04, 2011

How to guess your Age: Building Names

Traveling with teenagers in Washington, I've stumbled on one more way to guess my age (as if I needed one): building names.  I mean, we cluck our tongue that the kinder know nothing of Ronald Reagan (airport) or John F. Kennedy (Center).    I suspect  that as many or more may actually have heard of Thurgood Marshall or Robert F. Kennedy (buildings), but it's still a pretty slow race. 

But what of all those others whose names adorn buildings all over town?  I mean folks like Jamie Whitten, or Wilbur Cohen or Robert Weaver, whose names adorn cellblocks places of employment for armies of bureaucrats?  I don't suppose one 13 year old in a thousand could tell you anything about any of these--and if he could, we would stipulate that he was a pretty weird kid.

The thing is, I knew all three of these guys.  Well: "know" is too strong; we never sat on the bank and watched the bluebottles buzz.  But I have specific memories of crossing their paths in my reporter days, and I could tell you one or more stories--not particularly good stories, but stories--about each of them (takeaway: Cohen, Social Security; Weaver, first black cabinet member; Whitten, cotton subsidies and unbridled racist).When you reach an age when the folks you know have their names inscribed on buildings, you know you are old indeed.

Afterthought: my friend Rusty tells me a cute story in the Washington building department. It's about the time when President Lyndon Johnson (who?) called Chief Justice Earl Warren (who?) and asked him to head a commission investigating the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  It is said that Earl Warren agreed, but only on condition that Johnson create a single center for all judicial administration activity--presumably what is now the Thurgood Marshall building, over by Union Station.  Johnson is said to have said--as long as you don't find me guilty of the  murder, we've got a deal.  


New York Crank said...

Naming buildings after the forgotten so that we will not forget their names even though we have no idea what they did is an ancient habit.

You and I went to a college where there were dormitories named Chatterjee (who?). Pennel (who?) and Corry (who?) among others.

One exception was the psychology building, named after the great psychologist G. Stanley Hall. But then it had to suffer the indignity of being called "G. Stanley Hall Hall."

Frankly ,I think donors to colleges who get buildings named after themselves are the worst. If I manage to stumble into a couple of billion bucks before I die, I will give a few dozen million to some college with the proviso that it be used for something that needs to be replaced, such as the water or sewer pipes.

I would love for one pipe to emerge from the ground, twist itself in a near-sculpture of a loop, then return to the ground. I would want it made of brass and always kept polished. And it would be named, on pain of a discontinuation of the annuity that supports it, "The New York Crank Memorial Sewer Pipe."

But you college presidents can relax. There's no chance I'll ever have that kind of money.

Yours very crankily,
The New York Crank

Ebenezer Scrooge said...

If I ever become a zillionaire (fat chance!), I'll top you. I'll demand that my name be emblazoned on a brass plaque on every urinal and toilet on campus. I won't even demand that it be polished.
I'd probably have to be a zillionaire to get away with it, because I doubt that any subsequent donor would want their name on any building. Although donors are a shameless crew . . .