This essay was written for and presented to the third grade class of Saint Bernadette’s, located in Four Corners, Maryland.
This is what I remember. In 1959, when I was seven years old. My mother and father sold their house on 12th Street in Michigan Park in northeast Washington DC. We moved to a place I never heard of, Four Corners, a small crossroads in Silver Spring, Maryland. When we lived in the city, I played stickball in the alley behind our house with my brother and his friends, and walked the city streets to school and neighborhood stores alone. My mother saw danger lurking in those alleys and crowded streets and my parents decided the suburbs was a better place to raise their young children. My father was a construction man and my mother a schoolteacher. The fifties was a time for building new houses and churches, and raising families.
In 1959, Montgomery County public schools had the reputation of being the best around, and parents like mine flocked to that county. Back then downtown Silver Spring was a quiet place to go and shop, see a movie, and have lunch. It was a small town. There were a few department stores, a Hecht’s and a J.C. Penny’s, and a novelty store called Green’s Five and Dime. Green’s had a pet store with rabbits and snakes and a monkey in a cage close enough to the aisle so the chimp could reach out and touch whoever walked by. Small stores crowded both sides of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road. They were the kinds of stores now called “mom and pop” stores. The employees recognized you when you entered, and asked how school was going.
Four Corners was a small community then, a piece of the much larger area called Silver Spring. The crossroads of University Boulevard and Colesville Road formed the Four Corners. It looked quite different than it does today. Both University Boulevard and Colesville Road were two lane roads then, not four and six like they are today. One stoplight hung from a wire in the middle of the intersection. There was no Beltway, no Blair High School, not even the firehouse across from Williamsburg Drive. Open fields, a golf course and the forest of Northwest Branch made it seem like we had moved to the country. Carnivals with rides and games and a big show tent set up every summer in the field where Blair High School now stands.
On each corner of that small intersection called Four Corners stood a local landmark. The Stone House Inn stood where the 7-11 is now. A Texaco station took up half of what is now the Woodmoor Shopping Center’s front parking lot. A High’s Dairy Store was on the north corner and the Presbyterian Church remains in the same spot today as then.
A driver could get full service at the Texaco. High school kids worked there part time and gave free oil checks, window washings, front and back, and gas fill-ups. Small stores lined both sides of Colesville Road heading toward White Oak. High’s Dairy Store to Gadol’s Pharmacy on one side, and Strosnider’s Hardware to the public library on the other side. The public library is now a Bank of America.
I lived on Waterford Road in Woodmoor in a new house that backed up to the woods of the Northwest Branch. Two days after I finished third grade, I got my brother’s old 20” single speed Schwinn bicycle complete with rusted fenders and a chain that fell off at least once a week. I loved my bike, it took me everywhere, and my two favorite destinations were the small stores in Four Corners, and the school playground and gymnasium at Saint Bernadette’s where I played CYO football and basketball with the rest of the neighborhood kids. Saint Bernadette’s still stands and the CYO still provides sports venues for the kids in Woodmoor.
The buildings of Four Corners haven’t changed much since I was a boy. Most of the store names are unfamiliar now. But when I was a boy, Strosnider’s Hardware, my best friend’s mom’s hair salon, the delicatessen that sold cold subs and penny candy to go, the arcade barbershop and watch repair, the Chinese restaurant, Larry’s Five and Dime, the bakery, the grocery store, the gift shop and the breezeway between stores that allowed you to walk to the parking lots in the rear were as familiar to me as my own backyard.
Soda jerks at the People’s Drug, now CVS, hand mixed Cherry Cokes using sweet cherry syrup and fountain style Coca-Cola. People’s served the best hot fudge sundae in the area and if you were lucky, and it wasn’t too crowded, you got to sit in a swivel stool with a footrest at the long lunch counter. The library was the best. A friendly place for kids where a kind librarian took the time to know all the kids’ names and the kinds of books they liked to read.
Next to the People’s Drugs, a door opened onto a set of stairs leading down beneath the shopping center where the Silver Spring Stage is now located. But back then, there were six pool tables and a dozen duckpin bowling alleys. I participated in the Cub Scout Bowling League at those alleys and received my bowling merit badge there. But, things change and bowling became less popular. An indoor slot-car racing track opened in the same space shortly after the bowling alley closed. I became a whizz at racing small electronically controlled hot rod slot-cars, and soon had cases of slot cars and trophies on the bookshelves in my bedroom. The track lasted for a while, maybe until I started attending junior high school at Eastern. Eventually, it became an indoor miniature golf course. It was not a very good one, and did not last long.
Across the street, Gadol’s Pharmacy had the best comic book rack around. I bought the very first issues of Spiderman, Captain America, Daredevil, the Hulk and the X-Men for ten cents each at Gadol’s. At the High’s Dairy Store, the employees wore white uniforms and white paper hats, and hand-dipped fifteen cent ice cream cones in every flavor you could imagine. Fred and Harry’s Seafood Restaurant was my parents’ favorite place to go for dinner. I preferred Fat Man’s Pizza next store and a hot meatball sub with melted mozzarella cheese. Between Fat Man’s and Gadol’s was a pet store, the best pet store ever. Kittens played in straw in the front window, snakes squirmed, fish swam and the pen just inside the front door held so many puppies you couldn’t count them all.
I’m sure there were other stores, and maybe I remember the stores I’m talking about differently than they were, or maybe even my memories come from being older. After all it was fifty-five years ago, but I do remember the wonder of neon signs and clerks who knew your name. Woodmoor was the best place to grow up. My parents were right, and although I never thought of it that way when I was a kid, I know now that it was.