Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Great Leif Garrett Riot of '78

In April 1978, Harmony Hut in Springfield Mall scheduled an appearance by the new pop superstar Leif Garrett.  16-year old Garrett arrived to find at least 1000 screaming girls mobbing the store to get a glimpse of their beloved star.  Garrett spent about three minutes in the store and the crowd surged forward screaming like sirens according to store workers.  Having lost complete control, the Harmony Hut employees moved Garrett out a back door and began to try to close the store.  The crazed girls pulled the sliding doors off their tracks and were rapidly transforming into a crazed mob.  Many girls were trampled and some went into hyperventilation.  In the end 15 girls had to go to the hospital and 50 or so given first aid at the scene.  Of course, a short time later Leif Garrett was forgotten, but his legacy in NOVA was a pack of crazed girls tearing apart the Harmony Hut at Springfield Mall. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Arlington's Critical Role in American Music

Alan Lomax
Rosslyn was a seedy place going back to the Civil War with gritty industrial tracks interspersed with brothels, gambling houses, and bars. As the thirties brought an influx of government workers, Rosslyn began a slow transformation with the construction of garden apartments at the top of the hill overlooking the older grime. In 1940, Hot Shoppes opened a location right off the Key Bridge (roughly where Gateway Park currently sits) taking over from an infamous tavern at the edge of the Key Bridge.

Changes in Arlington brought New Dealers in the thirties and forties looking for cheap housing as demand drove up prices in DC. Two young activists and their wives named Nick Ray, his wife Jean Evans, Alan Lomax, his daughter Anna, and his wife Elizabeth rented a house at 1811 N. Oak St. at the corner of N. Oak and N. 18th St., just up the hill from the seediest part of Rosslyn. Nick Ray was a political activist, theater director, and radio producer who was working for the Works Project Administration. Ray was running the WPA’s theatre arts program that involved regular people and taught them how to tell their own story. Later, Ray would become famous for directing movies like Rebel Without A Cause. Lomax was the son of the famous folklorist, John Lomax, and had come to DC to work for Library of Congress collecting folk music. He had travelled the country discovering and recording now standard blues and country songs.

Through his work at the Library of Congress, Lomax came in contact with fellow folk singer Pete Seeger. During the winter of 1940, Seeger lived off and on at the house bouncing between Arlington, his folks’ place in Chevy Chase, and New York City. Lomax and Seeger collaborated on music and traded songs as they unwittingly began the folk music scene on the hills of Rosslyn.

On March 3, he appeared at a benefit concert for migrant workers put on by the actor Will Geer in New York. The concert was historically significant because it was the first large folk concert bringing together Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, and other legendary singers. Seeger met Woody for the first time and the two began a collaboration that would prove influential for American music. A week later Guthrie arrived at the Oak Street house to crash for a while and record for the Library of Congress on March 21, 22, and 27, 1940.

During April and May, the Oak St. house became a crash pad for a variety of folk singers like Josh White, Leadbelly, and Aunt Molly Jackson. Lomax, Seeger and Guthrie worked on the manuscript for a collection of political folks songs call Hard Hitting Songs for Alan, Woody, and Pete began a project to compile a book of political songs called Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People. They also collaborated with Nick Ray to develop a folk song program for CBS radio. Guthrie slept on the couch never removing his boots and eating his meals over the sink.

In mid-May, Seeger and Guthrie set out across the country heading for Richmond first and onto history. In July, Nick Ray and Jean Evans separated and Ray lost his job under political pressure for his alleged communist sympathies. Lomax continued his work collecting folk music from around the world and became a critical figure in American music.

The house is gone today and has been replaced by an uninteresting office building that belies the significance the location had in the development of our music.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Former Site of WARL Radio Station

For more on the radio station's significance, see this post.

The former site of Tuthill's Pool Hall in East Falls Church

Located at 6876 Lee Hwy in East Falls Church, the site is now the hard to pronounce La Cote Dor Cafe.   It's formal name was Falls Church Billiards and the place was known as a hangout for the Avengers gang.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Settin’ the Woods on Fire: Hunter’s Lodge and the Lee Hwy Dance Halls

Back in the thirties, forgotten dance halls dotted Lee Highway, from Merrifield out to Centreville and beyond. Many of them exist only in legend now including Chimney Villa in Merrifield, Bull Run Dance Hall in Centreville, Happy Hour, Green Dolphin, and Pine Lawn at Fairfax Circle. Many of these dance halls were rough places that were centers of illegal drinking, fighting, and other disreputable activities. At Chimney Villa a patron stuck a pistol against the head of Fairfax County police officer and pulled the trigger, but luckily for the cop, the gun didn’t fire. During prohibition, dance hall parking lots were hotspots for buying illegal liquor to get revelers' blood warm before heading in to dance. All these activities caused the local elected officials much consternation and led to a crackdown on dance halls. Throughout the thirties, local governments passed onerous regulations on dance halls that effectively retarded the growth of live music venues in Northern Virginia in the coming decades. The center of live music in the DC area would begin a shift towards more favorable places like PG County and downtown DC and the few remaining live venues in NOVA would struggle along.

One dance hall that managed to survive this conservative crackdown was Hunter’s Lodge on Lee Highway at West Ox Rd. Hunter’s Lodge first appeared in late 1939 in the Fairfax Herald advertising “modern construction throughout”; square dances; and appearances by the Bull Run Ramblers and the Vienna Syncopators. In 1941 the Wash Post was touting its log construction and big fireplace with “Ernie Sparks’ up-and-coming band”. By 1943, it was so popular that the owners remodeled with an addition to the club. By the late forties, Hunter’s Lodge was a venue for pop and dance music such as Ernie Clay’s Orchestra sponsored by the Fairfax VFW.

In 1948, Hunter’s Lodge hosted the Arlington Optimists for a night of “horse racing.” The Optimists were having a benefit for their community work by watching films of horse racing and placing bets. Now what is gambling without something to wet the whistle? The Optimists broke out the liquor and beer while they watched the horse racing films. Naturally, the nothing-better-to-do Fairfax police arrived and raided the event. The owner of Hunter’s Lodge, CK Vance (of 506 N. Highland in Arlington), was arrested for serving liquor on the premises and serving beer after hours. The leaders of the Optimists were arrested for gambling. Ultimately, the ABC Board didn’t shut the dance hall down and it soldiered on. However, shortly after this incident, the ads began to say BYOL and BYOB, which means the club wasn’t allowed to serve, but could host alcohol. Only in Fairfax County would this happen.

By the late fifties, Hunter’s Lodge was still hosting big band music, but it may have been facing some financial hard times because the Fairfax zoning board shut down a daycare operating during the day in the club. By the time it was shut down, the daycare had operated for two months with 16 children. Not long after that, Hunter’s Lodge shifted to straight country music.

In 1960 many legendary country musicians played the Lodge including “Mister Country” Carl Smith with Sammy Pruitt (Hank Williams’ Guitarist), Jimmy Dickens, and Kitty Wells with Johnny & Jack and the Tennessee Mountain Boys. During this time, the ads touted the beauty and air-conditioning of the Lodge. In 1962 Ernest Tubbs played and saw Elmer Buddy Charleton playing and Elmer soon joined the Texas Troubadors on steel guitar.  In around 1961, a western theme park opened next door called Old Virginia City featuring a replica old west town and an American Indian village.  Old Virginia City seems to have disappeared in the late sixties. 

By the 1970s Hunter’s Lodge was no longer advertising in local as it evolved into an outpost in the changing landscape of Fairfax County. The Lodge became known for great country music, a fun-loving and sometimes rough crowd, and a sense of days gone by. It was a mecca for country fans coming from all over the region searching for something other than disco.

In 1978, the Lodge reappeared in the Wash Post as an unwitting site of an infamous crime. Deborah Fitzjohn was a 25-year old secretary living in Centreville who headed out for a night of fun in Fairfax on a Friday night. She was never seen again, but her car was found in the parking lot of Hunter’s Lodge. In 1986, John Crutchley, AKA the Vampire Rapist, was implicated, but police never had enough to charge him. Crutchley was known as the Vampire Rapist because he would withdraw blood from his victims and drink it. When Fitzjohn disappeared, Crutchley was living in Waples Mobile Home Estates near Fairfax City.

In 1982, Tommy Sanders took over and the Lodge became host to local favorites like Rick Cooper & Third Shift, Stringdusters, Heavy Country, and others. Legend has it that many famous country musicians, like Merle Haggard, would show up after their shows in larger venues. In 1985, the club suffered a fire that left extensive smoke damage and some have claimed it was an attempt to burn the place and collect insurance.  The club closed sometime around 1986 to make way for a Costco since the new crowd in Fairfax would rather shop than listen to rowdy country.

Monday, September 27, 2010


This was a famous nightclub called JJ's during the seventies located at 501 N. Randolph.  Early on the place was known for a rough clientele including Ft. Myer soldiers and bikers coming to watch strippers.  The Arlington Pagans were regulars.  In the mid-seventies they tried to clean it up and feature local rock bands.  JJ's closed sometime in the later seventies.  Later it relocated as JJ's American Cafe at the intersection of Lee Highway and Harrison St. in the building that is now a mattress store. 

JJ's had some unwanted notierity in the Johnny Battle incident at Godfather's in Georgetown.  A crew of Pagans were celebrating mother club member Cheyenne Richter's birthday and they started out a JJ's and were kicked out after a fight broke out.  They moved on to Godfather's where they enountred Johnny Battle's group and got into a street fight on Wisconsin Ave.  Battle ended up stabbed to death and some Pagans went to jail for a long time.  The case has come up lately because some of the Pagans were released based on some falsified testimony.

UPDATE:  Prior to becoming JJ's this place was a topless bar called Ziggy's and was known as a rough place.  Ziggy's neighbor, American Service Center, complained about vulgar customers and beer cans, which led to the it's closing. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Herndon Riot

Years ago I remember watching the local news and seeing the Fairfax County Police triumphantly unveiling their brand new riot tank, which was a state of the art armored car equipped to handle any kind of crowd disturbance. It was a classic example of a police department with too much money and too much time on its hands. My buddies and I laughed at the prospect of frenzied looting masses on the boring streets of Fairfax County. It turns out we were wrong and there was a riot in Fairfax County and it was a critical moment in the county’s relationship with its black residents.

The incident on started on a Friday afternoon in August 1974 when Felix “Catman” Rorls entered the 7-11 on Elden Street in Herndon about 4:30 PM to get some chocolate milk. Rorls had turned 26 ten days prior and was out with a group of friends. FCPD Officer John Mueller entered the 7-11 behind Rorls and demanded to see his license. The two men had been involved in a previous confrontation when Mueller busted Rorls for driving on a suspended license. When Mueller demanded to see his license Rorls replied “Why do I need a license in 7-11?” The events that followed are a little sketchy, but it seems that Mueller shoved Rorls through the glass cooler and hit him with his nightstick. Rorls proceeded to the register, bleeding profusely, and tried to pay for his milk. Mueller put his nightstick down on the counter and tried to handcuff Rorls. Rorls grabbed the nightstick and began beating Mueller, who fell down and drew his gun firing four to five shots at Rorls. Mueller wept as he and Rorls went to the hospital for treatment, but Rorls died of his wounds.

Mueller was a 31 year old white 8 year veteran of the FCPD. The department had been racked by years of rising citizen complaints of brutality and inept policing. The police force had a rate of solving crimes well below the national average and had only reluctantly brought on a small number of minority and women officers. Female officers had filed multiple sexual harassment complaints and the five black officers complained of discrimination.

Rorls was a black man from Clifton originally and had struggled after losing his mother when he was 11 years old. He had learning disabilities and had moved between various relatives as he grew up. By 1974 he was working Smith’s Trash Service and lived in Apartment 102 in Herndon Gardens.

Shortly after the shooting, a crowd of 70-100 gathered at the 7-11 and began simmering about the Fairfax police. This crowd was quickly dispersed, but the fuse had been lit. A couple of hours later about 300 people gathered at the Dulles Park Shopping Center and began throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. Someone threw four firebombs into the Virginia ABC liquor store causing extensive damage. Police tried to disperse the crowd, but were met with a hail of rocks and bottles. For three hours police worked frantically to put out the many small fires caused by the rioters. Somehow the officer in charge, Cpl. Leonard Smith arranged a meeting with leaders of the mob and they demanded a meeting with Fairfax Prosecutor Robert Horan. Horan recently retired and had gained a reputation for being an exceptional prosecutor, but he was also known for not pursuing police brutality cases. The crowd demanded from Horan that he prosecute Mueller and Horan promised to examine the case and make a “prosecutorial judgment.” Amazingly, the mob agreed to these terms in withdrew.

The next night a small crowd gathered at the Dulles Park Apartments, but they dispersed when the riot police withdrew. The case was probed by a grand jury, which ultimately found no basis to indict Mueller. The county settled with Rorls’ family for a scant $25,000.

The riot was a culmination of years of building frustration in the Fairfax County black community. It laid bare the neglect and racism of a county transitioning from a sleepy southern backwater to a bustling suburb. The growth of the county placed enormous economic pressures on both white and black families that had originally lived in the county. The development boom brought rising land values, increasing property taxes, and a county hell-bent on growing. Many families had the option, and many exercised it, of selling out and moving on. However, blacks had the significant barrier of being excluded from much of the new housing stock whether through formal covenants or more informal methods. During this boom, the black population grew a tiny amount, but rapidly shrank as a percentage of the overall population. In 1960, blacks in the DC suburbs occupied 24% of deteriorating housing, 54% of dilapidated housing, and only 3% of sound housing. During the early seventies Fairfax built its first public housing, which had the effect of institutionally segregating them and enticing poor blacks off of valuable land. The two public housing developments, Herndon Gardens and Dulles Park which were both located in Herndon.

Herndon at one time was a sleepy railroad town, but it had boomed along with the rest of the county and had doubled in size in a few years. Mayor Lopp and Town Manager Noe handled the tense situation very badly. Noe admitted he had paid no attention to the concerns of black residents while Lopp declared they made up an insignificant portion of the town’s population. Lopp went on the blame the county for concentrating low-income residents in his town. Following the riot, a meeting was called with black residents to air concerns and seek solutions. Problems rattled off were a 10 pm street curfew, which was usually invoked only with black residents, lack of adequate shopping, recreation, and transportation. One leader summed it up as “if you don’t have a car, you’re lost.” Another resident said he had been stopped 35 times for “routine checks” by police since he had bought his ’53 panel truck two months earlier. However, the meeting did not go well as Mayor Lopp walked out after demanding that people stop shouting. Finally county leaders met with the residents and formed an ad hoc committee to find resolutions to the problems. The Citizens Committee of Fairfax County began meeting with police representatives and a federal mediator to come to an agreement. The Committee demanded increased minority hiring, training for police, and establishment of more citizen oversight. The county agreed to fill 18 vacancies with minority members and raise the minority representation on the force to 28.2%, which was the metro DC ratio.

The county continues to grapple with these problems today as housing it of reach to many, the police force continues to battle charges of excessive force, and Herndon is still a flash point for racial tensions, but now it is aimed at Latino immigrants. As for John Mueller, he served as a police officer until retiring in 1994 as a bomb technician. He was in the coast guard reserves and helped rescue people from the Air Florida crash. He died in Vienna in 2001.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bull Run Grill

Thanks to J. Phillips who sent me this photo of the Bull Run Grill. The photo looks like it was taken in the 1980s or early 90s. The Bull Run Grill was legendary for drug busts, fights, and other nefarious activities, so this photo gives you an authentic view of a typical Saturday night. Of course such a place couldn't exist with the coming wave of big box stores and minivans, so it shut down sometime in the 90s (I think). It may have been called Ewells Grill before it became the Bull Run Grill.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The RIA Incident

Usually I focus on Northern Virginia in this blog, but I found an incident worth writing about in NE DC.

In 1973 the DC chapter of the Pagans had a club house at 3423 Eastern Ave. in Mt. Ranier, MD. A few blocks away, in the Woodridge neighborhood, they had picked RIA at 3112 Rhode Island Ave., NE as their hangout after being banned from two other nearby bars. The bar sits right on the border between DC and PG County in a regular middle class neighborhood once known for its country music clubs. However, the area was decaying and transitioning from a majority white to a majority black neighborhood causing racial tensions.

The Pagans were no strangers to racial violence. In August 1966 they had a protracted battle with black residents in Southeast at the 1023 club (see Mark Opsasnick's book Capitol Rock). Link Wray was playing one night as locals attacked the club and assaulted patrons. During the 68 riots one member of the Pagans was arrested at 14th and U shooting at rioters from a car. By 1973 DC had been through a massive transition to "Chocolate City" and was rapidly loosing its white population. This was not unusual for cities at the time as white residents fled integration and cities devasted by the start of deindustrialization.

Residents of the neighborhood had been complaining about drug dealing and rowdiness going on at the club. One person alleged that a member of the Pagans had a needle in his arm in a car outside the club, but their usual trip was "beer, and lots of it". Some residents claimed the Pagans were threatening them with racial epithets and displaying guns.

The real trouble at RIA started in July 1973 when a white woman and black woman got into an argument inside the bar. The dispute moved outside and two Pagans came to her aid, then a group of black men joined on the side of the black woman. The brawl involved about 40 people. One black guy named Michael Edward Jones, 23 of 3124 Newton St., NE was there and got involved in the fight. He lived around the corner from the Pagans club house and two blocks from RIA and it was not his first encounter with them. About a week earlier he had been run over by a car driven by a member of the Pagans. As the brawl got heated, he somehow got a hold of a stop sign and cracked it over the head of Bob Brown, the DC Pagans president. Brown died from his injuries. Jones was arrested for the murder of Brown, but a grand jury refused to indict him.

An enterprising Post reporter covering the story, gained admittance to the Pagans club house to interview members, but encountered a man named "tireiron" and thought better of it. He did interview a biker named Richard Sebastian two doors down who claimed not to be a member, but he did offer a warning that the Pagans were "stone crazy". He said everyone carried a gun in the area and "something has to be done over Bob Brown's death. He was righteous cat -- he had to be, he was the president".

The tension got the attention of the FBI, which was worried about retailiation and racial violence. The FBI issued a bulletin tha the Pagans had purchased guns and explosives in Florida and were planning to retaliate in September. PG Police raided a members home in September in Beltsville and found a cache of weapons, narcotics, and a copper still.

After the incident a group of white men shot at a group of black youths from a station wagon and two Pagans assaulted a black man in Woodridge. The shooting was never linked to the Pagans and the assault victim didn't show up to court. Residents fought the renewal of the liquor license for RIA, but the owner, Robert Pluebell, prevailed and gained his liquor license.
Apparently, the bar closed sometime later, but the building is still standing and was recently the offices for a surveying company.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Trouble at the Pool Hall

NOVA was home to dozens of pool halls serving as hubs for a lot of ilicit activities. One pool hall in Alexandria was the home to ongoing problems with drugs and murders. The building at 1101 Queen St. in Alexandria has an interesting history. It was built in 1921 and called the Lincoln Theater and was located in the heart of an African-American neighborhood called Uptown. The original building was replaced in 1939 and it later became the Capitol Theater. In the 1960s the theater continued to operate with "a pool hall and amusement arcade".

The pool hall was nothing but trouble. In 1961 police arrived to find a brawl outside the pool hall and tried to break it up. As a cop tried to take Douglas Beck's blackjack away, he got in one more smack on his victim. Beck's buddies James Allen and Nicholas Lafragiola were hauled in by police too. In 1969 Russell Robinson, who was a bouncer at the pool hall, was shot three times in the hallway of the pool room. Patrons told police that they heard gunfire and Robinson emerged clutching his throat. Charles Davis of 3627 S. Four Mile Run Dr. in Arlington claimed he shot Robinson in self defense because Robinson was trying to rob him. Davis was convicted to five years in prison.

In 1970 the Alexandria Vice Squad cracked down on the pool hall and arrested a lot of folks on drug charges and found it was a center of heroin dealing. It was likely that Guy Black's mini drug empire had its tentacles in the pool hall. He was the kingpin of the heroin market in NOVA for a few years. In 1975 Black was busted and cops found he had a $2.5 million operation that he was running while living in dumpy motels across Arlington. The heart of his drug operation was the Green Valley section of South Arlington, which is a historically black area of the county. Black had his junkies dealing out of teen centers, pool halls, motels, and shopping centers across NOVa.

An Alexandria Gazette article from 1970 notes the pool hall is the site of "frequent arrests for disorderly conduct, and several fights, and shootings have occured at the spot in recent months". In addition to heroin, the pool hall was the center of numbers betting in Alexandria.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

John McClure

In NOVA’s redneck past, there are many colorful figures, but few have been as colorful as John C. McClure who was a paratrooper, Nazi, Pagan MC member, and a jail breaker. McClure was born in 1939 in West Palm Beach, FL and was an imposing presence with a full beard and shaggy red hair. He was in the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville in 1958 when he was arrested for narcotics possession and given a 3 year suspended sentence.

In 1962 he arrived in Arlington, VA to become a full-fledged member of the American Nazi Party after reading some of George Lincoln Rockwell’s literature. He went through several months of training in Arlington before heading back to Florida in February ’63 to lead an effort to set up an American Nazi Party (ANP) branch office. After training in Arlington, he moved his wife and three kids to Miami to open up the southeast division of the ANP. The effort caused a huge controversy in the newspapers in South Florida. McClure immediately gained notoriety when he and his cohorts got involved in a brawl while protesting outside a pro-Israel meeting. In March he was hauled into court because police found him with a handgun which his narcotics possession conviction precluded him from having. While in jail his cellmates beat him, but police claimed he fell off of the top bunk. The judge gave him a choice of serving time or leaving Dade County forever and he chose the latter. As he left the courtroom an unidentified woman slapped him and said it was because she had been in a concentration camp and couldn’t bear seeing a Nazi.

Undeterred, McClure opened an office in West Palm Beach to the dismay of residents. In an article he declared that if the ANP came to power “negroes would be sent back to Africa” but the party hadn’t yet decided what to do with the Jews. Evidently folks back at Nazi HQ weren’t happy with his progress because George Lincoln Rockwell decided to throw McClure under the bus and announced that McClure had no authority to set up anywhere but Miami (because that’s “where the enemy is”). Rockwell pointed out that McClure was not very high in the party echelon and went on to say that he was coming down to personally supervise setting up a Miami office. Politicians are politicians no matter how nutty and they will eat your left nut if they need to.

By 1965 he was back in the Washington area counter protesting the anti-Vietnam war protests. Around this time, he joined the Pagans and it seems likely that he was present for the founding of the club. His nickname among his Pagan brothers was “Big John”, but this seems like a weird moniker because he was only 5’11” and 140 pounds. My guess is the name referred to his big presence and he probably punched above his weight.

In 1968, while living at 5414 S. 8th Pl. in South Arlington, McClure was involved in an incident at the Georgetown Peoples Drug Store at Wisconsin and O Street. The Georgetown Peoples was a popular spot for bikers and the parking lot was a meeting place for hippies, bikers, and drug dealers. From what I can gather in the newspaper reports, the problem arose from a drug deal between two groups and McClure was aligned with one of the groups.

At 2 AM on a Sunday morning two groups of youths got into some kind of brief dispute in the Peoples parking lot. A few minutes later McClure joined one group and went with them to their car and a bit later the two groups confronted each other again and McClure shot one person dead and wounded another with a .22 caliber pistol. The two guys shot down by him, were recent Wilson High School graduates who came to Peoples from a post-graduation party. Something strange happened among this group of people and it seems like the two guys shot by McClure were monkeying around during a drug deal. McClure claimed self defense in the shooting and apparently thought the other group was some threat to him.

McClure went on the lam and the FBI produced a wanted poster. The poster describes him as:
“a former member of a motorcycle gang, usually wears boots and blue
jeans, may have upper front tooth missing. McClure is being sought for
Murder in which victim was shot with a .22 caliber revolver. Considered
extremely dangerous.

It lists his past crimes as AWOL from the military, narcotics possession, and the Georgetown murder. After the manhunt, in which McClure was almost placed on the Ten Most Wanted list, he was arrested in Providence, RI. He had shaved his beard and cut his hair to try to lay low. The WaPo notes that Big John appeared frail in court, which makes me wonder if he was involuntarily detoxing in jail during the trial. The trial was chaotic as two of Big John’s Pagan brothers, Aurin “Little Jesus” Little and Earl “Moochie” Swicegood made some gesture and comment that scared some folks in the courtroom. Swicegood was held in contempt of court for threatening a witness because he allegedly made a comment that a prosecution witness was lying and he was going to blow him away. The charge was later overturned by another court.

McClure was convicted to ten years in jail. In 1972 he and a fellow inmate, Francis Fletcher, escaped Lorton and went on the run. Fletcher was a notorious thug in South Arlington with multiple convictions including gunning down a gas station attendant during a robbery. A few days after the escape Fletcher got into an accident on Columbia Pike and took off running. A cop and a citizen took him down and his escape was done. The Post seems to drop the story at this part because I can’t figure out when or if police caught up with McClure. Lorton at the time was in the midst of a rash of escapes and would soon face a riot by inmates.

After this incident, I lost the trail of McClure. By the late 80s he was in Texas or Louisiana and he died in 1993 in Kenner, Louisiana.

UPDATE: McClure was also a mechanic at Crossroads Cycle in Baileys Crossroads in the late sixties.

UPDATE 2: In researching the hippie scene around Dupont Circle I came across a new article about Mcclure. In 1967 police raided an apartment at 1629 19th St. NW in DC and found pot, .30-caliber carbine, and a sawed-off shotgu with a bayonet attached. Mcclure and Elizabeth Mechline were inside the apartment. Mcclure identified himself as a member of the Pagans and former president of the Huns. The Huns MC were a local club that patched over to the Pagans sometime in 1967.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Drag Racing Menace

During the fifties and sixties the DC area was a hot bed for hot rodders. In NOVA hot rodders gathered at the various Tops Drive-Inn locations like Fairfax Circle, Harrison and Lee Highway in Arlington and Glebe and Rte. 50 in Arlington. They'd bring their cars to the drive-in and hang with their gang of friends. In some cases, the hot rod friends became clubs and sometimes evolved into greaser gangs. The greaser gangs evolved into the sixties and in some places continued well into the seventies. In PG County they were known as Grits during the seventies, but in NOVA some of them evolved into the Pagans.

In 1960 WaPo did one of a number of articles on the menace of drag racing in the DC area. Naturally the hotspots were the redneck areas of PG County, Arlington, and Falls Church. The Post reported that motorcycles, trucks, and even women were drag racing!

The drag racing hotspots in NOVA were (according to the Post): East Broad St. and Hillwood St. in Falls Church; Williamsburg and Yorktown blvds; George Mason and Sycamore; and GW Parkway.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Massage Parlors and Old Newspaper Code

During the early to mid-seventies, massage parlors were very controversial in NOVA. In 1973 C&P changed their practices for advertising such establishments by doing away with suggestive pictures and sexual language. C&P had seen an explosion in ads going from 3 pages in 1971 to 10 in 1974. Falls Church tried to impose strict regulations to run them out of business, but was overruled by the courts. In 1974 Arlington invoked a rarely used bawdy house law to charge Ronald E. Kennedy for operating lewd establishments. According to a newspaper article he ran Inga's Superstar (1114 Wilson) massage parlor and Paramount Health Club (1100 Wilson). The article is a bit evasive about what went on in these places, but I guess we can all imagine. It's weird reading old newspaper stories and sensing the reluctance to talk about what was really going down at these joints.

Interestingly, a search of old phone books revealed that Mr. Kennedy also operated Honeybee Escort Service out of the 1114 Wilson Blvd. location. Also, the phonebooks show that most of these massage parlors were concentrated in certain areas. They all advertised their proximity to National Airport, but the area on Rte. 1 near the airport had a particularly high concentration. Rosslyn had a lot of massage parlors too, which isn't surprising because it was quite seedy back in the day.

One interesting parlor is Jenna's at 1134 N. Hudson St., which was next door to the famous Keyhole Inn. Rednecks need their chili, beer, and girls.

According to Senate testimony, the Pagans supplied the women to many of these massage parlors and served as bouncers. Sound like wholesome family establishments, no?

Below is a list of some of my favorites from the phone books:

Tiki-Tiki: 1073 Broad St. and 3219 Columbia Pike Arlington
Wolf's Den: 4613 Duke St. Alexandria
Alexandria's Shangri-La: 121 S. Henry Alexandria
Godfather I (with International Staff!):1801 N. Oak Arlington
Zodiac: 3520 Lee Hwy Arlington
Jenna's: 1134 N. Hudson (next door to the Keyhole Inn!)
Aphrodite: 3603 Wilson Blvd. Arlington

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Bone to Pick

Mark Opsasnick wrote a wonderful book called "Capitol Rock" that I've been wading through. The book covers the late country and early rock and roll period in Washington DC when great artists like Link Wray ruled the club circuit. I have one bone to pick with the book.

Mark claims that Northern Virginia didn't have much of a club scene, but I don't agree. There was a slew of nightclubs along Lee Highway and Wilson Blvd in Arlington such as Covered Wagon then heading out Rte. 29 there were a number of dancehalls between Fairfax City and Centreville including Social Circle, Hunters Lodge, Bull Run Dance Hall. Many of these were notorious for rowdy brawls and hillbilly music (you can see many of them on the side of this page). Northern Virginia was the center of bluegrass music with nightclubs such as the Admiral Grill and the Birchmere. I hope as this blog goes on I can begin capturing the richness of the area's music.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Moral Panic in Northern Virginia

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about sixties motorcycle gangs in NOVA during the mid and late sixties. Reading the WaPo’s coverage from 1965-70 is reading a classic example of the media molding a moral panic out of youthful disturbances. The WaPo especially takes aim at the Pagans as the motorcycle gang grew from a few young men to a huge regional club. The coverage culminated with the murders of Newland and Hartless in 1970.

The first article to mention the Pagans that I’ve found is from late 1965. Warner Ray Cockerille was arrested at the Social Circle dance hall in Centreville for his involvement in a brawl. The article mentions as an aside that he was part of the “pagan motorcycle club”. This article lays the first building block in the construction of a moral panic by alleging Cockerille fought a group of girls despite his 6'9" stature. In constructing a moral panic, it is critical to show them as living outside the norm and showing them in extreme deviancy such as fighting a group of girls.

In April 1966 the Fairfax City Times had an article about a gang fight in Fairfax City. The article describes the conflict between the “greasers”, “collegiates”, and the “pagans”. It’s interesting to see the use of the word greaser, which was a hidden national subculture among blue-collar kids from the 1950s-70s (see the Outsiders). Greasers typically had a fifties look, were into hod rods and motorcycles, and despised hippies. The “pagans” were described as an outside group, but were actually the beginnings of the Pagans coalescing into a gang in Northern Virginia. The article describes the groups in the typical language of moral panics in which they are described as engaging in deviant behavior that is contrasted with the “good kids” that warned police of a huge brawl behind the A&P across from the old Fairfax High School (now Paul VI) with the usual outrage from the adult squares.

In June 1966, the WaPo hit moral panic paydirt when the greasers (now called the Avengers) and the Pagans had a shootout behind Safeway at the Lee-Harrison Center in Arlington. The event had all the trimmings that the community needed for a full-blown moral panic. The adult squares saw out of control marginalized young men, strangely dressed, with no regard for the community’s norms. Add to that the allure of motorcycles, guns, and gang symbols and you’ve got a recipe for a sensational story. The result was the usual investigations by the County Board, the letters to the editor, and the conversations about what to do about these delinquents. While the rumble between the Avengers and Pagans established the Pagans as the dominant gang in Northern Virginia, it also began to change the nature of the gang. On that day, it began as transition away from a hard drinking, brawling, fun-loving group of young men towards the criminal enterprise it is today. Unfortunately, moral panics in the media often fuel the fire and the media coverage attracted new members to the Pagans. The interesting contrast in these articles was the “fruits”, which an Avenger girlfriend assures us does not mean homosexual, but refers to the kids that care about college. Again, this coverage of moral panics needs a bearing for the squares to establish the deviancy of the Pagans and the “fruits” served this purpose.

Following the Arlington rumble, the WaPo did a number of profiles of the Pagans. They ranged from the bizarre to the sinister, but they added to the allure of the gang and solidified the Pagans as the folk devils of Northern Virginia. In one article they profile Earl “Moochie” Swicegood and the article tries to reconcile the look and attitude of bikers with the squares’ world. At one point Moochie declares that he believes in paganism and then a policeman asks him if his swastika symbolizes anti-semitism which Moochie denies. The reporter also asks Moochie if the Pagans are basically hedonistic; you can hear the snickering by the reporter coming through the newsprint as he writes that Moochie scrunched up his face and didn't understand the word. When the reporter explained the word, Moochie said “Yeah its one big party baby”.

From this point forward, anytime a Pagan was involved in trouble, the media covered it and mentioned the Pagans. Occasionally the media gave readers a review of all the crimes committed by Pagans to make sure they understood the deviancy of the organization. This solidified the Pagans as NOVA's folk devils and merely mentioning in an article that someone was a Pagan was enough to feed the moral panic. The media coverage couldn't see any nuance in the Pagans and tended to protray them as monolithic and uniform in beliefs and behavior. For exampel, the Pagans that intimidated Vietnam protesters got a brief mention without analyzing how this behavior was at odds with the paper's strict portrayal of Pagans as deviants.

As I wrote in an earlier post, in 1970 a group of Pagans murdered members of a rival gang called the Saints. The Saints were an outgrowth of the Avengers, so this was a continuation of the early rumbles in Fairfax and Arlington. By now, the Pagans were huge and had become a much different gang than they were four years earlier with many members involved in drug dealing, prostitution, and other criminal activities. After the murders of Hartless and Newland, you can see a transition in leadership in the Pagans. One of the original Pagans, Richard Scarborough, declared himself retired because the gang had moved away from its origins of a group of guys attending races with their wives. This is probably an overstatement by Scarborough. The coverage of the murders further solidified the Pagans as a murderous,deviant and sinister gang by the media. Therefore, any trouble where Pagans were involved confirmed them as a threat to polite society and usually those involved were assumed guilty.

This was shown in the 1974 court case involving a late night fight in Georgetown between members of the Pagans and a group of African-Americans. Two Pagans were sentenced to long prison terms based on false testimony that was never questioned because the squares assumed that Pagans were inherently violent, racist, and deviant. The two Pagans were recently released when irregularities in the trial came to light including false testimony by an ex-girlfriend.

The point of this post is not to declare the Pagans as an entirely innocent organization. No doubt they were hard drinking roughnecks that had some members involved in criminal activities since at least the late sixties. However, there has been a long tradition of young men being hard drinking roughnecks and involved in criminal activities, which made the Pagans seem a bit more normal than the media portrayed them. In many early articles Pagans said they did not seek trouble, but just wanted to live their lives free of the shackles of regular society. The media couldn’t read this as a subtle request to butt out and let them live by their own code good or bad.

Friday, February 12, 2010

KKK in Fairfax

The Klan was a presence in most southern town's during early part of this century. They enforced, with intimidation and violence,racist and bigoted norms across the south. While I knew they were a common presence across the south, I was still shocked to read about them in Fairfax County.

I was surprised to learn that in 1930, at the annual Fairfax Fair (which continues today)the Klan were given responsibility for the last day's program. The Washington Post article reported, with no sense of shock, that the Klan was in charge of the "program on [the] closing day of [the] event. The article goes through the usual county fair-type event such as pony races, gold hunt, etc. Then J.L. Baskins, the Grand Dragon of the KKK of Virginia gave a speech "followed by a large display of fireworks.

I did some further research and apparently this was normal from the late twenties to early thirties in Fairfax County. The Klan even sponsored a baseball team!

I'll file this under WTF?

How Hillbilly Heaven Earned a Reputation of Violence

I mentioned earlier that Hillbilly Heaven in Lorton had a reputation for violence, so I looked up some examples. I know it's no surprise, but I found a couple...

One night in 1976 Pvt. Cedric Danns and Franklin Thompson headed out to a party in Gum Springs. They moved on to a friend's apartment in Gum Springs to score some heroin, but the party "wasn't hip" (no heroin?). They split from the party and we're "supposed to be getting a couple of girls". The two guys drove to Hillbilly Heaven to pick up Paula Thompson (no relation), who was a topless dancer at Caear's Steak House in Woodbridge. They picked up Thompson and a guy named Pancho (yes, you're reading that right!). The group left Hillbilly Heaven to go to Prince William Forest Park. Danns was in the front seat and he heard some rumbling in the back seat and heard the word "blackmail". A few seconds later the stripper was shot dead. Danns was then driven back to Hillbilly Heaven and ordered out of the car.

In 1981, Manfred Bast of the Marumsco trailer park on Jefferson Davis Hwy took part in a brawl in the parking lot of Hillbilly Heaven. The manager of Hillbilly Heaven, Randall Herron, reported that two car loads of rowdy people pulled into the parking lot before 2 AM. Apparently, a brawl followed and Manfred Bast died.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Photo from Whitey's in Arlington

Whitey's was a great bar at the inersection of Pershing and Washington Blvd.

This photo is from Facebook.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

How did NOVA become redneck? Pt. 2

The DC area was a sleepy backwater town untl the thirties. During the mid-1800s the city experienced an influx of immigrants, mostly Irish. The area didn't experience the turn of the century immigration like Chicago, Detroit, and New York. However, southerners did flock to the city starting in the thirties. This migration was a gush at first and then became a trickle until it stopped in the early seventies. The large numbers of "hillbillies" turned the area's nightclubs into honky tonks and the area came to have a much more southern feel.

DC and surrounding areas had significant (possibly majority) southern sentiments during the civil war, so the addition of southen migrants just added to the southerness of the city. The migrants settled in Southeast DC, Prince Georges County, and Northern Virginia, but grappled with huge housing shortages. This led to enormous, almost ramshackle, housing developments populated almot exclusively by southern whites. For example, Pimmit Hills in Tysons is a huge neighborhood of homes that look identical and are quite small. Way back the legend told that the Fairfax police were too afraid to go into the neighborhood so it was some kind of hillbilly free for all. I doubt that was really the case.

Nonetheless, these newcomers wanted nightclubs to themselves and they got their wish. Across the area, including NOVA, there were nightclubs hosting legendary country artists playing to their kin folk. This was how the DC area was until things began to shift in the nineties. The redneck nature of the area disappeared almost overnight and has been washed from the area as if it were never there.

How did NOVA become redneck?

Sitting in Arlington now, it's hard to believe how redneck the DC area used to be. DC has always been a magnet for people looking for better opportunities. Economic downturns are always blunted by government spending. Nowadays, folks come here to work for government contractors, but back in the middle of last century there were a ton of unskilled jobs available and they were primarily related to the federal government.

1950 marked the first census in which a majority of Americans lived in metropolitan areas. The DC area grew during this time from the expansion of the government during the depression and World War II. By 1960 DC joined the top ten metropolitan areas in population. Looking at the population numbers show the explosive growth: Arlington grew from 6430 in 1900 to 135,449 in 1950; Fairfax grew from 18,850 in 1900 to 40,929 in 1950; and Alexandria grew from 14,520 in 1900 to 61,787 in 1950. Meanwhile, Appalachia was experiencing difficult economic times and the people living in that region began migrating to find better jobs. In some cases they ended up as coal miners, but many came to cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and DC. In fact DC was the second largest recipient of Appalachian people. The folks that came were among the poorest in the nation and often came to cities directly competing with African Americans and immigrants for jobs.

These folks were called hillbillies back then and reports show they did not fit into their new communities. People wrote about them being disorderly, clannish, untamed, with an affinity for alcohol and violence. We all know when people arrive in large numbers to a new area, these reports are typical and probably overblown.

The wonderful thing they brought to DC was their music and made the DC area the major hub for Appalachian music which was evolving into Bluegrass and Country. Thank god for that.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Where did the Pagans start?

I've been doing a bit of research about the Pagans Motorcycle Club; trying to figure out their origens. All over the internet folks claim they were started by Lou Dobkin in 1959 in Prince Georges County, but I don't agree with this.

In Wikipedia comments, Lou Dobkin's wife (or someone who claims to be) says he was born in 1943 and the club was started in 1963. Another commenter claim the club originated in Vienna. There is some other evidence about their origins. The first mention of the Pagans is from a Washingon Post article in 1965 about Ray Cockerille getting in a dustup at a Centreville dance hall and Cockerille was from Vienna. Another Post article from 1966 claims they were based in White Oak, MD (in Montgomery County). In other articles I've read from the mid sixties, they seem to have a heavy Virginia membership. I believe they started in 1963 in Virginia and the belief that they started in PG is because the first run-ins with police was at the races in Upper Marlboro.

Update: John Hall's book about The Pagans asserts they started in Fruitland, MD, which is south of Salisbury. I think that is highly unlikely.

Country Gentelmen live in Falls Church

A recording from 1961.

Hillbilly Heaven

I vaguely remember Hillbilly Heaven on Rte. 1 in the Lorton area as a place that seemed oddly out of place in the eighties. The rednecks were slowly losing their grip on the region, but here was their heaven. I guess the name was a hint about their fate. HH was a nightclub was owned by Earl Dixon in 70s and 80s that was one of the last bastions of the old times. Hillbilly Heaven hosted Bill Haley, Conway Twitty and other country singers, but the show I would have killed to see was Mike Johnson, the "No. 1 Black Yodeler". Anyways, the place had a reputation for hard drinking, violence, and other nefarious activities.

An interesting side note is Earl Dixon's daughter is the actress Donna Dixon.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Site of Hillbilly Heaven in Lorton

This is the site of the famous honky tonk in Lorton. All that's left is a sign with 'H H' on it.

Old photos of Pagans MC

This flickr site has some great old photos from the 60s. Most of them look like they are from the NJ/PA area.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Article on Speedy Tolliver

An Arlington resident and fiddle legend, Speedy Tolliver is featured in this Connection article.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Roots of Country Music

While country music was born in the hills of Southwest Virginia, Arlington played a critical role in the development of the country music industry.

The radio station WARL was located on Lee Hwy between Harrison and George Mason. WARL had a show called "Town and Country Time" that supposedly gave birth to the term country and Patsy Cline became famour from her live performances on the show. Most recently the building served as a Whitman-Walker clinic, but you can still see the huge (still in use) radio tower behind the building.

I came across some interesting bit of information from a Washington Post article from August 19, 1953 about WARL. On Saturdays during the summer of '53, the station held "lawn parties" in which the live show moved to the lawn of the station. I searched old Billboard magazines and found the performances contined into the summers of '54 and '55. During the summer of '54 Jimmy Dean, Roy Clark, and Patsy Cline performed at the Saturday evening show.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pagans MC members linked to double murder in 1970

I've expanded and updated this article

Growing up in NOVA, you knew about the Pagans. NOVA was their birthplace and the source of the bulk of their original members. They established themselves as the toughest biker gang in the area during the late 60s and early 70s. By 1970, they had fired a hundred shots at a rival gang in the Safeway parking lot at Lee Hwy and Harrison St. in Arlington; had participated in a huge brawl with police in Newark; and were known as a bunch of serious roughnecks.

One thing The Pagans didn't like was people forming independent biker gangs and would attempt to intimidate the rival gang into joining The Pagans or disappearing. This was taken to a whole new level in 1970. Some guys in Alexandria formed a biker gang called The Saints and immediately became a rival for The Pagans. Two of these guys were Lewis Hartless and Richard Newland. Newland lived at 330 N. Columbus St. in Alexandria and Hartless also lived in Alexandria. Both had roots in Roanoke. Some kind of dispute broke out near Newland's home that resulted in Hartless firing a gun and wounding a Pagan.

The Pagans got their revenge on March 26. They abducted Newland at gunpoint in downtown Alexandria and broke into Hartless' motel room on Rte. 1 in Alexandria. They drove them to their headquarters at the home of Richard Allen Scarborough of 2145Pimmit Drive in the Pimmit Hills neighborhood near Tysons Corner. Once inside the house the Pagans tortured Hartless and Newland for several hours. Then they drove them to the intersection of Rte. 7 and Lewinsville Rd. where they stabbed and shot Hartless and Newland.

Police managed to get one of the Pagans to talk and charged ten of them. Alexander "Head" Akers and Bradley "Lucifer" Hinckley were eventually convicted for murder and sent to prison.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I moved to Northern Virginia in the late 70s from Prince Georges County. My neighborhood felt like the end of the line. If you continued west through Burke, the roads became winding country roads with signs of the old south all around. I was part of the vanguard of inner suburbanites pushing sprawling suburbs outside the beltway and encroaching on a land long occupied by farmers. The result was rednecks and government workers coexisting to create a community that had shopping malls and pool halls next to each other.

I moved the Burke as a youngster and I remember a house down the road that supposedly housed the local Pagans MC chapter right next to the local library branch. Muscle cars pulling up next to Mercedes on Burke Lake Rd. It was a weird world between the redneck past and yuppy future.

The housing boom killed most of this in Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax. Any piece of land was snapped up by the well off and blue collar folks sold their inflated property or were priced out. They headed south and west to places like Stafford and West Virginia.

I've found myself reminiscing about that lost past so I hope to find those lost fragments of the past. I hope to find the real Northern Virginia.