August 03, 2010
Glimmers of Sanity

From the Washington Post:

Sarah Bassin, 99, a Washington native who co-owned Bassin’s Restaurant, the first District dining establishment to offer sidewalk seating, died June 30 in Naples, Fla. She had Alzheimer’s disease…

Led by Harry Zitelman, the restaurant’s owners began seeking permission in 1959 to open a sidewalk cafe. The idea met with fierce opposition from residents and city officials, setting off a years-long battle to allow customers to eat and drink in the open air.

City officials argued that sidewalk eateries would expose food to contamination by “windblown foreign matter” and would exacerbate pest problems, The Post reported. A deputy police chief warned that “this type of operation would provide a favorable setting for ladies of easy virtue as they ply their trade up and down the street.”

Back then I covered the District Building (Washington’s City Hall) for the late Washington Daily News. The head of the board of commissioners was the late Walter Tobriner (below), a brilliant, no-nonsense civic leader who went on to become our ambassador to Jamaica.

I sat through, and he presided over, hours of the sorts of Cover Your Ass testimony that the Post summarizes above — bureaucrat after bureaucrat moaning of the disasters sure to overwhelm his department if the commissioners were to allow their unruly and unsanitary citizenry to eat outdoors.

When the department heads had each had his whine, Commissioner Tobriner looked out over the audience, keeping an admirably straight face, and said, “There being no substantive objection, the application is approved.”



Posted by Jerome Doolittle at August 03, 2010 12:34 PM
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