Quigley’s was more than just a drugstore – it was the social center of GW before it closed in 1979.
When GW moved from 15th and H streets to its Foggy Bottom location in 1912, Quigley’s pharmacy – on the corner of 21st and G streets – became a place for students to relax and take a break from classes.
In a 1962 edition of the Alumni Review, Dr. Elmer Louis Kayser, an emeritus professor of history and GW historian, described Quigley’s as “the only commercial establishment around during the early times at GW’s Foggy Bottom campus.
“When the lights went out at Quigley’s at 10 o’clock, darkness locked the street up for night,” Kayser wrote.
More than just a typical neighborhood pharmacy, Quigley’s was the gathering place for many GW students. The pit stop housed a soda fountain and operated a grill.
GW’s student union was Quigley’s only competition for customers, according to GW’s archival publication From Strength to Strength.
“When students reminisced about their undergraduate life at GW, they invariably mentioned getting a Coke at Quigley’s,” according to the book.
“One of our favorite eating and drinking places at that time was Quigley’s, which had not only food and drinks, but also just about anything else that a student would need from school supplies to medicines,” 1940s GW graduate Dino A. Brugioni wrote in a letter to GW Magazine.
Kayser, in his 1976 oral history, said Quigley’s compensated for the lack of social activities at GW.
“What we lacked was to a certain extent made up by Quigley’s because old Dr. Quigley was a pleasant, indulgent gentlemen,” Kayser said.
Kayser said Dr. Quigley’s sales were “slim” because he allowed GW students to peruse the magazines while they “loafed in his store.”
“As one student who attended GW during the war years put it, `Quigley’s corner drug store supplied us with snacks, blue books and No-Doz pills for exam week,'” according to From Strength to Strength.
“Another described the store as the `pivot of GW life.’ Quigley’s occupied such a prominent position in GW lore that in 1971, when the `Voice of America’ made a program on the 150th anniversary of GW, it decided to call the program, `The View from Quigley’s.’ In the program, the place was described as the perennial corner store and as the unifying thread of GW.”
And Quigley’s was a place to watch history and see prominent politicians.
“Students in the mid-1940s might discover Margaret Truman, the campus’s most famous student, waiting for her father to meet her for a soda,” according to From Strength to Strength.
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton recalled in her 1994 Commencement address that she frequented Quigley’s during her days as an intern in Washington.
But the early 1970s were tough times for the little pharmacy that students loved.
In 1974, the University bought Quigley’s property after a series of bad years for the corner store.
“By that time, Quigley’s was reduced, in one student’s words, to becoming `a place to have ice cream between classes.’ Another student complained that `it looks like a dump. The only thing I go in there to buy is Life Savers,'” according to From Strength to Strength.
Today, the building – still known as Quigley’s – houses GW’s geography department. The department moved from its Pennsylvania Avenue offices to Quigley’s on May 12, 1980.
Geography Professor John Lowe said Quigley’s underwent major renovations before the geography department called Quigley’s home. He said the building’s second and third floors were residential quarters. The ceilings were dropped, walls were redone and floors were changed.
But preservationists insisted, however, that the location be permanently marked as the home of Quigley’s. Today, a plaque marks the entrance to Quigley’s.
“For a generation, the courtly presence, friendliness and human sympathy of its founder made his pharmacy an oasis of a refreshment, sociability and goodwill, which will remain in the ever green memory and affection of the University community,” the plaque says.
Dorn McGrath Jr., chair of the geography department, said the building houses a weather station, which is cited on Channel 4 News.
But even today, he is reminded that his department’s office was once a popular pharmacy.
“We still get people who walk in and say, `Can you fill my prescription?'”