Spotlight: From soda shop to science lab

Computers and empty desks have replaced the barstools and lively crowd once found inside the building on the corner of 21st and G Streets. A weather station monitor now faces out of the large window, once the front entrance to a shop where students stopped to buy ice cream cones between classes.

The name Quigley’s remains on the front of the building, a small reminder of the soda pop hangout that once existed there. It is now home to the GW Department of Geography.

Quigley’s Pharmacy was the social center of the GW community in the 1930’s. The pharmacy was the place students gathered long before there was a student union on campus.

GW alumnus Richard Lucien Quigley opened the pharmacy in 1891, one year after he earned his a degree in pharmacy science. The surrounding area back then was mostly residential.

Twenty-one years after Quigley opened the pharmacy, GW’s College of Arts and Science rented a residence located just across the street, at 2023 G St., where Lisner, Bell and Stuart Halls stand today. Before the purchase, GW owned two buildings on 15th and H Streets.

Until 1938, Lucien filled prescriptions, sold medicines and later Cokes and burgers at the lunch bar. More importantly, he was a friend to the students.

According to Hatchet articles, Lucien said students would turn to him when they needed to borrow money for dates. He said he was proud to say he never lost a cent.

Al Kohrn took over the management of the pharmacy in the 1950’s. He also served soda and ice cream to students passing by.

“The soda fountain was located along the west wall, parallel to 21st Street and a few soda fountain tables and wire chairs were arranged on the open floor near the soda fountain counter,” said Dorn McGrath, chairman of the Department of Geography.

By the ’70s, Quigley’s featured a lunch counter, candy counter and pinball machines.

History in the making was not uncommon at GW, Quigley’s was a place to observe it.

In a 1970 special issue of GW Magazine, Kohrn spoke about Quigley’s role during the Watergate scandal.

“We never had any problems with vandalism,” Kohrn said in an article. “In fact, when we had trouble down at Watergate, and the police pushed the people back on campus . we stayed open while they were being tear-gassed and got as many kids in here as we could.”

Famous people also enjoyed Quigley’s charm. In the mid-40s, students could find then GW student Margaret Truman waiting outside to meet her father for a soda.

Jane Lingo, a 1946 GW alumnae who now serves as assistant director of University Relations, said she remembers the days when Quigley’s Pharmacy was still around.

“Quigley’s was the local drugstore, and it had a soda fountain on the right,” Lingo said. “My friend, Margaret Truman, went there regularly for hamburgers, but I used to go to Leo’s, what’s now the GW Delicatessen.”

Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) mentioned Quigley’s in her 1994 GW Commencement address. She recalled the summer of 1968, when she interned in D.C. and occasionally stopped in the historic pharmacy.

Quigley’s faced some fierce competition in 1949 when a new GW student union opened at 2125 G St. The first floor cafeteria served breakfast, lunch and dinner. The second floor, the social lounge, housed radios and comfortable chairs and sofas. The fourth floor served as a recreation room with both a radio and record player.

Quigley’s lost its aura as people found cheaper food elsewhere on campus. It was not in a central location any more, with new buildings popping up everywhere, according to University Archives.

The University bought the building in 1974, and the site became home to the Department of Geography in the following years.

Cleared of the soda machine and tables, Room 102 now is a computer-equipped classroom, used for teaching classes in remote sensing, McGrath said.

But Quigley’s remains famous. It houses the University’s weather station, a part of the NBC Channel 4 news service, and often appears on TV during Channel 4 Meteorologist Bob Ryan’s weather report, McGrath said.

Room 101, which used to be the Quigley’s Pharmacy counter, is now an office for the two graduate teaching assistants and a visiting scholar.

Soon, Quigley’s will be empty again. McGrath said geography department is scheduled to move into the new Elliot School of International Affairs on 19th and E streets when it is complete. University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said he would like to put some sort of eating establishment in Quigley’s as a reminder of what it used to be.

“There has been thought of anything from a Chinese restaurant to a French bistro to a coffee shop to an old-fashioned soda pop shop,” he said.

The key element is that it will be open late to serve the student needs, Trachtenberg said.

“It will be right in the middle of a high-density residential population,” he said.

No matter what Quigley’s becomes, the outside of the building is sure to stay the same.

“It has been the same since before I was born,” Trachtenberg said

The idea of restoring Quigley’s into a ’50s-style diner was welcomed by many students, especially since the outside of the building will retain its look of yesteryear.

Students interviewed said they want something distinct that will stand out on campus.

“We don’t really need another fast food place on campus,” senior Sheeba Roy said. “This would be something cute and different.”

Several students suggested if Quigley’s does become a diner, someone other than GW should caters it to give it a unique flair.

Senior Jessie Robinson proposed that in keeping with the oldies themes, sodas should cost 50 cents, just like they did in the `50s.

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