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Fountain Service: 1942

July 1942. Washington, D.C. "People's Drug store lunch counter on G Street N.W. at noon." Acetate negative by Marjory Collins for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.

July 1942. Washington, D.C. "People's Drug store lunch counter on G Street N.W. at noon." Acetate negative by Marjory Collins for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

There's a site reposting your photos

This photo is #23 in their series. I think all the other photos are yours as well.

[Welcome to the Internet! Just two of those (23, 28) are "our photos." Which are from the Library of Congress. - Dave]

DC's "lost laws," later found

In 1872 and 1873 the Legislative Assembly of the District of Columbia adopted ordinances providing that no restaurant keeper or proprietor could refuse to serve respectable and well-behaved persons, and prohibited refusals of service on the basis of race. color, or previous condition of servitude. But as Reconstruction gave way to a return to racist practices, those laws were largely forgotten - until the forties. In 1944, Ms. Pauli Murray, the top-ranked member of Howard University Law School's Class of 1944 (and the only woman in the class), rediscovered the laws and sparked a campaign to enforce them against segregated lunch counters within the District. Enforcement actions began in 1950, and convictions of the John R. Thompson Co. Inc. restaurant chain under the "lost laws" were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1953.

An ad, or your lying feet ??

So who are you going to believe when it comes to deciding what's "excellent"?

(That the ad lists as a perk the possiblity of moving on to better paying positions may give the answer)

To me, mystery is

where in the world photographer anchored himself to make this dramatic view and composition?

[The mezzanine. - Dave]

Milk for lunch

I'm a bit surprised at all the lunch patrons drinking milk with their meal. I suppose today most would be drinking sodas. And in 1942 there's not an obese person in sight at this counter.

All for one

Is that woman near the Coke fountain really going to eat all those cinnamon rolls by herself? I don't see them anywhere else on the counter, so I assume they must all be for her. That looks like a diabetic coma waiting to happen.

No Smoking

During a time when everyone smoked, and it was allowed pretty much everywhere, I don't see any ashtrays or anyone smoking. Maybe there's no time to have a smoke after lunch with so many people waiting for your seat.

Have a cookie, or a sandwich?

Those little square cellophane wrapped items on the stand at the bottom of the picture, and the round ones nearby - are they stacks of cookies or pre-made sandwiches? Can't zoom in enough to tell or read the writing on them. There's another stack at the far end by the second Coke dispenser.

[Nabisco "NAB" Raisin Fruit Biscuits, some LANCO fig bars, etc. - Dave]


Most Shorpy pics of lunch counters and the like look staged - all clean and set up, ready to go. This is great to see a 1940s lunch counter in action! Dropped oranges, rags, dirty dishes and all! It FEELS real!

Floor Slats

My family owned and ran a restaurant (opened 1934) and I spent many hours traversing those type of boards you see behind the counter. Though rubber mats are the norm and the preferred nowadays, those slats nailed or screwed to 2x4's were really better...the wood gave and cushioned when walked on. Also, spillage and pieces of food that dropped to the floor beneath the slats (usually) kept the walkway from getting too slippery. Rubber mats can't do this. At the end of the night the boards are pulled up, scrubbed and the floor cleaned beneath them. A lot of bars, at least in the south, still use them today.

Are you done yet?

I appreciate the caption simply says lunch counter at noon, cause there is no break in this lunch break. There is likely more pressure at this lunch counter than at their jobs. I don't see many watches, but I'm sure everyone is keeping track of the time.

No smoking?

Dont see any ash trays or cigarettes. Always was someone next to me smoking. Can almost hear the sound of dishs clanging around. Watcha gonna have, hun?

Dynamic photo

Great angle, almost lurid. And so much activity. I feel for that waitress at the far end who’s squatting down to pick up a mess. Can’t be easy on the greasy duckboards. And at first I wondered what was the suspended circular device in the upper left with the blur around it until – duh! – it occurred to me that it’s a ceiling fan, in motion.


I never noticed the people waiting behind the seated customers, was this the busiest lunch counter in the world??

I just now noted the people waiting behind the seated customers, was this the
busiest lunch counter in the world??

Where to wait ?

I guess from above it looks worse then from where you're enjoying your meal. I mean, you can't see the people waiting behind you, can you. Wonder if the lunch-time regulars used special tactics to decide behind which stool/patron to wait.

That girl fourth from the bottom, near the Coca-Cola dispenser, is she going to eat all those buns (or cakes) ?

I didn't know

... that Sean Penn was THAT old!

Not All People?

In all fairness, keep in mind this is G Street N.W., nowhere near the predominantly Black neighborhoods of the time. I'm sure that local drugstores there were often frequented by a mixture of races.

Clean Up On Aisle 1

Is what the waitress at the top of the picture is doing.

I guess being busy at a lunch counter will always mean a broken plate or two (or three, or four).

The person with the plates behind the crouching waitress looks a little annoyed too.

Don't mind me. But hurry up!

I agree with denverlev. I had exactly the same thought on first glance at this photo. What a bizarre setup, to pick a spot behind a diner and stand there while they eat. And my next thought was about the "grocery store line effect", where I always seem to pick the "wrong" line at the grocery store (although self-scan has largely eliminated this issue). How frustrating it would be to choose to stand behind the guy who takes forever to eat, then mulls over the dessert choices, then bickers over the bill, then takes forever to pay it, etc. etc., all while you watch the patrons in the seats next to you come and go and come and go. I couldn't do it. I'm so glad that at some point between July 1942 and today we came up with the concept of the hostess stand.

One more thing. Is the floor behind the counter designed to maximize the effort required to keep it clean?! Geez. And I think the server at the top is fishing out a coin that she dropped.

You Gonna Eat That?

An establishment still exists near the University Of Minnesota Minneapolis campus named Al's Breakfast. In business continually since 1950, the building is only 10 feet wide including cooking and eating areas. Due to the tiny space, guests must first stand in line along the building's back wall as they wait for others to finish their meals. It is common for diners to be instructed to move down the counter to allow newly seated customers to be seated together. Veterans of Al's are used to the instruction and diners may be re-seated several times during the course of a meal.

Generations of poor U of M students have worked and been nourished there.

Wow, This is a Wonderful Photo!

Thanks for posting this one. The angle looking down onto the action is a real rarity for an indoor shot. There is so much visual information on offer here. And with the one exception of the young lady in the middle left of the frame (and possibly the young man down at the left edge of the frame), no one seems aware of the photographer at work above them. I look forward to lots of reporting from the detail-minded Shorpy community.

What's left

When I moved to the Washington area in 1981, the People's Drug Store in my neighborhood had a lunch counter, not unlike this one though smaller and curved. The lunch counter vanished within a few years, and now the drug store is a CVS.

Alexandria, Virginia, where the People's chain was based, has a place called The People's Drug (or The Peoples Drug, they can't seem to decide) for "fine food and cocktails."

As far as I know, the only drugstore lunch counter in the District of Columbia today is in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. It's from the Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina, which a six-month sit-in desegregated in 1960.

Bird's eye view

of the duckboards.

Not All People's Drugstore

African Americans made up 28% of the population of D.C. in the 1940 Census, but I don't see a Black face in the photograph. A quick search online turns up reports of sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in the city in the 1940s and 1950s.

Busy place

But I would sure feel uncomfortable with a line a people at my back watching me eat, waiting for me to finish.

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