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Bil Gilbert
June 02, 1975
Allie Ritzenberg is the top-ranked pro "in town"—that portion of Washington, D.C. inhabited by tennis-playing movers and shakers
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June 02, 1975

Net Result: A Capital Game

Allie Ritzenberg is the top-ranked pro "in town"—that portion of Washington, D.C. inhabited by tennis-playing movers and shakers

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As her car wended its way through the hotel grounds heading back toward the White House, Mrs. Kennedy had the driver halt for a moment while she waved to Allie Ritzenberg, who gives her tennis lessons on the White House court.
—WASHINGTON STAR, May 19, 1961

In Washington when a person is said to be "in town" the geographical designation is precise. The Capitol- Library of Congress-Supreme Court complex is in town, but Union Station and the Central Post Office are not. The federal buildings along Independence, Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues are in town, but nearly everything on New York, Michigan or Georgia is not. Chevy Chase, Md. and McLean, Va. are in town, but Falls Church, Va. and Hyattsville, Md. are not.

Spreading out to the northwest from the walled gardens of the old port of Georgetown along both banks of the Potomac is a three- or four-mile-wide belt of botanically and culturally remarkable forest. It is a gaudy growth of magnolias, camellias, rhododendron, azaleas, dogwood, redbud, quince, crab and cherry, grape leaf, hollies, yews, passion and clematis vines, boxwood, larch, birch and bamboo. Deep in this exotic and hybrid wood live established Senators and long-term Representatives, the better class of judge, attorney, diplomat and military officer, influential journalists, consultants, lobbyists, spies and gossips. This is in town in the Washington sense.

Somebody who does not live in town might consider Allie Ritzenberg obscure. But in the ways Washington measures influence—unlisted phone numbers in one's address book, first names one is legitimately entitled to use, and the quality and clout of the professional and social company one keeps—the 56-year-old tennis professional ranks with the bureaucratic best.

One Saturday morning three summers ago Ritzenberg was sleeping late in his home in the forest. The phone rang. It was a tennis pupil who wanted Allie to come out and play. Ritzenberg suggests that he was mildly surprised by the call because everybody in town knows he does not practice his profession on weekends. Admittedly, the circumstances were special. Just the night before, the caller had accepted the Democratic nomination for President.

"I told George I'd be glad to hit a few with him," says Ritzenberg. "I said we could play here on a neighbor's court or we could go down to the club [the St. Albans Tennis Club, a tennis complex on the National Cathedral grounds that Ritzenberg has organized and operates].

"George said every reporter in Washington was looking for him, and what with that and security we needed some place more private. We ended up going out to Virginia and playing at Ethel's.

"I saw George a few times during the campaign, spent a week with him in the Black Hills. That was when the Eagle-ton thing was breaking so it was hectic but we were able to play and talk occasionally."

"About what?"

"We were talking in confidence. Later in the fall George called one afternoon from a hideout on the Eastern Shore. I drove down and George and Eleanor were the only ones there. I'll take that back, I think an NBC fellow was down there too, but in any event we had a very pleasant afternoon."

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