Longtime Palisades resident moved to D.C. to start UDC’s theater program in 1968. 50 years later, he reminisces about that decision

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Frank Staroba (left) moved to the District in 1968 to start UDC's theatre program. Frank and his wife, Arden (right), still have a passion for theatre. Photo courtesy of Elaine Bole.
Frank Staroba (left) moved to the District in 1968 to start UDC's theatre program. Frank and his wife, Arden (right), still have a passion for theatre. Photo courtesy of Elaine Bole.

By: Elaine Bole

Frank and Arden Staroba are now in their mid-eighties and have lived in the Palisades section of D.C. for 50 years. Frank, a Yale Drama School D.F.A., moved here from his job as a theater professor at William and Mary and took a job at Federal City College (now the University of the District of Columbia) to start a theater program. When Staroba moved to the District in the late 1960s, it was a racially tense time, not just in the city but across the country.

“I was the Director of the Division of Fine Arts. The dream was to make all the fine arts central to the life of the District,” Frank said. “At that point the District was a majority black population, now that has faded.” Frank Staroba added, “That was the dream, and the purpose was to take the idea of land-grant schools to make higher education immediately applicable to cities like D.C. At the time I described myself as a white liberal do-gooder. It was 1968.”

During the riots of April 1968 after the assassination of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Frank, Arden, and a student were traveling to Howard University’s theater to attend a play by Langston Hughes. Frank recalls what happened next.

“As we rode across town, we remarked something was burning. We could see large clouds of smoke billowing from the direction of H Street.” Frank explained.

“We got through the first act of the play, and noticed from the foyer that a brick had been thrown through our car window, at the time we still had Virginia tags. By the second act, the audience was told of the riots. We had a choice, to hide in the bathrooms or make a run for our car and try to get home. We ran for the car and made it home safely.”

Frank and Arden bought their home on MacArthur Boulevard four months after the riots ravaged the city. Raising a four-year-old daughter at the time, Frank and Arden remained committed to Frank’s teaching responsibilities at the historically black, urban-focused, land-grant public university. Their commitment was tested many times over the years. Frank taught at UDC for 29 years, retiring as Associate Dean of Liberal and Fine Arts.

A lot has changed in D.C. over the last 50 years. “In the late 1960s, the 4500 block of MacArthur Boulevard was an undiscovered neighborhood, with very few neighbors with children, and exclusively white. Now we have much more diversity and many families with children surrounding us,” said Frank.

Housing costs also changed. Frank and Arden bought their house for $31,500. Originally built around 1900, it has gone through extensive renovations since their purchase, all designed by the Staroba.

They remained active participants in local community issues and groups. There are no regrets in sticking with the city through its rough times.

“One of the groups we are members of is Palisades Village. They have lectures and wine gatherings, beyond the practical help they offer seniors to stay in their homes for as long as they are able,” Frank said.

“The accomplished fellow members in the fields of the arts, government, military, and business that we have meet through the organization is another reason Arden and I support the group and offered our house for the tour when asked.”

Frank and Arden have a lot to offer at these social gatherings besides their 50 years of history living in the District, but also through their vast knowledge of the theater. They were two of the founding members of the second dinner theater in the country, The Wedgewood Dinner Theater in Toano, Virginia. Between the two of them, Frank has directed and acted in plays, and Arden has acted in more than 50 university or professional productions.

Frank and Arden’s house will be among the seven properties during the sixth annual Palisades Village House Tour, which takes place on Saturday, October 13.

Proceeds from the tour benefit Palisades Village, a nonprofit organization that helps active adults stay in their homes as they age in the communities of Berkley, Foxhall, Kent, Palisades, Spring Valley, and Wesley Heights. This year’s house tour will feature the neighborhoods of Foxhall and Palisades, two of Palisades Village’s six neighborhoods.

Attendees will explore seven homes featuring traditional, colonial, Tudor, and contemporary architecture. Some of the houses have been remodeled, and the interiors have been updated with contemporary design and amenities. Many of the homes showcase a variety of art and period furniture while several have impressive gardens and landscaping, including ponds and fountains.

House Tour tickets will be on sale at the Lab School (4759 Reservoir Road NW) for $35 on the day of the tour. You can reserve your ticket in advance for $30 online at www.palisadesvillage.org. Should you have any questions, please call Palisades Village at 202-244-3310.