Harry Slavitt was an unabashed admirer of the military. When he opened a liquor store in1932 at 509 Seventh Street SW, the Army War College (at the Washington Barracks) and Army Industrial College (where Fort McNair now stands) were within walking distance. Fort Myer was just across the Potomac River.
In 1943, he left the liquor store in the hands of his wife, Helen, and joined the US Navy. His military service only increased his admiration for the armed services.
Slavitt decorated the interior of his store with military memorabilia and created a private liquor label called “GHQ” (General Headquarters) for his exclusive military clientele, who were longtime customers and friends of Slavitt.
Slavitt was still looking for something special for his high-ranking customers. With the help of famed Washington Star cartoonist Gib Crockett, he developed a cartoon caricature for each bottle, thus turning conventional beverages into private personalized brands. He sent his GHQ bottles to them and received personal letters of thanks and autographed photographs from General Dwight David Eisenhower, General George Patton, and other military brass stationed in Europe, Asia and Africa.
The military loved it. “Out in the jungle I received a bottle of bourbon from you, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it,” wrote General Robert Eichelberger, commander of the Eighth U.S. Army in the southwestern Pacific during World War II.
“The Toast of Victory shall indeed be drunk,” wrote Major General Myron C. Cramer, who later served as Judge Advocate General of the United States Army. “After the last drop is drunk, the bottle, with its label, will be among my most treasured souvenirs.”
Over the years, Slavitt amassed an impressive collection of letters, photographs and other items such as a pair of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’s five-star shoulder boards, discolored from Pacific sea water. Military customers brought friends and family to view the gallery room in the back of the store where much of this material was displayed.
Among those customers represented in Slavitt’s collection are eight of the nine five-star officers in US military history: Henry “Hap” Arnold, Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, William Leahy, Ernest King, George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur and Chester Nimitz. Additionally, photographs of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson were sent by their military attachés.
Slavitt, whose sons remember making deliveries to the White House, was a frequent guest at parties and other gatherings hosted by military families.
In the early 1960s, his store moved to Fourth & M Streets SW. Slavitt sold the business a few years later. The liquor store, still named Harry’s, remained at the same location under its new owners for about 10 years before relocating to the Waterside Mall one block away. The business was sold once more before closing around 2004.
In 2006, Harry’s sons, Robert and Mitchell, donated two scrapbooks containing a selection of Harry’s collected letters, photographs, and drafts of Gib Crockett’s drawings to the Jewish Historical Society.
Top Photo: The interior of Slavitt’s liquor store was decorated with military memorabilia