1736 G Street, N.W.
Though never intended as such, since the early 1900s YMCAs provided gay men with places to meet, live, and have sexual encounters. For that reason, though, they also became targets of the police, as in the following incident.
In a crackdown on “tearoom” sex in October 1964, members of the Washington, D.C., vice squad began a stakeout of the men’s room in the basement of this YMCA (no longer standing), just a few blocks from the White House. Concealing themselves behind the locked door of a shower room that was no longer in use, they spied through peepholes that afforded them a clear view of activities in the men’s room, which the New York Times later described as “a 9-ft. by 11-ft. spot reeking of disinfectant and stale cigars.”
Did they expect to catch big game? Arrested were Walter Jenkins (1918-1985), President Lyndon Johnson’s chief of staff, and a Hungarian immigrant named Andy Choka, who were charged with “disorderly conduct.” Jenkins was at first calm, but soon was admitted to George Washington University Hospital and put on a 24-hour suicide watch.
Though few of us know of him now, Jenkins was a household name at that time. A married man described as “retiring and camera-shy,” he had worked for LBJ for 25 years. He was forced to resign from office when the incident was reported in the Evening Star. (LBJ had tried unsuccessfully to get the news report killed.)
“A great deal of the president’s difficulties can be traced to the fact that Walter had to leave,” Johnson’s press secretary, George Reedy, later said. “All of history might have been different if it hadn’t been for that episode.”
Johnson never replaced Jenkins, but simply parceled his duties out to other staffers. Jenkins returned to his home state of Texas, where he worked as an accountant. Reportedly, he was frequent visitor to LBJ’s ranch after the president left office; to his credit, Johnson didn’t shun his friend.
Here’s a link to an interesting contemporary report on the scandal in Time magazine, dated October 30, 1964.