Showing posts with label Rockville history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rockville history. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Demolition of home at 110 North Street in Rockville appears likely (Photos)

A home in a Rockville neighborhood that began as an African-American community after Maryland Emancipation is likely to be demolished, after a City of Rockville analysis found it does not qualify for historic designation. The current owner of the bungalow at 110 North Street is seeking an opinion on the matter from the Historic District Commission, to determine if the structure may be demolished or not. A staff report by City Preservation Planner Sheila Bashiri determined that the home in its current dilapidated condition does not meet the standards for designation. The applicant's filing with the city notes that the HDC approved demolition of a similar home next door nine years ago. A McMansion sits on that adjacent lot today, so there is no historic viewshed to preserve.

While the bungalow reflects the style and location of a home built and/or resided in by freed slaves or employed servants following the Civil War, no major figures in Rockville history resided at 110 North Street, and no significant historical events occurred there. The report stated that its "architecture, design or landscape is not significant within the city of Rockville." Bashiri recommended HDC commissioners find the property does not qualify for historic designation. The HDC will take up the matter at its Thursday, December 21, 2023 meeting.

Photos courtesy City of Rockville

Monday, October 30, 2023

The Phantom of the Shady Grove Metro station

Montgomery County Halloween Countdown

Tomorrow is Halloween, and what is Halloween without a ghost? There's one who haunts the area around the Shady Grove Metro station in Derwood, and has since his untimely death there in 1864. Walter "Wat" Bowie was among many Marylanders who were Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War. Like some, such as Bethesda plantation owner Nathan Loughborough, Bowie couldn't resist getting in on the fighting action himself despite living in a state that hadn't seceded from the Union. And yes, Wat Bowie was a member of that Bowie family, whose home turf is now a fast-growing city in Prince George's County.

Bowie's final adventure began on an ambitious note: a botched plan to kidnap the governor of Maryland. Retreating back to Virginia from Annapolis via Montgomery County, Bowie made the mistake of trying to loot a store in Sandy Spring. Tired after previous pillaging by earlier Confederate raiders, the store owner rounded up a posse, and pursued Bowie and his men as they traveled toward Poolesville. 

The vigilantes caught up with Bowie in Derwood, near the site of today's Metro station. His party escaped, but Wat himself wasn't as lucky. Bowie was shot off his horse with a shotgun blast. Historian Earl Eisenhart pinpoints the exact location as being next to the Metro tracks off Somerville Road, by the McDonald's. Bowie's ghost is said to haunt that area to this day.




Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Rockville Mall had a newspaper, and it could be as creepy as the mall was (Photos)

Montgomery County Halloween Countdown

Today, as we count down the final days to Halloween, let's take a look at the Halloween 1976 edition of The Rockville Mall Times. Yes, Rockville's ill-fated dead mall of the 1970s and 80s had its own newspaper, and it could be as creepy as many considered the mall to be. Especially the Halloween edition. Who was Mr. Barfly, and was he a denizen of the shadows of the mall? Are you encouraged, or discouraged, to visit Ransom's, with Mr. Barfly as the face of the business? His disturbing visage suggests a ransom may indeed be involved to secure your release from his clutches, and from the mall's infamous dark parking garage.

Mr. Barfly, a denizen of the darkest
corners of the Rockville Mall

"Hey, kids! Let's all pile into the station wagon and pick up a copy of Adolf Hitler by John Toland at Waldenbooks at the Rockville Mall." With Roots as the other choice highlighted, talk about a stark contrast in offerings. Some lighthearted reading for the whole family at Waldenbooks.

Name-brand leisure suits were 50% off - if Herb Tarlek didn't get to Crane's Men's Shop first and clean 'em out. It's hard to get more 70s than leisure suits. But Beyda's gave it the old college try with corduroy, gabardine and velveteen pantsuits.

The front-page story in the Halloween 1976 edition of the The Rockville Mall Times looked back at the tragic demolition of the Rockville's historic town center with an almost-giddy glee. Vinson's drugstore and the Milo theater are visible in a bustling scene from 1945. Thirty years later, the Rockville Mall fills the field of view from the same photographic vantage point (and only 20 years later, the mall itself would be demolished). 

"Progress comes to Rockville," the headline reads. "Shopping sure has changed in Rockville," the article begins. The uncredited reporter made sure to thank the city politicians who approved the demolition of most of the original, historic buildings in downtown Rockville. "During this week, Rockville Mall also salutes the City of Rockville for the many years of progressive city planning that has made Rockville a model city for responsive government, and a convenient place for residents to shop."

A 1976 mall directory shown lists more than 30 tenants. But in a sign of the mall's struggles, previous department store anchors Lansburgh and Lit Brothers were already conspicuously missing from the roster. The interesting names among the remaining tenants were Roy Rogers, Franklin Simon department store and W&J Sloane furniture (both from the same ownership group as Lansburgh and Lit Brothers, coincidentally), King's Court (an original tenant when the mall opened, the restaurant closed in 1984 when its space was replaced with an elevator shaft in the "Rockville Metro Center" makeover of the mall), Friendly's Ice Cream and Real Rich Ice Cream (2 ice cream shops! Which one was better?), Masi's Fun House (was Mr. Barfly ever lurking in there, as well?), Kurly's (what's that?), Empress Restaurant and Waxie Maxie's record store. 

In case shoppers didn't already have it penciled in on their calendars, The Rockville Mall Times noted that National Alcoholism Week was rapidly approaching on November 12. But just when the gloom became too much, the Times promised that "Santa arrives at Rockville Mall Friday, November 26 at 10 AM." After a reminder to "Support your local Rockville Mall merchant who supports you with low prices," the front page ends with the mall's 70s logo, and the tagline "GOOD NEWS/GOOD TIMES."

Monday, June 26, 2023

Rockville's historic Wire Hardware building acquired by Futuris

Rockville staffing and technology firm Futuris has purchased the historic Wire Hardware building at 22 Baltimore Road, the company announced this morning. It will serve as the company's headquarters. Futuris plans to preserve the building, while updating it with contemporary sustainability and "green" features. Interior changes will emphasize natural lighting.

"We are incredibly excited about this significant investment in our future," Futuris CEO/CFO Robert Day said in a statement. "The acquisition of this exceptional building will not only allow us to accommodate our expanding workforce, but also provide a collaborative space that fosters creativity."

The two-story, Queen Anne-style building was completed in 1898. According to Maryland Historical Trust documents citing information compiled by local historian Eileen McGuckian, this property was in an area of the city that began to develop in anticipation of the arrival of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, whose Rockville train station would open in 1873. The railroad continues to operate today under the ownership of CSX, and is a major route used by trains between Washington, D.C. and Chicago.

William Wallace Welsh acquired the property at 22 Baltimore Road in 1884, building a frame general store that burned down in 1895. He then constructed the new store, as well as a home. The house, which was right next to the store, was demolished in 1978. From this prime location directly across from the railroad depot, Welsh and his partner David H. Warfield sold tools, grain, fuel and "provisions," McGuckian wrote. Paul Wire acquired the business and property in 1964, reestablishing it as Wire Hardware & Lumber Company.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Major changes proposed for once-iconic, long-vacant Rockville mansion

100 W. Montgomery Avenue in Rockville was once an iconic mansion known as one of the most beautiful homes in town. It's hard to argue with that description looking at old photographs of the Queen Anne-style Victorian home built in 1888 for the wealthy Rebecca Veirs. A 1945 fire changed that, with parts of the home having been destroyed, and then rebuilt with additions that greatly altered its appearance. Also altered was its use, from private home to boarding house. Long vacant, the structure is now deteriorating. 

2009 photo of the home

A redevelopment of the property has now been proposed by its owner and local architect Craig Moloney. It would nod to both the original home, and its later multifamily use at the same time. First, the front of the home would be moved forward on the property, closer to the street like the church next door. Second, Moloney would attempt to more accurately recreate the original appearance of the front facade of the home. The post-1945 additions behind it would be demolished, and replaced with an 8-unit apartment building. A small parking lot for tenants would be constructed behind the proposed building.

2022 photo

2022 photo

The Rockville Historic District Commission will conduct a courtesy review of the proposal at its March 16, 2023 meeting. That review is intended to provide feedback from commissioners, and anyone who wishes to testify at the meeting, to the applicant. It is not going to be a final recommendation that will be voted upon that particular evening.

Proposal to move the front of the
home up to the green dotted line

Planning staff have not recommended approval of the proposal yet, finding that it does not meet at least five of the criteria the HDC uses to evaluate this type of application. The proposed building would be significantly larger than the existing home, and larger than most other homes on W. Montgomery Avenue and S. Adams Street. Remaining historic materials on the house would be lost, and the proposed apartment addition would wrap around three sides of the structure. Staff also found that there was not a structural report submitted that adequately verifies that the existing home is beyond repair, and that the proposal would remove several mature trees from the lot.

"The applicant needs to provide much more information to justify the current proposal," the staff report concludes. "Without a structural report there is no definitive evidence of the building’s condition and the HDC can’t make an educated recommendation. With the provided information the HDC can only recommend the house should be rehabilitated and brought into compliance."

Images courtesy City of Rockville, Google Street View

Monday, November 28, 2022

King Buick GMC closes in Rockville (Photos)

It's the end of an era at King Buick GMC at 16200 Frederick Road in Rockville. The dealership has closed permanently, although some vehicle inventory remains on the property. King Motor Company was born in 1928, but it was in the 1950s that King family scion Conrad V. Aschenbach opened his first dealership in Olde Towne Gaithersburg. His son, Bill Aschenbach, said the family was forced to sell the dealership because it could not find another location in the area. The dealership's property will become an EYA townhome development, and be annexed into the City of Rockville.

Bill Aschenbach says that he will join a new dealership group founded by his son, Conrad. That group expects to have nine dealerships by December 31 of this year. The existing King franchise is being acquired by Criswell Automotive at its Gaithersburg Chevrolet Buick GMC dealership. But many of the King employees from this location will be moving to the Ideal Hyundai Buick GMC dealership in Frederick, Maryland, Aschenbach said.  

This is the second venerable car dealership to be lost along this stretch of MD 355 in the last decade. Reed Brothers Dodge at 15955 Frederick Road was the first Dodge dealer in Montgomery County. Today, the Bainbridge Shady Grove apartments stand on its former site.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Bethesda Juneteenth event to be meaningful celebration with march to save a Montgomery County Black cemetery

Macedonia Baptist Church at 5119 River Road in Bethesda will host a Juneteenth celebration this Sunday, June 19, 2022 from 2:00-4:00 PM. The event will be about a current civil rights struggle as much as a remembrance of past history, as the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition will lead a march from the church to the nearby site of the Moses African Cemetery. Desecrated by construction workers building the Westwood Tower apartments in the late 1960s, the majority of the gravesites remain hidden under paved parking spaces at the apartment tower, and on a second site across the Willett Branch stream next to the self-storage construction site behind McDonald's. The church and coalition have been battling Montgomery County officials and developers to restore and memorialize the burial ground, prevent any further construction on it, and potentially transfer stewardship of the land to the church.

A banner will be raised on the Capital Crescent Trail bridge over River Road during the ceremony, and a traditional African libation ritual will be presented by Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Speakers at the event will include former resident of the lost black community on River Road Harvey Matthews, historian C.R. Gibbs, County Council At-Large candidate Brandy Brooks, Circuit Court Judge candidate Marylin Pierre, and activist Robert Stubblefield. 

Musical and dance performers will include Luci Murphy, Karen Wilson Ama Ethefu, Freedome Nsaroma Lee-El, Martha Peterson, and EverGreen Productions. Representatives from the Poor People's Campaign, UNIA, Party for Socialism and Liberation, The Claudia Jones Organization, and the Green Party will also be in attendance.

It will be a celebration, and also a tremendous educational opportunity to learn more about not only the past, but the direct legacy of that past in our own community of Bethesda and Montgomery County. Impacts of the loss of the River Road community in the 1960s included former residents moving and making major contributions to historic and growing African-American communities in East Rockville, Silver Spring and beyond, while still representing that living legacy of the Loughborough plantation in Bethesda. That makes this event of interest to residents of the entire Washington, D.C. region seeking meaningful ways to celebrate Juneteenth this year.

Friday, February 25, 2022

When a Rockville drugstore opening meant free cigars for men, and hot steaks and crab cakes

The postmodernist critique posits that many Americans are nostalgic "for a past that never was." And then that argument gets shattered with the quick perusal of an advertisement for a "Get Acquainted Day" at Peoples Drug in the Twinbrook Shopping Center in 1957 Rockville, Maryland. In contrast to a 21st century where CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens stores open on every other block with little fanfare, this Rockville drugstore opening was a major event. Even Mr. Peanut was on hand.

Look at all of the 1950s cars lined up neatly outside the store. And unlike the Peoples Drug-eating CVS, you were going to leave this event with much more than a receipt you could wrap a mummy in. If you had a family, it was truly going to be a haul. Free Havana No. 9 cigars "for the men!" Free earrings "for the ladies!" Free ice cream cones, comic books and coloring books for the children! And free Coca-Colas, Wilkins Coffee and "miniature loaves" of Bond Bread for everybody (the Bond Bread factory in Washington D.C. still stands at 2146 Georgia Avenue NW).

Today's CVS offers a small convenience store presentation of essential grocery items and snacks. But the 1957 Twinbrook Peoples Drug had real, hot food in its Streamlined Fountain and Grill. There, one could order the "finest sandwiches and special plates," ice cream treats, beverages and platters of steak, veal or crab cakes. Compare that to today, and the devolution of society has rarely come into such stark focus. Sure, we don't need the TV tubes and film development of this Peoples Drug, but when's the last time you got a steak, crab cakes and free Havana No. 9 cigars at CVS?

Friday, February 11, 2022

Rockville HDC to determine historic significance of Great Falls Road home

The Rockville Historic District Commission will consider the historic significance of a property at 500 Great Falls Road at its next virtual meeting, scheduled for February 17, 2022 at 7:00 PM. 500 Great Falls Road is a single-family home in the Rockville Heights subdivision. It was nominated for historic status by historic preservation non-profit Peerless Rockville.

Peerless Rockville nominated the home last year after it noticed the owner beginning significant renovations to the structure. The City of Rockville has asked the owner to state his position on the nomination, but has not received an indication of his approval or opposition to the proposed inclusion of the property in an historic district. However, the owner did request a certificate of approval from the HDC last year for the renovations. He told the commission that moisture retention by the stucco applied to the home was damaging the interior, and rendering the foundation unstable.

The original home at 500 Great Falls Road
flanked by HDC-approved additions now
under construction

The HDC ultimately granted approval for the owner's proposed changes to the property. However, it did not render an official judgement as to the home's designation as historic. Dr. Clara Bliss Hinds Finley, a nationally-known female physician who founded multiple organizations and lectured on women's and children's health, resided in the home during summers between 1916 and and her death in 1940. She is buried in Rockville Cemetery.

City of Rockville Preservation Planner Sheila Bashiri has determined that the property meets the following criteria for historic designation:  It represents the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the city, as the home of a women who was a pioneer in her field, Dr. Clara Bliss Finley, and her daughter, a prominent suffragist. Second, it embodies distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, as it is already listed in the city's Historic Buildings Catalogue as a prime representative of the Colonial Revival style. Finally, it is an established visual feature in the Rockville Heights neighborhood. Its surrounding lot, house footprint and massing are intact, and its Colonial Revival architecture and placing on the large corner lot have made it an established visual feature in that community.

For these reasons, Bashiri is recommending the HDC find that the home does meet the criteria for historic designation, and that the commissioners forward a recommendation to the Mayor and Council to place the property in the historic district zone.

Photos courtesy City of Rockville

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

JP Morgan Chase rep trashes renowned Rockville architect in presentation to Mayor & Council

Rockville's Mayor and Council received testimony regarding whether or not the former Meixin Supermarket building at 460 Hungerford Drive should be designated historic last night. They ultimately decided to leave the public record open for another week to receive further comments, meaning a final decision won't come before next Monday at the earliest. While those representing JP Morgan Chase, N.A. in the matter were expected to argue against historic designation, preservation advocates were taken aback when Chase's expert witness went beyond the building at hand, to trash the entire career of renowned Rockville architect James "Jack" Sullivan.

Sullivan has been lauded locally for his many landmark buildings in the city and elsewhere in Montgomery County. Structures like the Rockville Swim Center and Aspen Hill Library remain prime examples of midcentury modern architecture, and the post-World War II growth of our suburban area. The late Sullivan was featured alongside fellow architect Jack Samperton in a documentary for Rockville's Channel 11, A Pair of Jacks. His work, such as 900 Spring Street in Silver Spring, won awards.

But in the words of JP Morgan Chase's expert, Sullivan "was not a master architect," and was "never recognized by his peers." Really? She dismissed Sullivan as "a workaday architect," and said only the Aspen Hill Library qualified as an exceptional building. 

Anyone with a passing knowledge of, or interest in, midcentury modern architecture would find such a critique laughable on its face. Much of Sullivan's work is indeed exceptional, and today's newer buildings most often pale in comparison. While 460 Hungerford Drive may not represent the summit of Sullivan's portfolio, such a savage ravaging of the man's work is farcical when it is proposed to be replaced with a box of a bank branch. No Rockville hearts were won by JP Morgan Chase last night.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Historic status of former Chinese supermarket to be decided in Rockville tonight

There are several significant resolutions on the agenda of the Rockville Mayor and Council tonight. Votes tonight will determine if all City employees must be vaccinated, and if Rockville will expand to take the King Buick GMC dealership property into its boundaries. Also on the agenda: a vote to decide whether the former Meixin Supermarket at 460 Hungerford Drive merits historic designation.

The distinctive Mansard roof-topped structure is one of many Rockville landmarks designed by the architecture firm of the late John "Jack" Sullivan. Sullivan was also responsible for the Aspen Hill Library, the Rockville Swim Center, and the Humble Car Care Center (R.I.P.). The Mayor and Council will have to weigh how many buildings in the Sullivan portfolio must be preserved versus the desire of J.P. Morgan Chase to open a bank branch on the site. 

City staff is recommending against historic designation, arguing the structure does not meet the established criteria. Preservation organization Peerless Rockville contends otherwise. "Peerless contends that the growth of the City in the Mid-Century is truly significant to the development of the city itself and deserved to be fully surveyed, researched, documented and evaluated before the [Historic District] Commission can adequately render judgement on any particular building's significance," wrote Nancy Pickard, Executive Director of Peerless Rockville. Matthew McCool, a Vice-President at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. says that if the building is designated historic, the bank branch plan will be canceled.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Montgomery County activists celebrate failure of "racist" cemetery bill in Maryland House

Macedonia Baptist Church on River Road
in Bethesda, where some past members are buried
in the nearby Moses African Cemetery

The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition celebrated a win in Annapolis Wednesday, as the Maryland House of Delegates declined to bring a controversial cemetery preservation bill to a vote as the 2021 session ended the previous day. HB 1099 was designed to provide funding for a statewide study of African-American burial grounds, and allow specific stakeholders to apply for a separate state grant for the purpose of preserving and commemorating a black cemetery. It had support from many established preservation groups in the state, and initially appeared likely to pass when the session began.

Moses African Cemetery in Bethesda is a prominent example of a black cemetery that was erased from the map in the mid-20th century. The grave markers were bulldozed or removed when the cemetery came into the possession of new landowners. In the late 1960s, the cemetery and many gravesites were further desecrated during the construction of the Westwood Tower apartments. Witnesses at the time have recounted that many remains within the footprint of the building were illegally relocated elsewhere on the property in a mass grave. Remaining graves were paved over for a parking lot for the building.

Such stories are common at African-American burial grounds across Montgomery County, Maryland and the nation. Sadly, many of these stories do not even come to light as development literally paves over the past. 

Even the historic African-American community that existed around Moses cemetery until the 1960s had been erased from County history, until I researched and brought it to light during the BETCO/Hoyt Property redevelopment hearings at the Planning Board in 2011. At the time, I warned the Planning Board, the County Council and the National Capital Planning Commission that there would likely be a cemetery related to that community that had been hidden in the area, and many historical artifacts to be located. 

Those government bodies did not listen. In 2014, the cemetery location was finally pinpointed, thanks to citizens who were contemporary witnesses to it, just as an out-of-state developer prepared to construct a new building and parking garage atop it. Those plans have been temporarily halted, but only thanks to years of effort and protest by cemetery advocates. But no further action has been taken by any branch or level of government to investigate, restore or commemorate the lost community, cemetery and the illegal desecration there.

The BACC, which is now leading efforts to restore and commemorate Moses cemetery, opposed HB 1099 because it "would have paid white preservation groups and their chosen consultants to entrench white supremacist control of historic Black burial grounds and sow division among their descendant communities, all while the desecration of Black burial grounds and cemeteries like Moses continued unabated." Declaring the bill "racist," BACC organized opposition and testimony against the bill as it moved through the legislative process this winter and spring.

When the bill was not brought to a vote Tuesday, the BACC celebrated the successful effort. "Defeating the bill seemed impossible in the face of its support from powerful politicians, developers, and white preservation establishment, bolstered by a calculated media misinformation campaign, but this grassroots mobilization turned delegates against it and killed the bill," the BACC said in a press release yesterday. "H.B. 1099 would have passed without this action, which demonstrates again that the people will always win."

One active front on the Moses cemetery battle is the construction of a self-storage facility on land directly adjacent to the cemetery's property line behind the McDonald's on River Road. That work recently resumed. Concern that remains may have been buried or illegally reburied beyond the cemetery boundaries led cemetery advocates to oppose construction of the facility prior to a thorough archaeological study of the self storage site. 

Montgomery County overruled that request. The County has been so strongly opposed to any archaeological investigation of the cemetery itself, that it not only blocked every attempt to achieve an independent survey, but even acquired a part of the cemetery to prevent any further investigation though private landowners who might cooperate in such efforts.

The self storage developer has retained a credentialed archaeologist, who has determined no remains or funerary objects were encountered during excavation of that site so far. BACC has dismissed that assessment as biased, and continues to hold protests near the construction site. Another protest is scheduled for Wednesday, May 12, 2021 at 5:00 PM at 5204 River Road.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Rockville Senior Center time capsule to be exhumed this month

A time capsule buried 26 years ago at the Rockville Senior Center will be unearthed and opened on Thursday, May 13, 2021 at 5:00 PM. The odd-number anniversary wasn't the original plan in 1995; the pandemic forced the unearthing to be delayed for a year. In another nod to the "new abnormal," the time capsule exhumation will be streamed live on the internet. Register for the free Zoom viewing online. 

What objects were donated to be buried in the time capsule? Tune in to find out, and return to the year when Die Hard with a Vengeance and Batman Forever played in theaters, and Radiohead's The Bends and The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness were being snapped up at Tower Records on Rockville Pike!