Showing posts with label historic preservation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label historic preservation. Show all posts

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Rockville seeks permission to remove failed dam from historic property


The City of Rockville is seeking permission to remove a failed dam from the historic Glenview Farm property at 603 Edmonston Drive, which is home to Glenview Mansion and the Rockville Civic Center park. While the dam is no longer functioning properly, and cannot be replaced under today's federal and state environmental rules, it is considered a contributing resource to a historic site. For this reason, the Rockville Historic District Commission must determine if historic preservation of the dam structure is warranted.


Sitting across Croydon Creek, the dam was constructed in the 1920s when the site was a functioning farm. It created a reservoir that was used as a water source for cattle, and for the irrigation of crops. The original farmhouse is now part of Glenview Mansion. Rockville's Environmental Management Division would now like to execute a stream restoration project at the site, and it will require removal of the dam. Today, the dam is breached in two locations, and small chunks of it have been pushed by the currents of Croydon Creek downstream.

The design phase of the stream restoration project received funding from the Maryland State Highway Administration. That design process is now 90% complete. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has allocated $2,000,000 from its Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund for the actual construction of the project.

HDC commissioners will review the dam to determine if it can be removed or not at its October 20, 2022 meeting. City staff are recommending commissioners approve removal of the dam.

Photo/map courtesy City of Rockville

Friday, September 9, 2022

Rockville Historic District Commission to review demolition request for West End-area home


The owner of 101 Adclare Road in the West End area of Rockville, and Ambition Custom Homes, LLC of Clarksburg, have requested an evaluation of historical significance for the property by the Rockville Historic District Commission. They are seeking permission to demolish the existing home on the site to clear the way for a new one.

101 Adclare Road was built in 1951, but has been extensively modified in the decades since, including the additions of a porch and second story. A memo submitted with the application notes the many issues with the house, such as inadequate electrical and plumbing systems. The City has contacted the West End Community Association and historic preservation organization Peerless Rockville about the proposed demolition, and have not yet received any objections, according to the staff report.

The HDC will review the request at its September 15, 2022 meeting. City Preservation Planner Sheila Bashiri is recommending the commissioners find the property is not historic, as the home does not meet any of the criteria for historic designation.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Rockville Council considers new options in West End historic designation case, Mayor recuses herself


Rockville City Council members will discuss three new options to resolve a controversial historic preservation case in the city's West End neighborhood at their meeting tonight, June 6, 2022 at 7:00 PM. The options are on the table after new developments in the debate over whether or not to declare the home at 406 Great Falls Road historic, which have transpired since the April 25 hearing on the question. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton has formally recused herself from voting on the matter. In a letter filed with City Clerk Sara Taylor-Ferrell on May 10, Newton wrote that she would recuse herself from "taking any action on Sectional Map Amendment application MAP 2022-00123 as well as from any further proceedings on that application," because her husband owns an abutting property at 13 Dale Drive that could be "'directly and economically' impacted" by the outcome of the case.

Newton's recusal letter was filed a day after the attorney for the owners of 406 Great Falls Road wrote to the Mayor and Council that her clients were concerned Newton had a conflict of interest in the case. Attorney Erin Girard wrote that in a previous historic designation discussion in 2010, Newton disclosed that her husband had previously made an unsuccessful bid to purchase 406 Great Falls. Newton also testified against historic designation of 406 Great Falls three years earlier, Girard wrote. The owners formally requested that Newton recuse herself from the case, Girard concluded in her letter.

The Mayor's recusal could impact the outcome of the historic designation question. There is now the mathematical potential for the Council to deadlock 2-2 in its final vote, for example.

More fundamental to the issue, Girard contacted the city's Chief of Planning, Jim Wasilak, and disclosed that there were actually two separate buildable lots on the 406 Great Falls property recorded with the City in 1941. A staff report notes this was not uncommon in Rockville, where many buildable lots recorded with the City were never built on. It has been standard practice for the City to honor these recorded lots in the present day. Therefore, the owners of 406 Great Falls could theoretically build the "dream home" they have proposed behind the existing home, leaving the latter in place.

As a result of this development, three new options have been proposed by city staff. The first option is to declare both of the buildable lots at 406 Great Falls historic, which would preserve the existing home, and require the owners to go through the formal Historic District Commission certificate of approval process when building their new home or altering the existing one. Option 2 would be to only designate the front lot with the existing home as historic, and allow construction of a new home behind it that would not be subject to formal approval from the HDC. Option 3 would be to not declare either lot historic, thereby allowing demolition of the existing home.

City staff is recommending Option 1. In addtion, staff recommends reopening the public record on the case, and allowing oral testimony on the question at tonight's meeting. At the conclusion of that public testimony tonight, the Council would discuss the matter, and give staff instructions. Based on what staff is directed to do by the Council, it will prepare an ordinance for approval of historic designation, or a resolution of denial, at a future Mayor and Council meeting on June 27, 2022 or later.

The City has also received further written public communications on the matter.

West End resident - and former Mayor of Rockville - Larry Giammo emailed the Mayor and Council the day after the April 25 hearing, questioning why local preservation organization Peerless Rockville was given only five minutes to testify. In contrast, the property owners had "at least 20 minutes total (maybe more; I wasn't keeping count)" to speak throughout the hearing. Peerless Rockville was the original party to request the evaluation of the property for historic designationn. But, Giammo wrote, they were not given sufficient time to lay out their case, nor to respond to assertions made by the owners and their representatives after Peerless Rockville Director Nancy Pickard finished her testimony.

On the side opposing historic designation, another Rockville resident wrote a letter in support of the owners after the April 25 hearing. There is no justification for preserving the dilapidated home, he wrote, and doing so would represent a partial taking of the property by the City.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Rockville Mayor & Council hear arguments for, against historic designation of 406 Great Falls Road


The fate of a nearly 80-year-old Tudor Revival home at 406 Great Falls Road will be decided by Rockville's Mayor and Council at their May 16, 2022 meeting. Last night, they heard arguments for and against historic designation of the home in a public hearing. The property was nominated for historic designation by local preservation organization Peerless Rockville on June 8, 2021. After an evaluation by city staff found the home met two of the criteria for designation, the Rockville Historic District Commission and Planning Commission both agreed, and the question now goes before the Mayor and Council for a final decision.

406 Great Falls Road was constructed from a Sears Roebuck kit home model called The Belmont. The house has already been listed in the Rockville Historic Buildings Catalogue. Its new owners are seeking to demolish the home and build a larger one on the property. Co-owner Joel Martinez and his architect (and former HDC commissioner) Craig Maloney have argued that the home is in disrepair, and does not qualify for historic preservation. The owners' attorney, Erin Girard, noted last night that the home was rejected for historic designation when it was first nominated in 2007. Given that the house has only further deteriorated since then, and no significant new evidence has been brought forward to argue otherwise, Girard suggested it would be inappropriate for the Mayor and Council to now place it under historic designation.


One point of controversy is whether or not the owners plan to live in the home, or are developers who are merely going to build a new home and then flip the property. West End resident and former mayor Larry Giammo testified that he considers the owners to be developers, as they recently tore down another home at 515 Beall Avenue. After building a new home on the site, they then sold it for $1.15 million, he reported.

Martinez was asked by the Mayor and Council if he would like to respond to the assertion that the owners plan to do another teardown flip project. He testified that he had built a dream house to live in permanently at 515 Beall, and that it had won an architectural award. But, he said, a neighbor would park his pickup truck in front of the home, so that he had no place for his own vehicles or those of his guests to park, and could not put his trash cans out for curbside pickup.

When he asked the neighbor about moving the truck, the neighbor allegedly responded that he knew Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, and "threatened me with your name, Madam Mayor," Martinez testified. Thus, he and his co-owner decided to sell the home, purchase 406 Great Falls, and build a similar house in its place. Martinez said the new home site has plenty of parking for the use of owners and guests.


Doug Lunenfeld, a neighbor of the owners in the West End, a real estate professional, and an active landlord in the city, backed Martinez' assertion that he is not simply a house flipper and developer. "That is not the case," Lunenfeld testified. "I am 100% certain that these owners want to build their dream home." He called 406 Great Falls a "dilapidated home," and urged the Mayor and Council to take a walk-through of the house before they vote next month. "The integrity was bad in 2007," Lunenfeld said, and it's even worse now. He argued that the gateway to Rockville would be improved by the prospective new home. "Let's make it the great gateway again," he concluded.

But Giammo posited that the owners would know that city staff had just recommended historic designation for the home, when the previous owners had sought to tear it down in 2020, if they had done "due diligence" in making the purchase. Giammo, himself a licensed real estate agent and broker, noted that their real estate agent would have been required to notify them of that fact, even if the owners hadn't researched the matter themselves. They were also familiar with the process from having gone through the historic designation evaluation of 515 Beall, he added. Peerless Rockville has made an "objective, compelling and unassailable case" for preservation of the home, Giammo said.


Peerless Rockville's Director, Nancy Pickard, underscored the fact that her organization has been extremely sparing in its nomination of homes for historic designation. Their nomination of 406 Great Falls has been supported by both of the city commissions whose approval is necessary, she testified, and that it is a rare example of a Tudor Revival home in the city. "We felt very strongly that this property merits this protection," she said.

West End resident Noreen Bryan testified that, like Lunenfeld, she lives on a nearby street. She, too, referred to Great Falls as the gateway to the city, but viewed that as a reason to preserve the home, not tear it down. The architecture and its placement on the large lot with generous setback makes it a key landmark that is visually memorable, "and has been so for nearly 80 years," she noted. Bryan said that 406 Great Falls is "unusual and therefore precious," and is key to the defintion of the West End's neigbhorhood character. "This property is of great importance to the city," she said.


Another nearby West End resident, Margaret Magner, also testified in favor of historic designation. She asked the Mayor and Council to consider that, in the time since the designation of the home was not approved in 2007, many more original Rockville homes have been lost. That makes the home "of greater value to the community today than it was 15 years ago," she suggested. Magner also expressed concern that a window of the house has been left open during bad weather recently.

Councilmember David Myles sought to clarify the notation by the city's preservation expert, Sheila Bashiri, that historic designation would still allow the property to be added to or altered. This was confirmed by staff. But Maloney said that, in this particular case, the condition and size of the property is such that the modification route is not viable. 

Of the residents who submitted written testimony to the HDC, thirteen supported historic designation of 406 Great Falls, and one opposed it.

Photos via City of Rockville

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Rockville Historic District Commission to determine if N. Stonestreet Ave. house can be demolished


The Rockville Historic District Commission will consider whether or not the home at 903 N. Stonestreet Avenue should be declared historic at its April 21, 2022 meeting. An applicant is seeking permission to demolish the home and build another on the property. The one-and-a-half-story home was built in 1937, and has a later addition in the rear. An aluminum-siding shed is located in the backyard.

A structural engineer retained by the applicant determined that the home is in poor condition with extensive wood rot. Along with foundation cracks and water damage, the engineer concluded that the cost of repairs that would make the home habitable again would meet or exceed construction of a brand-new home. The home has been passed down through the same family since it was first built, and the new home proposed for the site would be for a nephew of the most-recent owner, who passed away in 2019.

City of Rockville Preservation Planner Sheila Bashiri evaluated the property, and has determined it does not meet any of the criteria for historic designation. Bashiri has therefore recommended against declaring the property historic.

Photos via City of Rockville

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

Monday, December 13, 2021

Rockville Historic District Commission to consider historic significance of Lincoln Park house


The Rockville Historic District Commission will consider the historic significance of a single-family home in Lincoln Park, to determine whether the owners may demolish the structure. 215 Lincoln Avenue is located off of a shared driveway. It began as part of a larger, single kinship lot shared by a family in 1932. The lot was subdivided in 1989, at which point the home was given its present address.


A review by city planning staff member Sheila Bashiri found that the home does not meet any of the criteria for historic designation. While the community of Lincoln Park is very significant in the African-American history of Rockville and Montgomery County, the house itself has been altered to the point that it has lost its historic physical integrity, Bashiri wrote. Construction of additional homes around it have erased the only historical context for the site, which was the phenomenon of shared kinship properties, Bashiri noted.


The HDC will consider the historic significance of the property at its December 16, 2021 virtual meeting, and issue a recommendation. Bashiri's staff report recommends against historic designation.

Photos via City of Rockville

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Rockville Historic District Commission to review proposed demolition of two Chapman Avenue buildings

1800 Chapman Avenue

Two more midcentury modern buildings will be considered for historic designation by the Rockville Historic District Commission at its virtual meeting this Thursday night, October 21, 2021 at 7:00 PM. A developer is seeking to tear down 1800 Chapman Avenue and 1818 Chapman Avenue, in order to construct a new apartment building.

1800 Chapman Avenue

1800 Chapman Avenue was built around 1954, planning staff found, but documents pinpointing the exact date and architect have been lost. It was built for Bowen & Company, a manufacturer of medical instruments. The building has been vacant since the firm went out of business.

1800 Chapman Avenue

1818 Chapman Avenue was designed by modernist architect Donald N. Coupard, a graduate of Rockville High School, Montgomery College and Catholic University. It was built for Dermot A. Nee, whose father founded the P.J. Nee Furniture Company across the street. Initially a garage and warehouse used to store Dairy Dan Ice Cream trucks when they weren't roaming the streets, it was most recently Tony's Body Shop, and is now vacant. Coupard incorporated design touches into the building from the furniture store, such as its stone pillars and distinctive windows and double doors.

1818 Chapman Avenue

Both buildings have unique designs and represent their time period well. But neither qualifies for historic designation under the existing criteria, planning staff argues in its report. Staff suggests there are "numerous examples of these types of structures within Rockville." Commissioners will consider this, and any other viewpoints from preservation organizations and the public, at Thursday's meeting. They will then make a recommendation to the Mayor and Council. 

1818 Chapman Avenue

1818 Chapman Avenue

Photos via 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.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Should Meixin Supermarket building in Rockville be declared historic?


The Rockville Planning Commission will consider whether or not the vacant Meixin Supermarket building at 460 Hungerford Drive should be declared historic or not at its July 28, 2021 meeting. City staff advised against changing the property's zoning to MXCD-HD (Historic District) in May. The city's Historic District Commission ruled otherwise on May 20, finding that the property met the criteria for designation, and recommending application of the Historic District (HD) overlay zone through the filing of a Sectional Map Amendment.

Now the Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the Mayor and Council regarding the fate of the property. JPMorgan Chase wishes to demolish the supermarket to clear the way for a Chase Bank branch. Planning staff is not recommending historic designation. While the building was designed by prominent Rockville architect John "Jack" Sullivan (1925-2014), staff argues it is not an exceptional example of his work. 

Historic preservation organization Peerless Rockville, by contrast, has supported historic designation for the property. Peerless Rockville Executive Director Nancy Pickard noted in a May 2021 letter that the city's 1986 Historic Resources Management Plan is now outdated, placing 90 years of growth and architectural styles into a single period of consideration. Pickard suggested the city update its criteria to consider Midcentury Modern structures like the supermarket in the appropriate context, before making a final decision in this case.

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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Proposal to demolish historic Rockville home postponed at Historic District Commission

A review of a controversial proposal to demolish an historic home at 725 N. Horners Lane in Rockville has been "postponed until further notice" by the city's Historic District Commission. City staff had determined the home, which has importance to African-American history in Rockville and Lincoln Park, met several criteria for historic designation. The reason for the postponement was not discussed at the HDC's monthly meeting, but Chair Matthew Goguen said he anticipated the issue would return for review "at a later date."

Friday, May 15, 2020

Rockville Historic District Commission to consider demolition request for home built by prominent African-American family

The owner of 725 North Horners Lane in the Two Brothers subdivision in Rockville is seeking a ruling on whether a 1946 Cape Cod house on the property is historic, or can be demolished. Located across the street from the Lincoln Park Cemetery, the land was purchased in 1921 by an African-American man from the Olney-Sandy Spring area. Hilleary Hawkins was likely born into slavery, a Rockville Historic District Commission staff report suggests, because there is no official record of his birth, which was prior to the Civil War. Census records show his childhood home to be Washington, D.C., but family history says it was Brandywine, Maryland.

Hawkins' first two wives died, according to the staff report. His second wife, Alice Bowman, was forty years younger than Hilleary. She is believed to have died in the 1918 flu pandemic, and is buried in the the cemetery across the street, as is Hilleary himself. His grave was unmarked near a tree at the cemetery entrance. The staff report indicates its location was lost after "road improvements" disturbed the site. 

A prior home Hilleary Hawkins built on the property sometime after 1921 no longer stands. His son, Hazel, built the current home with his brother. The property was annexed by the City of Rockville in 1960, despite Hazel objecting to the city's move. Columbia Transfer, LLC, purchased the land in 2014 from Hilleary Hawkins' grandson, Paul. It has assembled several contiguous parcels for business use.

The Hawkins family is prominent in Rockville and Lincoln Park history, and many of their descendants continue to live in the area, the staff report notes. This home "is an example of African-American vernacular residential architecture, built by two brothers on the edge of Lincoln Park, during the period of segregation," Preservation Planner Sheila Bashiri writes. "The house is solidly built and has retained its integrity." As such, the house meets two of the required criteria for historic designation.

Staff is therefore recommending the house be considered for historic designation, rather than demolition. It must be said that the site does have a special appeal, with the rural setting largely retained, and the home having unique architectural character while having been extremely well built. We also have a tremendous amount of information about this family and their experiences over a broad stretch of American and Rockville history; it's quite remarkable, and adds to the historic appeal of the site. The HDC will consider the historic designation question at its virtual online meeting on May 21, 2020


Monday, November 18, 2019

Historic Wire Building for sale again in Rockville

The Wire Hardware building, subject of one of Rockville's biggest historic preservation battles in the 1990s, is up for sale again. Saved and restored by local historic preservation organization Peerless Rockville, the building was originally constructed for resident William Wallace Welsh in 1895. The asking price is not being publicly listed online, but can be requested. 22 Baltimore Road has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Rockville HDC approval sought for demolition of Beall Avenue home

515 Beall Avenue
The owner of a ranch home at 515 Beall Avenue in West End Park is seeking to tear the house down, and has applied for a ruling of historic significance from the Rockville Historic District Commission. While the West End Park subdivision first saw Victorian homes constructed in the 1890s, according to the HDC staff report, this ranch home was built in 1952 as part of the post-war wave of suburban growth in Rockville.

Preservation planner Sheila Bashiri has recommended against historic designation of the home, and that it meets none of the criteria for historic preservation. The HDC will review the application and report at their meeting tonight, April 18, 2019 at 7:30 PM. This demolition request will very likely be approved, as two very large new-construction homes have already been built adjacent to 515 Beall.
New home proposed for
21 Martins Lane
The HDC will also provide a courtesy review of a new home proposed for 21 Martins Lane. This two-story home would be on a lot behind the historic Hebron House at 17 Martins Lane, in the Haiti/Martins Lane community. Staff is suggesting the HDC encourage the homebuilder to add more windows to what will otherwise be large, blank exterior walls.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Mayor and Council to discuss historic designation of Americana Centre tonight

The Mayor and Council will discuss and instruct staff on the proposed historic designation for the Americana Centre development in Rockville during their meeting tonight, which begins at 7:00 PM at City Hall. Along with the failed Rockville Mall, Americana Centre represents one of the most significant examples of 1960s-era urban renewal policies in Montgomery County.

If the Mayor and Council direct them to do so tonight, staff will bring back an ordinance to change Americana Centre's zoning to "MXTD (HD)," to signify it has been designated historic at the local level. That ordinance would likely be presented for a vote at the Mayor and Council's April 17 meeting, if a supermajority waives the layover period.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Americana Centre seeking historic designation in Rockville

One of the most visible properties in Rockville could be one of the most protected, if the Historic District Commission and Mayor and Council approve. Americana Centre's Board of Directors has filed a request with the City seeking historic designation for the venerable condominium property.

Very much an icon of the "urban renewal" phase of the later-mid 20th century in Rockville town center, Americana Centre is now surrounded by a landscape of change, however slow its pace.

Carl M. Freeman and Associates was chosen by the City of Rockville to design the complex, which opened as a rental property in 1972. Quickly converting to condominium, the property was the first residential high-rise in the city. But the complex also includes many garden-style and townhome units, as well.

Folks with Delaware beach property may be familiar with another Freeman property, Sea Colony in Bethany Beach. The firm also has several other Americana-branded developments in the area, including one now known as Glenmont Forest. That garden apartment community is now in danger of demolition and redevelopment, thanks to our corrupt County Council's passage of a destructive Glenmont sector plan.

Americana Centre may be spared from such an ignominious fate - staff is recommending approval of historic designation for the property. The HDC will review the request at its November 17 meeting at City Hall, scheduled for 7:30 PM.

Meanwhile, the staff report is very much worth a read if you are interested in midcentury modern Rockville, including an extremely rare aerial photo of the Rockville Mall.
Staff report photo of
Rockville Mall

Friday, October 21, 2016

Rockville HDC finds revised Chestnut Lodge plan meets Secretary of the Interior standards

The Rockville Historic District Commission made a preliminary finding last night that the revised plan for the site of Chestnut Lodge meets Secretary of the Interior standards for Rehabilitation. A formal vote on a final draft is expected to be taken at the body's next meeting on November 17.

Applicant JNP Chestnut Lodge, LLC has proposed constructing 6 townhomes on the spot where the historic Chestnut Lodge psychiatric hospital stood until it was destroyed by fire in 2009. Nancy Pickard, Executive Director of historic preservation organization Peerless Rockville, testified that townhomes were not part of the heritage of Rockville at the time Chestnut Lodge was built.

Pickard told commissioners that, while wealthy estate dwellers did buy townhomes in urban areas in those days, they did not do so in Rockville. She said the first townhome developments in the City weren't constructed until the 1960s, nearly a century after the era of Chestnut Lodge's birth as a hotel. She also criticized the idea that the proposal should be considered only in the context of the SOI Rehabilitation standards. The other 3 sets of SOI standards - Restoration, Reconstruction, and Preservation - should be applied as well, she said. Rehabilitation standards ceased to be relevant after the main lodge burnt down, she added.

HDC chair Rob Achtmeyer asked Pickard if the individual access doors of townhomes vs. the shared entry of a condo building was her central concern. "It is a large factor," Pickard replied. "That housing form (townhouse) was not introduced in this city until the 1960s. That is not the heritage of Rockville," she said.
"Massing, the stronger verticality of the original hotel. There was the relationship of the dominant hotel to the outbuildings. The whole site was larger."

Kate Kuranda of Goodwin and Associates, speaking for the applicant, said what is left of the Chestnut Lodge site would not qualify for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Once a building has burned, she said, it is removed from the Register. Kuranda said she concurs with City staff that the plan does meet the Secretary's rehabilitation standards, and that it retains the park-like setting of Chestnut Lodge.

Kuranda said the developer, Jim Proakis, has offered to establish a website to archive all of the photographs, oral and written history, and other records available on the historic hotel and hospital. Proakis has already discussed the idea with a firm that has experience in creating this type of website, she said. Achtmeyer said he found the website offer "very intriguing." He also exhorted attendees and the televison audience to bring forward to staff any materials they may have on the lost building. Achtmeyer called sitting on such materials as this plan rapidly moves forward "counterproductive. Please, do us all a favor - share."

In a presentation earlier, staff liaison Sheila Bashiri said that the suggestion by many in the community to rebuild Chestnut Lodge as it was would only make sense if it was then opened as a hotel or psychiatric hospital. The primary goal of a reconstruction, Bashiri said, is education. A building would usually be reconstructed, and then opened to the public, who could learn from visiting or touring it about its history.

Bashiri recommended the commission find the plan does meet the SOI Rehabilitation standards.

During a period of public testimony, Paul Newman, the president of the 30 Oaks Civic Association, asked why the input of the West End Citizens Association was not included in the staff report. "Where is it," he asked.

Newman said it was inaccurate to claim that the new building resembles the footprint of the lost building. He said he walked the grounds of the site, and noticed that some of the markers indicating the footprint of the proposed building are actually on pavement, not the grass, indicating it is larger. Newman called Chestnut Lodge "one of the anchors of the historic district. It's a little disingenuous to say [we can't reconstruct it]."

"Changing an access road to the outbuildings into a back alley with garages and trash cans," Newman said, "that is a major change in character." The applicant previously has promised to hide trash receptacles through both the design of the homes, and via condo association rules about when they can be placed outdoors.

There was very little mention of the Planned Residential Unit agreement that high-profile opponents like current Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, and past mayor Larry Giammo, have argued remains in effect. That PRU demanded that the main building be restored as a prerequisite for its adapted re-use as a condominium development. The PRU agreement was reached between the City and a previous developer who sought to redevelop the site.

After a short break, commissioners returned at 10:45 PM to discuss the matter.

"I find the massing and the roofline very problematic," Commissioner Stefanie Tincher said. "It changes its relationship to the surrounding buildings. I'm having a real problem with it."

No other commissioner commented on the plan. Achtmeyer suggested going forward then with the body's recommendation to the Mayor and Council.

First, a majority of the commission agreed that they should employ the Rehabilitation standards. Then they took straw votes on each of the applicable standards.

For Standard #1 (A property will be used as it was historically or be given a new use that requires minimal
change to its distinctive materials, features, spaces, and spatial relationships), commissioners voted "Yes" by 3-2. Tincher and Commissioner Emily Correll were the dissenters. Tincher argued that #1 didn't apply, because the new structure will change the spatial relationships.

For Standard #2 (The historic character of a property will be retained and preserved. The removal of distinctive materials or alteration of features, spaces, and spatial relationships that characterize a property
will be avoided), commissioners unanimously voted that the project does meet the standard.

For Standard #3 (Each property will be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or elements
from other historic properties, will not be undertaken), commissioners voted 4-1, with Tincher dissenting. "I'd like to revise the staff report" on scale, mass and design, Tincher said. Achtmeyer suggested it might be faster to just cast her lone dissenting vote, and move on.

Achtmeyer joined Tincher in dissenting on Standard #9 (New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features, and spatial relationships that characterize the property. The new work will be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment).

The Planning Commission will be the next body to review the plan. Achtmeyer said he would like to hold off the vote until next month, so that the Planning Commission can reach their own conclusions apart from the HDC's influence.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mayor and Council vote to deny Chestnut Lodge amendment

Chestnut Lodge in 2003
Rockville's Mayor and Council voted 3-2 to deny an amendment to the Chestnut Lodge Planned Residential Unit (PRU) agreement that would have permitted townhomes to replace a multifamily condominium renovation of the historic sanitarium. The building burnt down in a suspicious fire in 2009.

Councilmember Virginia Onley said she would not oppose the developer's plan, citing her concern that the City could face legal action in the case if it denied the amendment. Other elected officials, past and present, have asserted that the City's legal position is strong, in that the PRU remains binding and in effect, and required the original building to remain in order to execute the agreement.

Onley referred to comments by Twinbrook Citizens Association President Richard Gottfried during a public hearing earlier in the evening, in which Gottfried warned of the danger of "spot zoning" on the different topic of the Rockville Pike Neighborhood Plan. Gottfried mentioned the legal action now pending against the City for its decision in the EZ Storage case.

While she said she opposes building townhomes on the site, Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr said the City is "held to certain legal standards" it may not be able to get out of in a case like this. She asked City staff to clarify its assessment of the criteria that is to be applied to the PRU and the proposed amendment. Zoning chief Jim Wasilak replied that, "We didn't see anything necessarily that was in conflict with the [Master] Plan." The site is in the W. Montgomery Avenue Historic District.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, who has long made clear her opposition to the townhome plan, said approval of it would "undermine" the entire W. Montgomery Avenue Historic District. She also objected to the applicant's proposal to greatly increase the footprint of the building beyond that of the original Chestnut Lodge. An out-of-character development would result in the loss of a historic site of not just local, but national, importance, she argued. In particular, rear decks and garages would negatively impact the site itself, as well as surrounding homes in the historic district.

Following the Mayor's remarks, Councilmember Beryl Feinberg moved to deny the amendment, but was questioned as to her reasoning by Councilmember Mark Pierzchala.

Then, Pierzchala made his own motion to deny the amendment. His motion instructed staff to bring back a resolution to the Mayor and Council that states the townhome project is in conflict with the Master Plan. It stated that the historic district the site is in would be "profoundly affected" by the out-of-character development.

Pierzchala's motion also zeroed in on specific issues related to the PRU agreement. He said the agreement was "expressly conditioned" on the retention of the main lodge building. He added that any proposal needs to be "more consistent" with the existing PRU. The townhome concept "does not meet the spirit or the intent of the original understanding," Pierzchala said.

The motion passed 3-2, with Onley and Palakovich Carr opposed.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville