Through advocacy, Montgomery Preservation has saved historic buildings and properties, hosted preservation programs and conferences, established a fund for preservation action, and supported other local preservation groups.
Here are examples of MPI advocacy through three decades:
A Tale of Two Historic Churches
With religion a vital aspect of life for early settlers, places of worship are among our oldest and most valued historic structures and landscapes. Two Montgomery County churches are currently in the news.
Scotland African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church on Seven Locks Road in Potomac has been a pillar of the local African American community for more than a century. Erected between 1915 and 1924 on land offered by Rev. Otho Simms and his wife Sarah, small additions and modifications were made to the wood-frame chapel later in the 20th century. On the grounds are mature Tulip Poplar trees and an area used for burials (Montgomery Co Cemetery Inventory ID#264). Family names associated in and near Scotland along Seven Locks Road include Dove, Mason, Burley, Johnson, Ines, and Lyles, all of whom sent children to the local school until desegregation.
Unfortunately, in the 1960s Montgomery County’s reconfiguration of this ancient country road led to erosion and flooding that over time destabilized the church structure and caused substantial water damage. However, the major turning point was “Save Our Scotland,” an inter-racial partnership of determined activists led by Geneva Mason and Joyce Siegal, that produced basic community improvements such as new housing, running water, sewer, and trash collection.
In 2020, the “2nd Century Project” capital campaign was launched by church members, neighbors, and other public and private supporters. The recent 2023 Juneteenth celebration was a huge boost toward repairing, expanding, and returning the church to use. Hopefully, this effort will include research needed to identify burials. Visit scotlandamezion.org/ for more details and to assist.
Bethesda Meeting House on the Rockville Pike is not only the church that named Bethesda and the area’s most important historic building. It is also one of Montgomery County’s most endangered.
Built in 1820 for the congregation of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, this handsome Greek Revival has seen much from its perch on the hill: stage coaches, Union and Confederate troops, new automobiles, and dramatic changes of usage. A growing town was named for this towering edifice, burials continued nearby, and a handsome parsonage was added to the property.
In 1925, when Bethesda Presbyterians built a new church closer-in, this became Temple Hill Baptist Church. For nearly a century strong leaders and healthy congregations met here. Recognizing its historic and architectural significance, they listed the buildings in the National Register of Historic Places and the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation.
Today, however, the future of Bethesda Meeting House is dire. A successor congregation no longer meets here, and both the church and parsonage are deteriorating fast. Out-of-town trustees and representatives have no interest in using or even maintaining the property; “Demolition by Neglect” is happening, illegally, before our eyes. The intrepid Bethesda Historical Society is interested in finding a way to save this treasure. Practical options, supporters, funds, advocates, volunteers, and more funds are needed…. soon…. to make this work. Visit www.bethesdahistoricalsociety.org to offer your resources.
Rare Example of Googie-Style Architecture in MoCo Awaits Protection
For more than 60 years, Weller’s Dry Cleaning has been an eye-catching fixture in downtown Silver Spring. It’s an iconic example of “Googie-style” architecture — an exuberant form of midcentury modern architecture that originated in Southern California and spread across the country in the 1950s and ‘60s. Googie architecture is characterized by cantilevered roofs, sharp angles, abstract shapes, bold colors, mixed construction materials, and integrated, eye-catching signage – all designed to grab the attention of passing cars and pull in customers. The building features a slanted, cantilevered roof, colorful pink and red porcelain panels, glass walls, and a light-colored stone veneer portion of the façade. Accompanied by a whimsical, iconic sign with a quintessentially modern built-in clock, Weller’s displayed all the hallmarks of Googie architecture, one of the rare few in Montgomery County that have survived.
Googie design expressed the prevalent car culture and space age themes of its time, as well as optimism for the future. Construction of Weller’s in 1961 coincided with that age, around the most impactful time in downtown Silver Spring’s development as a major suburban commercial center. This one little building both helped to create and reflected that car-centric time in Montgomery County’s history.
Both because of its architecture and what it represents in Silver Spring’s history, Weller’s has long been on the local preservationists’ list of worthy historic resources to protect. As MPI stated in its recent testimony to the Historic Preservation Commission, “Weller’s has long been identified as qualified for historic designation, starting with the 2002 survey of Silver Spring CBD resources, and being highlighted by Clare Kelly in her Montgomery Modern publication in 2015, and also in EHT Traceries’ architectural survey in 2020.” This view was confirmed by Planning Board and County Council officials in the Silver Spring Downtown and Adjacent Communities Plan (SSDAC) adopted last summer.
In MPI’s fall newsletter, we reported that Weller’s, which was still mostly in original condition though in need of some refurbishing, was well on its way to preservation protection. In September, the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) had recommended that the Weller’s building and signage be added to the Locational Atlas & Index of Historic Sites.
Update on Preservation Status
The effort to protect Weller’s has since run into a speed bump, but not a wall. The entire Planning Board resigned in mid-October, causing meetings to be postponed until a new interim board could be appointed. The owners and tenant took advantage of the delay and in early November, the new tenant painted much of the building in bland beige, obscuring the building’s brick, colorful porcelain enamel panels and the slanted roof. They also removed the Weller’s sign panels from their metal frames and apparently disposed of them.
Though a Halloween mask of beige paint now obscures what for six decades had been a colorful, attention-grabbing, little building in Fenton Village, the case for designation and protection of Weller’s remains unaffected. Paint is superficial and reversible. The building’s historic structural features have not been erased. The signage can be reinstalled, and the property can still meet the criteria for architectural and design significance and neighborhood presence.
Moreover, the HPC is now going for the full monty. In December, the Commission voted to recommend also adding Weller’s to the county’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation, which would yield more protection than the Locational Atlas. In addition to MPI, other groups supporting designation include Art Deco Society of Washington, Silver Spring Historical Society, DoCoMoMo, and Preservation Maryland. The Planning Board has currently scheduled a public hearing and vote on Master Plan listing on February 23, 2023. MPI encourages County residents who care about preserving modern architecture generally and Weller’s in particular to make their voices heard in person at the hearing and/or in writing to the Planning Board.
MPI joins other organizations to preserve the Agricultural Reserve. MPI opposed large solar arrays and housing expansion by right as detrimental to landscape preservation.
A 2020 zoning change application, ZTA 20-01, proposed to allow approval of up to 3 square miles of solar energy array in the Agricultural Preserve by right. Permitted uses in the Ag Preserve are now limited to agricultural and ag accessories by the Master Plan and zoning. This use does not meet those criteria. Supporters pointed out that much of the farming was not for food and solar energy would provide low-cost energy for poorer residents, crops would be planted between the rows of solar arrays, and that it was only 2% of the Ag Preserve.
Supporting preservation of our historic landscapes, MPI joined Montgomery Countryside Alliance in opposition, responding that this was not permitted now and should not become permitted as it violates the reason for creating the Reserve. In addition, our nearby rural landscape is a significant attraction as are local farm markets, wineries, stables and the small towns and businesses that are part of it.
Amended ZTA 20-01 was passed by the County Council in 2021, restricting solar arrays in size and location and allowing farm installations of up to 200% of electric needs with surplus returned to the grid. A two-year study period was mandated before re-evaluation. Solar in the Ag Reserve is to be be sited with care to save productive soils, forests and water quality as a way to protect the land that sustains us while making room for solar.
For information contact www.mocoalliance.org
Barnesville Oaks: Housing Increase in the Agricultural Reserve
Montgomery Preservation previously stood with the Montgomery Countryside Alliance when a zoning application was considered in 2019 to increase the number of residential units allowed in the Agricultural Reserve. Housing is limited as the land is zoned agricultural. MPI opposed this as a violation of the zoning and intent of the Agricultural Reserve. It also protested that a recently permitted new housing subdivision carried restrictions on basic farm practices, such as raising chickens and poultry, that is conditionally legal in Silver Spring and in Montgomery County. Livestock other than horses were also banned by contract covenants although a condition of approval for the subdivision stated that normal farming could be practiced.
Montgomery Countryside Alliance summarized the Planning Board’s decision as: The Board did not grant the applicant’s Request… they did not deny it either… Chair Anderson and Planning Director Gwen Wright indicated that staff will address the important issues raised with the developer and land seller (who) placed covenants that limit farming on all three of the subdivided parcels as well as non- conformance with hard fought condition(s) requiring public access/maintenance of a public use trail.
Triple Tracking the Brunswick MARC Line Through Montgomery County
MPI recently joined Washington Grove residents in alerting railroad towns and adjacent site owners of a contemplated rail expansion plan. The Shady Grove Sector Plan Minor Amendment considered by the County Council on February 23, 2021, recommends acquiring a 25-foot north or east trackside easement to add a third track to the present two tracks through the County. MPI is concerned that no discussion or impact studies of how implementation will avoid damage to historic sites and districts near the railroad were done or included. Many sites and districts are in the National Register for Historic Places and protected by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. MPI asked for an impact study and options for alternate routes to explain how this goal can be done without damage, moving, or demolition. The proposal is in “The MARC Cornerstone Plan 2019” that includes no discussion or options. MPI’s Silver Spring B&O Station and Gaithersburg’s are National Register stations that would be affected. The Gaithersburg station is still a working station whereas the Silver Spring station is retired. The current MARC and AMTRAK stations are part of the Silver Spring multi-modal transportation hub. The historic Silver Spring B&O Station is now a rail museum and meeting place owned and restored by Montgomery Preservation.
Look at the photograph of the historic Silver Spring B&O Station and imagine a two-deck passenger rail train like this right next to the back door.
Protecting Isaac Shoemaker Cemetery
Read the latest update on how MPI and the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites are supporting the Shoemaker family in its efforts to preserve a family burial ground located on Murray Road in Bethesda. The case, now before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, involves proof of the continuing existence of a 19th century cemetery that since the 1930s has been surrounded by a residential subdivision. Visit the website.
Montgomery Preservation (MPI) is creating a list of National Register of Historic Places sites in Montgomery County along the MARC Brunswick line and along I-495 and I-270. The goal is to determine the potential damage that could result from adding a third track to the North or East side of the MARC Brunswick Line or by widening I-495 and I-270 to add “managed lanes.”
What we need from you: a list of National Register sites in your community that would be affected if a third track were added to the MARC line or the highways are expanded. This would help assess the possible damage in Montgomery County and present a united preservation front if necessary. A simple address or site name and locality such as “Thomas Cannery, Gaithersburg” is enough. Please submit your list to MPI@montgomerypreservation.org.
Protection for National Register sites affected by Federal projects comes from Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Federal involvement results when its funding, licensing, or permits, etc. are required. MPI is also exploring finding or creating a Section 106 ZOOM program to describe the process, outcome, and user experience. Some local communities are depending on Section 106 as a last resort, so knowledge can be powerful.
Section 106 staff of the Maryland Historical Trust considers the MARC Brunswick Line widening “conceptual” as there are no impact studies or options. However, the 2020 Montgomery County Shady Grove Sector Minor Master Plan Amendment recommends a 25-foot easement be obtained on the line for possible future expansion. This adds weight to possible widening.
If the line is expanded to three tracks in Silver Spring, a 25-foot track area will remove part of the rear platform and the canopy of the B&O Station. Passing trains would be very close to the building as seen at right. Gaithersburg and Washington Grove would also be affected. MPI needs local input to identify other properties with similar issues.
National Park Seminary in Forest Glen is threatened by the I-495-270 project as is Moses Morningstar Cemetery in Cabin John. This highway project is well under way with the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in preparation, initial designs drawn up, and contractor selection next. The EIS is to be completed this fall and will include the Section 106 report due in August. This is why your National Register list is needed now.
MPI Website www.montgomerypreservation.org
Montgomery Preservation Inc. PO Box 4661, Rockville MD 20849
In honor of civic activist, former MPI president, and fearless advocate Wayne Goldstein, in 2009 MPI established a memorial fund to support preservation advocacy and to encourage research and historic designation in Montgomery County.
Earmarked donations are kept for these purposes and used when needed. In the past this fund has aided advocates, community activists, and legal actions in Gaithersburg, Silver Spring, Rockville, and the Ag Reserve.
Currently, funds are being accepted to support legal efforts to protect endangered Isaac Shoemaker Cemetery. As a 501c(3) nonprofit recognized by the IRS, donations to MPI are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.
For further information or to make a tax-deductible donation to this fund: Wayne M. Goldstein Preservation Action Fund
Rendering of Silver Spring library by architect Rhees Burket, 1954
MPI, following the lead of Silver Spring Historical Society, has actively advocated for the preservation and adaptive reuse of the former Silver Spring Library on Colesville Road. Local civic associations teamed up with SSHS to ask County government to preserve the 1957 library site for parkland and reuse the building for continuing community benefit. The historic library is a serviceable, handsome structure that is in good condition and well situated on the total parcel.
Designed by Rhees Evans Burket, a noted architect with a lifetime of civic and professional leadership, the library is an icon of Montgomery Modern architecture. The Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired flagship structure came early in the new County library system, when other towns operated facilities out of smaller makeshift buildings. The Silver Spring Library was a harbinger of mid-century design and of local public services yet to come. Its open floor plan fills with light, highlighting natural materials of brick and native quarried stone and surrounding hilly landscape, and is considered one of Burket’s best works.
Local stakeholders and preservationists hope County proposal reviewers will honor their wishes to retain this unique public building along with the newer uses. For the time being, you can visit Friends of the Wheaton Library’s Used Book Store here.
New Laws Will Help to Protect Montgomery County Cemeteries
This year, local public officials were convinced by cemetery advocates and Montgomery County residents to pass legislation to address unacceptable situations and add regulations to protect historic burial grounds. Two bills introduced on June 27, 2017, by Council members Berliner, Leventhal, and Rice were immediately endorsed by other Council members. Supported by the Historic Preservation Commission and the Montgomery County Planning Board, the bills next went to public hearing. At the hearing on September 12 and in the public record were hundreds of emails and letters of support, most of them requesting stronger protections. Many writers expressed frustration about the Moses Cemetery situation on River Road, while others cited personal losses of ancestral graves.
On October 31, the County Council heard its Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) committee and staff recommend adoption of the two bills. One bill requires the Planning Board to establish and maintain an official list of burial sites—the Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory—which lists sites in every corner of our county. The second bill addresses the need for burial sites to be identified and considered by owners, staff, and public officials during the entire subdivision approval process. MPI is delighted to report that the Council voted unanimously to adopt and enact both bills.
The Inventory law went into effect on February 9, 2018, and the subdivision regulation will be effective on July 1, 2018. Of importance, to make this intent truly operative, a dedicated planner/archaeologist position must be funded in the FY2019 County budget. To read MPI’s testimony to the County Council on behalf of funding this position, click here.
Here are links to our new laws:
Montgomery College is planning to construct a new state-of-the-art math and science building on its Takoma Park campus. While MPI is in favor of modernizing the math and science facilities, we are concerned about the potential impact on the Takoma Park historic district, and the potential for any new structures to be located in Silver Spring’s historic Jesup Blair Park.
MPI attended several community forums and submitted comments to the college on May 27, June 15, and July 21, 2017. Our statements urged that the new math/science facility be located on a site that could avoid overwhelming and intruding upon the adjoining Takoma Park neighborhood and historic district. We also noted our opposition to any plans to construct new buildings in Jesup Blair Park that might result from the rearrangement of campus facilities. As of early August, the college was expected to announce a decision on a math/science facility concept after review of numerous community comments.
Joined by music lovers and preservationists around the Metropolitan Washington area, Historic Preservation Commission, Planning Director and Planning staff, MPI presented the Wheaton Youth Center as a Win-Win for the community. MPI attempted for several years to convince County government that the elegant 1963 Youth Center and new Wheaton Library could successful co-exist on Georgia Avenue, through imaginative and needed adaptive reuses.
Whether or not Led Zepplin really played here, this Modernist architectural gem could and should have been saved as part of a plan to construct a new multi-faceted facility for the growing Wheaton community. A 50th anniversary party, attended by musicians, preservationists, County residents, and architectural aficionados, called attention to its significance and relevance to an entire generation. Alas, this landmark was razed in 2016.
MPI has worked with Germantown Historical Society to call attention to and protect historic sites in that community. One successful project of GHS was its recent acquisition of the 1922 Germantown Bank, which the group has rented and maintained for decades and is currently the subject of a capital campaign. MPI has also supported GHS and Germantown advocates who are working to preserve in place the iconic 1920s Cider Barrel on the Frederick Road and Zachariah Waters’ burial site on a former family farm.
photo by Alan Bowser
In 2008-09, MPI teamed with Silver Spring Historical Society and Lyttonsville Civic Association to win a Historic Preservation Commission grant to develop entrance signs to the historic African American community. Residents of Lyttonsville later received an MPI Award for their Black History Month exhibit which illuminated the life and times of Samuel Lytton. The exhibit included a copy of the original deed conveying property in 1853 to Samuel Lytton, as well as maps, photographs, and other documents and artifacts.
Recognizing the significance of Montgomery Modern sites, MPI turned attention to the 1978 César Pelli-designed COMSAT building on I-270 near Clarksburg, which was threatened with demolition. MPI organized a four-day design charette with architects, planners, and neighbors in 2006 to demonstrate that the owner’s plans for development could easily share the site with the COMSAT building. The charette was followed with a talk by Mr. Pelli on the impact of this building on his internationally renowned body of work and the work of other architects.
Between 2005 and 2010, MPI hosted two conferences on tear-downs and mansionization, assisted in drafting Neighborhood Conservation District legislation to help neighborhoods manage local infill development, monitored deliberations of the Infill Development Task Force, and assisted in multiple efforts to create effective infill solutions in historic Montgomery County neighborhoods.
Crown Farm Milk House and Dairy Barn
In 2007, MPI aided preservation of the Crown and Heeter family farms in Gaithersburg by educating city officials about the pre-Revolutionary War history of the properties and families, and working with them to review policies on evaluating historic building complexes.
On January 12, 2012 the Maryland Court of Special Appeals determined the rezoning and associated site plan for the Wilson property in Gaithersburg to be illegal. The Court found that the City “disregarded the express mandatory language” of its Code and the governing master plan, and “erred as a matter of law.” The subject property is located at the corner of South Frederick and DeSellum Avenues just beyond the Observatory Heights neighborhood.
MPI participated in early proceedings, arguing that the proposed rezoning ran counter to the master plan recommendations and decades of City commitment to protect long-established neighborhoods from commercial intrusion, and threatened Observatory Heights, which had been discussed as a possible historic district.
The City nonetheless rezoned three residential parcels to the City’s Corridor Development zone and simultaneously approved a concept site plan for more than 20,000 square feet of medical office space and a 116-space surface parking lot that would have resulted in the demolition of a house more than 100 years old and worthy of historic protection.
After joining nearby property owners in the first appeal but being dismissed for lack of standing, MPI continued to fund the case out of its Wayne M. Goldstein Preservation Action Fund in the beliefs that the City violated its own zoning code and master plan and that this community should be protected. MPI takes great pride in the fact that the Court of Special Appeals ultimately agreed.
Citation: Suzanne Shayt, et al. v. City of Gaithersburg, et al.
Maryland Court of Special Appeals Case No. 894, September Term 2010
MPI spearheaded the successful effort to protect a Champion weeping cherry tree in Bethesda in 2007, providing financial assistance to neighbors and negotiating a tree protection plan with the owner. This project led the County Council to pass a bill requiring specific protection for all County Champion trees during any construction.
From 2005-09, MPI actively supported the County purchase of and museum use goals for the Riley Farm/Uncle Tom’s Cabin site on Old Georgetown Road. Since that time, Montgomery Parks has assembled an admirable variety of resources and made Josiah Henson Historic Park a stellar example of best research, preservation, and archeological practices. Montgomery County’s continuing work at Josiah Henson Park — the former plantation property associated with the slave who inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin — is internationally followed and admired, while highly valued by local public participants during every project phase.
photo by Silver Spring Historical Society
MPI supported this local preservation organization to preserve two significant 20th Century landmarks: the 1936-38 Falklands apartment complex and the 1958 Perpetual Bank building in Silver Spring. Once threatened by razing and redevelopment, two of the three Falkland parcels were preserved and protected as an example of one of the first multi-family garden-style apartment complexes constructed with early FHA financing. Despite efforts, one of the parcels is still open to redevelopment despite efforts, and we will continue to monitor plans for this portion of the complex.
Perpetual Building Association Building still stands proudly on Georgia Avenue as a perfect example of postwar International-style commercial architecture that is worthy of recognition, designation, and preservation. Alas, dedication and advocacy could not halt the 1938 Little Tavern porcelain-enameled old English cottage from being disassembled in 2003; exterior pieces were moved to the Trolley Museum.
In February 2009, then-Montgomery County Councilmember Michael Knapp introduced a proposal that would have severely weakened the historic preservation law that for 30 years has protected historic places in our County. A public hearing in March 2009 and subsequent letters and emails submitted for the hearing record yielded overwhelming opposition to this proposal; the count was 440 opposed to the Knapp Amendment, with only 16 in favor.
MPI led the opposition to this ill-advised proposal. Opposition came from public officials, preservation organizations at state, national, and county levels, organizations and municipalities from all corners of Montgomery County, and hundreds of County residents, farmers, business owners, and preservation professionals.
The County Council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee held a work session on Knapp’s proposal on June 8, and on July 23, 2009, Councilman Knapp held an invitation-only meeting where attendees raised issues of concern. The consensus was that emphasis should be placed on education — of the public, property owners, County Council, and Planning Board — and that communication related to historic designation should be dramatically improved. Of course, MPI agreed to assist in this effort.
Because the Council did not vote on the Knapp amendment within 18 months of its introduction, the proposed legislation expired in 2010.
From 1986 to 2002, MPI operated a local salvage depot. Architectural elements from historic buildings being remodeled or razed were recycled to owners of pre-1940s structures in Montgomery County at affordable prices for use in their restoration and renovation projects. Over the years, this operation was located in Rockville and Gaithersburg. When MPI closed this service, it sent the remaining inventory to Second Chance, a similar operation in Baltimore.