Today we’re remembering the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his work on overcoming the racial divide in America. Although he never visited Rockville, his values were affecting some of the people who lived here. In 1963, the first African American family moved into Hungerford, which prompted fear in the neighborhood that property values would fall. In response, the city and county increased police patrols to quell any potential violence, the local newspaper didn’t report on the event, and the City Council held a special meeting to determine the city’s role, including “its moral responsibility for bringing about the peaceful transition of the neighborhood.”
While some neighbors were gathering to get these new neighbors to move out, others were making them feel welcome and distributed a fact sheet to counter the rumors and local churches and businesses came forward to discourage protests and attacks against the African American family. It took a couple weeks before the tension dissipated, but in the 1960s, it could have become a violent confrontation. I’ve attached an article from the National Civic Review that provides more details.
Today, Rockvillians would be shocked to hear of events like this occurring in our community. Racial and ethnic differences are certainly still present and cause concern in some residents and neighborhoods, but they are far less prevalent that those around class differences. The fights about affordable housing are typically surrogates about keeping people in the working class out of professional class neighborhoods (remember Beall’s Grant II?). As with African American moving into a neighborhood for the first time back in the 1960s, the arguments are surprisingly the same: lower property values and increased crime. Rockville has come a long way from the racial strife of the 1960s but we still have a long way to go.
Philanthropist and novelist Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, is prominently featured in the new Report to Congress and the President of the United States on the American Museum of Women’s History. Few people know that Zelda and Scott are buried (should I say “sleeping”?) in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Rockville (it’s even listed in the Atlas Obscura) and even fewer know that it was Zelda who insisted that Scott be buried in the family plot when he died in Hollywood in 1940. Zelda was living at a sanitarium in Asheville, North Carolina, and too ill to attend his funeral but tragically, she would join him eight years later after dying in a fire at the sanitarium. Because the Catholic church denied his burial at St. Mary’s, the Fitzgeralds were buried in the Rockville Cemetery in Twinbrook. They were moved to St. Mary’s in 1975.
As for the American Museum of Women’s History, the report recommends it become part of the Smithsonian Institution and present a “wide spectrum of American women’s experiences in a way that appeals to a diverse audience.” They’ve identified a fundraising goal of $150-$180 million from the private sector for construction but the museum is only feasible if there is public support to provide the land somewhere near the Mall (three locations were suggested) and that the government would operate and maintain the museum. I wonder how the new President and Congress will respond?
No Confederate flags fly above any government or business building in Rockville, but what about the Confederate Monument on the grounds of the Red Brick Courthouse in downtown? The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the statue directly in front of the courthouse “to our heroes of Montgomery Co., Maryland, that we through life may not forget to love the Thin Gray Line,” unveiling it at a dedication ceremony on June 3, 1913 (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) that featured Congressman J. Thomas Heflin of Alabama, who was an outspoken proponent of white supremacy.
Rockville’s and Montgomery County’s sympathies for the Confederacy were strong both during and after the Civil War. Of Montgomery County’s Confederate veterans, three were elected as county commissioners, five as state delegates, two as state senators, three as state’s attorney, and one as mayor of Rockville. Vestiges still survive today. For example, Edward Wootton, whose family name is memorialized on a major street, park, and a high school in Rockville, had fought for the Confederacy. Matthew Fields, the founder of The Sentinel (now the only local newspaper in Rockville), was a vocal supporter of the South, mixing his political vision with a hatred for immigrants, blacks, and Catholics. And of course the Confederate Monument in downtown Rockville.
The Confederate Monument was moved to the side of the courthouse in 1971 into a grove of trees as part of the urban renewal of downtown–but is that sufficient? Perhaps we’re still bound by nostalgia or too ignorant to fully realize the meaning and symbolism that was poured into that bronze soldier, who is forever gazing South. The community still commemorated the arrival of Confederate Generals Jeb Stuart (on his way north to Gettysburg in June 1863) and Jubal Early (on his way south to Washington DC in 1864) during the 2013 Heritage Days. The Beall-Dawson House and Glenview, two historic houses owned by the City of Rockville, barely mention the enslaved men, women, and children who lived and worked there and would have continued into slavery for generations had the Confederacy won. Now that we have African Americans serving on our City Council and as the County Executive, isn’t time to rethink who and what we commemorate in Rockville and Montgomery County? Isn’t time for us to reflect on the full meaning of the Confederate Monument?
Update July 31, 2015
Major postings about the Confederate Monument on other blogs or websites (in alphabetical order):
American Historical Association: All History Is Local: Debating the Fate of a Confederate Soldier Statue in Maryland
Congressman Chris Van Hollen: Van Hollen Urges Immediate Removal of Confederate Statue in Rockville
Rockville Nights: Rockville Confederate statue hearing draws a diversity of opinions
Rockville Patch: Group Offers Ideas on What to Do with Confederate Statue
The Seventh State: Civil War Skirmish in Rockville
It was a beautiful day to explore New Mark Commons, the exceptionally well-designed mid-century neighborhood west of downtown Rockville. Hosted by Peerless Rockville, a standing-room only crowd of about 60 people gathered in the Clubhouse to hear an illustrated lecture by Dr. Isabel Gournay of the University of Maryland. Rose Krasnow, a longtime resident and former administrator of New Mark Commons, provided the introductory remarks. Afterwards, about half the group walked the neighborhood to visit a single-family house on Radburn and a townhouse on the lake–plus a surprise invitation to visit a second townhouse. Two more neighborhoods will be visited in the next month–the Americana Centre and King Farm–so if you’d like architecture and local history, these are a perfect way to enjoy both.
Last night the Rockville Sister City Corporation held a wine-tasting at Glenview Mansion as a fundraiser for the longstanding non-profit organization. Nearly fifty people attended, which was twice the expectations, delighting president Brigitta Mullican. Among the attendees were Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio and Councilmember Mark Pierzchala, and two Council candidates: Beryl Feinberg and Julie Palakovich Carr.
The paneled dining room of Glenview made for an ideal setting for socializing with a nice glass of wine while supporting a local non-profit organization. The wine tasting was focused on white wines, with five selections from Germany, Spain, and the United States. A blind tasting of a range from chablis to riesling to sauvignon blanc challenged people to use their senses to identify the wine. Thankfully, it was limited to five distinct wines and an identification list was provided so I had a fighting chance to get one right.
Fundraisers like this are becoming increasingly difficult for non-profits in Maryland. Costs and regulations continue to increase, which is either eliminating these traditional community events or significantly reducing the income. For example, health codes that affect restaurants are also applied to these one-time small fundraising events as well, so the traditional bake sale featuring homemade goods is nearly impossible and serving meals requires a commercial kitchen with three sinks (yes, three). If this continues, I’m guessing that lemonade stands and pancake breakfasts will soon require health permits and liability insurance. Let’s hope our elected officials in Annapolis and City Hall are watching this trend as much as they are watching casinos and traffic cams.
The best Memorial Day party this side of the Bay Bridge is coming soon. Rockville’s Hometown Holidays will celebrate 25 years of music, food, and fun in town center next month. The weekend will include five stages with more than 30 bands, the Chamber of Commerce’s Taste of Rockville event with area restaurants participating, amusements and entertainment for children, and the Memorial Day ceremony and parade. Events start at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 25 and continue through Monday, May 27. In the 25 years since Hometown Holidays began, 1.2 million people have enjoyed the event.
Performing on Saturday will be:
- Maryland native Shane Gamble Band, performing at 4:30 p.m. on the Regal Stage
- Country singer-songwriter Sunny Sweeney will headline Saturday evening’s concert line up
- The Dirty Guv’nahs, a six-piece rock-n-roll collective
Performing on Sunday will be:
- Christylez Bacon, a progressive hip-hop artist from Washington, D.C., performing at 6:30 p.m. on the Town Square Stage.
- The Waiting, a tribute band to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
- The Nighthawks, an award-winning DC-based blues and roots rock band
Watch Rockville’s Channel 11 for Hometown Holidays All Access, a show previewing some of the musical talent coming to Rockville this Memorial Day weekend. For updated information, visit www.rockvillemd.gov/hth.
The City’s Hometown Holidays Facebook page (www.facebook.com/RockvilleHometownHolidays) will be updated as the celebration nears, so stay tuned there for announcements of more bands and food vendors.
Nearly sixty people gathered this morning for an illustrated lecture on the history of Twinbrook by Dr. Richard Longstreth of George Washington University. In the 1940s and 1950s, Joseph Geeraert developed Twinbrook on a 200-acre farm that spanned Viers Mill Road. Geeraert’s Twinbrook was roughly south of Broadwood between Rockville Pike and Baltimore Road, although today Twinbrook is considered to be much larger and runs up to First Avenue (much to the consternation of those who live in the neighborhoods of Viers Mill Village and Silver Rock).
Geeraert was born in Belgium but came to America as a young man, getting started in construction in Takoma Park. Although he had many projects around the Washington, DC region, Twinbrook was his largest, longest running, and most complex development. He built as funding came available and eventually these small developments interconnected to become the neighborhood of houses, schools, churches, library, post office, and shopping centers that we know today. Most people who drive through Twinbrook assume the houses are all the same, but Geeraert modified and enlarged the designs over time to appeal to the changing tastes of buyers.
After the lecture, the audience discussed the names of streets, racial discrimination, and evolving construction practices. Then about half of the group went on a short walk around the neighborhood to see various types of houses and take a stroll on a hidden walkway. It was great to see so many current and former Twinbrookers (including some who lived here for 50 years!) and to hear their stories of living in the neighborhood.
This lecture is the first in a series on Rockville’s recent neighborhoods, so check Peerless Rockville’s website for the times and dates of upcoming events, as well as a two new interpretive maps of Twinbrook.
In a series of illustrated presentations and walking tours this spring, Peerless Rockville will explore several of Rockville’s modern neighborhoods, including Twinbrook, New Mark Commons, and King Farm.
Free and open to the public, the series will highlight five neighborhood communities from the early postwar housing boom to mid-century planned development to the “new town” movement popular at the end of the century. The series will culminate in an evening lecture and panel discussion at Rockville City Hall on the factors that influenced modern development, the significant elements of each time period, and the special features of each community that have contributed to its success and left lasting imprints.
The schedule for the upcoming series:
Building Houses, Creating Community: Joseph Geeraert and Twinbrook, featuring professor Dr. Richard Longstreth of George Washington University, Saturday, March 23, 10 am at the Twinbrook Community Center Annex.
Woodley Gardens: A Traditional Red Brick Neighborhood with a Modern Feel, featuring Continue reading →
Sunday, June 17 marked the 40th anniversary of the arrest of five burglars caught in the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate in Washington, DC in 1972. Little did people know at the time that this burglary was actually part of a much larger effort by President Nixon to undermine his opponents and support his allies through threats, harassment, lies, fraud, sabotage, bribes, and crimes for many years. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, James McCord, Bernard Barker, Frank Sturgis, Eugenio Martinez, and Virgilio Gonzales broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee to plant listening devices on the phones and in the rooms, as well as photograph financial records and donor files. When they were initially arrested, they gave false names and it was unclear who they were and who they worked for (there was some thought it might be Cuba) but two days later, Edward Martin revealed his true identity as James McCord of Rockville and that he formerly worked for the CIA. It quickly became apparent these weren’t burglars but spies–and they were working for the White House. The Watergate break-in was one of several clandestine operations coming out of the Nixon White House and as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein stated in a recent Washington Post article, “It was only a glimpse into something far worse. By the time he was forced to resign, Nixon had turned his White House, to a remarkable extent, into a criminal enterprise.” In addition to the five “burglars,” another 35 of Nixon’s closest aides and associates went to prison. Nixon was pardoned by President Ford.
Few people know that Rockville, our fair city, had many connections to the incident that eventually led to the downfall of President Nixon. My research continues but at this point, there are at least a half dozen places Continue reading →
This Wednesday, May 16, I’ll be leading a tour of 20th-century planned communities for the American Institute of Architects’ annual convention. We’ll start with 1930s Greenbelt (one of a handful developed by the federal government to demonstrate how communities could be intentionally planned, not just haphazardly developed) and then visit two other nationally significant planned communities, both in Rockville: 1960s-70s New Mark Commons and 2000s King Farm. I’ll be joined by Dr. Elizabeth Milnarik, Dr. Isabel Gournay, and Jim Wasilak (Rockville’s Chief of Planning). By the end of the day, participants will have a nice overview of “community making” in the 20th century, all very different responses by some of the best minds of their times.
I love sharing Rockville with anyone who’s interested but unfortunately, this tour is limited to members of the AIA. But you can easily explore these neighborhoods yourself and if you want more details, Greenbelt has a museum in one of the original residences and Dr. Isabel Gournay at the University of Maryland has written a scholarly essay on King Farm (and Woodley Gardens) in Housing Washington: Two Centuries of Residential Development and Planning in the National Capital Area , edited by Richard Longstreth (2010). If you’d like a guided tour, suggest it to Peerless Rockville and perhaps they’ll put one together in the near future.
New Mark Commons and King Farm are hailed as idealistic suburban communities, but it wasn’t true of all neighborhoods in Rockville. In 1956, John Keats criticized the monotony and isolation of the suburbs around Washington, DC in his popular novel, The Crack in the Picture Window. He follows the lives of Mary and John Drone, a young family trying to get established. They move up from a small old apartment in northern Virginia and move to a new house in suburban Maryland, supposedly based on Rockville’s Twinbrook neighborhood:
[John Drone counted his blessings and said,] “Great. I have a wife and two swell kids, a new split level with everything in it, a new car with all the extras, and I got myself not one but three jobs. I’m meeting all my payments, every month.”
As for Mary’s life, the first few weeks were spent in the charming exhilaration which new surroundings always bring. Gaily, she explored the cellar bedroom which had been added to her domain. She liked the little thrill of going up two steps to the living room, and then up another two into the bedrooms. She was as happy as a squirrel in a new, three-ring cage. This light mood persisted through nearly two months, until at last there came that day when her new world suddenly became only too familiar.
It was the day she stood looking out her picture window and for the first time became completely aware of the picture window across the treeless street. For a horrid moment she stood there, staring. The she ran to her door and tore it open, looking up and down the block. And everywhere she looked, she saw houses exactly like her own, row on row of them, the same, the same, the same…