Category Archives: Community heritage

Suburban Dreams or Nightmares?

The “lakeside villas” at New Mark Commons in Rockville, Maryland.

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…

Homes and Hospitality Tour this Saturday

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Get to know your city a bit better through the upcoming Homes and Hospitality Tour on Saturday afternoon, May 12.  Peerless Rockville organizes this special one-day exploration of a neighborhood every two years, and this year’s focus is East Rockville.  Most people don’t realize that this neighborhood east of the tracks not only has one of the densest collections of historic houses, but also some award-winning contemporary homes.  Once directly connected to downtown Rockville via Baltimore Road, after the streets were rerouted in the mid-20th century, East Rockville became hidden and forgotten, with many of the houses being cut up into apartments or falling into disrepair.  During the last couple decades, however, young couples and entrepreneurial investors saw the potential of this derelict neighborhood and began restoring the historic houses or building new ones on rare empty lots.  Interest in this neighborhood continues to grow given its long history, its architectural diversity, and its proximity to Metro, MARC, and downtown.

The Tour includes six different places to visit at your own pace and in any order:  three historic houses, two modern houses, and one public building.  All have remarkable stories (one of the first electrified houses in the city, another linked to a typhoid epidemic, and another that stands on a former “laboratory to prepare for Armageddon”–wow!) and by exploring them together, you’ll leave with a new appreciation for your community and be inspired by the care of your fellow residents (several have won awards).  Unlike most home tours, however, the event is staffed by many community leaders (so you may greeted by your Mayor, Police Chief, or State Delegate), many local restaurants provide refreshments (such as Carmen’s Ice Cream and Tower Oaks Lodge), and music is provided by local artists and students.  For $25, it’s a bargain for a special afternoon in your own town (and a great gift for Mother’s Day!) but if you buy in advance or if you’re a Peerless Rockville member, you can get a discount of up to 25% off.  Get your tickets in advance at or on the day of the event at the Pump House at 401 South Horner’s Lane.

Peerless Rockville Brunch Starts New Year

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Today’s Peerless Rockville Brunch at Glenview Mansion was packed with lots of members, friends, residents, and community leaders.  Mayor Marcuccio was joined by Rockville City Councilmembers Bridget Newton, Mark Pierzchala, and Tom Moore; Montgomery County Council by Phil Andrews and Hans Riemer; Maryland State Delegate Kumar Barve and Luis Simmons; and Maryland State Senator Jennie Forehand.  Everyone was generous with their potluck dish and I regretfully made it to the dessert table long after Brigitta Mullican’s famous Christmas cookies had been devoured.  During the presentation, Peerless Rockville noted the important achievement of this last year was the designation of Glenview as an city landmark and that this year they’ll be focusing on simplifying the historic designation process in the city.

Rockville’s Veterans Remembered

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Memorial Day, Remembrance Day, Decoration Day.  The name has changed over the decades but it still has the same meaning–a day set aside to remember those who died in service to the United States.  Rockville has many of those people with us from the days of the American Revolution to the present day and a quiet way to remember them is to visit the many historic cemeteries found throughout the city.  The epitaths carved in stone or the flags pushed into the ground mark those who served, and you’ll find streets and bridges named in honor of some of them. Those who know our nation’s history can easily recognize the meaning of a date and place, such as France 1918 or Burma 1945.  In others, you are reminded of the complexity of life, with soldiers who fought each other in Civil War now silently sharing the same earth or two brothers who leave to fight in the same war, but only one returns.  These places are worth preserving because of the memories and lessons they contain.  These pictures from the Rockville Cemetery on Baltimore Road in Twinbrook are just a glimpse of what’s available in these quiet places.

Exploring Rockville’s Downtowns on May 7

I’ll be leading a 1.5-hour walking tour of Rockville’s downtowns for Peerless Rockville on Saturday, May 7 at 10 am.  Wear comfortable shoes, be prepared for the weather, and consider enjoying lunch afterwards (unfortunately, some of the tour is not accessible to persons with limited mobility).  Space is limited so please register in advance with Peerless Rockville.

A Great Day at the Homes and Hospitality Tour

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It was an absolutely beautiful day for Peerless Rockville‘s Homes and Hospitality Tour.  Six houses, new and old, were featured in the West End neighborhood and situated close enough together that you could easily walk from one to the other.  A special treat was live music and delicious food.  Several local restaurants donated refreshments, including Tower Oaks Lodge, Oro Pomodoro, Carmen’s Italian Ice, Bobby’s Crabcakes, and Great Harvest Bread.  And unlike other house tours that are overcrowded, this one was very comfortable and you could easily chat with community leaders, such as Senator Jennie Forehand, Delegate Luiz Simmons, Delegate Jim Gilchrist, Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio, Councilman John Britton, Councilmember Bridget Newton, and City Manager Scott Ullery.  Everyone had a great time and it was a great way to explore a neighborhood.

New Year Opens in Rockville with a Peerless Brunch

Peerless Rockville Brunch 2010

The Peerless Rockville New Year’s Day Brunch at Glenview Mansion was the first official event celebrating the 150th anniversary of the City of Rockville and everyone enjoyed a beautiful day, a nice mix of members and friends, and of course, lots of good food.  Although it’s a holiday, the event always draws a good crowd of community leaders, including State Senator Forehand; State Delegates Barve, Simmons, and Gilchrist; Rockville Mayor Marcuccio; Rockville Councilmembers Gajewski, Newton, and Pierzchala; and City Clerk Funkhouser.  This year’s event invited people to wear something vintage and among the standouts were Bill Forehand (with a Civil War sailor’s uniform) and Cindy Cotte Griffiths (with an amazing vintage dress–satin and velvet?).   Peerless also encouraged everyone to submit their nominations for Places That Matter in Rockville (standing or not) and Peerless will be using it as a guide for events and activities for the upcoming year (Phyllis Marcuccio was actively supporting the Pump House).  Glenview Mansion is an ideal place to hold the brunch–it’s almost perfectly suited to this type of event–and it was wonderfully decorated for the holidays.  Rockville is very fortunate to have such a marvelous historic venue for community events (so much better than a high school gym!).  If you want to see a photoalbum from the day, click on the picture or caption.

Walking Tour of African American Places in Rockville

In October, the City of Rockville unveiled the new markers for the historic places around downtown associated with African American history.  It was a beautiful day and a long trail of people followed along to visit the many sites, so if you missed it, Channel 11 now has it available online (it won’t be the same as doing it yourself, but you can get a sense of the fun we had that day).

African American historic places highlighted in Rockville

Tour of the Jerusalem Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church

Tour of the Jerusalem Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church

The City of Rockville has been working for nearly a decade to recognize the history of African American in the city and yesterday marked a major accomplishment with the installation of several interpretive markers in downtown.  Many people who shop, work, and live in the Town Square don’t realize it was once a thriving African American community which was demolished during the 1960s and 1970s due to urban renewal.  Today, very little remains and the plaques remind us of how much was lost–and also that African Americans have a long and distinguished history in Rockville.

Yesterday afternoon the City of Rockville hosted a tour on an incredibly beautiful fall day to visit some of these places and to see the new plaques, including Continue reading →

Stepping Stones Shelter hosts VIPs and Volunteers

Volunteers clearing brush at Stepping Stones Shelter

Volunteers clearing brush at Stepping Stones Shelter

Despite the rainy weather, more than one hundred volunteers came to the Stepping Stones Shelter in the Jefferson Square/Hungerford section of Rockville today as part of the National Day of Service commemorating 9-11.  When I arrived at 1 pm, it was buzzing with people.  They had removed carpet from the house exposing the original oak floors, were fixing radiator covers on the front porch, clearing LOTS of brush from the woods, and refinishing picnic tables in the back yard to make the historic house a more attractive and enjoyable place for its residents and staff.  The project in Rockville launched a three-year partnership between Continue reading →