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.
Rockville residents Tom Moore and Dana Tofig recently launched MoCo Beat, a podcast about “the news, the politics, and the life of Montgomery County.” Moore is an attorney with the Federal Elections Commission and recently concluded four years of service on the Rockville City Council. Tofig works in the research arm of the US Department of Education was formerly the Public Information Officer with Montgomery County Public Schools. Their first episode looks at the Rockville Pike Plan, the recently adopted Montgomery County budget, places to buy beer, and new restaurants in downtown Rockville. The first podcast is just short of 40 minutes and looks like it might be a weekly production.
With the demise of the Gazette newspaper and spartan coverage by the Washington Post, it is difficult to locate news about Rockville but here are the ones I know: Continue reading →
For some voters, the Adequate Public Facilities Standards (APFS) serve as a litmus test for candidates for the upcoming Mayor and Council election on November 3. This past year the Rockville City Council debated revisions to the APFS, including a change in school capacity from 110% to 120% to match the county’s standards. Development must meet these Standards, unless they receive a waiver from the City, and went into effect on June 1, 2015 (among other changes to the APFS) with the support of Councilmembers Moore, Onley, and Palakovich Carr and over the objections of Mayor Newton and Councilmember Feinberg. At the Rockville Chamber of Commerce Forum on October 7, several candidates stated their opinions on these new Standards, with Richard Gottfried and Patrick Schoof stating they would overturn them if elected; Brigitta Mullican stating that we need to get out of this discussion because the City has no control over schools; and Mark Pierzchala noting that the APFO failed to prevent school overcrowding and that the city needs a new approach focused at the county level. Beryl Feinberg confirmed her opposition to the APFS changes and went into detail by stating:
As many of you are aware, I voted against the APFO and the weakening of those standards. I believe we have to have an adequate infrastructure. That infrastructure is not only for schools but it is also for transportation, public safety, fire, and water and sewer services. I voted against it because in my view we can have development but it was the developers who were really for the adequate public facilities changing. What we have seen since the change has been an influx of almost one thousand different units from different developers coming through the pipeline without really concerning adequate infrastructure, notably in transportation. One area has been along Wooton Parkway where 102 are proposed for the Rockshire community* as well as an EYA proposal off Preserve Parkway with about 350 units.** Both of those will be on Wooton Parkway.
Her claim of “an influx of almost one thousand different units” since June 1, 2015 caught my ears. By coincidence, the city staff completed a study for the Planning Commission on October 7 (same day as the forum) that summarized residential development activity since the modifications to the APFS on June 1, 2015. It turns out that Feinberg’s claims are Continue reading →
According to the criteria used by Movoto Real Estate, Rockville, Maryland ranks among the top ten snobbiest small cities in America. Palo Alto, California (in Silicon Valley) tops the list with our neighbor down the Pike, Bethesda, coming in second. Is that good or bad company? According to Movoto:
Tied with Encinitas [California], this Maryland locale had some seriously snooty stats keeping it in the ranking for best hometowns for the highbrow. For starters, locals can send their little ones to elite private schools, the fifth most per capita on our list. And once Junior has accrued all this handy knowledge,they can flex their artistically-inclined minds at one of the numerous art galleries or museums in the area. More than that, people who live here are likely to continue on to academic greatness, with over 61 percent of the population gaining at least a college degree. With all of that education and study going on, is it any wonder that the elite locals make an average household income of almost $90,000?
California has the greatest number of snobbiest small cities (five, all of them along the Pacific coast) and Maryland has the next most frequent number (two, both along the DC coast). The ranking is based on median home price, median household income, percent of population with a college degree, number of private schools per capita, performing arts per capita, art galleries per capita, and fast food restaurants per capita (the fewer the better). Of course, there’s nothing scientific here and these “top ten” rankings are just different ways to think about places. Perhaps “snobbiest” isn’t the best term, indeed, Movoto clarifies the definition by describing them as places that are “just more comfortable for what society calls ‘snobby’ folks.” If not “snobby,” based on our ranking on these criteria, what would you call it?
Montgomery County is proposing to add a new Children’s Resource Center (CRC) for the school district on the former Broome Middle School campus on Twinbrook Parkway in Rockville. There have been a series of public meetings about the project and the County held its fourth and last meeting on January 25, 2014. They presented four conceptual designs for the front elevations for review and comment. About a dozen residents attended along with City Councilmember Beryl Feinberg and the chief of staff of County Councilmember Andrews.
Basically, the building consists of two blocks of different sizes joined by a tower. The designs show different “skins” of a varying mix of materials and colors. It’s not supposed to complement the existing Broome School because that’s slated for demolition and the replacement school hasn’t been designed, so I’m assuming the design of the CRC will set the pace for the new middle school. The Gazette reported that the county believed that, “the people at the meeting seemed to prefer Scheme 2” but having attended the meeting, that’s a gross overstatement. My sense is that we were still gathering information and had lots of questions. There didn’t seem to be a preference for what we liked but rather what we didn’t like. No one was enthusiastic about Continue reading →
Rockville Town Center, LLC, the owner of the property at 255 North Washington Street (at Beall Avenue) is holding a community Area Meeting at 6:30 pm on Thursday, December 5, 2013 in the Black-eyed Susan Room in City Hall to discuss their development plans and allow the community to ask questions and provide suggestions. They propose to demolish the existing five-story bank/office building and replace it with a six-story residential/retail building that includes 280 multi-family dwelling units, 6200 square feet of ground floor commercial space, and a parking garage, as follows: Continue reading →
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 →
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…
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 PeerlessRockville.org or on the day of the event at the Pump House at 401 South Horner’s Lane.