Check out this slideshow of the old and new in Downtown Silver Spring, taken on the Friday before Christmas.
Thayer Avenue reported earlier this week that a row of buildings at Bonifant and Fenton were demolished to make way for the new Silver Spring Library, which is planned to open in 2010. Many on the listservs have been mourning the loss of the Bonifant Courts apartments (left), which were built in 1937 and was once featured in "Best Addresses: A Century of Washington’s Distinguished Apartment Houses," as stated by Jerry McCoy from the Silver Spring Historical Society in a listserv entry.
Few would dispute that the new library - which may include shops, affordable housing and a potential Purple Line stop - will be a boon for the community. But like many revitalization projects, it comes at a price. manypeople like to call Downtown Silver Spring (the shopping complex, but sometimes the CBD as a whole) "fake" and "pre-fab." I even got into a little tiff with David Daddio from Rethink College Park last week for calling DTSS "as organic as a Twinkie." Tearing out the independent businesses and historic buildings that lined this stretch of Bonifant Street only adds fuel to the argument that the Downtown looks "inauthentic." (Inviting a multi-national corporation to open a facsimile of a famous San Francisco music hall doesn't help, either, but that's for another day.)
All great cities look as if they were built over time - because they were. There have been three bursts of development in Silver Spring: "garden apartments" and the eponymous Silver Spring Shopping Center in the 1930's and 40's; office towers and parking garages in the 1960's and 70's, and the current revitalization that began in the 1990's. Each period of growth added a new layer onto the place that already existed, making it more interesting and more complex.
I, for one, do not want to live in a place that looks like it was built all at once - neither a Silver Spring frozen in 1938 nor one straight out of 2008 - because neither is authentic. Downtown Silver Spring will never be considered a "real" place until we have a stronger push for historic preservation. And the historic preservation lobby in Silver Spring will never be taken seriously unless it actively considers opportunities for adaptation and re-use: how could our older buildings be incorporated into the "new" Silver Spring?
We want to bury Silver Spring's past because of its reputation for crime and decay, but in doing so, our generation may leave an even worse legacy. For better or for worse, Bonifant Courts may be gone - but there are still other buildings to save, if only to keep the haters quiet.