Tuesday, January 6, 2009

five for the pike: the perpetual building, in perpetuity?

A weekly list of five things to do/see/make happen in East County, compiled by JUTP. This week, it's five reasons to save the Perpetual Building at Georgia and Cameron in Silver Spring, whose clean Modernist fa├žade makes this fifty-year-old edifice bulldozer bait to some and a community cornerstone to others. Credit's due to Jerry McCoy of the Historical Society, who has written in favor of preserving the Perpetual Building.

1) Aesthetics aside, the Perpetual Building is good urbanism.

With a large, monumental entrance on Georgia and big windows along Cameron Street, inviting passers-by to see what's going on inside, the Perpetual Building has a godo street presence. Not only does it send a message of transparency (good for any bank to have), but it means fewer blank walls along the sidewalk, a definite no-no in a business district. It also doesn't hide behind a parking lot, like the restored Silver Spring Shopping Center at Georgia and Colesville. Very few people would say the 1938-vintage strip mall is "ugly," but even fewer would say it contributes to the urban realm in Downtown.

2) As Jane Jacobs says, it's a supply of old buildings that keeps the business district affordable.

If I'm breaking out the name of the author of the Death and Life of Great American Cities, you know I mean business. Downtown Silver Spring's new and recently-updated office and retail buildings can charge hefty rents, pricing out small businesses. While the County-funded Innovation Center, a small business incubator at Georgia and Blair Mill, helps to support the mom-and-pops, there's no real substitute for the more affordable digs provided by older buildings. The Perpetual Building already does that for a number of small businesses, including the Cameron Medical Group and the Tappers With Attitude dance studio.

what could replace the Perpetual Building? photos and so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

3) There are much, much worse buildings Downtown. Shouldn't we try to save one that works?

When it comes to urbanism, the bar's been set pretty low in Downtown: lifeless, sunken or elevated plazas (Silver Spring Metro Center, Montgomery Court); single-use buildings (the Discovery Building); gratuitous use of blank walls or, worse, glass curtain walls (the Veridian apartments (pictured), just about every office-box north of Colesville). All of these buildings do a poor job of contributing to the urban realm, killing street life and taking away from the vibrant Downtown we deserve. The Perpetual Building may look like a sleepy office building, but it doesn't make the same mistakes the other sleepy office buildings do, making it that much more important to the CBD.

4) Just because it's "ugly" doesn't mean it can't be saved.

I'm not a member of the "Perpetual is Ugly" camp. In fact, I enjoy the building's clean, simple lines and its heavy marble base. You won't find marble on a lot of other office buildings from this time period, especially those in Downtown Silver Spring, and it shows a lot of care and effort went into it. If the site needs more density for the numbers to work out - and it probably does, because land is expensive - than the developers should consider an addition, as was done to the former Perpetual branch on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. With high ceilings and large floor plates, the Perpetual Building would make a lovely loft condominium - though, of course, this does contradict what I said in #2.

What's proposed to go up at Georgia and Cameron: photo courtesy of the Silver Spring Scene (duh).

5) What's currently proposed to replace the Perpetual Building isn't an improvement.

Blank walls, more glazing than a chocolate donut, and a color scheme that looks like it was ripped from Saved by the Bell: aesthetically and urbanistically, the Perpetual Building's proposed successor (as reported by the Scene nearly two years ago) is pretty god-awful. That's not to say, of course, that the merits of preserving this building should be based on what would take its place - but as we've established with the Falkland Chase redevelopment, new buildings in Downtown Silver Spring are obligated to improve on the business district in some way. Before we call on the bulldozers, let's make sure that whatever happens at Georgia and Cameron is really worth going forward with.

1 comment:

Sligo said...

Tear down the Chevy Chase Bank across the street.