Monday, August 10, 2009

they used to call it georgian towers (part two)

part TWO in a series about growing up in an apartment building in Downtown Silver Spring. see part ONE

It looks like the Georgian's rooftop party last week is getting some coverage, including a blurb in the Business Journal that reads like a press release. But other publicity may not be as welcome. Some of the building's residents have started The Georgian Confidential, a blog about the good and the bad (mostly the bad) happening down at 8750 Georgia Avenue.

Me On The Balcony, 1995
Me (at age seven) on the balcony of our fourteenth-floor apartment in 1995. Scroll down for more photos.

Every day in the summer of 1997 I would get my towel and take the elevator to the rooftop pool at Georgian Towers. I'd taken swimming lessons a few years earlier, but I wasn't doing any laps in this pool because it was the deep end was only four feet. And between me, my friends Ashley and Arnold who lived in the building, and our leasing agent Theresa, there wasn't room anyway. Theresa must have had a lot of patience, because we were usually her only company in the pool on a summer afternoon, and I had a lot of questions about our home. How many apartments were there? When was it built? Was there really an ice skating rink where the courtyard is now? (The answers: 897; 1967; and no.)

I was nine. My world consisted of Georgian Towers and Woodside Park across the street. Twelve years after we moved out, my mental map of Georgian Towers is fixed. Mr. Ali in the lobby who remembered your name. The parking attendant in the garage, a savant who didn't look you in the eye but could remember where your car was when it had been double-and-triple parked in the unreserved spaces. The carpet in the hallways, this psychedelic swirling pattern of gold and plant matter. When they were replaced in the first round of "renovations" circa 1997, they stained because the building still had water leaks. You knew when you'd gotten off on the wrong floor because the spots were different.

Fires happened frequently enough, maybe three or four times a year, that we'd all been desensitized by the possibility of death in a building that didn't meet modern fire codes. This is when you met your neighbors: in the one fire escape for each building, my mother carrying me because it was so crowded, down fourteen flights to the street. We wait right outside the lobby door in the forecourt facing Georgia Avenue and cheer the firefighters when they rush in. In seven years I think one person died from a fire. It was exactly seven floors below my bedroom, and for months afterward, the window was boarded up.

Downtown Silver Spring was nowhere you wanted to be back then, and the only reason my mother had moved us there in '91 was because it was "quiet," she said. Going out meant taking the Beltway to Montgomery Mall for Gifford's Ice Cream, or to Rockville Pike for Saturday night dinners at Fuddruckers. Talk of "revitalization" consisted of newspaper clippings on the wall of the Tastee Diner, and I'd look at the pretty renderings and feel impatient.

When I saw a picture of the proposed American Dream Mall on the front page of the Gazette, I was entranced. A waterpark three blocks from our apartment? Awesome! I sent a petition around my third-grade class at Woodlin Elementary thinking that could get it built. I didn't get any signatures; maybe eight-year-olds just aren't into civic activism, but their parents were, and at the time they'd successfully managed to have that proposal killed. I can't say it was a bad thing.

But living in a neighborhood where half the buildings are abandoned was still pretty exciting at that age. Some you could tell what they had been in a previous life, but I spent a lot of time wondering what had gone on behind their now-broken windows. This is how I learned to tell stories, by projecting them onto things that couldn't tell them for me: empty office towers, people I saw in the street from a fourteenth-floor window. Downtown Silver Spring was a secret, it seemed, kept by me and the kids I knew who lived in the other apartment buildings. (Our bus went to Georgian Towers and Twin Towers, picking up twenty kids at each stop, and it was full.)

When I transferred to a gifted-and-talented program in Rockville, I had to explain to my teachers that "Downtown" did not mean "Downtown D.C.," but either way they looked at me like I'd just flown in from Mars. One of my classmates lived in East Rockville (a neighborhood struggling with its own image problems, I'd learn later while working there) and constantly ragged on me for being from Silver Spring. He didn't come from a world of math tutors and swim clubs like our peers from Bethesda and Potomac, but he knew how the MoCo pecking order worked, and Silver Spring was on the bottom.

I learned a lot from that. It's hard to say you're from the wrong side of the tracks in the sixth-wealthiest county in the nation, but I carried a chip on my shoulder nonetheless. Which I don't really have a problem with because, after all, it's the reason why I started this blog.

More pictures!


Cyndy said...

Aww you were such a cutie! Thanks for writing this piece. I love history in general, but it's especially meaningful to hear stories from people who lived in the same general area but in different eras. My mother grew up on Silver Spring Avenue right around the corner from the fire house. She used to talk about skipping school (Blair)sometimes to go down to the swimming hole.

Anonymous said...

Why is there no upkeep for the fountain at Woodside Park? It look so pathetic being left empty. Maybe it's to deter the homeless that lurk in the park from having a pool party.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

What a handsome young man you were! We used to call that kind of smile "cheezing".

WashingtonGardener said...

Yes, there needs to be a law about maintaining public fountains in working order - if you install it, keep it flowing.

Dr. F. said...

I lived in Georgian Towers from 1981-91. The thing I liked best was that you could go up to the 15th floor (top) elevator landing in the C-D bldg. and on a clear day you could see the Blue Ridge mountains (and some very pretty sunsets).

I also used to dig going to the High's dairy store on the ground floor for the Butter Brickle ice cream, both late and lamented.