Monday, August 17, 2009

they used to call it georgian towers (part three)

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

Kitchen, Renovated Apartment
The new Georgian Towers turns out to be everything it's cracked up to be . . . sort of. Scroll down for more photos.

In January 1998, our family moved from Georgian Towers to a rented townhouse on Randolph Road in Colesville. We had a yard for the first time and, if you ignored the headlights of passing traffic, you could just barely see the stars at night. But not long after we moved, I realized that we'd lost something as well. "I'm going to Silver Spring," my mother would say when she went downtown. "But we already live in Silver Spring," I'd reply. Six miles isn't exactly moving cross-country, but as Downtown slowly came back to life I felt more and more detached from it.

In high school I began returning to Georgian Towers. The first time, my friends and I saw a lamppost across the street that a car had crashed into. There was broken glass, parts of a fender, an entire headlight. And a used condom. I used to live here, I said. I felt it gave me street cred to kids who'd grown up in Stonegate or Cloverly and thought Downtown Silver Spring was The City. Meanwhile, a revolving door of owners and management companies passed through Georgian Towers with increasingly ambitious plans to revitalize the complex. Last year, a new ad campaign transformed it into "Georgian," an "ultra-modern" building "designed for those with discerning tastes," as the website says. That's when I decided to make an appointment and take a tour.

Walking into the leasing office, I realized my mental map had been destroyed. This used to be an eyeglass shop, I remembered, small, dark and smelling like my grandparents' house. Now there were white leather couches, plasma TVs, and fake plants. I was led upstairs, into a space that had once been a deli, where I met with a leasing agent. She had me tag along with another tour group because I wasn't going to sign a lease. They were a pair of twenty-something married couples, looking to rent a two-bedroom together because it was all they could afford.

We were shown from the office to the mailboxes, to the business center, to the "cafe" that served Starbucks coffee from a little machine; out to the courtyard which looked much as it did when I had my first snowball fight in the Blizzard of '96. On a window I noticed a familiar brown "GT" - the logo Georgian Towers had used when I was a kid, resistant to attempts at scraping it off.

She then took us to an unrenovated apartment, down a hall where the lights were out and wires stuck out from the walls. The 70's-vintage oven and range I'd grown up with were gone, but the parquet floors and baby-blue bathroom tiles were there as they'd been since the Johnson administration. It's all the same, I said to the agent, who smiled and kept walking. She kept her distance from me as we traveled upstairs to see a renovated unit.

When we reached the end of the hall, I realized we're going into our old apartment, or at least the one three floors down. Except our old apartment didn't have this ridiculous little rock-and-bamboo garden next to the door. Or a flat-screen television. Or carpet, for that matter. It'd taken them over a decade, but the transformation was finally complete: Georgian was the finest address in Silver Spring, right down to the shelf of hipster-y books over the bed in what was my parents' room. "This is not a book," read the spine of the one at the end.

The kitchens and bathrooms, though, look much as they do in the ads: sleek modern cabinets, deep shades of brown and blue, stainless-steel appliances, more frosted glass. And an island, something that definitely wouldn't have appeared in a 60's kitchen. My companions were nonplussed. We keep kosher, they told the agent, opening and closing the cabinets. We need room for two sets of dishes: one for meat, one for dairy. (I wonder if GT had a reputation for Jewish tenants: my best friend's dad, an atheist, moved there after college in the 70's and complained it was the biggest mistake he ever made because none of the women he met there would date him.)

I'd never realized how small my childhood room was. It was a strange trapezoidal shape barely seven feet wide at one end, but had plenty of room for a city of Legos, bookshelves, and a computer. The agent follows me in; she's writing on a clipboard while the two couples explore the rest of the apartment.

What's the rent for this? I ask her.

Twenty-nine ten a month, she says.

You know what the rent used to be here in 1998? I asked her. It was $955 a month.

Well, times change, she replies, and walks out.


Terry in Silver Spring said...

$2910 a month for a two bedroom? Holy guacamole. Summit Hills is a bargain. I can live without granite countertops.

chippy said...

I moved there in 1996 from Gaithersburg because it was affordable. I paid $540 utilities included for my little efficiency.

After watching county politicos eat sushi off the private parts of young models on the Georgian Towers rooftop all paid for out of the deep pockets of local developers you have to really wonder what kind of affordable housing solutions our elected officials will be able to come up with.

Robert said...

My wife and I lived in Georgian Towers apt. 713B (a one bedroom unit at a corner facing the courtyard) from 1971 to 1975. The rent for December 1972 was $208.

Dan Reed said...

Since Georgian pre-dates the MPDU program, the owners aren't required to include any affordable housing in the building. It suddenly makes a lot of sense for developers to renovate (and convert) old apartment buildings in the county when they don't have to worry about subsidized units.

Unknown said...

Sounds like u people need to stop living in the past and realize if u want to live in newly renovated apartments in a gentrifying urban area your going to pay alot same thing is going on in columbia heights, southwes waterfront, and Baltimore...... Get over it

BHZ said...

I really enjoyed reading your post. I grew up not far from Stonegate myself... One minor quibble, though:
"nonplussed" doesn't mean unimpressed (maybe what you were getting at in describing the two couples touring the apt.), nonchalant or blase; it means perplexed.

Terry in Silver Spring said...


I pay half that for a two bedroom at Summit Hills (all utilities except phone and cable included) and the management just renovated the lobby and halls. My apartment doesn't need renovation, except maybe the floor in the kitchen and that's only because I don't like the color.

Again, I don't need marble countertops and I don't need sushi served off a woman's belly.

Unknown said...

Um ok "Terry in Silver Spring"? is anyone forcing you to live in a place like the georgian. So what if it wants to remake it's image into something cooler, hipper, and YOUNGER with a sushi girl and granite counter tops in the kitchen. People are acting like they are personally offended by the georgian presenting a different image of itself. I realize some people grow sick from the thought of silver spring being as swanky or cool as bethesda, dc, and arlington but there is no need to act like they r painting swastikas on the calm down this goes especially to the writer of this blog

Dr. F. said...

I lived in Georgian Towers in the 80s, back when Silver Spring was more dump than destination.

Glad the old GT is formidable again, though I certainly couldn't afford to live there anymore. I paid $681 for my 1-bedroom.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Well-written as always.

Terry in Silver Spring said...


My point is that they are over priced for what they are, even after renovation. The sushi girl? That was young, fresh, and interesting to some a couple years ago. Now, it's just a woman laying there being paid to work as a serving dish.