Thursday, February 11, 2010

shouldn't we preserve the future, too?

"Whenever there is a project plan that involves a historic property, designated or not, we will testify against the project," Mary Reardon, Silver Spring Historical Society
It's not surprising that an organization devoted to preserving the history of Downtown Silver Spring would fight to save historic landmarks - especially, in the case of Falkland Chase, a New Deal-era apartment complex dedicated by Eleanor Roosevelt. But is it really in the community's best interest to oppose any possible change?

Residents and historians have fought to save the garden apartments at East-West Highway and 16th Street from the wrecking ball for nearly thirty years. But a few of the garden-style buildings were still torn down in the 1990's to build Lenox Park, a high-rise complex at East-West Highway and Colesville Road.

Garden apartments and townhomes in Falkland North today. Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr using a Creative Commons license.

Four years ago, Falkland owner Home Properties first proposed redeveloping another portion of the complex on the north side of East-West Highway. The drawings they released in 2008 showed a gigantic tower-in-the-park that was totally inappropriate for what should be a pedestrian-oriented urban neighborhood, and at the time, I said that preserving the entire complex was better than letting anything like that happen.

Now, they've come back with a much better design. We don't have any images from the developer, but chances are it'll look like this drawing created by Planning Department staff in 2008. One large fifteen-story tower has been replaced by several, shorter buildings, though there would still be about 1,000 new homes.

falkland chase tower
The 2008 proposal for Falkland North. Image courtesy of Home Properties.

Along East-West and 16th Street, apartments and shops (including the much-coveted Harris Teeter supermarket) will cozy up to the sidewalk, creating an active streetscape and giving people in the complex and in surrounding neighborhoods something worth walking to. Inside the site, a new network of internal streets will distribute foot and car traffic and frame small, private parks.

The new Falkland North, as the project's called, will be a neighborhood, not just an apartment complex. This redevelopment will allow us to preserve the rest of the original buildings - some 270 apartments and townhomes. And they'll be joined by an addition that truly respects the historic context while providing additional housing and amenities for the community at large.

Falkland Chase Massing Diagram
The Planning Department's 2008 concept for Falkland North, similar to what's being proposed now.

History is relative. Georgia Avenue is still lined with buildings that look much as they did almost a century ago. Architect Louis Justement, who designed Falkland Chase, would've been pretty disappointed by that, consider that he thought Downtown Silver Spring was already blighted in the 1930's. Not long ago, the 1958 Perpetual Building at Georgia Avenue and Cameron Street was brand-new, but now it's embroiled in a preservation battle of its own.

The Historical Society's job is to remember our past and craft the narrative of Silver Spring through preservation. They should be informing us about the historical significance of Falkland Chase. But it's irresponsible of them to try and prevent future history from occurring. Who knows? Maybe we should bring in Michelle Obama to dedicate the new Falkland North and make sure it doesn't get torn down in 2060.


Melanie said...

This would be a huge win for Silver Spring. Anything to prevent the Ballstonisation of downtown is terrific. I think you're being a little hard on the preservationists. While this is a great project, the part of Georgia Avenue you're refering to is slowly being eroded, and as the last somewhat whole vestige of old Silver Spring, it should be saved. That being said, preservationists ought to concentrate on saving buildings BEFORE they are slated to be demolished. When they go for buildings already in the works like the Baptist Church at the corner of Wayne and Fenton, it seems they just gummy up the works and loose credibility.

Silver Spring: Then and Again said...

The mission of the Silver Spring Historical Society is
to create and promote awareness and appreciation of Silver Spring's heritage through sponsorship of educational activities and the preservation and protection of historical sites, structures, artifacts and archives.

Melanie said...

If you are actively pursuing historic status for buildings, I'm all for it, but I only seem to hear from you all when a building is slated to be replaced. In other words, when it's too late. I'm not faulting your group for not saving buildings, I know how weak the laws are, but I would love to see an active campaign to save what's left. I've even contacted your group expressing my sincere interest, but have never gotten a response. Go figure.