Friday, February 26, 2010

what's up the pike: busy weekend, huh?

Blake Jazz Band Close Up
- The East County jazz scene generally begins with Blake High School's swing band (pictured) and ends with the Olney Big Band. Now there's a new entry: Swingtopia, an eight-piece outfit led by Doug Elliott and featuring our very own Cyndy, who writes the blog Photocynthesis, on the bass. They'll be making their first appearance at Greek Village, a restaurant in Colesville best known for the deer that crashed through their window last year.

"If we get a good crowd on Monday it might become a regular thing," writes Cyndy. "They have a dance floor and the food is excellent." Check them out at 8pm Monday at the restaurant, located at New Hampshire Avenue and Randolph Road.

- If you missed the Haiti benefit concert at Jackie's last week, you've still got plenty of opportunities to help out. (No, seriously. There are so many ways, there isn't an excuse not to.) Local youth group Mixed Unity is raising money with a bake sale on Ellsworth tomorrow from 2 to 6pm. Proceeds are going to the Caribbean Help Center, a Silver Spring-based charity that works with the local Haitian community. For more info, shoot an email to mxdunity at gmail dot com.

- If you haven't already, check out Kensington Arts Theatre's production of Rent, running through March 7. Local blog Just Up The Pike calls it "inspiring" and " an onslaught of take-no-prisoners optimism and reckless angst." Check it out at 8pm tonight inside the Kensington Town Hall, 3710 Mitchell Street. For more info, check out KAT's website.

- Meanwhile, the Forum Theatre troupe kicks off their latest production, Amazons and Their Men, a play "loosely based" on the life of German propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. The show's on tonight at 8pm and runs through March 20 at the Round House Theatre on Colesville Road. You can purchase tickets online or visit the box office at Round House's branches in Silver Spring or Bethesda.

- Celebrate the deliverance of the Jewish people from Persia at a Purim Festival this Sunday from 1:45 to 3:30pm on Ellsworth Drive between Fenton and Georgia. Hosted by the Ohev Sholom synagogue in Shepherd Park, the festival will include live music, a magic show, pony rides, and free hamentashen.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

kensington arts theatre takes a stab at rent, and succeeds

Say what you will about the musical Rent. It's melodramatic and sappy; it's quickly showing its age as a product of the '90's; and its glamorization of the bohemian lifestyle isn't funny to anyone who consciously steers clear of the "hipster bars" where PBR might be served.

But I can't deny that I felt moved after watching Kensington Arts Theatre's production of the rock opera, directed by Craig Pettinati and now entering the second week of a run that ends March 7. It's especially nice to see it in such a charming, intimate space stocked with young, talented actors and only a few minutes away from home.

The cast of Kensington Arts Theatre's Rent. Photo by Ernie Achenbach.

Written by Jonathan Larson and based on Puccini's opera La Boheme, Rent follows a group of friends and artists struggling to survive in New York at the height of the AIDS epidemic. We see the characters' lives over the course of a year through the lens of filmmaker Mark (Greg Meyer), who like many jaded Montgomery youth rejects the trappings of his comfy suburban upbringing to scrape by in the big city.

He's joined by roommate and songwriter Roger (Andrew Kurland), who struggles to admit his love for dancer Mimi (Amy Baughman); Maureen (Autumn Seavey), Mark's ex-girlfriend who's now seeing (and perpetually bickering with) a woman of her own, Joanne (Tina Ghandchilar); Benny (Darius Epps), their former friend who "sold out" and became a yuppie. The group coalesces around professor Tom Collins (Montario Hill) whose lover, drag queen Angel (Jase Parker, in what he calls his "dream role") brings them all together with her generosity and unconditional love.

If you've already seen the movie or stage versions of Rent, you won't be disappointed by KAT's rendition of standards like "Tango Maureen", "La Vie Boheme", or "Seasons of Love." There are a few standout singers among the cast, among them Autumn Seavey, belting her lines as performance artist Maureen. Andrew Kurland has a deep, choral voice that doesn't always fit the image of the brooding guitarist Roger, but is still a delight to hear.

A simple but clever set, coupled with the auditorium of a town hall, give KAT's Rent an intimate feel. Photo by Ernie Achenbach.

The cast is well supported by a sizable ensemble, whose members each play multiple roles - from street people to members of an AIDS support group to a hilarious chorus of the main characters' parents leaving an answering-machine message - throughout the musical or even within the same scene. You won't hear much of ensemble member Felicia Akunwafor alone, but after hearing her spectacularly powerful pipes, we hope she'll land a leading role in future KAT productions.

The performance space - inside the auditorium of Kensington's century-old town hall - is surprisingly cozy, with seating for about a hundred people. Its tall windows and creaky hardwood floors, coupled with a very simple but clever set design, easily put you inside Mark and Roger's converted warehouse loft. It's not surprising that Kensington Arts Theatre has used this hall for all of its productions over the past eight years.

What held the show back, however, was the sound mixing. At several points, the actors' voices were overpowered by the excellent backing band. Those unfamiliar with Rent might be a little frustrated to miss funny lines or major plot points, but it's an issue that hopefully can be resolved in time for the next performance.

Of course, Rent deals with some very adult topics, including sex, violence, and drug use, not to mention a fair amount of swearing and a naked bottom. In other words, bring your teenagers. They're best prepared for the onslaught of take-no-prisoners optimism and reckless angst that Rent's represented for fifteen years. Hopefully, they'll come out of this production inspired, if not by the musical itself, than by a talented community of artists not much older than they are.

Rent runs on Thursday-Sunday through March 7 at the Kensington Town Hall, 3710 Mitchell Street. A special thanks goes to Kensington Arts Theatre, who not only provided us with free tickets to see Rent, but deftly and graciously handled a box-office mixup. For more information and to buy tickets, visit their website at Also check out this review from What's Up Wheaton?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

another afternoon on ellsworth

It was nice to spend an afternoon in Downtown Silver Spring last weekend walking around and clearing my head right before sunset, when the light's nice for taking moody photos.

No Speed Bumps

What's missing here? If you said "speed bumps," you're right on. They were installed on Ellsworth Drive in 2007 for the obvious reason of traffic calming, despite the fact that Ellsworth today has a high volume of pedestrians that already should force attentive drivers to slow down. And, of course, it's usually closed to cars altogether on the weekends, though I didn't see anyone get mowed down when the street was left open last November.

It's likely that they were dinged up during snow plowing and will return soon, which is disappointing - there are already better ways to slow cars down on a street like this.

Skater Kids on Ellsworth, Feb. 2010 (1)

Kids are skating on Ellsworth Drive again! What does this mean? A return of the skater mob? A standoff between skaters and security guards? Or will adults inexplicably exasperated by the presence of skinny-jean-wearing-teenagers finally join the push for a downtown skatepark?

Civic Building, Feb. 2010

Progress on the Silver Spring Civic Building at Ellsworth and Fenton continues to press along. You can see the frame of the canopy over the new ice rink is almost completed, though we have yet to see the new Veterans' Plaza take form. It should all be done this summer.

M & T Bank Square

And over on Colesville Road, the block of shops between Georgia and Ramsey - recently renovated after a devastating fire four years ago - has been rechristened "M & T Bank Square," after the Baltimore-based bank on the corner. It was built in the 1920's as the Hale Building and renamed "Hale Center in marketing materials from the leasing agency.

Last year, Richard Layman from Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space complained that the renovation used "metal googaw things" to "update" the building. They are a little tacky - they tend to cover up the second-story windows and don't serve any purpose at all - but I hate to say they're beginning to grow on me. At the very least, it's nice to have the building occupied again. I still have yet to try Flippin' Pizza, though.

what's up the pike: the bag is pink

Crossing Georgia at Colesville
- Tonight, talk to county planners about the future of Long Branch at a community meeting for the Long Branch Sector Plan, which will lay out a vision for the neighborhood when the Purple Line opens there at the end of the decade. The meeting starts at 7pm at the Long Branch Library, 8800 Garland Avenue at Arliss Street.

- Meanwhile, the Forum Theatre troupe kicks off their latest production Amazons and Their Men, a play "loosely based" on the life of German propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. The show opens this Thursday and Friday at 8pm and will run through March 20 at the Round House Theatre on Colesville Road. Tickets will go on sale an hour before the show starts.

- If you like to write, don't forget to enter Bethesda Magazine's short story contest, open to residents of Montgomery County and parts of Northwest DC (of course, only the zip codes that border Bethesda. Guess Shepherd Park and Takoma aren't literary enough.) Winners will receive $500 ($250 for their "high school" category), a gift certificate to the Writer's Center, and of course get published in Bethesda Magazine. Submissions for both the adult and high school categories are due this Friday.

- Celebrate the deliverance of the Jewish people from Persia at a Purim Festival this Sunday in Downtown Silver Spring. Hosted by the Ohev Sholom synagogue in Shepherd Park, the festival will include live music, a magic show, pony rides, and free hamentashen. (Mmm, triangle-shaped cookies.) The festival is from 1:45 to 3:30pm on Ellsworth Drive between Fenton and Georgia.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

how to be a good neighbor at silver spring park (updated)

Last night, Eric from Thayer Avenue once again live-tweeted the proceedings at East Silver Spring Civic Association's monthly meeting, at which local landowner Ulysses Glee discussed his plans for a mixed-use complex he'd like to build on the parking lot at Fenton Street and Silver Spring Avenue in Fenton Village. Those who don't nearby may know the lot as the site of Fenton Street Market, intended keep the seat warm until ground is broken later this next spring.

Photos of the proposal courtesy of Thayer Avenue.

Glee has talked about building on this site for a few years now, and his latest proposal - renamed Silver Spring Park after the surrounding neighborhood's historical name - looks pretty good. It'll also help contribute to the appearance and vitality of Fenton Village, which Planning Department staff wrote about just today on their Straight Line blog. The design could use a little tweaking, however, to relate better to the neighborhood and its future tenants.

Until last summer, the development was known as the Moda Vista, a condominium with retail on the first floor and a swanky modern façade the likes of which we haven't seen much of in Silver Spring. Downtown has quite a few modern buildings, but very few good ones.

A 2007 rendering of the Moda Vista. Image courtesy of DC Metrocentric.

The Moda Vista promised to activate busy Fenton Street's sidewalks with storefronts, while on Silver Spring Avenue, it stepped back to line up with the yards of adjacent houses and provide residents a little green space. It was a clever, versatile design, and one I looked forward to seeing.

Now, the program is much larger than before: fifty-eight apartments, seven of which would be subsidized by the County; 9,200 square feet of retail along Fenton Street; 22,000 square feet of office space; and a 110-room Fairfield Marriott hotel. This is a good thing, especially in a location just blocks from a major transit center, but it's now more difficult to make everything work together and with the neighborhood context.

All we have is a cell-phone photo of a printed flyer from the meeting, but you can begin to see what the complex's exterior will look like. There are now two buildings instead of one - the apartments are along Silver Spring Avenue, and the hotel on Fenton Street. It'll create a more varied and interesting streetscape, but it's also a thoughtful move for the adjacent single-family homes, which will be buffered from the busier street by the apartments, which in turn is buffered by the hotel.

I Like The Facade of 8525 Georgia

Count the vertical lines on the building above, located at Georgia and Wayne avenues. You need visual interest for buildings on the street where people will walk past - and if there's retail inside, you want them to walk as slowly as possible. Silver Spring Park's hotel and retail building, meanwhile, is awkwardly proportioned. Urban buildings, even modern ones, look and work better with vertical windows, not horizontal or square ones. The hotel façade looks flat and unadorned - better seen from a car flying down the highway.

Around the corner on Silver Spring, the apartment building doesn't meet the ground or the adjacent houses as well as the Moda Vista would have. Setting it back may no longer be feasible with a hotel sharing the property. But the ground floor should be elevated - not only because the building otherwise looks like it's sinking into the ground, but because people walking by now get a full view of first-floor apartments.

Montgomery Arms Apartments, Colesville at Fenton

This is the Montgomery Arms at Colesville and Fenton. Note how none of the apartments are directly at the sidewalk level - they're either a half-story above or below. No one can look inside without bending down or climbing up. At Silver Spring Park, you only have to look at the houses next door to see how living rooms should meet the sidewalk: either set back or elevated, giving those inside privacy from prying eyes.

You might say knocking Silver Spring Park's square windows is a little petty, but I can only criticize them because otherwise it's a great project in a great location. In fact, this is a better proposal than much of what we've seen in Downtown Silver Spring over the past several years. But changes should be made to let this complex blend in better with the urban context. Not only will it be a better neighbor, but it'll give those who sleep, work and shop inside a better experience.

Update: Reader Melanie, who attended the meeting last night, suggests that the apartment building may give residents a little more privacy after all. "It might not be clear from the photos, but the apartment building is set back by more than 50' and raised off the sidewalk level, so I don't think you'll be able to peep. Also, the new design is much more succesfull from an urban point of view by meeting the corner rather than creating yet another usless pocket park." Thanks, Melanie!

concert at jackie's benefits haiti charity

Last weekend, Jackie's Restaurant hosted an acoustic concert benefitting a hospital in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. About eighty people turned up to see a number of local musicians and support the International Medical Alliance, currently providing health care on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As always, local photographer and friend of JUTP Chip Py was there to capture the event for posterity.

Claudia Neuman, lead singer of Sister Ex. Photo by Chip Py.

Appearing at the event were over half a dozen local artists, including Silver Spring's own self-described "hook, glam, and dash of punk" Seven Door Sedan, garage band Beatnik Flies, and punk throwbacks Sister Ex, whose lead singer Claudia Neuman picked the charity the money would go to.

"Glenn Kowalski of Seven Door Sedan contacted me about six weeks ago wanting to do a benefit with lots of musician friends he (and I) knew wanting to sign on," wrote owner Jackie Greenbaum in an e-mail to JUTP. Greenbaum, who co-owns Jackie's with Patrick Higgins, donated their back room for the effort. Between bar sales, donations made at the door, and matching donations, the event raised over $3,500.

Joe Dolan of the Beatnik Flies. Photo by Chip Py.

Most impressive, however, was the outpouring of support from the bands. "There is a very cool community of artists and musicians in the D.C. metro area, and Silver Spring in particular, who are activists and have really big hearts," she writes. "Anytime they want my help, I'm happy to support 'em."

Greenbaum hopes that more people are aware of the restaurant's frequent community events. "Jackie's does stuff like this all the time," says Greenbaum, noting the art installations, concerts, and other charity events they've hosted in the past.

Monday, February 22, 2010

what's up the pike: name your own title

Unplowed Lane, Montgomery Chase, Aspen Hill
- People get snippy when others park in the spaces they've painstakingly shoveled out. Here's a list of passive-aggressive notes left on offending cars in Silver Spring and other places still waiting for the snow to melt.

- A new bakery and community space is opening up in the former Savory Cafe in Takoma Park, says the City Paper. Capital City Cheesecake, currently based out of Brookland, D.C., plans to serve cheesecake (duh), in addition to coffee, pastries and cupcakes (surprise!). While couches and wifi will be available upstairs for laptop campers, the basement will be given over to private parties and an open kitchen where customers can see the chefs at work. They're set to open on April 3, which loyal readers should remember is my birthday.

- Georgian Confidential wastes no time skewering their new building manager, this time over a mishap in the mail room. "Our problem with this whole situation is that you continue to charge upscale prices but provide the usual ghetto service we are accustomed to in the greater D.C. area, and especially in the Peoples Republic of Montgomery County," writes the author.

- Silver Spring, Singular finally visits Velatis, the new candy store at Georgia and Wayne. I haven't been there either. But there are photos of all of the awesome chocolates though none, unfortunately, of Velatis' famous fudge.

- Montgomery County planners have started a new blog, The Straight Line, talking about great examples of community design here and all over the world. Since the first post in January, they've written about roadside food trucks in Bethesda, an awesome but little-known water feature in Silver Spring, and even the recent closing of Broadway to car traffic in Manhattan. It's great to see people in the design field actually talking about good design and making it more accessible to the general public, and I can't wait to see what they'll write next.

Friday, February 19, 2010

fillmore's first show could be next september

The Lee Development Group told the Gazette they'll open the Fillmore, a new music club at Colesville and Georgia, by next September, knock on wood. (Tap tap.) That's only if they can get plans for the project approved by the Planning Board this summer and break ground this October. Eventually, the Fillmore will be the anchor of a larger hotel-and-office complex that'll go up on the parking lots behind Colesville Road.

The Fillmore, September 2007
The J.C. Penney building, soon to become the Fillmore, as it looked in 2007.

As you probably know, the Fillmore will occupy a former J.C. Penney department store that closed in the 1980's. A new (albeit very small) graphic from the Gazette shows how Lee Development Group plans to incorporate the historic façade into the new venue - including turning the three vertical grilles on the right side of the building into "equalizer bars," as I suggested way back in 2007.

International concert promoter Live Nation was given rights to operate the 2000-seat venue in 2007, stoking the ire of local promoter Seth Hurwitz, who runs the 9:30 Club in D.C. and briefly bid to run the Fillmore himself. We know that Hurwitz' I.M.P. Productions has thought about opening a club in Downtown Silver Spring since 2000, going so far as to look at various (and at the time abandoned) buildings in the central business district.

Might they be interested in a former warehouse-turned-coffeehouse that seems unusually well-suited to be a concert hall? After all, no one says you can only have ONE club in a given place.

what's up the pike: chocolate slushie

No Sidewalks, Georgia at University

- Are you anxious for some Vancouver Olympics action? You should go curling at the National Capital Curling Center, located Just Up The Pike in West Laurel. As a generally unathletic person, I found this sport - in which you sweep ice to guide a large stone - not only easy to learn but quite engrossing as well. The NCCC is having an open house tomorrow from 9am to 8pm, but you might want to sign up for a time slot, because they're "expecting large crowds."

- Don't forget: Kensington Arts Theatre's production of the musical Rent opens tonight! There are not one but two graduates from my alma mater, including my old friend Mayumi Baker, who's in the ensemble. The show starts at 8pm Friday at the Kensington Town Hall, 3710 Mitchell Street; there will be eleven performances between then and March 7. For more info, check out KAT's website.

- East County transit riders could see some commuting relief soon now that a $58 million package of bus service improvements was selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation for TIGER grants, part of President Obama's stimulus plan. Locally affected corridors include Veirs Mill Road and University Boulevard between College Park, Wheaton and Rockville, and 16th Street and Georgia Avenue between Downtown Silver Spring and D.C.

The improvements, outlined in some detail on awesome blog The Transport Politic, would include building dedicated transitways or jump lanes so buses don't get caught in traffic, and rigging stoplights to stay green when buses go through an intersection, also known as "signal priority." Having seen these features in action when I rode Los Angeles' spectacular Metro Rapid system (at right) last year, I know it'll be a huge improvement for local bus riders.

- Speaking of design, Metro's approved designs for a new mural in the underpass beneath the Takoma Metro station. That's all good and well, but do they know when the Penguin Mural at the Silver Spring Metro, taken down for restoration nearly six years ago, is coming back?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

and so it's come to this

Video Movie Liquidators Is Closing
The recession hasn't been kind to Downtown Wheaton, a place that already had a few issues to begin with. In the past eighteen months, we've lost a coffee house, a movie theatre and bar and even the local gay nightclub, not to mention a slew of stores inside Wheaton Plaza.

Finally, the economic downturn's come to a place that many thought was impervious: the local video shop with a selection of adult titles. Video Movie Liquidators (don't worry, the link is safe for work), a chain of rental stores with ten branches in Greater Washington, will close their location at Georgia Avenue and University Boulevard right in the center of Wheaton March 26th.

Video Movie Liquidators Is Closing (1)
(Video Movie Liquidators doesn't just sell adult videos, though it's easily confused with Video Liquidator Plus, whose two stores in Prince George's and Charles counties do specialize in porn and sex toys. One wonders if the Silver Spring-based Maryland Coalition Against Pornography had anything to do with Video Movie Liquidators' closing.)

Of course, this isn't the first movie-rental place in East County to close recently. It joins a Blockbuster Video in Burtonsville and Hollywood Video locations in Colesville, Wheaton, and Downtown Silver Spring. As we discovered last month, Wheaton's been renting their copies of Twilight from Netflix.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

what's up the pike: that is the loneliest table ever

Survey Table, City Place Food Court
- Lydia at Snoburbia writes about how affluent families in MoCo refuse to shop at Wheaton Plaza due to fears of crime. "Even with its Macy's, Hollister, American Eagle, PacSun, DSW, and other snoburb-friendly fare . . . Wheaton Plaza is ten minutes away, has great stores, and has a better selection of sale merchandise than Montgomery Mall (Bethesda) or Tyson's Corner (McLean), the malls of choice for Montgomery County snoburban teens."

- The Post makes a visit to Long Branch, the neighborhood east of East Silver Spring best known (in my opinion) for pupusa trucks and the lovely but shuttered Flower Theatre. Says a proud 38-year resident: "We, like many of our neighbors, have opted not to move to Bethesda, or White Oak, or any of the other places where houses are bigger, because there's just such a spirit of community here."

- Cavan Wilk at Greater Greater Washington speaks with Eddie Velasquez and tries to find out why DeJaBel Cafe in Wheaton abruptly closed two weeks ago. Cavan suggests that, not unlike the now-shuttered Mayorga Coffee Roasters in Downtown Silver Spring, DeJaBel was brought down by a lack of foot traffic in the neighborhood.

- Tonight, Jews United for Justice hosts an "education forum" about the Purple Line and its potential effects on the Langley Park area. Cheryl Cort from the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Langley Park residents will be there to talk about the neighborhood today and in the future. The meeting starts at 6:45pm at the Silver Spring Library, 8901 Colesville Road. For more info and to RSVP, visit JUFJ's website.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

daily snapshot: in the future . . .

AFI Silver Marquee

There are no more spaces between words. Have to save time. Have to save money. Movies are just continuous dialogue spliced with sex scenes and explosions. Twitter becomes the only website Anyone. Ever. Uses.

(As I waited for the letters to scroll across the marquee, I wondered if I should take a photo when it says "Facebook" or "Twitter" and joke that they made social media into a movie, but that's already happened.

This is, of course, the AFI Silver Theatre in Downtown Silver Spring, for those of y'all who still don't go downtown for whatever reason.

residents propose naming new bridge after stuart rochester

East County residents are petitioning the State Highway Administration to name an overpass crossing the soon-to-be-completed InterCounty Connector after local civic activist Stuart Rochester, who passed away last summer. C. Patrick Zilliacus of Fairland, who with Rochester helped guide the drafting of the 1997 Fairland Master Plan, sent this letter to the SHA explaining why the bridge on Old Columbia Pike should be dedicated to him.

Driving Over The New Old Columbia Pike Bridge
The bridge carrying Old Columbia Pike over the InterCounty Connector in December.

The letter follows:

Dear Mr. Beam:

I am a longtime resident of the Fairland Master Plan Area of eastern Montgomery County.

In late July 2009, Fairland lost a good friend and tireless advocate for our community, Dr. Stuart I. Rochester, who died after a long battle with melanoma.

Dr. Rochester was the chair of the Fairland Master Plan Citizens Advisory Committee (“Fairland CAC”) to the Montgomery County Planning Board of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission from the mid-1990's, and frequently insisted that Montgomery County’s planners and government generally at the county, state and federal level adhere to adopted planning documents. This included the alignment of long-discussed Maryland Route 200, the InterCounty Connector (“ICC”).

I had the privilege of serving with Dr. Rochester since 1993 on planning matters affecting Fairland as an at-large member of the Fairland CAC. I request that the Maryland Department of Transportation consider naming the recently-completed bridge that carries Old Columbia Pike over the ICC in honor and memory of Dr. Rochester with appropriate signage.

I believe this is entirely appropriate, given his unending advocacy for the ICC staying on its master-planned route, and his vigorous opposition to the so-called “Northern” alignment, which was never shown on any master plan document in Montgomery County or Prince George’s County. There is compelling symbolism to naming this particular bridge in his honor, given that the eastern bound of the most controversial segment of the ICC, across the Paint Branch watershed, is near Old Columbia Pike.

I have discussed this with several members of the Montgomery County Council, and the District 14 delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, and they have informally indicated their support for this suggestion.

In discussing this idea with several persons, I was informed that you are the MDOT staff person to whom such matters should be directed. Thank you for your prompt consideration of this suggestion.


C. Patrick Zilliacus

Monday, February 15, 2010

shovel brigade clears out sidewalks, bus stops in downtown silver spring (updated)

While some people look forward to getting their street plowed after weeks of heavy snowfall, those who walk or use public transit to get around have a whole new problem: snowplows often push the snow into the sidewalk, leaving piles of hardened, icy snow several feet high. No doubt you've seen people walking along the sides of major local roads - in my daily commute to work, it's along Randolph Road - as speeding cars swerve around them.

That's why last week Greater Greater Washington issued a call for volunteers to shovel out sidewalks and bus stops across the region. While dozens of people fanned out across the District, Maryland and Virginia yesterday, a smaller band of Good Samaritans descended on Downtown Silver Spring to give pedestrians an easier time.

All of the photos were taken by Hans Riemer, Kathy Jentz and Tina Slater. To see more, check out this photo album.

People walk in the street along Sligo Avenue, where the sidewalks are buried under several feet of snow.

Tina Slater of Sligo Park Hills and Kathy Jentz of East Silver Spring survey a buried bus stop at Fenton and Bonifant streets.

Hans Riemer of East Silver Spring clears a bus stop at Fenton Street and Thayer Avenue.

A woman waits for a bus at the newly cleared stop.

what's up the pike: real friends pose for your photos (updated)

Abi And Tony Pretend To Walk For Me

- Everyone's favorite regional blog that I write for sometimes, Greater Greater Washington, is celebrating its 2nd birthday TOMORROW right here in Downtown Silver Spring. Get ready for some serious transit-and-planning geekiness (in a good way!) with GGW readers and contributors. The party starts at 6:30pm on the second floor of McGinty's at Ellsworth and Fenton.

- On Wednesday, Jews United for Justice is hosting an "education forum" about the Purple Line and its potential effects on the Langley Park area. (After being unceremoniously booted out of Woodlands last weekend, I wonder what the Purple Line's effects on that restaurant will be.)

Cheryl Cort from the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Langley Park residents will be there to talk about the neighborhood today and in the future. The meeting starts at 6:45pm at the Silver Spring Library, 8901 Colesville Road. For more info and to RSVP, visit JUFJ's website.

- Kensington Arts Theatre's production of the musical Rent opens this Friday. There are not one but two graduates from my alma mater, including my old friend Mayumi Baker, who's in the ensemble. Opening night is 8pm Friday at the Kensington Town Hall, 3710 Mitchell Street; there will be eleven performances between then and March 7. For more info, check out KAT's website.

- The new Wendy's in Colesville should start construction soon. A little sign announcing "Wendy's Coming Soon" appeared at the intersection of Randolph Road and Vital Way (near New Hampshire) where a new branch of the fast-food chain was approved last January. Kinda waiting for classier eats Up The Pike, but this'll have to do for now.

Friday, February 12, 2010

what's up the pike: living room, dining room

Civic Building, Feb. 2010 (5)

Well, it looks like we're cleaning up after Unusually Large Snowstorm just in time for the weekend. Not only are the federal government and county government open today, but the Red Line is running, as are some or all of the J, Q, S and Z Metrobus lines through Downtown Silver Spring and parts of East County. We're not even going to have snow for a few days! Awesome!


- Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, calls the new Civic Building, set to open July 1, "our community’s living room and patio." Read his whole description. We haven't gotten this poetic about public buildings in decades. I do wish my living room had an ice rink, though.

- The Gazette reviews Negril, a Jamaican restaurant in Silver Spring. Hooray for Caribbean food! If you're really jonesin' for it, though, I'd venture to Takoma Park for the Caribbean Market. Ethnic food guru Tyler Cowen recommends Caribbean Palace on New Hampshire Avenue, which means it is probably more authentic than what my mother ate growing up in Guyana.

- Montgomery College could open a satellite campus at the soon-to-be-former Giant in the Burtonsville Crossing shopping center. The supermarket will move across the street to Burtonsville Town Square and can dictate what stores can replace it. Another potential site is at the East County Center for Science and Technology planned for Calverton.

- Adam Pagnucco at Maryland Politics Watch went to Cleveland and came back raving about their HealthLine, a new bus rapid transit line connecting many of the city's major attractions. Back in 2008, JUTP featured a guest blog on the HealthLine from Cleveland native (and current District 18 delegate) Al Carr.

- Whatever happened to the Great Peruvian Taste Test? Well, three feet of snow didn't help. We'll get back on it next week.

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.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

what's up the pike: it's not snowing if you don't believe it is

Looking West Towards Bethesda (Summit Hills In Foreground)
- Prince of Petworth learns about a snow bar (snow speakeasy?) being operated by some people living in the Falkland Chase apartments at 16th Street and East-West Highway. Hey, snow bartenders, why aren't you sending your snow alcohol tips to your favorite Silver Spring blogs? Lame!

- But so long as we're talking about cross-jurisdictional blogging, SoCo Eats heads down to Shepherd Park, right across the city line, for a meal at new West African restaurant Le Cafe d'Abidjan on Georgia Avenue. "I hope you get out there and try some very traditional Ivorian (and Senegalese) fare," writes SoCoblogboy. "I'm confident you'll be glad you did."

- Provided we're not still snowed in this weekend, check out Next Stop: Silver Spring, a documentary from local filmmaker Walter Gottlieb about the B&O Railroad station, at the Our City Film Festival on Valentine's Day. Next Stop, which won the "Best Outside D.C." award, and Gottlieb's Shepherd Park: Past and Present, about the neighborhood in D.C., will both be screened.

- Another local filmmaker, White Oak resident Steven Greenstreet, premiered a documentary on California's Proposition 8 at the Sundance Film Festival last month. 8: The Mormon Proposition explores the Mormon church's successful push to pass the gay-marriage question in the fall of 2008.

- Kensington Arts Theatre does some pretty ambitious stuff for a small-town company. Last fall, it was a month of Rocky Horror Picture Show. This spring, they're back with a production of Rent, and if you don't know what that is, you live under a rock. Opening night is next Friday, February 19; the show runs from Thursday to Sunday through March 7. For more info, check out their website.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

what's up the pike: one down, one to go

Twenty-five inches of snow. Forty-eight hours without power. Average temperature in my house: fifty degrees, Fahrenheit. And now, a blog post. Are you tired of snow? I am. Let's find somewhere else that wants it and we can truck it over to them.

In the meantime, here's a delayed look at what's happening, and what's happened, in East County this week. Posting may not be on schedule this week, but we'll do the best we can:

- Here's an awesome video (set to awesome music) sent to us by commenter mg, who took time-lapse video from outside their window in the Silverton before and during the storm. Note the multiple snowball fights (as I interpret the random groupings of people that appear in the street below) that erupt during the day.

- Good Eatin' discovers a new mountain range along the recently-plowed streets of the Wheaton Triangle.

- The Huffington Post ventures out to Silver Spring, where they see
"From every vantage point, you could see students, couples and young families building forts, sledding, throwing snow, eating snow, snowboarding and playing with the neighborhood kids."
Atop what parking garage or tall building can they see all of this happening?

- Your trash will get picked up a day late this week, reports What's Up, Wheaton?

- A family of eight were rescued from a home in Burtonsville after a report of carbon monoxide poisoning. Firefighters say they brought a charcoal grill inside their house to provide heat after the power went out.

Friday, February 5, 2010

what's left of your supermarket before the storm

Here's what you'll find (or not find) at the grocery store in the event you haven't gone already:


You will not find any apples.


You will not find any biscuits.


You will not find any yakisoba.


You will not find any chicken gizzards. (I took the last one.)

Us Magazine

You will not find out what happened on The Bachelor.

But you will find more photos in this nifty slideshow.

what's up the pike: no snow dances, ever

Tyler and Eugene
Better tell their kids to wear their pajamas right-side out tonight, because I'm not interested in any of the twelve inches of snow we're supposed to get this weekend. It's February, for gosh sakes. Doesn't that usually mean rain around here? Anyway:

- DeJaBel Cafe on University Boulevard in Wheaton is closing today, or so says What's Up, Wheaton? on Twitter. The coffeeshop, also known for its empanadas and wine, had quickly become a local institution in the Wheaton CBD after opening at the end of 2008 but struggled to make ends meet. It's another casualty for Wheaton but another lost coffeeshop for the area after Mayorga Coffee Roasters in Silver Spring abruptly closed in December 2009. Unlike Mayorga, which is reopening at a smaller location in Takoma, DeJaBel won't be moving anywhere.

- Two Catholic schools in Silver Spring - St. Camillus on New Hampshire Avenue and St. Michael the Archangel on Wayne Avenue - may close or merge at the end of this school year, says the Post. They're two of five schools in the area that the Archdiocese of Washington wants to downsize in order to fill empty classrooms across the Catholic school system. (Having been turned away from St. Michael's as a kindergartner many, many years ago - I wasn't raised Catholic - I wonder if they may want to loosen their conditions for enrollment.)

- A Takoma Park graphic designer was written up in the Guardian for her blog Musings of a Fatshionista, a response to the lack of attention given to clothes for plus-size women. "When your options are seemingly limited, how do you stand out and be as fabulous as everyone else? By not being afraid to take risks," blogger Christina Lewis tells the British paper.

- Hollywood Video's closing a new round of stores, meaning that East County's remaining branch of the movie-rental chain - at Georgia Avenue and Shorefield Road in Wheaton - will soon go dark. Hollywood Video has already closed stores in Colesville and in Downtown Silver Spring.

- Next Stop: Silver Spring, a documentary from local filmmaker Walter Gottlieb about the B&O Railroad station, has won "Best Outside DC" award in the upcoming Our City Film Festival. It and Gottlieb's Shepherd Park: Past and Present, about the neighborhood in D.C., will be screened at the festival on Valentine's Day Sunday, February 14. (Nothing says love quite like a documentary film festival.)

BTW: did you know that episode six of Gottlieb's new web series The Videomakers is now online? You can watch it, and the rest of the show (which we profiled in a series last fall) by going to

Thursday, February 4, 2010

we hold these truths to be self-evident

1) That Mayorga Coffee Roasters was a community institution, providing caffeine, comfy chairs and occasionally live music to those who lived in or passed through South Silver Spring,

south silver spring in 2002
South Silver Spring, shown here in 2002, needs destinations to draw people who already go Downtown.

2) That, with several thousand square feet of space (like many buildings in South Silver Spring, it was a factory), it was an unusually large space for a coffeeshop and difficult to make profitable,

3) That it was a long walk from stuff people wanted to do and therefore had trouble attracting "accidental" customers,

4) And, with limited short-term parking, the location may be a poor fit for other retail uses as customers who arrive by car find they can't just run in and grab a cup of coffee,

5) But, despite all of these things, the strength of South Silver Spring as a community and as a destination hinges on there being something in this large, prominently located space.

Arts Alley
A club might be a good way to activate Arts Alley, which runs behind the space, on evenings and weekends.

That's why I propose that the former Mayorga Coffee Roasters become a music hall. It would have to serve food, because the liquor laws require it and there's already a kitchen, so why not. But put in a stage and maybe some seats (or maybe not, you know, I go to the seat-less 9:30 Club and it's perfectly fine) and have live music there.

You have something to activate Arts Alley, which runs behind the space, and an anchor for South Silver Spring - something to draw people to other stores in the area during the day and after dark, depending on when shows are scheduled. As a destination where people will stay for hours at a time, you don't need to worry about providing short-term parking. Not to mention that you're in a neighborhood with lots of young people living in apartments who likely will not complain about the noise.

The 930 Club!
The former Mayorga space is similar in size to local music venues like the 9:30 Club in D.C.

That's not to say that we shouldn't have the Fillmore, because it's coming anyway and it'll be an awesome asset to the area. (Michael Bolton? Yes, please!) But there's also a local music scene in Silver Spring that could use venues of its own, and this site may be able to offer one.

Punk bands live and play at houses like the Corpse Fortress in Fenton Village or Scumbag Nation in Colesville. Positive Youth Fest, an "annual celebration of Do-It-Yourself culture, music and activism," held its last festival at the Electric Maid Takoma. Nationally touring folk artists perform at the Dawson house in Glenmont.

Meanwhile, East County is home to a famous jazz guitarist who played with Bo Diddley, a folk revivalist who appeared on A Prairie Home Companion, and a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter.

These are communities that would benefit from having a nice, centrally-located performance space, larger and more versatile than a house but more accessible and intimate than the Fillmore will be. Yes, there are some considerable problems to setting one up in the former Mayorga site - namely, money. But if an investor came along with a few bills and a desire to make something out of this diamond in the rough, turning it into a music hall might be a smart way to turn a profit.

Or, at the very least, it'd be a cool thing to have in the neighborhood and a most spectacular way for said investor to spend his entire life savings.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

great peruvian taste test poll results!

And now, what you've all been waiting for: the results of the Great Peruvian Taste Test. Over the weekend, chicken-loving readers were asked to choose their three favorite pollos a la brasa from a list of fourteen restaurants in suburban Maryland. They were also allowed to select "other" and name a place not on the list.

We got 89 responses. This is by no means a scientific poll. People were allowed to vote anonymously and as many times as they want, which might explain our ridiculously lopsided results.

great peruvian taste test

Taking first place with 49 votes is the venerable El Pollo Rico in Wheaton, often considered the standard-bearer of Peruvian chicken. Coming in a distand second (with 29 votes) is Crisp and Juicy, a local chain with branches in Downtown Silver Spring, Wheaton Plaza, Leisure World, and in Rockville.

Wheaton's Pio Pio Super Chicken takes third place with 13 votes, followed by fourth-place Sabroso Grill in Downtown Silver Spring, with 11 votes. And rounding out the top five is Inka's Chicken in Silver Spring, with 9 votes.

Nine readers gave suggestions in the "other" category. Of those, we got four recommendations ofr Kenny's Peruvian Chicken in Four Corners, two for Don Pollo, which has locations in Bethesda, Rockville and Langley Park, and one for Señor Chicken, also in Langley Park.

One person named Nando's Peri-Peri, which is not only not Peruvian (it's Portuguese) but also in Adams-Morgan, meaning it's not in suburban Maryland nor eligible for the Great Peruvian Taste Test.

My favorite "other" suggestion came from a reader who gave El Pollo Rico and Sardi's Pollo a la Brasa in Beltsville (one of my personal favorites, currently tied for seventh place with The Chicken Place in Wheaton) and then said "That's it. That's the list."

View the great peruvian taste test in a larger map

Once again, here's the map of all our Great Peruvian Taste Test restaurants. We've got a really awesome list of places, many of which I've never tried before. But now it's time to separate the wheat from the chaff and compare the top FIVE rated restaurants in our poll. I'll be heading out into the vast wilds of Wheaton and surroundings to find the best pollo a la brasa.

This will probably take a couple of weeks. (Let's not mince words people: this food is unhealthy, and should be consumed in moderation.) First up: Inka's Chicken. Look out for that review on Friday.

what's up the pike: oh, this again . . .

Snow People, Colesville at Second/Wayne

- Half of the Georgian Confidential team is moving out, leaving just one upset tenant-blogger trying to right the wrongs at the recently-renovated apartment building I grew up in. "As much as I've thought this place was a mess, I'm going to miss you, my readers and fellow neighbors," writes blogger SS_Samurai in their farewell post.

- Further Up The Pike, the Howard County Council has approved an ambitious redevelopment plan for Columbia Town Center, including up to 5,500 new homes and millions of square feet of office and retail space around the Mall in Columbia. It's a plan that promises to make downtown Columbia - which is already a major selling point for many who move to East County - an even more vibrant regional destination.

Meanwhile, the State Highway Administration wants to widen Howard County's portion of The Pike from four lanes to six. I'm skeptical about whether it'll eliminate the line of "Choose Civility" bumper stickers idling on Route 29 outside my neighborhood during evening rush hour.

- Tyler Cowen, awesome food blogger who unfortunately lives in Virginia, made the trip up to Wheaton recently to review Antipuqueño Restaurant on Ennalls Avenue. "This place is a total wreck and mess when it comes to service, décor, and organization," he writes. "They also serve the best pupusas I’ve eaten in the U.S., ever." (Thanks to Good Eatin' for the heads-up.)

- Well, it's been thirty-five years since the Lyon sisters disappeared after eating lunch at Wheaton Plaza, setting off a national search that was never resolved. It's a shame that this is the only way we mark time at the mall, which was built in 1959 and turned 50 (!!!) last year. You'd think Westfield would want people to know that their mall is eligible to be a historic landmark.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

hey, check out the fenestration on the new civic building

Civic Building, Feb. 2010 (4)
The Silver Spring Civic Building has windows and doors! After years of waiting, we can finally compare the artist's renderings to an actual thing.

Civic Building, Feb. 2010 (3)
Even though I initially didn't like the design of the Civic Building at first, I'm really excited to see it completed. It's sleek but also inviting, and it'll hopefully be a stage for many great public events in the future.

Civic Building, Feb. 2010 (2)
Three months after first installing the ice rink, the canopy above is coming together. What looks like an ordinary open truss now will eventually be clad in a neat translucent . . . thing. I don't know what it is, but it'll glow at night.

Civic Building, Feb. 2010 (1)
You can see with the canopy how the rink will complete the "urban room" in front of Baja Fresh, visually enclosing the space and giving outdoor diners something to watch. (Will people eat outside at the same time of year when people are ice skating? Probably not. But the rink will double as a stage when it's warm.)

Civic Building, Feb. 2010 (6)

It's always gratifying to see a building come to fruition. We'll hopefully celebrate the opening of the Civic Building and Veterans' Plaza on July 1, just in time for summer. In the meantime, let's take a trip through the past year of construction with this slideshow.