Montgomery Professional Building (1960) Architect: Thomen and Cromar
911 Silver Spring Avenue, Silver Spring
The current photos in this post were taken May 21, 2014.Â Exactly 54 years earlier, the Washington Post published Thomen and Cromarâ€™s proposed scheme for 911 Silver Spring Ave.
The rendering has a strong geometric outline that was popular in the county for architectural designs in the late 1950s.Â As built, the final design has a strong vertical pylon that had become popular by 1960.Â Visual interest comes from a variety of wall surfaces of stone, concrete, and brick.Â The pylon, bearing lettering with the building name, is sheathed with thin bands of ashlar stone.
To the left of the entrance, walls are sheathed with textured panels.Â The material appears to be Tecfab panels.Â Charles Goodman designed Tecfab panels which were manufactured in Greenbelt and are found on churches, schools and commercial buildings through the region.Â For more on Tecfab panels, see my research report on the Georgia Avenue Baptist Church of Glenmont.
Extending out from the entrance, in front of the Tecfab panel facade, are low walls of concrete screen blocks that have a lively geometric pattern.
Thomen and Cromar were local architects.Â So local in fact their office was directly behind the Montgomery Professional Building. Thomen and Cromar had designed their own office building at 912 Thayer Avenue the previous year (1959).Â Other projects the firm designed include Regent House (1958) Cleveland Park; Channel House (1960) Foggy Bottom, now the George Washington University Inn; and Kenwood House (1960) Chevy Chase.
Jerry McCoy of the Silver Spring Historical Society sends us this photo with the architectâ€™s signature brick on the front faĂ§ade of this building. Â Thanks Jerry!
Robots in Silver Spring
Who knew? Silver Spring was home to a pioneering robot.Â The TransfeRobot was an early standardized, off-the-shelf programmable robot, developed in 1958 and offered for sale in 1959.Â U. S. Industries started making the robots at 949 Bonifant Ave (more on that later).Â The firm quickly outgrew that building and moved out to the new Montgomery Industrial Park.
The sleek, modern building at 12345 Columbia Pike was designed in 1960 (architect unknown) and opened for production in 1961.Â It was originally called the USI Automation Center, and was operated by the Robodyne Division of USI. This is the front faĂ§ade of the headhouse that faces Columbia Pike.
The TransfeRobot 200 could perform adaptable, repetitive tasks that made it ideal for assembly lines. This 50-lb robot sold for $2,500.Â By 1959, USI had contracts with General Electric, General Motors and Centralab.
In 1962, the company sold 100,000 of the TransfeRobot 200.Â U. S. Industries by then had 15 divisions and subsidiaries, and made a $3 million profit.
The USI Robodyne Automation Center, 12345 Columbia Pike, has louvered panels that bring light and air into graveled recessed spaces flanking the front vestibule. The building has a high level of architectural integrity.
The doors on the main entrance retain stylish modern handles.
The front foyer is lit by a glass wall looking out to an interior courtyard.
Windows are highlighted by prefabricated Tecfab type panels. The education wing of the recently designated Georgia Avenue Baptist Church has similar panels that date from 1962. The panels were developed by architect Charles Goodman.
Attached to the headhouse is the factory building that extends along Industrial Drive. The red spandrel panels here echo those found in the interior courtyard..
The Automation Center opened in 1961 at the newly established Industrial Park on Columbia Pike. The original modern sign is a testament to the mid-century origins of this complex.
This past Saturday, the Montgomery County Planning Department and the Potomac Chapter of the American Institute of Architects participated in the nationwide docomomo event by sponsoring a tour of some of Montgomery Countyâ€™s mid-century modern buildings.
The tour began at GEICO, where the soft, sweeping lines of the Victor Kling campus contrast with the rectilinear facades and composition of buildings. Across the street, The Irene apartment building displays the same rectilinear faĂ§ade patterns. The neighborhoods of Potomac Overlook and Glen Echo Heights tucked their glass-walled homes amid the natural landscape, capturing views and light.
Many tour-goers thought the highlight was a visit to the Seymour Krieger House, designed by internationally recognized architect, Marcel Breuer. Breuerâ€™s work on this house, delicately placed on its site, contrasts with his most notable buildings, the HUD headquarters in downtown Washington and the Whitney Museum in New York City.
The tour continued with lunch at the River Road Unitarian Church, designed by Keyes, Lethbrdige & Condon, a local firm that was instrumental in bring modern design to the Washington region.
Keyes, Lethbridge & Condon also designed the houses in Carderock Springs, a neighborhood listed on the National Register for its natural landscape, and unified design aesthetic.
All of the buildingsâ€”residential, commercial, and institutionalâ€”share the modernist approach to building: an emphasis on space rather than mass, balance rather than symmetry. In the Washington region, many of these post-war buildings were built in the suburbs. New open-plan homes were designed for servant-less households, filled with light, and placed in un-manicured landscapes. For businesses and institutions, modernist architecture conveyed an up-to-date attitude. They are emblematic of suburbanization in the post-war era and their siting and architectural elements influenced buildings of the time.
Itâ€™s too easy to relegate history to the distant past, but it is often the resources right around the corner that are overlooked. The Department of the Interior has wisely set up guidelines to allow buildings at least 50 years old to be considered historic. For those of us eligible for AARP membership, that can be hard to take, but donâ€™t we all want to be appreciated for our fine lines and elegant posture?
I like to revisit posts I have done. Not long ago I wrote about putting a value on historic preservation. Three recent developments bring me back to the subject. First, the Historic Preservation Commission recently approved 39 applications for the countyâ€™s historic preservation tax credits. The 39 projects represent nearly $1.5 million in private investment in historic properties in communities across the county. This is a good thing. As discussed in the previous post, money spent on historic preservation projects demonstrates a strong multiplier effect, making investments in historic rehabilitation particularly beneficial for local economics, jobs and businesses. The number of tax credit projects also bears note. The 39 projects represent perhaps a quarter, or less, of the projects that were eligible for tax credits this past year. This is a bad thing. This number is way too low. Clearly we need to be doing more to make people aware of the credits. We want to encourage more investment in our historic buildings, so both property owners and the county will benefit. Making more people aware of the tax advantages of historic preservation is one way to do this. We are trying, and we would appreciate your ideas on creative ways to reach people.
This brings me to the second development. The County recently enacted a bill increasing the county rehabilitation tax credits to 25 percent, up from 10 percent. 25 percent. This is a huge incentive, and benefit, for owners of historic properties. Howâ€™s that for encouragement? We hope that more people will take advantage of the 25 percent credit by investing in their historic properties, thereby strengthening Montgomery Countyâ€™s economy.
Against this backdrop of the economic benefits of preservation tax credits, I turn last to the extraordinarily effective federal historic preservation tax credit program, which is currently threatened by the broader debate over tax reform. Although not widely used in Montgomery County, federal historic preservation tax credits (along with state and county credits) have contributed to the viability of a handful of projects, including the redevelopment of the National Park Seminary, widely regarded as one of the most important historic preservation and community development projects in Maryland. The National Park Seminary project put the long vacant and derelict property back on the tax rolls with nearly 300 housing units, saving a remarkable historic resource in the process. It is hard for me to understand how getting rid of the federal historic preservation tax credit program could be called reform, particularly when you look at the numbers.
for an idea who’s time has come.
Slate magainze recently posted an article about the efficiences of bus rapid transit, noting that its success lies in addressing some of the frustrating things about riding the bus–getting stuck in traffic, getting stuck behind fellow riders, getting stuck in the rain.
But the author points out that dedicated lanes, proof-of-payment systems, and station infrastrcuture can combine to make bus travel efficient and appealing. While the Planning Board’s Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan doesn’t go into detail about how you’ll buy your bus ticket, it is an important step toward maximinzing the use of our existing roadways, establishing initial standards for routes and stations, and ensuring that everyone can travel around the County and the region.
There’s more opportunity for discussion at the County Council’s public hearing, scheduled for September 24 and 26.
In it, authors Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley postulate that with the Federal government in partisan gridlock and facing the costs of caring for an aging population, large infrastructure, education, and economic investments are taking place in America’s metropolitan areas through coalitions of local government, business, labor, philanthropic, and education leaders.
In an NPR interview, Katz makes the point that as the economy changes so does American geography. From the primacy of port cities to swaths of industrial acreage, each economy has its spatial geography. Katz says the new digital economy that seeks interaction to create innovation is locating in downtowns and midtowns, a pattern reinforced by the lifestyle of the millenial generation who prefer choice in where they live and work–perhaps living without a car or a backyard. For example, Zappos relocated to downtown Las Vegas and Twitter is in San Francisco, not Irvine.
It’s a pattern mirrored in Montgomery County planning efforts. The zoning rewrite, the Countywide Transit Corridor Plan (and the CCT and Purple Line), and redevelopment of central business districts all are responses to changing demands and economy.
Roads, parking garages, even trails rarely have the urban glamour of Italian hill towns, grand plazas, or museums and symphony halls. For many planners and architects, they are the unfortunate necessities that make a place work and are often treated accordingly.
But as this article in Better Cities and Towns shows, infrastructure can add drama to the urban profile and fun to daily life. What particulalry got me interested in the topic was looking at how we talk about parking garages. The only solution appears to be hiding them, screening them, making them look like something else. While some of these examples in Miami are truly extraordinary, more of them are replicable and through their design, location, and tenanting, add real value to the community.
It’s about infrastructure doing double-duty–parking garages reinvigorating neighborhoods, street improvements addressing water quality, and bikeshare adding a commuting option and fun.
Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released their annual list of the 11 most endangered places in the U.S. While none of them are in Montgomery County, the list includes two mid-century modern buildings–the Worldport Terminal at JFK Airport and the Houston Astrodome–a recogonition that recent history is also historic.
In fact, The National Register of Historic Places, which sets out criteria for historic designation, generally recognizes that 50 years is a reasonable remove from which to conisder history. The register is alos looking forÂ buildings associate with events or aÂ noted person, those that can share information or reflect the work of a master, and those that exhibit unique construction or artistry.
That age deadline and those criteria have been applied in our own County, for example at the Carderock Springs community, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Place in 2009, “as a prime example of situated modernism where houses completment and blend in with the landscape.” You can see more of the County’s mid-century architecture at Montgomery Modern.
ULI recently announced the finalists in its Urban Open Space Award competition and a local site is in the mix. I really love the Yards Park, for its re-use and upgrade of an abandoned resource–the Anancostia Rvierfront and for its design details.
You can read more of our observations and see pictures here, but these finalists all embodyÂ features of good urban spaces. ULI is looking for spaces that “encouraged economic and social rejuvination in their neighborhoods” and these projects in Nashville, Vancouver, California, as well as DC incorporate urbansim into park design.
They are places to watch other people–strolling. splashing, or sitting. People in cities take their energy from other people–whether it’s on sidewalks or in parks.
These parks also mix environments–small and private spaces, spaces that are grand and public–just as a cityÂ ranges fromÂ bustling avenues to quiet side streets.
Another urban Â feature are their references to the past. Many of these parks were former industrial sites reclaimed for mixed-uses. But incorporating that past into park design layers information, just as the faded painted wall sign or old firebox recalls a past city.
I’m sure there are many other particular urban features these parks share–from the smallest design elements to the largest concept. Take a look and see what strikes you.
Casey Trees, a D.C.-based nonprofit, committed to restoring, enhancing and protecting the tree canopy of the nationâ€™s capital, is sponsoring a “Conversation on Tree Risk” at their headquarters at 3030 12th Street NE. The conversation will be led by Keith Cline of the USDA Forest Service and will run from 6:30 to 9:00 pm.
The event is free and you can get there via the Brookland-CUA Metro. Pick up a ticket here.