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Montgomery Modern

 

John Joseph Earley was a local artisan who was an innovator of colorful concrete mosaic and a pioneer in prefabricated concrete construction. Earley implemented his earliest projects in Montgomery County and the Washington, DC region before this master craftsman’s work gained nationwide interest. [Note: see below for information about a tour of two of Earley’s DC projects.]

 

9900 Colesville Rd_CTerry 4-1993

Colesville Road houses, Polychrome Historic District

 

John J. Earley designed demonstration houses in Silver Spring made of his polychrome precast concrete panels. John J. Earley’s Polychrome Houses (1934–35), at Sutherland Drive and Colesville Road, Silver Spring have been called the birthplace of precast architectural concrete. This collection of five modernist houses with brilliant exterior polychrome walls was a prototype project for John Joseph Earley’s prefabricated concrete construction. The Polychrome Historic District is designated on Montgomery County’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation, and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Detail, 9904 Colesville Rd_CTerry 2-1996

Detail, Polychrome House concrete mosaic panel, John J. Earley

 

Earley’s signature concrete mosaic panels are composed of brilliantly colored stones. The Polychrome houses are embellished with Art Deco detailing of chevron pattern panels, decorative friezes, and accent blocks.

 

9900 Colesville Rd_CTerry 4-193

 

For this Colesville Road house, main panels are colored with pink-rose Oklahoma jasperite; pillars are of gray Potomac River gravel; under window panels are crushed cobalt glass; and the main frieze is crushed glass of red, black and gold.

 

Sutherland Dr_8-1999

 

Two-story houses on Sutherland Drive feature colorful patterned panels. These larger houses were early proof to skeptics of the suitability of this construction method for larger scale buildings.

 

The Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission recently approved an Eagle Scout project to install an interpretive marker in the Polychrome District celebrating Earley and his polychrome precast concrete houses.

 

Born in New York City, Earley moved to Washington, DC, as a boy and studied at St. John’s College. A fifth-generation stone carver, Earley developed the “Earley Process,” which became the basis for modern concrete panel construction. Though Earley died in 1945, his studio continued to operate, producing cast concrete panels and decorative mosaics until it closed in 1973.

 

North Chevy Chase church2

North Chevy Chase Christian Church (1961) 8814 Kensington Parkway

 

The Earley Studio designed a concrete mosaic panel for the front façade of John Samperton’s North Chevy Chase Christian Church.

 

1958 Concrete Panels Earley Studio (5)

Earley Studio, Design for Ornamental Panels, 1958, for North Chevy Chase Christian Church

 

North Chevy Chase church detail

Detail of the Earley Studio’s mosaic panels above the front entrance, North Chevy Chase Christian Church.

 

Tour of Earley’s Early Work

 

The Association for Preservation Technology and the DC Preservation League are sponsoring a tour of John J. Earley’s first projects in Washington, DC: the Shrine of the Sacred Heart (1922) and Meridian Hill Park (1914-1940) on Saturday, June 18, 2016.  Registration Info

 

Photographs: Polychrome Houses – Constance Terry and Carol Kennedy; North Chevy Chase Christian Church – Carol Highsmith.

 

For more information about John J. Earley projects in Montgomery County, see the book Montgomery Modern: Modern Architecture in Montgomery County, Maryland, 1930-1979 by Clare Lise Kelly (M-NCPPC, 2015).  www.montgomeryplanning.org/montgomerymodern

 


Montgomery Modern explores mid-century modern buildings and communities that reflect the optimistic spirit of the post-war era in Montgomery County, Maryland. From International Style office towers to Googie style stores and contemporary tract houses, Montgomery Modern celebrates the buildings, technology, and materials of the Atomic Age, from the late 1940s through the 1960s. A half century later, we now have perspective to appreciate these resources as a product of their time.

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The Montgomery Planning Department sponsored a lecture by Boston architect Rodolfo Machado on May 25 at the Silver Spring Civic Building. Machado and his firm Machado Silvetti designed the civic building and the Planning Department honored them in October 2015 with the first annual Design Excellence Award for this remarkable project. Experiencing the Silver Spring building with the architect on site and learning more about his design made the event even more special.

 

The Civic Building is the backdrop to Veterans Plaza. The large front elevation is the proscenium of the theater of the city. The red brick pathway in the middle of the allee of trees is on axis with the sidewalk of Ellsworth Drive and links the building and plaza to the rest of the city. The canopy to the right provides shelter for ice skating in the winter and concerts in the summer.


The Civic Building is the backdrop to Veterans Plaza. The large front elevation is the proscenium of the theater of the city. The red brick pathway in the middle of the allee of trees is on axis with the sidewalk of Ellsworth Drive and links the building and plaza to the rest of the city. The canopy to the right provides shelter for ice skating in the winter and concerts in the summer.

 

Machado creates buildings that are positively urban and of their place. Although he truly loves architecture, the Argentine-turned-American loves even more the places his architecture creates. A smile was on his face as he explained how civic buildings are about social interaction and the everyday messiness and chance encounters that great urbanism creates.

 

Machado’s designs are certainly innovative, but the innovation is based on a strong understanding of architectural history and context that informs all of his firm’s contemporary work. These designs also support and enhance their urban context.

 

The Silver Spring Civic Building and plaza are inextricable. The axis of the sidewalk along Ellsworth Drive extends through the plaza, into the building past an open courtyard, connecting to the residential neighborhood to the north. Each design gesture enhances the public realm of the city.


The Silver Spring Civic Building and plaza are inextricable. The axis of the sidewalk along Ellsworth Drive extends through the plaza, into the building past an open courtyard, connecting to the residential neighborhood to the north. Each design gesture enhances the public realm of the city.

 

The Silver Spring Civic Building exemplifies this contextualism in that the plaza is all about the building that faces onto it, yet the building itself seems to be all about the space and the axis of Ellsworth Drive. Building and plaza are inextricable. The sidewalk along Ellsworth continues through the building to connect the civic city to the residential district beyond. The interior courtyard providing bright natural light draws you in and provides sanctuary along the axial journey.

 

The Atelier development is made up of different color and sized masses that respond to the scale of the buildings adjacent to them. Metal panels cover a new iconic theater space which frames the new plaza to the right.


The Atelier development is made up of different color and sized masses that respond to the scale of the buildings adjacent to them. Metal panels cover a new iconic theater space which frames the new plaza to the right.

 

Another great project explained during the lecture was Boston’s Atelier 505, an expansion of the historic Cyclorama theater, the former home of the 360-degree painting of the Gettysburg battle during the Civil War. This new complex is a conglomeration of different buildings that responds to the various heights of surrounding historic buildings while still accentuating the original theater building. Each of the primary entries are placed on axis with adjacent perpendicular streets. A corner residential tower faces onto Berkeley Street to extend the high-rise core of Boston to the north. An iconic new theater element frames a new civic square to the south where it receives full sun exposure all year round.

 

Although contemporary in design, the tower building consists of typical classical components of a strong base, simple middle and a unique top. This tower anchors the southern end of Berkeley Street which extends north to the historic Prudential Tower; a Boston icon, and Back Bay which anchors the northern end of the street.


Although contemporary in design, the tower building consists of typical classical components of a strong base, simple middle and a unique top. This tower anchors the southern end of Berkeley Street which extends north to the historic Prudential Tower; a Boston icon, and Back Bay which anchors the northern end of the street.

 

Both of these projects take cues from the culture and character of their locations. They are responsive to the conditions of their sites while firmly related to the history of architecture and urban design. They are truly urban and the pedestrian and community are the real winners.

 

Machado Silvetti buildings are all about place. The iconic theater frames the space with an abundance of clear windows creating a relationship between theater patrons inside and pedestrians outside. The traditionally inspired red brick and large windows mimic the traditional warehouse buildings in the south end. This space has not only become the new hub of the Boston Center for the Arts, but it is a draw to the beautiful Shawmut neighborhood row houses to the south.


Machado Silvetti buildings are all about place. The iconic theater frames the space with an abundance of clear windows creating a relationship between theater patrons inside and pedestrians outside. The traditionally inspired red brick and large windows mimic the traditional warehouse buildings in the south end. This space has not only become the new hub of the Boston Center for the Arts, but it is a draw to the beautiful Shawmut neighborhood row houses to the south.

 

This blog will illuminate many ways of creating extraordinary, well planned communities without losing the neighborhood elements of landscape and open space that we all cherish. We hope to stimulate creative insight, constructive thought and meaningful feedback. Stay in touch with The Third Place!

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Welcome to the re-introduction of the Montgomery County Planning Department Blog, now called The Third Place.

 

The NoMa neighborhood in DC offers and expansive public realm of wide sidewalks with great places to see and be seen. Architecture, landscape, rain gardens, street furnishings and a diverse mix of workers and residents makes this a quintessential Third Place.


The NoMa neighborhood in DC offers and expansive public realm of wide sidewalks with great places to see and be seen. Architecture, landscape, rain gardens, street furnishings and a diverse mix of workers and residents makes this a quintessential Third Place.

 

In planning, the third place is the social realm separate from the home and workplace. It provides an inclusive forum for the dialogue and debate crucial for civic engagement and community building. This blog will pursue many of the principles, ideas and examples behind the Montgomery County Planning Department’s programs and initiatives. It is hoped that it will foster greater engagement with all our communities and residents. We welcome your ideas and feedback.

 

Birkdale Village outside Charlotte, NC. A vibrant public realm that engages the private realm of the shops, businesses and residences creates a safe and inviting environment for all.

Birkdale Village outside Charlotte, NC. A vibrant public realm that engages the private realm of the shops, businesses and residences creates a safe and inviting environment for all.

 

Many national surveys indicate that Montgomery County is one of the highest educated and wealthiest counties in the country. We cherish our natural assets and work to preserve our agricultural lands and historic resources. To do this while remaining competitive within the Washington, DC region, we must plan all places in a way that is commensurate to these high standards. Ultimately, we want to encourage future development and growth that supports a walkable, safe and vibrant public realm at the urban, suburban and rural levels.

 

Well-designed urbanism and even tactical, temporary urbanism that draws young and old alike, can make places great. Westlake Plaza in Seattle offers both in this thriving Third Place.

Well-designed urbanism and even tactical, temporary urbanism that draws young and old alike, can make places great. Westlake Plaza in Seattle offers both in this thriving Third Place.

 

This blog will illuminate many ways of creating extraordinary, well planned communities without losing the neighborhood elements of landscape and open space that we all cherish. We hope to stimulate creative insight, constructive thought and meaningful feedback. Stay in touch with The Third Place!

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Design Excellence is about urbanism! This does not mean turning Montgomery County into an expansion of Downtown Bethesda. It is more about raising the quality of life through the creation of better, more interconnected places to live.
 

Montgomery County has several great historic examples of urbanism, including Norfolk Avenue in Bethesda or East Diamond Avenue in Gaithersburg at the urban scale; Brookville Road and Taylor Street in Chevy Chase and Ridgewood Avenue in Bethesda at the suburban scale; and Grove Avenue in Washington Grove at the rural scale.

 

The single block of retail on Brookville Road in the suburban residential neighborhood of Chevy Chase, MD is walkable, mixed-use and active – Urbanism at its best!

The single block of retail on Brookville Road in the suburban residential neighborhood of Chevy Chase, MD is walkable, mixed-use and active – Urbanism at its best!

 
Peter Calthorpe, one of the founders of the Congress for New Urbanism and author of the book Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change describes urbanism as:

“I define the term urbanism broadly – by qualities, not quantities; by intensity, not density; by connectivity, not just location. Urbanism is always made from places that are mixed in uses, walkable, human scaled, and diverse in population; that balance cars with transit; that reinforce local history; that are adaptable; and that support a rich public life. Urbanism can come in many forms, scales, locations and densities. Many of our traditional villages, streetcar suburbs, country towns, and historic cities are “urban” by this definition. Urbanism often resides beyond our downtowns. While urbanism will vary by geography, culture, and economy, traditional urbanism always manifests the vitality, complexity, and intimacy that defines our finest cities and towns for centuries. By this definition, suburbs can be “urban” if they are walkable and mixed use…”

We hope that greater design excellence and better urbanism in the County will produce greater health benefits; greater economic value in our homes, properties and businesses; a more environmentally and economically sustainable way of living; greater social inclusion; a wider variety of housing types and affordability; less miles on the roads in cars and a dramatically reduced carbon footprint for everyone.

 
This change is not an intellectual planning exercise, but rather a positive movement to preserve our environment and meet the needs of young and old alike. Let’s make it happen.

 

With such a wide array of housing types from small lot - small house types to attached townhouses, to live/work units, to commercial buildings, all within walking distance, Kentlands was designed to promote diversity and walkability. Its intent is to foster a vibrant public realm through great urbanism.

With such a wide array of housing types from small lot – small house types to attached townhouses, to live/work units, to commercial buildings, all within walking distance, Kentlands was designed to promote diversity and walkability. Its intent is to foster a vibrant public realm through great urbanism.

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Montgomery Modern

 

Exuberant roof forms are a hallmark of mid-century modern architecture. In contrast to the simple gable roofs of traditional design, modernist architects employed a wide variety of inventive forms. The zig-zag roof of Sligo Elementary School was featured in a previous Montgomery Modern posting.

 

The soaring rooftop of the National Library of Medicine is a hyperbolic paraboloid concrete shell, designed by O’Connor & Kilham of New York. This distinctive feature represents concerns of the Atomic Age—in the event of a nuclear bomb blast, the centralized opening was intended to provide for pressure release.

 

National Library of Medicine (1962) Wisconsin Avenue, O’Connor & Kilham Carol Highsmith photograph, from Montgomery Modern book, page 112.

National Library of Medicine (1962) Wisconsin Avenue, O’Connor & Kilham Carol Highsmith photograph, from Montgomery Modern book, page 112.

 

The folded roof feature at Green Acres School provides visual interest and brings light into the central multi-purpose room.

Green Acres School (1958) 11701 Danville Drive; Davis, Brody, Juster & Wisniewski Courtesy: Davis Brody Bond

Green Acres School (1958) 11701 Danville Drive; Davis, Brody, Juster & Wisniewski Courtesy: Davis Brody Bond

 

In the hands of modernists, the vaulted roof became a swooping, low form. On his 1959 tour of the United States, Nikita Khrushchev praised the ultra-modern design of William Wurster’s Safeway grocery store in San Francisco. The distinctive vaulted roof became a hallmark for Safeway stores, including several in Montgomery County. A well preserved example from 1962 is in the Four Corners area of Silver Spring.

 

Safeway Store, 116 W. University Boulevard, Silver Spring (1962) Carol Highsmith photograph, from Montgomery Modern book, page 95.

Safeway Store, 116 W. University Boulevard, Silver Spring (1962) Carol Highsmith photograph, from Montgomery Modern book, page 95.

 

The A-frame roof was popular for weekend retreats, as well as churches and pancake restaurants. Still standing are A-frame International House of Pancakes (IHOP) restaurants in Takoma Park (1966) and Wheaton (1970).

 

The Washington Post, August 2, 1969

The Washington Post, August 2, 1969

 

An influential A-frame church design was Pietro Belluschi’s 1954 Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore. Montgomery County examples followed, including Chatelain, Gauger and Nolan’s St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, 1958; John Samperton’s Washington Grove United Methodist Church (1958) and North Chevy Chase Christian Church (1961); and Clifton White’s St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church, (1962).

 

North Chevy Chase Christian Church (1961) 8814 Kensington Parkway, John S. Samperton Carol Highsmith photograph, from Montgomery Modern book, page 152.

North Chevy Chase Christian Church (1961) 8814 Kensington Parkway, John S. Samperton Carol Highsmith photograph, from Montgomery Modern book, page 152.

 

A butterfly roof rises up from the center like outstretched wings. The earliest known example of such a roof was Le Corbusier’s design for the Errazuriz House in Chile, designed in 1930. In the US, Marcel Breuer’s Geller House was built in 1945 on Long Island.1

In Montgomery County, the Burman House in Rollingwood has a 1951 butterfly-roof design by Charles Goodman. An innovative two-family example in New Hampshire Estates was built in 1952 by Polinger Construction Company.

 

Butterfly roof two-family house at 1041 Ruatan Street (1952). Architect unknown. Carol Highsmith photograph, from Montgomery Modern book, page 44

Butterfly roof two-family house at 1041 Ruatan Street (1952). Architect unknown. Carol Highsmith photograph, from Montgomery Modern book, page 44

 

The pavilion roof was a motif of the Aspen Hill Library, designed by John H. Sullivan, completed in 1967. An advantage of the modular composition is the opportunity for future expansion with additional wings.

 

Aspen Hill Library (1967), 4407 Aspen Hill Road, John H. Sullivan Carol Highsmith photograph, from Montgomery Modern book, page 171.

Aspen Hill Library (1967), 4407 Aspen Hill Road, John H. Sullivan Carol Highsmith photograph, from Montgomery Modern book, page 171.

An architectural form marking the advent of the postmodern era is shed style design that came out of the work of Charles Moore of the New Haven, CT-based architectural firm Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, Whitaker (MLTW). The firm designed the Sea Ranch Condominium complex in Sonoma, CA, 1964. Inspired by vernacular buildings and local design traditions, with rustic paneled siding and simple detailing, shed style buildings feature a composition of single sloped roofs of varying heights, typically falling away from a central axis. A local example is the Stanley Tempchin House, which Charles Moore designed for a Bethesda art collector.

 

Stanley Tempchin House (1967), 7001 Crail Drive, Charles Moore of MLTW and Rurik Ekstrom Carol Highsmith photograph, from Montgomery Modern book, page 171.

Stanley Tempchin House (1967), 7001 Crail Drive, Charles Moore of MLTW and Rurik Ekstrom Carol Highsmith photograph, from Montgomery Modern book, page 171.

 

401 N. Frederick Avenue, Gaithersburg

401 N. Frederick Avenue, Gaithersburg

 

In recent years, modern roofs have been covered over as mid-century buildings are remodeled. The result is to obscure the important history of Montgomery County’s built landscape. And so our historic modern architecture lies dormant, awaiting a future restoration, and rediscovery of our mid-century architectural heritage.

 

Architectural historian Clare Lise Kelly is the author of the award-winning book Montgomery Modern: Modern Architecture in Montgomery County, Maryland, 1930-1979, published by the Montgomery County Planning Department in October 2015. The book includes additional information about projects mentioned above and other local examples.

 

1 Appreciation to Marni Epstein-Mervis for her discussion of butterfly roof projects at la.curbed.com

 


Montgomery Modern explores mid-century modern buildings and communities that reflect the optimistic spirit of the post-war era in Montgomery County, Maryland. From International Style office towers to Googie style stores and contemporary tract houses, Montgomery Modern celebrates the buildings, technology, and materials of the Atomic Age, from the late 1940s through the 1960s. A half century later, we now have perspective to appreciate these resources as a product of their time.

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Montgomery Modern

Accomplished modernist architect Eason Cross died on January 28, 2016. A Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Cross was a principal of Cross & Adreon, a firm known for modernist residential developments designed to harmonize with nature. Their projects received prestigious design awards when they were first built 50 years ago, and these communities have continued to receive recognition for being outstanding places in which to live. The work of Cross & Adreon was recently featured in David Frey’s “30 Great Neighborhoods” in the current issue of Bethesda Magazine (Mar/Apr 2016) (pdf).

Cross worked seven years in the offices of prominent local architect Charles Goodman, first as draftsman and later as associate architect. In this capacity, he designed houses in Hollin Hills where he became a resident, raised a family, and was a community leader. From Goodman, Eason learned that good architecture would benefit society and he followed Goodman’s example of striving to provide well-designed housing for a broad audience. Cross had earned a Masters of Architecture from Harvard (1951), where he studied under pioneering modernist Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School.

In Montgomery County, Cross & Adreon partnered with developers Matthews-Schwartz in bringing clusters of houses designed for nature, built into wooded hillsides and often adjoined parks or streams. Notable projects include Wynkoop Court, as well as projects in Mohican Hills and Bradley Park.

 

Bradley Park_8522 Whittier Blvd_CLKelly 2-26-2016 (8)

Wynkoop Court (1965) received an award for community design from AIA Mid-Atlantic Region and a design award from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. Thoughtfully sited houses stepped into the hillside are accessed by shared driveways, boardwalks, and stairways.

 

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Expansive windows bring nature into living space. Terraces and balconies extend living space into the wooded landscape.

 

Wynkoop-Barn-House_House&Home

The Wynkoop Barn House model received a 1966 Homes for Better Living award in a competition sponsored by the American Institute of Architects and House & Home. The compact 2,600 sf house contained six bedrooms and three baths on a small footprint with attic and basement.

 

WynkoopBarnHouse_House&Home_Oct1966 (10)

House & Home wrote, “There’s a regrettable tendency in the homebuilding industry to consider unusual, interesting design the sole province of the custom-built house, and to relegate the built-for-sale house to the so-called safe category of ordinary, sales-proven design.” In presenting a design award to the Wynkoop Barn House, House & Home found proof that the two markets can overlap from the standpoint of design. House and Home featured the Wynkoop Barn House in its October 1966 issue, photographs by Warren Ballard.

 

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On Mohican Road, in Mohican Hills, Cross & Adreon designed a cluster of seven houses for a steep, wooded site adjoining a park. Houses are connected with shared driveways.

 

Mohican Hills_5508 Mohican Rd_CLKelly 2-26-16 (8)

The Mohican Hills Square House received a House and Home award (1966). A rustic walkway meanders between the modernist houses.

 

Mohican Hills_5516 Mohican Rd_CLKelly 2-26-16 (22)

The walkway connects the community with the adjacent M-NCPPC Glen Echo Heights Neighborhood Park, established in 1960. Mohican Hills sold out two weeks before the scheduled opening.

 

Wiscasset Rd houses2

The architects carefully considered vistas from houses as they situated the buildings on sloping, wooded lots. This plan shows how viewsheds were orchestrated harmoniously for neighboring houses on Wiscasset Road. Dotted lines indicate the steep topography.

 

Bradley-Park-1

Other projects include Bradley Park (1966), Whittier Boulevard, Bethesda, and Williamsburg Gardens (1974), Holbrook Lane and vicinity, Potomac. This Bradley Park model with clerestory windows won a 1967 award from AIA and House and Home.

The award-winning projects of Cross and Adreon are included in Montgomery Modern: Modern Architecture in Montgomery County, Maryland, 1930-1979. The book also includes a biographical sketch for Eason Cross in the Practitioners Appendix.

Info on Montgomery Modern initiative:
montgomeryplanning.org/montgomerymodern

Thanks to my colleague Joey Lampl who interviewed Eason Cross and consulted his papers, in her intensive research on Charles Goodman.

For more on Eason Cross, see his obituary from the Washington Post (pdf).

 


Montgomery Modern explores mid-century modern buildings and communities that reflect the optimistic spirit of the post-war era in Montgomery County, Maryland. From International Style office towers to Googie style stores and contemporary tract houses, Montgomery Modern celebrates the buildings, technology, and materials of the Atomic Age, from the late 1940s through the 1960s. A half century later, we now have perspective to appreciate these resources as a product of their time.

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Montgomery Modern

The exuberant mid-century modern design of commercial signs captures the entrepreneurial spirit of mom and pop shops that thrived during the post-World War II population boom of Montgomery County.

With loud colors and catchy shapes, the quirky signs howled for the attention of passing motorists. In recent years, the style has been dubbed Googie, after colorful California coffee shops of the day. These roadside signs are a record of the past, modern design, and the independent businesses that were staples to county residents.

 

alt text

 

Sporting a tall cold beverage, the sign for Talbert’s Ice and Beverage Service advertises cold beer, dry ice, and regular ice.  The store building, at 5234 River Road in Bethesda, was built in 1946, according to tax records. Jack Talbert, a Georgetown native and duckpin bowling champion, died in 1955 at the age of 51 and his business was later sold. The business name and preserved signage reflect the family history of the company.

 

Glenmont-Arcade-11-4-11-(1)_800

 

Built in 1960, Glenmont Arcade boasts a bold geometric sign clearly visible from its knoll above Georgia Avenue, between Randolph Road and Layhill Road. Designed by Bartley & Gates, the shopping center, at 12345 Georgia Avenue, has an interior courtyard with shops, and originally had a duckpin bowling alley in the basement—now used for church services.

 

Al's-Auto-Center_Piney-Branch_CLKelly-7-27-15_800

 

The sign for Al’s Auto Center is all that remains of the business located on Piney Branch Road, West of University Blvd. The sign is enlivened by a stylized car with motorcycle and vintage lettering that decorate an oval floating above a boomerang arrow. Little is known about the business—perhaps it was a branch of the Al’s Auto Center located on Eye Stret NW by 1959.

 

Miles-Glass-CLKelly-4-2013-(7)_800

 

Miles Glass Company featured a glass-cutting tool on its bright neon sign mounted on the building at 8714 Piney Branch Road, later demolished. Opening in 1964, the Silver Spring location was the fourth branch for the family business that was headquartered on 4th Street Northeast. This photograph was taken in 2013.

 

MontgomeryIndustrialPark_CLKelly3-2014-(1)_800

 

Black lettering contrasts with pale masonry in the bold yet understated Montgomery Industrial Park sign. A loud design isn’t needed for businesses that don’t draw from passersby but from an established clientele, yet a splash of red directs visitors off Columbia Pike. Montgomery Industrial Park dates from 1961. One of the first businesses to open was the USI Robodyne robot factory at 12345 Columbia Pike, the subject of a previous blogpost.

 

Wheaton-Plaza_800

 

Gone but not forgotten is the whimsical sign of Wheaton Plaza. When it opened in 1960, it was the largest shopping mall in the Washington DC region. The mall was later enclosed and is now called Westfield Wheaton. This period photograph is from the Wheaton-Kensington Chamber of Commerce.

 

Wellers-8327-Fenton-5-2-11-CLKelly-(3)_800

 

The space age sign for Wellers Dry Cleaning, 8327 Fenton St, lets Fenton Street passersby know that it’s time to get your clothes dry cleaned. Dating from 1960, Weller’s was designed by local architect Ted Englehardt. For more on Weller’s see our blogpost on this Silver Spring business.

 

Marvel-13340-NHAve-9-1-11-CLKelly-(7)_800

 

Googie signage with bright colors and angled shapes transforms the Marvel Cleaners building into an advertisement. The store was built in 1967 at 13340 New Hampshire Ave, Silver Spring. Home of the National Dry Cleaning Institute which conducted research and set standards, Silver Spring appears to have a disproportionate number of dry cleaning businesses.

 

safeway-sign-wheaton-CLKelly-4-2008_800

 

Photographed in 2008, this sign was a companion to the mid-century Safeway, in Wheaton, later demolished for the new Safeway and high-rise. Still standing in Four Corners is an original vaulted-roof Safeway, at University Boulevard north of Colesville Road.

 

Anchor-Inn_Georgia-Av_CLKelly-7-27-15_800

 

The Anchor Inn restaurant opened in 1954 on Georgia Avenue at University Boulevard, in Wheaton. Though the business closed and the building was demolished in 2006, the iconic sign was retained and augmented with lettering to advertise the redevelopment.

 

LeisureWorld-globe_CLKelly-5-20-15_800

 

The landmark Leisure World globe is Montgomery County’s largest space age icon. The sphere advertises the retirement community on Georgia Avenue. Model homes at Leisure World first opened in 1965, and the complex was first occupied one year later.

For those who yearn for more on the subject of roadside signage, the Roadside America exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum features signs from across the country, and the photographs of John Margolies.

Montgomery Modern is an initiative of the Montgomery County Planning Department. A book on mid-century modern design in Montgomery County by Clare Lise Kelly is slated for publication in Fall 2015.

 


Montgomery Modern explores mid-century modern buildings and communities that reflect the optimistic spirit of the post-war era in Montgomery County, Maryland. From International Style office towers to Googie style stores and contemporary tract houses, Montgomery Modern celebrates the buildings, technology, and materials of the Atomic Age, from the late 1940s through the 1960s. A half century later, we now have perspective to appreciate these resources as a product of their time.

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Architect: Thomen and Cromar

911 Silver Spring Avenue, Silver SpringMontgomery Modern
The Montgomery Professional Building, located on Silver Spring Avenue, in downtown Silver Spring, was designed by architects Thomen and Cromar.

911SilverSpringAve_052114_CLKelly-(3)_500
The current photos in this post were taken May 21, 2014. Exactly 54 years earlier, the Washington Post published Thomen and Cromar’s proposed scheme for 911 Silver Spring Ave.

Wash-Post-5-21-1960_500

Washington Post, May 21, 1960

The rendering has a strong geometric outline that was popular in the county for architectural designs in the late 1950s.  As built, the final design has a strong vertical pylon that had become popular by 1960.  Visual interest comes from a variety of wall surfaces of stone, concrete, and brick.  The pylon, bearing lettering with the building name, is sheathed with thin bands of ashlar stone.

911SilverSpringAve_052114_CLKelly-(8)_500

To the left of the entrance, walls are sheathed with textured panels.  The material appears to be Tecfab panels.  Charles Goodman designed Tecfab panels which were manufactured in Greenbelt and are found on churches, schools and commercial buildings through the region.  For more on Tecfab panels, see my research report on the Georgia Avenue Baptist Church of Glenmont.

911SilverSpringAve_052114_CLKelly-(13)_500

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.

 

911SilverSpringAve_052114_CLKelly-(15)_500 911SilverSpringAve_052114_CLKelly-(5)_500

Thomen and Cromar were local architects.  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).  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.

 

Addendum

Jerry McCoy of the Silver Spring Historical Society sends us this photo with the architect’s signature brick on the front façade of this building.  Thanks Jerry!

brick1b

 


Montgomery Modern explores mid-century modern buildings and communities that reflect the optimistic spirit of the post-war era in Montgomery County, Maryland. From International Style office towers to Googie style stores and contemporary tract houses, Montgomery Modern celebrates the buildings, technology, and materials of the Atomic Age, from the late 1940s through the 1960s. A half century later, we now have perspective to appreciate these resources as a product of their time.

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PopularElectronicsMay1963

Popular Electronics, May 1963

Robots in Silver Spring

Montgomery ModernWho knew? Silver Spring was home to a pioneering robot. The TransfeRobot was an early standardized, off-the-shelf programmable robot, developed in 1958 and offered for sale in 1959. U. S. Industries started making the robots at 949 Bonifant Ave (more on that later).  The firm quickly outgrew that building and moved out to the new Montgomery Industrial Park.

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The sleek, modern building at 12345 Columbia Pike was designed in 1960 (architect unknown) and opened for production in 1961.  It was originally called the USI Automation Center, and was operated by the Robodyne Division of USI. This is the front façade of the headhouse that faces Columbia Pike.

Automation-Center

The TransfeRobot 200 could perform adaptable, repetitive tasks that made it ideal for assembly lines. This 50-lb robot sold for $2,500.  By 1959, USI had contracts with General Electric, General Motors and Centralab.

1962 Display Ad NYT

In 1962, the company sold 100,000 of the TransfeRobot 200.  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

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.

Door handles

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.

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.

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..

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..

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.

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.


Montgomery Modern explores mid-century modern buildings and communities that reflect the optimistic spirit of the post-war era in Montgomery County, Maryland. From International Style office towers to Googie style stores and contemporary tract houses, Montgomery Modern celebrates the buildings, technology, and materials of the Atomic Age, from the late 1940s through the 1960s. A half century later, we now have perspective to appreciate these resources as a product of their time.

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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 County’s mid-century modern buildings.

Geico's suburban campus in Friendship Heights

Geico’s suburban campus in Friendship Heights

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 façade 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. Breuer’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.

light and shadow create drama

light and shadow create drama

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 buildings—residential, commercial, and institutional—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.

It’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 don’t we all want to be appreciated for our fine lines and elegant posture?

We were grateful for the beautiful weather; and thankful to our partner, AIA Potomac Valley ; our sponsor Konst for their generous support; our enthusiastic tour-goers; and our gracious hosts.