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historic preservation

Sep 16 13

Putting a value on historic preservation, revisited

by scott whipple

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 county’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.


Property owners can receive a 25% tax credit for work on their historic property.

Property owners can receive a 25% tax credit for work on their historic property.

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. How’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 County’s economy.


State and federal historic preservation tax credit programs can extend the benefit of county tax credits.


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.

Mar 29 13

Putting a value on historic preservation

by scott whipple

The value of historic preservation is often expressed in terms that are difficult to quantify. We are preserving cultural patrimony, maintaining a sense of place, safeguarding our architectural heritage.

But what if we could hang a number on the value of historic preservation?  Actually, we can.

Look at tax credits issued for rehabbing historic properties. Montgomery County provides a 10-percent tax credit for qualified work on properties listed in the County’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation or located in County-designated historic districts. The State of Maryland and federal government also offer rehabilitation tax credits that some property owners may be able to receive on top of the county’s program.

In 2012, the historic preservation commission reviewed applications for the county’s preservation tax credit program, recommending approval of $74,000 of tax credits for 56 projects.

Long deteriorated, Baltzley Castle, a Montgomery County historic site, has been rehabbed.

Long deteriorated, Baltzley Castle, a Montgomery County historic site, has been rehabbed.

The projects totaled $740,000 in investments in historic properties in Montgomery County. More of these dollars — paid to roofers, carpenters, painters, masons, and other contractors — stay local than dollars invested in other construction sectors.  These dollars are cycled through our economy as these contractors purchase building materials, buy lunch or coffee, and pay their mortgage or rent.  In fact, a Rutgers study found that 75 percent of the economic impact of historic preservation investments stays in the community.

Federal and state studies across the county also point to the local economic benefit generated by historic preservation.  According to a Colorado study, every $1 million invested to rehabilitate historic buildings creates 32 new jobs (another way to think about this is one job is created for every $31,250  invested in a rehab project). In fact, historic preservation projects in Colorado, the study said, led to the creation of nearly 35,000 jobs and $2.5 billion – billion – in economic impacts since 1981.

Closer to home, Governor O’Malley reported in 2010 that Maryland’s tax credit program had generated $1.5 billion in direct rehabilitation investments and $8.50 in economic output for every $1 of tax credits.  O’Malley pointed to Abell Foundation research that found that this investment in historic preservation created 1,850 more jobs than would have been created by an equal investment in new construction. Furthering these findings, economist Donovan Rypkema determined that jobs created by historic preservation outpace jobs created through the federal stimulus program. Rypkema compared one federal historic preservation program to the federal stimulus program and found that the preservation program created one job for every $13,780 invested, while the stimulus program created one job for every $248,000. That’s a big difference.

By whatever metrics you want to use, it is clear that investment in historic resources creates jobs, circulates money in the local economy, and expands the county’s tax revenues.

So while part of the reason we do historic preservation is to retain the character of what makes Montgomery County a distinct and desirable place to live, work, and visit, we cannot overlook the numbers that demonstrate the significant contributions historic preservation makes to Montgomery County’s economy.

Postscript: If you own an individually designated historic site or property within a Montgomery County historic district and have completed any rehabilitation work in calendar year 2012, you can apply for county tax credits.  The application deadline has been extended to April 15, 2013.

Oct 17 12

Operations Research Institute (1963), 1400 Spring Street

by clare lise kelly

Montgomery Modern

This sleek blue building, constructed in 1963, is another mid-century modern gem in downtown Silver Spring. Built three years after the American National Bank Building, the Operations Research Institute building was designed by prolific local architect Ted Englehardt. Previously we blogged about Englehardt’s Weller’s Dry Cleaning. For the Operations Research Institute, Englehardt designed an International Style office building with beautiful turquoise spandrel panels made of porcelain enamel.

Developer Carl M. Freeman moved his offices here in 1964. The firm occupied the first and part of the second floors. Freeman, who pioneered the modernist garden apartment in the DC area, was at this time one of the top 12 builders in the country.

Washington Post, October 30, 1963

Some part of the ground floor was originally open, as seen in this historic photo. Today, the west section retains a ground floor drive-through to connect the parking area with Spring Street entrance.

Architect Ted Englehardt’s trademark signature block may still be seen on the building, near the parking lot underpass.

Green marble skirts the perimeter of the building’s exterior and also enlivens the interior lobby.

The spandrel panels are made of porcelain enamel.

Some window units are hinged on top and can be opened with a special tool. Our historic preservation unit of the Planning Department had offices on the top floor of this building in 2011-2012. The space was well-lit and open (and the building is very well maintained). It has held up well over the years!

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.
May 23 12

MontgomeryModern: discover Mid-Century Modern buildings during Preservation Month

by scott whipple

Montgomery Modern

MontgomeryModern 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, MontgomeryModern 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.


The Seymour Kreiger House

The Seymour Kreiger House

If you read my previous post for Historic Preservation Month, you know that in picking a theme for this year’s Preservation Month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation issued a challenge to people in communities across the country to discover hidden gems and celebrate local historic resources.  Montgomery County historic preservation planners responded by preparing a list of historic resources we hope you will discover.

While Preservation Month has become a fun annual event to raise awareness and celebrate historic preservation nation-wide, our exploration of the county’s historic resources will continue long after we turn the page on May. Our efforts have led us to look beyond what many people recognize as historic, and to start thinking about buildings and places from a period of our history that historic preservationists have only recently begun to consider.  Not long ago Montgomery County historic preservation planners launched a new initiative to study local mid-20th century modern buildings and communities, part of an effort we call MontgomeryModern. The historic value and design significance of the mid-century era — the 1940s through the 1960s — has, until recently, been largely overlooked. But as more than 50 years has passed since these buildings and communities were constructed, we have begun to investigate their historical, cultural and architectural importance.  As a result of a more complete understanding of these mid-century resources, property owners and decision-makers may find more of these resources appropriate for historic preservation.

Carderock Springs

Carderock Springs

MontgomeryModern is exploring mid-century modern buildings and communities that reflect the optimistic spirit of the post-war era in Montgomery County, Maryland. Preservation planners want to help raise the public’s understanding of – and appreciation for – these buildings and communities developed during a time of tremendous growth in Montgomery County. To encourage your discovery of mid-century architecture we included four Modernist buildings or communities in our Preservation Month list of Montgomery County gems. Carderock Springs, a community of 275 houses designed by Keyes, Lethbridge, and Condon and developed by Edmund J. Bennett between 1962-1966, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Rock Creek Woods

Rock Creek Woods

Also listed in the National Register is Rock Creek Woods, a 76-house development that is one of several in Montgomery County by regionally prominent architect Charles Goodman.  World-renowned architect Marcel Breuer designed the International-style Seymour Kreiger House in Bethesda.  The Kreiger House, built in 1958, is listed in the National Register and is designated in the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation.  The WTOP Transmitter Building, built in 1939 in Wheaton, is also a landmark modernist building that has been designated in the Master Plan for Historic Preservation.

The intent of including in our list these four historic resources is to give you a taste of the remarkable mid-century modern buildings and communities we have in Montgomery County, and to encourage you to investigate our MontgomeryModern initiative as we learn more about hidden gems from the mid-century.

Mar 30 12

American National Bank Building (1963), 8701 Georgia Avenue

by clare lise kelly

Montgomery Modern

This article has been corrected with two facts: the exterior panels are glass, not porcelain, and in the summer of 2012, the horizontal band over the parking lot entrance was taken down for construction of 8711 Georgia Avenue. Thanks to readers for your comments. Clare Lise Kelly 9-12-12

Designed by architect Edwin Weihe in 1960, the American National Bank Building, at 8701 Georgia Avenue, is a fine example of an International style office building. When it opened in 1961, it was the tallest building in Silver Spring and featured several design innovations.


Architect Edwin Weihe placed the building’s heating, cooling, and elevator equipment in a low roof penthouse, designed so that it is not immediately apparent from the streetview. Real estate columnist Joseph Byrne, of the Washington Star, observed that Weihe’s design followed advice of the Washington Fine Arts Commission to avoid ugly penthouses prominent in Washington’s skyline by 1961.

The structure has precast quartz mullions that are welded to the steel frame.  Each mullion is 6 inches wide, 8 inches deep and 10 feet tall, and weighes 800 pounds.  Two metal plates are embedded into the cast mullions and welded to metal plates sunk into the concrete superstructure.

A historic view of this building shows how little it has changed.  One element that has been lost is the horizontal band at the street level that connects the parking lot entrance to the main building. This element was taken down in July 2012 for the construction of 9711 Georgia Avenue.

The modernist building with green glass panels certainly bear witness to the influence of such a landmark as Gordon Bunshaft’s Lever House which dates from 1952.  Lever House, Park Avenue, New York City, was a harbinger of the glass curtain wall technology that predominated mid-century commercial buildings.  Note the horizontal section next to the tower, and the Le Corbusier style pilotis, both echoed in the American National Bank building.

Architect Edwin Armstrong Weihe (1907-1994) had a major influence on the development of downtown Washington.  Known as “Mr. Zoning” for his active role in modernizing city codes, he pioneered the innovative use of concrete in Washington, DC, and was known for his use of pedestrian arcades and graduated setbacks.

Specializing in office buildings, hotels, apartment buildings, mixed use buildings and other commercial structures, Weihe’s firm designed more than 90 office buildings in the K Street corridor and elsewhere in the District, and more than 100 large buildings in Crystal City, Bailey’s Crossroads, and other urban centers.  In Montgomery County, Weihe designed several other mid-century projects in the Silver Spring area including a store and apartment at 7614 Georgia Avenue NW (1940); Rock Creek Gardens apartments (1948), near Grubb Road and East West Highway; and Cape Cod houses for Carroll Knolls subdivision of 200 dwellings (1948), Forest Glen; and the F. W. Woolworth & Co. store (1954), Flower Avenue Shopping Center.

A member of the AIA from 1946, Edwin Weihe received the first lifetime achievement award ever bestowed by the Washington Chapter of the AIA, when he was presented with the Centennial Award in 1991.  He was recognized for being the first architect to promote flat plate concrete construction as a solution to the city’s building height restriction, as well as for his pioneering the use of precast concrete as building cladding in the District.  Edwin Weihe retired from active practice in 1987.  He died in 1994, at the age of 87.

In the design phase, the Silver Spring office building was originally called the Bank of Silver Spring but by the time it opened it was renamed the American National Bank, which company occupied the first and lower levels.  It is now known as the Zalco Building.

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.
Feb 23 12

Round School

by clare lise kelly

Montgomery Modern

The Bushey Drive Elementary School, in Wheaton, is a three-story, round school designed by Deigert and Yerkes in 1961.  


As noted in my colleague’s recent post on round houses, round schools were also promoted for lower operating costs, greater efficiency, and lower building costs.  In this era, round and hexagonal schools were built across the country. 

In plan, the school had a middle story with common rooms (kitchen, library, general purpose room) and offices, sandwiched between top and bottom floors of classrooms.

David Norton Yerkes and Robert C. Deigert were partners in a Washington DC firm from about 1946 to 1966.   In Montgomery County, projects designed by the firm include numerous custom houses and the Primary Day School in Bethesda.  Noteworthy local projects are the U.S. National Arboretum Administration Building (1963) and the Netherlands Embassy.

The Bushey Drive School was for many years home to a theater group organized by Montgomery County Recreation Department.  The theater group survives, named Round House Theatre, for its place of origin.  Today, the Recreation Department has administrative offices at the Bushey Drive School which still accommodates theatrical performances.

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.
Feb 9 12

Preservation and Change

by claudia kousoulas

Washingtonian magazine recently ran a long article about preservation in the Washington, D.C. region, including early efforts at Mount Vernon after the Civil War to more recent efforts recognizing Modern architecture.

You can read about the local battles and inspirations here, but to me, the most interesting paragraph in the article was this one:

“Sometimes historic buildings are sacrificed for what is considered the greater good. The Federal Triangle was Washington’s first great example in the 1930s, when several square blocks were torn down to make way for a federal office complex. Construction of the National Archives meant demolition of the city’s central food market. The Kennedy Center replaced the city’s largest brewery. And the Army Medical Museum, a handsome brick building on the Mall, was demolished to build the Hirshhorn Museum.”

Let’s save the discussion of whether the Federal Triangle really serves the greater good for another time and another blog. What intrigues me is what we lost at the same time that we gained. I can’t imagine Washington without the Archives, but I sure would liked to have seen that central market.

That layering of use and the people, and buildings that come along with it, is what makes cities so interesting. Unlike suburbs designed to be calm and green forever, the ruthless move forward of cities creates a new riverbank every era with old bits of shore swept away and new shoals deposited.

Jan 31 12

Considering the Environmental Value of Existing Buildings

by admin

guest post: Scott Whipple

Last Wednesday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released a report demonstrating something some will find counterintuitive or even dubious, but which many of us in the historic preservation field have thought for years: reusing existing buildings almost always offers more environmental savings than demolition and new construction.  

The study, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, includes some interesting findings:
  • A new, high-performance building needs between 10-80 years, depending on the building type and where it is built, to offset the environmental impact of its construction.
  • In comparing new and retrofitted buildings ofsimilar size, function, and performance, energy savings in retrofitted buildings ranged from 4-46 percent higher than new construction.
  • The benefits of retrofitting and reusing existing buildings are even more pronounced in regions powered by coal and that experience wider climate variations.

old is eco-friendly

As you might expect, the preservation community is excited by these findings. But urbanists, environmentalists, the mainstream media, and government are taking notice as well. The buzz is palpable. 

The marketplace has responded too. The United States Green Building Council, the organization behind the LEED environmental certification program, recently announced that LEED certification of existing buildings has surpassed that for new building construction.

The US government estimates that each year approximately 1 billion square feet of existing building stock is demolished and replaced, while the Brookings Institution suggests that one-quarter of existing building stock–fully 82 billion square feet–will be demolished and replaced between 2005 and 2030. That is a lot of construction debris going into landfills. But even if all of these new buildings are high-performing, we will not be able to build our way out of our carbon dependency. 

save me and save the earth

As the Trust’s study demonstrates, taking advantage of our existing building stock must be central to our efforts to meet carbon reduction targets and address climate change. In addition to considering the cultural and economic arguments for preserving old or historic buildings, environmental factors should be considered. 

Maybe, just maybe, these findings may broaden the circle of people who see value in our existing building stock.

Dec 1 11

Sycamore Revisited

by admin

guest post: Scott Whipple

Back in June I wrote about the Historic Preservation Commission’s approval of a proposal to install solar panels on the roof of the Sycamore Store, a historic site designated in the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation. 

Sycamore Store, before solar panels

The panels have been installed.  Have a look. 

As discussed back in June, putting solar panels in a highly visible location on a historic resource is not the preferred alternative from a historic preservation perspective, and it is not appropriate in many instances. But sometimes, as with the Sycamore Store, it may be the only place on a site where solar panels will operate effectively. And, given the nature of the historic resource and the design of the facility, the installation may be compatible with the historic building.

With the project complete, I think the Sycamore Store installation works and illustrates well that preservation and sustainability can and do support each other.  In my view the Historic Preservation Commission got it right.

Jun 27 11

New Technology in Old Buildings

by admin

guest post: Scott Whipple

Sustainability and historic preservation are at odds, right? Well, not so fast. Here in Montgomery County, and in many places across the country, people are discovering that historic preservation and sustainability goals can and do coexist.

The Sycamore Store goes back to c1919

Wednesday night, the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) unanimously approved a proposal to install solar panels on the Sycamore Store, an individually designated County historic site. The HPC found that the installation of the solar panels was consistent with the County’s historic preservation review criteria and appropriate for this historic resource, which had been vacant and is now used as a residence. According to the property owner, the solar panels are expected to provide between a third and half of the building’s electrical load.

Retrofitting with solar panels won't alter the building's architectural integrity

National preservation organizations, such as the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, have produced guidance on the installation of solar panels on historic resources. The HPC has adopted solar guidelines that follow similar principles. In short, these guidelines encourage the installation of solar panels in locations with the least impact on a historic resource. This can mean doing a freestanding installation or installing the facility on outbuildings, non-historic additions, or rear-facing roof planes.

In the case of the Sycamore Store, site constraints prevented the installation of freestanding panels. The configuration and orientation of the historic building and its garage precluded the installation of panels on the garage or on the store’s rear- and side-facing roof planes. The HPC agreed with the property owner’s conclusion that the only feasible location for the installation was on the building’s front—southwest facing—roof plane.

Installing solar panels on front-facing roof planes is clearly not the preferred treatment from a historic preservation vantage. But operationally, placing the solar collectors in a readily visible location is sometimes the most effective alternative. The HPC found that in this case the panels, while readily visible, would not damage significant architectural features, alter the store’s importance as an established and familiar visual feature, or detract from its historical and cultural significance.

In the past two years, the HPC has approved six other solar installations, all installed in less visible locations: two free-standing in Brookeville, three on secondary roof planes on houses in Takoma Park and Brookeville, and one on a barn in the Agricultural Reserve.  

The demand to decrease our carbon footprint, whether by making use of alternative energy sources or enhancing efficiency of buildings, is only going to increase. A growing number of preservationists are promoting the idea that the greenest building is the one that is already built. The Sycamore Store’s solar installation is just the most recent example of how Montgomery County preservationists are coming together with the perspective that preservation and sustainability can work in concert to breathe new life into historic buildings while slowing climate change.