Montgomery Modern

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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.]

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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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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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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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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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 for buildings associate with events or a 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sligo Adventist Elementary School (1963), Ronald Senseman, architect

Sligo Adventist Elementary School (1963), Ronald Senseman, architect

Montgomery Modern

Montgomery County in the mid-century era experienced great change. Montgomery was the fourth fastest growing county in the nation. The population grew from less than 90,000 in 1946 to nearly 580,000 by 1974. Change also came in the pace of life, as cars and new highways enabled ever increasing speeds, but also in the scale of the perceived environment, as space exploration made the universe seem to be the limit. A new era called for new building forms, made possible with innovative technologies. By the early 1960s, architects were experimenting with a variety of roof forms.

The zigzag roof of the Sligo Adventist Elementary School must have been a striking contrast to the traditional flat roof schools that had been built for decades in the county up to this time. Architect Ronald Senseman, a Silver Spring resident, designed Sligo Adventist Elementary School. Flanking the entry’s geometric roofline is warm-toned, stone facing. This sets a contrast between manmade shapes and materials and the organic shapes and materials of nature—a dichotomy found on many modernist projects of this era. Senseman continued the stone in a series of column-like piers found on each side elevation.

PHOTO 2 Sligo Adv ES CLKelly 4-2013 (22)

Ronald Senseman designed many modernist projects in the region, including schools, churches, and motels. For more information on Senseman, see a recent Montgomery Modern post.

The zigzag roof was fairly popular in the early 1960s, yet most original examples have been demolished or remodeled. Another example, also designed by Senseman, was the Park University Motel (1962), 7200 Baltimore Road, in Prince George’s County. Here’s a photo from a c1963 ad for Ruberoid roofing.

PHOTO 3 Park University Motel c1963

The dramatic roofline today is obscured through remodeling for the facility, now Quality Inn & Suites.
Incidentally, according to the ad, the Park University Motel project used Ruberoid T/NA 200, which the company marketed as “the industry’s first prefabricated, prefinished, built-up roofing system”. The lightweight, pliable product was composed of polyvinyl fluoride film and a durable asbestos felt.

The same c1963 Ruberoid Company ad enticed architects to stretch their imagination in roof design.

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Many examples of such modernist geometry are still found in our area, if we look closely.

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Groundbreaking for Sligo Elementary School was September 22, 1963, and the school opened one year later. More information on its history may be found on the school website.


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 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.

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Case Study House, Los Angeles, Architect: Pierre Koenig; Photographer Julius Shulman, 1960. Source: Getty Museum

Montgomery Modern

This post is not specifically about Montgomery County, but it’s about a great film I recently saw that really sets modernism in context. It’s Visual Acoustics, the documentary of a man helped bring modern American design into the forefront: architectural photographer Julius Shulman (1910-2009). Through his spectacular photos, it is said that Shulman defined the way we look at modernism. His photos of works of Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright, and other modernist designers great and small appeared in architectural journals and books throughout this era.
Shulman’s work was not always credited at the time. My copy of Leonardo Benevolo’s History of Modern Architecture bears witness to this, with great photos of Neutra houses which are not credited (!) but are clearly Shulman’s iconic work, such as this view of the Kaufman House (1946) in California.

Kaufman House, Palm Springs, CA. Architect: Richard Neutra; Photographer Julius Shulman, 1947.

The documentary film of Shulman’s work is called Visual Acoustics (2009) and is narrated by Dustin Hoffman. Created before Shulman’s death in 2009, the film has fascinating interviews with Shulman who describes his philosophy for finding the essence of a building and technique of single point perspective.
Visual Acoustics, which was playing on PBS in recent months, is now available on Netflix. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in modern architecture, and it’s been known to change the minds of those who are not yet admirers. Here is a trailer. Go see the film!

Shulman’s photographs and papers are at the Getty Museum which had an exhibit of his work a few years ago. Check out some highlights.

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.