Silver Spring’s preservationistas want a 1950s Georgia Avenue office building placed on a statewide list of endangered sites.
Jerry McCoy, president of the Silver Spring Historical Society, told The Penguin via email that his organization wants the Perpetual Building added to Preservation Maryland‘s protection wishlist. The building at 8700 Georgia Ave currently houses a SunTrust Bank branch, as well as studio space for the dance troupe Tappers With Attitude.
But the five-story, 51-year-old building once served as a branch of the Perpetual Bank, according to documents submitted previously to the county’s planning board. Preservationists claim the bank financed many Montgomery County homes back in the day, and was among the first banks to give mortgages to the county’s black residents.
“The loss of this building would result in a significant loss to the architecture of Silver Spring,” Marcy Stickle, a member of Silver Spring’s historical society, testified at a 2008 planning board meeting. Isabelle Gournay and Mary Corbin Sies, both associate professors with the University of Maryland, labeled the building’s style “suburban Baby Boom modernism”.
But some don’t see its architectural significance. The bank had branches in The District, on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, and off East-West Highway in Hyattsville built in the same style. The two buildings in Maryland are still used as office space, according to planning board documents.
“The goal of preservation is to enrich the community by preventing the demolition of buildings that create a unique sense of place or are exceptional examples of architecture for their day,” Wheaton economist Cavan Wilk wrote on the blog “Greater Greater Washington”. “The Perpetual Banking Building is neither.”
Even the building’s current owner isn’t buying the history argument. Preservation was never raised until plans to erect a new building on the site were presented in November 2006, landlord rep Patricia Harris told the planning board last year. The proposed project offers ground-floor retail, office space, apartments and a pocket park.
And even if the Perpetual Bank building is placed on Preservation Maryland’s list, it doesn’t guarantee perpetuity, Mary Reardon, with Silver Spring’s historical society, told The Penguin. While a recent Washington Post article praised the list as saving downtown’s Falkland Chase apartment complex from complete demolition, Reardon felt the list did little to help its preservation.
“The reason Falkland is endangered is that the north parcel –- 40 percent of the property, by the way –- is slated for demolition,” Reardon emailed The Penguin. “That is the parcel the Montgomery County council voted to exclude from protection. The developers got exactly what they wanted; the ‘endangered’ listing did not sway the council.
“The council’s vote was a huge defeat for the preservation community,” she added. “We contend the entire Falkland complex should be preserved.”
Still, placing a building on that list can help educate the public, and influence public officials and property owners about historic properties, Reardon said.