Downtown bank building on preservation wishlist

Silver Spring’s preservationistas want a 1950s Georgia Avenue office building placed on a statewide list of endangered sites.

Photo: The Perpetual Bank Building. Courtesy of MNCPPC.

Photo: The Perpetual Bank Building. Courtesy of MNCPPC.

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.

22 Responses to “Downtown bank building on preservation wishlist”

  1. Grig Larson says:

    I just wonder what it will be like when we’re really old.

    “The Silver Spring Preservationist Society announced that a plaque will be designated for the area’s last known 7-11, which closed in 2025. The 7-11 was a store chain that used to sell ‘recreational comestibles’ before the Unhealthy Food Act of 2015. From there, it sold mostly nostalgic gift items, like ‘Mustache Rides: $10,’ caps and tee-shirts that advertised lawn care machinery, then changed hands several times until it quietly closed.

    “When passers by look at the plaque, a holographic structure will appear in their visual cortex chips to replace the power conduit that is anchored in roughly the same spot (the corner of Obama and Fishburne).

    “‘This is not the victory we’d hoped for,’ says Madonna Darnell, Chief Organizational Person of the Silver Spring Preservationist Society, ‘however, the holographic image of the historical mercantile store will remind those who visit the otherwise banal power conduit that people once bought Twinkies and Gatorade here.’ “

    Editor: This comment was edited for content. — JD (Sep 30, 2009)

  2. Just a note: The Penguin tech crew has the site’s spam filter set at “Stalinist,” and it blocks long comments. Please keep your statements to a paragraph or two. Thanks!

  3. Gary says:

    How about we swap – preserve 8700 Georgia if we can rip down that Verizon excrescence and the incredibly out-of-place suburban-style drive-thru Chevy Chase bank next door.

    There’s another one (similarly misconceived) three blocks south at Bonifant. CC Bank earns the urban planning bad citizen prize for their insistence on these single-story things in downtown areas.

  4. wombat says:

    I always try to remind myself that without the Jerry McCoys of the world to protect the unfashionable 50 year old buildings, we never get to have any charming 100 year old buildings.

    Also, what they replace it with might very well be uglier. That being said I’m having a hard time losing sleep over this one. I’d have gladly traded it for the Little Tavern and that block of bungalows and shops.

  5. LuvMyHood says:

    I agree with SSHS. The Perpetual building should be preserved, and certainly the Falklands. The Perpetual facade looks like granite. Are we entering an era when granite is only for countertops, an “upgrade” for already bloated real estate prices?
    Gary, the Verizon building is an industrial facility. People earning good wages do useful stuff in that building. About the CC bank branch, is that on the spot that used to house that blue building that contained Industrial Photo? I loved Industrial Photo. Did it change names & move, or just vanish?

  6. Woodside Woman says:

    I am all for historic preservation… But, just because a building is old and made of granite does not mean it is worth preserving. There is absolutely nothing architecturally or aesthetically interesting about that building. I pass it nearly daily, and it strikes me as being boring, unattractive, and not particularly versatile for reuse. The absence of that building will not take away from the atmosphere or nature of downtown Silver Spring and could do a lot of good in fostering a mixed use development that can help the vitality of downtown move north along Georgia Ave.

  7. David says:

    We need to make decisions about historic preservation using criteria other than (or at least in addition to) aesthetics. I think the Perpetual Building is ugly and would not mind seeing it raised. On the other hand, I really love the architecture of the buildings that currently house Wellers Dry Cleaners and Kefa Cafe (both in Fenton Village) and would hate to see these ones go. But, of course, all of this is in the eye of the beholder. We need a more rigorous set of standards to base our preservation decisions.

  8. SoCo says:

    I appreciate the effort Jerry McCoy makes in ensuring demolition plans get a second look before approval (or not). But let’s face it, he has NEVER met a building he didn’t like.

  9. SoCo,

    Oh, there are a few pre-1960 Silver Spring buildings whose historic designation I would not advocate!

    Jerry A. McCoy

  10. Woodside Park Bob says:

    Industrial Photo was, indeed, located where the ridiculous new Chevy Chase bank building is now. The building was originally a Giant supermarket (and is shown as such on a 1953 real estate atlas). Anyway, if I remember properly, Industrial Photo was purchased or merged into another photo chain and moved to south Silver Spring, and eventually closed.

  11. LuvMyHood says:

    Thank you, Woodside Park Bob! Industrial Photo was unique. I suspect the advent of the digital photo age played a significant role in its demise. But so many wonderful businesses fall victim to massive rent increases — or — having their buildings demolished. Would Olsson’s Books survived a bit longer if the building housing its wonderful Bethesda store had not fallen to make way for a big, upscale condo building?

  12. carlos says:

    I agree with David that
    “We need a more rigorous set of standards to base our preservation decisions.”

    That said this building is just ugly.

  13. JG says:

    “…labeled the building’s style “suburban Baby Boom modernism”.

    I really wish this generation would retire to Florida or go senile or something already. Suburban Baby Boom modernism? Please.

  14. Suburban Baby Boom modernists can’t afford to retire. Same goes for quasi-urban, Gen-X lesser proletariats.

  15. Steve says:

    I have to admit that I don’t always agree with Jerry McCoy and the SSHS (e.g. the NW parcel of the Falklands could go in my opinion), however I think they might have something with the Perpetual Builidng. I really like the unusual windows, and I think that with a little TLC the entrance could be made more interesting. I don’t see the need to tear it down – maybe just clean it up and give it a very light face-lift.

  16. Lolly says:

    I love the older commercial buildings in Silver Spring, the ones like Perpetual and Club Soda. And we are lucky to have a few spectacular residential buildings such as the Watson House, the Condict -Greyrocks Farm, the Wilbur House and a few others. Thank goodness people before us fought to save the portions of Sligo Creek Park when it came under attack before, as the golf course is now. Thank goodness downtown did not become a monolithic retail/entertainment monster operated by absentee owners. Thank you to Wayne, Jerry, Marci, Lorraine, Bob, Marilyn, Sally, Rebecca, Rachel, Phil, Jim and all the other neighbors that fight so hard to retain some of the charm we are lucky enough to enjoy as we go about our business every day. Without the efforts of these people and many others (without pay) I fear we would have very little left here to remind us of the rich history of Silver Spring and Southern Montgomery County. I did wander down to the Planning Dept. to watch the slides and listen to the comments when the Pertetual building was discussed … the richness of the story was fabulous and not contrived as some who would profit from it’s demise would suggest.

  17. David says:

    So to respond to my own comment about more rigorous standards for determining whether an older building should be preserved, here is a criteria based on the National Register standards, and how I think the Perpetual Building may measure up against these standards. The standards are:

    “The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and:

    A. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

    B. That are associated with the lives of significant persons in or past; or

    C. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

    D. That have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory (i.e. archeology).

    I don’t think that the Perpetual building is associated with a particular event that has made a signficiant contribution to American History. While the company may have helped advance civil rights for African-Americans by making some of the first loans to the black community in Montgomery County, these progressive policies are not in and of themselves discrete events. Nor is the building associated with the lives of significant historical figures. I’m not an architect or scholar of American architecture, so I can’t say for sure whether the building embodies distinctive characteristics of the period. I don’t think that the Perpetual building represents the work of a master or possesses high artistic values.

    The first paragraph is pretty squishy. Is the significance of American history and architecture present in the building? Does it possess integrity of design, feeling, and association? I don’t know. Based on the more tangible criteria A through D (above). The building fails on A, B, and C and might pass the first part of C. This one seems like a really borderline candidate for preservation.

  18. batman says:

    I’m just worried about the pocket park. Where is it going to be exactly? Hopefully on the side or something, and not the front…

  19. LuvMyHood says:

    Lolly’s comments are great. Batman asks where the pocket park “is going to be.” “Where would the pocket park be” is more like it. A proposed change to land and buildings is a proposed change. Developers should not count their chickens before they are hatched. And we certainly should not count such chickens for them!

    Editor’s note: What? — JD (Oct 2, 2009)

  20. LuvMyHood says:

    Jennifer, some people, including some reporters/editors have a tendency to say this or that “will” happen, when the this or that in question is only proposed.
    Developers (and often Park & Planning folks) usually say “will”. Therefore, the developers are counting their chickens before they are hatched (as in most of the way built) and the media folks are doing the same thing. It gets worse when ordinary folks jump on the bandwagon. I understand that developers have a vision and want to believe in it. But the rest of us should be more cautious. Look at it this way, if your gal pal already has a wedding gown on layaway and her boyfriend hasn’t even proposed yet, she is counting her chickens — oh, well, I realize I am starting to sound like that “It was a dark and stormy night” contest.

  21. tdiddy says:

    This is such a joke – the “Silver Spring Historical Society” is a farce, it would be more accurate to state that they are an anti-growth group.

    I’d love to see the actual criteria for selecting historical properties published. Can Jerry McCoy provide us with a report for each of the current properties on their list of historical sites?

    Listening to the Silver Spring Historical Society discuss a “historical walk” at an ESSCA meeting, it seemed arbitrary. The properties seemed to be selected to prevent growth and development, more on the lines of personal opinion than anything scientific.

    I’m all for historical preservation but give me a break.

  22. sergio m says:

    Lets not forget to thank our wonderful historical society for preserving the breath-taking facades between the Lee Building and the soon-to-be LiveNation (formerly JC Pennys” on Colesville Road! Imagine if we had lost those BEAUTIFUL storefronts thank you historical society. .

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