Montgomery County’s earliest ranch house?

garden-homes-letterheadThe community builders who laid out the lots and constructed the first homes in Silver Spring, Maryland’s Northwood Park subdivision were skilled real estate entrepreneurs. The people who owned Garden Homes, Inc., selected an attractive and accessible site for their subdivisions. And, they built homes finished in popular styles they knew would sell quickly.

One home built in 1939 stood out from all of the Cape Cods and English Cottage period revival homes Garden Homes built. It was a fully modernist home plucked from cutting edge California. Several years before other builders were marketing their own California cottages in suburban Maryland, Northwood Park’s builders completed what may be the earliest ranch-style house in Montgomery County. Continue reading

Dream City homesteading

Urban Homesteading program ad published in the Washington Post, March 12, 1977.

Urban Homesteading program ad published in the Washington Post, March 12, 1977.

The journalists Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood drew the title of their 1994 book on recent Washington history, Dream City, from Charles Dickens’ 1842 description of the nation’s capital: “city of magnificent intentions.”

Through the years, District and federal leaders have struggled to solve the city’s housing ills by implementing policies and programs borne of magnificent intentions. Urban homesteading, which the city adopted in 1974 to address a large pool of abandoned housing and growing demand for affordable housing, was one of those dreams.

For a small number of District families who paid $1 for a home, it was a dream come true. Yet, for the distressed neighborhoods where the homes were located, it was a dream deferred. The program which hoped to spur contagious reinvestment failed in that respect. Continue reading

Home for sale, Realtors blocked

reno-2015-08-27In August 2014 a Decatur, Ga., Realtor had lunch with the executive director of a local history organization. A few hours later, the Realtor was swapping tweets with local cyberstalkers about my impending move back to Maryland from Atlanta.

The Realtor learned about my relocation plans during her lunch. I had confided about the move to a handful of close friends, including the history colleague. The Realtor, mainly because of her past absurd and malicious allegations that I had been stalking her, was one of the people we did not want to know about the planned move. Her communications on Twitter underscored the concerns my wife and I had when we decided to sell our home. Continue reading

Finding Vera

carmaniaIn the mid-1970s I found an old diary in a house that was about to be demolished in Daytona Beach, Fla. The diary was written by a 24-year-old woman and it recounted her December 1905 trip on the maiden voyage of the ocean liner Carmania from England to New York.

In 2010, I posted a transcript from the diary and scans of various photos and other items. Last year, the woman’s great-granddaughter found the post and left a comment on the post. We began corresponding and I connected with other family members. Soon a plan emerged for us to meet and for me to return the diary to the family. Continue reading

Living in a salad bowl suburb

Last year we moved back to Silver Spring, Md., after living for nearly four years in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Atlanta — the city and its many sprawling suburbs — is one of the most racially and economically divided places in the United States. That point was quickly driven home in our experience with Decatur, a suburb that is undergoing rapid demographic inversion and gentrification becoming whiter and wealthier.

Since 1980, Decatur has lost more than 60% of its African American population, mostly through displacement. That process and the complicated history the city has with Jews, African Americans, and the politics of history and memory is the subject of a book I am completing.

Northwood-Four Corners Civic Association newsletter editor Jacquie Bokow asked me to write about demographic changes in our neighborhood. This post is derived from the article I wrote for the October 2015 issue.

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Slaughterhouses on the Schuylkill

In the mid-1870s, the Pennsylvania Railroad consolidated its livestock operations in Philadelphia and built sprawling stockyards and a slaughterhouse on the Schuylkill River’s west bank. Now the site of Amtrak’s 30th Street Station, for nearly half a century, this area was Philadelphia’s version of Chicago’s Packingtown.

Philadelphia stockyards and abattoir illustrated in Hexamer's General Surveys of Philadelphia, Vol. 12 (1877).

Philadelphia stockyards and abattoir shortly after they were completed illustrated in Hexamer’s General Surveys of Philadelphia, Vol. 12 (1877).

Before the Pennsylvania Railroad complex opened, hogs, cattle, and sheep were held and sold at independent drove yards along rail lines leading into the city. Many of the yards were located in West Philadelphia near today’s University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University campuses.

Avenue Drove Yard

Avenue Drove Yard, near Lancaster Avenue, West Philadelphia (formerly Hestonville), c. 1867.

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Off the books at First and T

Salon owner Latosha Jackson-Martin interviewed by a local TV crew, April 2015.

Salon owner Latosha Jackson-Martin interviewed by a local TV crew, April 2015.

Last spring a long-lived Washington, D.C., hair salon shut its doors after about 50 years in business, 27 of them in the 100 block of Rhode Island Ave. NW. Jak & Company’s owner spent a few weeks in the media spotlight after a Washington Post reporter spotted a letter taped in the storefront’s plate glass door.

The letter announced that the business was closing; gentrification was one of the reasons the letter cited.

The history of changes in people and businesses at the intersection of First and T streets NW in Washington’s Bloomingdale neighborhood includes a hidden history of ties to Washington’s African American underworld. Continue reading

History is in the eye of the beholder

NFC-park-signIn 2013, the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) evaluated recreation buildings in Montgomery County parks and recommended designating seven of them historic. The North Four Corners Local Park building in Silver Spring was not among the ones selected for protection under Montgomery County’s historic preservation law, Chapter 24A of the County Code.

Though county officials declined to recognize the North Four Corners building’s historical significance, that doesn’t mean the building doesn’t have a history and deep attachment to our community.

North Four Corners Park recreation building, March 2015.

North Four Corners Park recreation building, March 2015.

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The incipient slum

Fayetteville Road urban homesteading property after teardown and new 3,564-square-foot home construction.

Formerly high-grade neighborhoods are subject to extraordinarily rapid obsolescence, since there are few takers for the aging and oversized dwellings vacated by the departing elite. Their prohibitive purchase price and maintenance expense rule out their availability to successively lower income groups and their continued use as single-family homes …. (Hughes and Bleakly 1975: 49).

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The gentrification post

People who live in gentrifying neighborhoods enjoy many new things that accompany increased investment and influxes of new people: better police protection, more places to shop and eat, and cleaner streets. The changes may be gradual or they may appear in such a short period of time that it seems like overnight.

Something as simple as the appearance of a mailbox on a corner can reinforce longtime residents’ impressions that change is occurring.

And now that I’ve been over here and we’re getting whites moving in the neighborhood, we’ve got a mailbox on the corner. We don’t have to go up to the post office ….

The mailbox is new. And pickup on time: eleven o’clock very day. Eleven o’clock every day. So you see, you get different service and you get general services and so forth and so on. — Washington, D.C., Ward 7 resident, July 2015.

Branch Ave., 2007. Credit: Google maps.

Branch Ave., 2007. Credit: Google maps.

Branch Ave., 2015. Note new sidewalks.

Branch Ave., 2015. Note new sidewalks.

© 2015 D.S. Rotenstein