In 1998, the historic preservation group, Montgomery Preservation, Inc. (MPI), bought the old and abandoned B&O Railroad station in Silver Spring, Maryland. A fence continues to separate the property from a popular and historic pedestrian bridge. Shortly after MPI acquired the property, novelist and Silver Spring native George Pelecanos introduced the pedestrian bridge and the railroad station to readers around the world in his 2001 novel, Right as Rain:
[Terry Quinn] crossed the street to the pedestrian bridge that spanned Georgia Avenue. He went to the middle of the bridge and looked down at the cars emerging northbound from the tunnel and the southbound cars disappearing into the same tunnel. He focused on the broken yellow lines painted on the street and the cars moving in rows between the lines. He looked north on Georgia at the street lamps haloed in the cold and watched his breath blow out into the night. He had grown up in this city, it was his, and to him it was beautiful. Sometime later he crossed the remainder of the bridge and went to the chain-link fence that had been erected in the past year. The fence prevented pedestrians from walking into the area of the train station via the bridge. He glanced around idly and climbed the fence, dropping down over its other side. Then he was in near the small commuter train station, a squat brick structure — George Pelecanos, Right as Rain (Grand Central Publishing, 2001).
After painstakingly restoring the train station and opening it as an event space where local preservationists can gather and revel in the nostalgia of railroads and the Silver Spring community, the fence remained as a palpable physical barrier between the station and the historic pedestrian corridor.
Though MPI and its sister preservation organizations have lots of support from Montgomery County residents and leaders, they also have engendered much animosity from critics who claim that historic preservation is an economic liability. More recently, new urbanists and bicycling activists accused MPI of blocking the completion of the Metropolitan Branch Trail that would link suburban Montgomery County with downtown Washington.
MPI in public comments and on its website vigorously denies the charges that the organization is responsible for delays in completing the trail. “MPI has always welcomed the planned Metropolitan Branch Trail as a public amenity near its property, the historic Silver Spring B&O Railroad Station at 8100 Georgia Avenue,” the group wrote on its website and in a brochure [PDF] released earlier this year. “It has never been MPI’s goal to prevent the Trail, only to ensure that the Trail would not leave MPI unable to use its property.”
Yet, MPI has kept a physical barrier in place, the fence, blocking a historic pedestrian corridor. MPI should remove the fence and restore the connectivity between its property and the bridge. This simple act could go a long way towards breaking down the symbolic barriers between the community and MPI.
Update: On March 9, 2017, the fence was removed.
© 2016 D.S. Rotenstein