What’s next with Montgomery Preservation’s historic railroad station?

A moat? A Trumpian wall?

Montgomery Preservation Inc. building, Silver Spring, Maryland, as seen from the entrance to Progress Place.

Montgomery Preservation Inc. doesn’t exactly have the best reputation in the Washington region as a good neighbor. The suburban historic preservation organization has vigorously opposed the completion of a regional bike trail; not questioned the presence of a fence blocking access to its property from a historic railroad bridge; and, has increasingly developed an adversarial relationship with a new county homeless facility that opened next door to the organization’s headquarters: a historic former B&O railroad station.

Former B&O railroad station south facade with new fence.

While returning home on Metro’s Red Line recently I noticed a new chain link fence at the historic railroad station. The new fence blocks access to the building’s rear where the organization hosts parties for itself and its partners and which it rents to other organizations and individuals. Also new are “no loitering” signs affixed to the brick building’s north facade, the one facing the Progress Place homeless facility. No such signs appear on the building’s south facade.

Former B&O railroad station north facade with “no loitering” sign affixed to brick wall.

Former B&O railroad station north facade.

Former B&O railroad station south facade. There are no warning signs affixed to this facade.

The fence and signs are ironic considering Montgomery Preservation’s self-appointed role as our county’s arbiter of architectural aesthetics where historic buildings and spaces are concerned. The organization and its partners have routinely nominated private properties for designation under the county’s historic preservation law — a process that would subject property owners to onerous design reviews that determine what changes to buildings and spaces are appropriate.

Montgomery Preservation and its partners also have appeared in county government meetings to oppose changes to properties that are designated under county law — changes like new signs and new fences.

Having served two full terms on the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission and with more than 30 years in public history and historic preservation practice (16 of them in Montgomery County) I know all too well the regulatory game historic designation makes property owners play. I can remember our board forcing property owners to abandon fencing proposals or substantially redesign them to make them more compatible with the rules, i.e., county issued historic district design guidelines or the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for for Rehabilitation.

Excerpt from Montgomery County Historic Preservation Design Guidelines.

With this in mind, I wonder how Montgomery Preservation Inc. can justify its highly visible changes to the building they own? Perhaps more importantly, I wonder how the organization can explain the messages it keeps telegraphing to the community with its fences and tendencies towards exclusion.

Is it a double standard or something else? Is it time for Montgomery County to reevaluate how history and historic preservation are produced in our communities and which organizations and people should be its partners?

Former B&O Railroad station (foreground) and Progress Place (background).

© 2017 D.S. Rotenstein

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