An erasure primer

Two maps of Silver Spring, Maryland, published 80 years apart provide a palpable and accessible example of erasure.

Top: 1933 North Washington Realty Company map of “North Washington”; Bottom: Historic Neighborhoods of Downtown Silver Spring. The dotted line shows the approximate location of the historic African American hamlet, Lyttonsville.

The first map was published in 1933 by the North Washington Realty Company. It shows all of the area the company and community boosters were branding as “Maryland North of Washington.” The promotional map showed the existing street network, community institutions (schools, churches, commercial buildings), and neighborhood names, including areas shaded where the company had investments and plans for new residential subdivisions. Continue reading

Confronting racism

I was honored to participate in IMPACT Silver Spring’s program last night, Courage Lives Here: Confronting Racism that Divides Us.

IMPACT Now 2017 panel. FB photo.

Dr. Yanique Redwood (with microphone) gave the keynote address and then moderated a panel that included Rev. Ronnie Galvin, MD Delegate Maricé Morales, and myself. This is the start of a very important community dialogue in Silver Spring and my work in documenting Silver Spring’s history as a sundown suburb plays a key role in addressing structural racism here.

 

Breaking through biased history in Silver Spring, Maryland

“Montgomery Modern” exhibit panel on display in the Silver Spring Library.

Three quarters of the buildings shown in this panel on display in the Silver Spring Library have important civil rights history stories. Unfortunately, Montgomery County residents won’t read about them in anything produced by the Montgomery County Planning Department’s Historic Preservation Office.

For the stories related to the community’s civil rights struggles and Silver Spring’s history as a sundown suburb folks need to take one of my Silver Spring Black History tours. The May 6, 2017, tour is booked solid. New dates are coming the week of May 8.

“Montgomery Modern” by the Montgomery County Planning Department’s Historic Preservation Office.

 

Silver Spring Black History Tour: May 6, 2017

UPDATE: The May 6 tour is sold out. New dates will be added soon.

Tickets are now available for the next Silver Spring Black History Tour. Mark your calendars: Saturday, May 6, 2017. The event is free but registration is required: https://silverspringblackhistory.eventbrite.com.

There’s new connectivity in Silver Spring

Last September I published a post about a fence blocking access from a railroad bridge connecting the east side of Georgia Avenue with the historic B&O Railroad Station on the road’s west side. The fence had been described by novelist George Pelecanos in a 2001 book set in Silver Spring (and Northwest Washington) and it had blocked the pedestrian connection for almost 20 years.

The fence and blocked connection in September 2016.

Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large) responded to the initial post with a promise to look into the situation: “This fence is an abomination,” Riemer wrote. He pursued opening the connection by contacting the railroad station’s owner, Montgomery Preservation, Inc., and staff in the County’s Silver Spring Regional Center.

On March 9, 2017, Councilmember Riemer commented on a February Facebook update about the fence’s continued presence:

Thanks for prodding us on this. We got it fixed. According to the urban district staffer I spoke with it was the county’s responsibility and therefore the county fixed it.

Thank you Coucilmember Riemer for being persistent and for opening up this historic connection to a historic building in downtown Silver Spring.

© 2017 D.S. Rotenstein

How to not develop a “historical walking tour”

In 2014, graduate students in the University of Maryland’s Urban Studies and Planning Program dipped their toes into the public engagement process associated with the development of a Montgomery County, Maryland, sector plan.

Lyttonsville is a historically African American hamlet in unincorporated Silver Spring. For much of the 20th century, Lyttonsville was Silver Spring’s other side of the tracks. Silver Spring was developed in the first half of the 20th century as a sundown suburb: a place where African Americans could not live (because of racial restrictive covenants) or shop, worship, and play (because of Jim Crow segregation).

Sign for one of Lee’s “restricted” subdivisions in NW Washington. Credit: DC Public Library/National Archives and Records Administration.

E. Brooke Lee (1892-1984) was a Democratic political boss in Montgomery County and he was one of Silver Spring’s earliest boosters and founders. Though he held various elected and appointed state and county offices, his primary career was in real estate development. Lee, through his North Washington Realty Company, transformed former farms into sprawling residential subdivisions. Each of Lee’s subdivisions contained racial restrictive covenants prohibiting African Americans from living there as homeowners and renters.

The only African Americans who could live in Lee’s subdivisions were domestic servants.

Typical covenants from properties Lee sold in Silver Spring. This deed was executed in 1930 for a lot in one of Lee’s Four Corners subdivisions.

There’s abundant evidence that Lee never renounced his white supremacist views, even as a septuagenarian. In the late 1960s as Montgomery County was debating and enacting civil rights laws outlawing discrimination in public accommodations and housing, Lee was railing against these laws in local newspapers describing them as “Anti-White Laws.”

The worst blow to the continued existence of the great suburban Montgomery County that her people have built since 1920 will come from the Anti-White laws — E. Brooke Lee, March, 1967.

And yet, the University of Maryland students, proposed a “Lyttonsville Historical Walking Tour” with a wayfinding sign dedicated to Lee and his contributions to the community.

Perhaps these students should literally go back to the drawing board with this one.

Lyttonsville and the Proposed Purple Line Station, Appendix B, p. 82.

© 2017 D.S. Rotenstein

Lyttonsville Black History Month program

I would like to thank the staff of the Gwendolyn E. Coffield Community Center for hosting me Saturday February 18. And, a big acknowledgement to the Silver Spring residents who gave up a sunny and warm Saturday midday to learn about African American and civil rights history in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The walking tour returns this spring, along with a new local non-profit partner with plans to integrate my history work into its Silver Spring racial equity program. Stay tuned for dates and details.

Charlotte Coffield, the center’s namesake sister, was instrumental in arranging the program. I am fortunate to have met Charlotte and the other Lyttonsville residents with whom I have spoken the past year. I am looking forward to learning more about the community’s history and the role its people played in Silver Spring’s history. Their stories have enriched my understanding of how people of color and their histories are erased from suburbs.

Charlotte Coffield stands in front of a case inside the Coffield center’s lobby where her family and community’s history are on display.

Silver Spring Black History Tour program. Photo by Alan Bowser.

© 2017 D.S. Rotenstein

Silver Spring’s monument to white supremacy

Silver Spring Armory. Historic American Buildings Survey photo by Bill Lebovich.

In 1998, crews demolished the Silver Spring Armory. Located in the heart of the suburban Washington suburb’s central business district (CBD), the Armory occupied prime real estate earmarked to provide parking for a new urban renewal project.

Built in 1927, the Armory quickly became unincorporated Silver Spring’s de facto city hall and civic center. In 1984, the State of Maryland declared the property surplus and it was transferred to the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. After rehabilitation work, the building opened as a community center and in 1984 it was listed in the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation. Continue reading

Silver Spring’s newest visual junkyard

This … is not written in anger. It is written in fury … it is a deliberate attack upon all those who have already befouled a large portion of this country for private gain, and are engaged in befouling the rest. — Peter Blake, Preface to God’s Own Junkyard: The Planned Deterioration of America’s Landscape (1964)

Ellsworth Place Mall, Colesville Road and Fenton Street facade, September 2016.

Ellsworth Place Mall, Colesville Road and Fenton Street facade, September 2016.

After more than a decade of false starts involving redevelopment plans and rebranding campaigns, an urban mall in Silver Spring, Maryland, has a new name, new look, and new stores. Ellsworth Place, née City Place, was completed in 1992 in an effort to jumpstart redevelopment in Silver Spring’s central business district. The mall was built as an addition to a historic Hecht’s department store, which was completed in 1947 and which left Silver Spring 40 years later for a new regional mall in nearby Wheaton.

Rebranding City Place involved converting its worn and bland suburban commercial spaces and “re-tenanting,” a process the owner described as attracting more upscale merchants to attract millennials and other new middle class residents moving to Silver Spring.

Montgomery County’s historic preservation law was one hurdle owners had to clear. The former Hecht’s building is a protected county landmark and the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission has regulatory jurisdiction over changes to the building’s exterior. Changes like new entrances, windows, and signage.

Ellsworth Place Mall/Former Hecht's, Ellsworth Ave. and Fenton Street facade, September 2016.

Ellsworth Place Mall/Former Hecht’s, Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street facade, September 2016.

Continue reading