“Black lives matter, alive or dead”

“Black lives matter, alive or dead” — poet Siki Dlanga

South African poet Siki Dlanga and rally organizer Laurel Hoa. Photo by David Rotenstein.

Several dozen people participated in a rally and march to support the recognition and preservation of the Moses Cemetery in Bethesda, Maryland. The cemetery initially was founded in the 1880s a nearby District of Columbia neighborhood. Continue reading

Ada Dupree and the Moses Cemetery: stories linked by race

Ada Dupree. Photo credit: Edisto Herald.

Ada Dupree (1887-1991) lived a long and consequential life. She moved to the small Florida town of Esto in 1902 at age 15. For the rest of her life, she and her family were among the few people of color in the rural panhandle community near the Alabama border. When she died in 1991 at the age of 104, her family began funeral arrangements in accordance with her wishes: Ada wanted to be buried in the town where she spent most of her life. But some residents in the mostly white community didn’t want her buried in the town’s “all-white” cemetery.

Ada’s story made national headlines and in 1998 former NBC legal correspondent Star Jones recounted the story to introduce her book, You Have to Stand for Something or You’ll Fall for Anything: “Sometimes it takes a story about death to teach you about life ….” Continue reading

The hidden costs of relocating Confederate statues

Montgomery County’s Confederate statue, July 2015.

Earlier this year The Washington Post published my op-ed on Montgomery County’s decision to transfer a Confederate statue that had stood in Rockville since 1913 to a new owner in the private sector. The day after the Post article ran I began writing the follow-up article on the missed opportunities in that decision and the questionable logic of giving an artifact with strong neo-Confederate symbolism to an organization that celebrates the Confederacy.

I did additional background research on the statue and on the politics and semiotics of artifacts that celebrate white supremacy. For the follow-up article I interviewed Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker and County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett in anticipation of the statue’s eventual move, which occurred July 22, 2017).

And then Charlottesville happened August 11-12, 2017. All of a sudden the entire nation was awash in analytical and opinion articles about Confederate iconography, race, erasure, and the production of history.

By last weekend I had revised most of my initial ideas for how that follow-up article would look and I made the trip out to the Montgomery County statue’s new home at White’s Ferry on the Potomac River. I crossed the river to Virginia and took in the statue’s new setting and I took more than 100 photos.

From the moment I first conceived of the follow-up article I knew that it would focus on two things: the tensions inherent in deciding how to deal with neo-Confederate artifacts that Montgomery County leaders and their counterparts around the nation grapple with and the consequences of re-contextualizing the statue in a space that celebrates the Confederacy.

Relocated Confederate statue in its new home at White’s Ferry, August 2017.

By giving the statue to White’s Ferry, Montgomery County officials relinquished control over the artifact and any messages it conveys. The statue now occupies a prominent position overlooking the ferry ramp and it is one of the first things passengers see as they leave the ferry and enter Maryland from Virginia.

View from the Gen. Jubal A. Early at the ramp to White’s Ferry, August 2017.

It’s private property yet public space. And, instead of being hidden among trees next to the county’s old courthouse, the statue now occupies a more visible space at a historic Montgomery County gateway.

The Activist History Review has published my analysis of the statue’s move and its implications in the wake of Charleston 2015 and Charlottesville 2017: No Country for Johnny Reb or Bobby Lee.

Welcome to Montgomery County, Maryland. River Road and White’s Ferry Road near the entrance to White’s Ferry, August 2017.

© 2017 D.S. Rotenstein

Is Montgomery County Planning tainted by racism?

Montgomery County, Maryland, goes to great lengths to promote its communities as diverse and progressive. Yet, actions by such institutions as the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission undermine those assertions with racialized land use policies and historic preservation plans that omit, marginalize, and alienate the county’s communities of color. Patterns apparent over the past 20 years suggest that the agency, which was founded by a white supremacist real estate developer and Democratic Party boss, structurally hasn’t moved very far from its 1920s origins as a machine for building suburbs where power and authority remain concentrated among the white middle and upper classes.

Framing Structural and Institutional Racism

In September 2016, a historic preservation planner with the Montgomery County Planning Department’s Historic Preservation Office approached a group of residents from the  Lyttonsville community in the lobby of the Montgomery County Council Building in Rockville. The planner and the residents of the historically African American community were there to attend a hearing for the Greater Lyttonsville Sector Plan.

The planner began speaking enthusiastically about her research in a neighboring community that had been developed by Jewish developer Sam Eig: Rock Creek Forest. She told the Lyttonsville residents that in her research on Eig and the subdivision she found that Eig did not attach racial restrictive covenants to the properties.

The following morning I emailed the planner and asked her about what she had told the Lyttonsville residents. She replied:

What I was telling [Lyttonsville resident] was that Sam Eig developed Rock Creek Forest, without restrictive covenants. He also donated land there for two churches and the Jewish Community Center (?and maybe for the Red Cross). MCHS has  information on Sam Eig.

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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.

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McMansions and community character in Montgomery County (Updated)

[See below for updates to this post]

Teardowns and mansionization are a nationwide problem and Montgomery County has few regulatory controls to prevent property owners from demolishing older homes and building new houses that are out of scale and character with neighboring buildings.

Although Montgomery County has a historic preservation ordinance, not all old homes are historic and there are few tools currently available to residents to prevent speculators from building McMansions like the one under construction in my Silver Spring neighborhood. Continue reading

Silver Spring Drum Circle: Starting the Groove

August 28, 2010

Since July 2010, when the Silver Spring Civic Building and Veterans Plaza opened, a drum circle has gathered Saturday evenings. I wanted to see how the drum circle forms each week so I arrived at 6:30 PM to see how it comes together. Performances are complex social events. The activities leading up to the actual event can be as significant as the music or drama performed during the performance. With that in mind I tried to catch how the Silver Spring drum circle comes together as a performance. This video is compiled from clips I shot while watching the drummers and their audience gather between 7:00 and 8:20 PM in Veterans Plaza.

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MoCo Board says Kensington Cabin Historic

The Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously tonight  to recommend to the Montgomery County Planning Board that the Kensington Cabin be added to the county’s Locational Atlas of Historic Sites and that the property be designated in the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation. The HPC serves in an advisory capacity and makes recommendations to the Planning Board; final designation decisions are made by the County Council. Continue reading

Architectural Adaptations: Silver Spring’s 1939 World’s Fair Home [Updated]

Update: See this later post on the home’s inclusion in a National Building Museum exhibit.

I am slowly getting around to revising my 2010 Vernacular Architecture Forum paper on Silver Spring’s 1939 World’s Fair Home. One of the areas that I was unable to deal with in the VAF paper was how the Silver Spring house differed from the one built in the World’s Fair Town of Tomorrow. This brief post is drawn from my ongoing work.

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Frankenpines, Monopalms, and the Jolly Green Giant

I have been interested in concealed telecommunications sites since I first began working on regulatory compliance for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licensees struggling to understand the complexities of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. This is the first of a series of posts on concealed telecommunications infrastructure and the American landscape.

Monopines. Whitemarsh Township, Pennsylvania.

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