Snowzilla 2016

The forecasters did label it historic, after all.

On Wednesday January 20, 2016, weather forecasters issued a blizzard watch for the Washington, DC, area. The following day, the notice was upgraded to a blizzard warning. The National Weather Service has named the event ‘Winter Storm Jonas”; Washington Post meteorologists have named it “Snowzilla.” For me, Snowzilla it is. Seriously, does the name “Jonas” inspire fear and awe?

Anywhere from 1.5 to 2 feet of snow was predicted. Mass transit is shutting down for the weekend. There’s a run on grocery and hardware stores — even Washington City Paper reported that a local Trader Joes had sold out of all its veggie flaxseed tortilla chips. Pepco, the electric company, announced that we could be spending days in a pre-electric living history museum.

Clearly, this is the BIG ONE. Besides staging firewood and all the necessary supplies (except the flaxseed anythings) to cope with the storm, I’ll be documenting the event as it unfolds. So sit back, grab something to eat and drink, and watch the end of the world from the comfort of your browser window. Continue reading

Historic 1939 World’s Fair home on the market

A Maryland Realtor emailed to let me know that Silver Spring, Maryland’s 1939 World’s Fair Town of Tomorrow home is on the market. Built as a marketing gimmick and used as collateral advertising for the New York fair, the home has had only two owners since it was completed in the summer of 1939.

Construction progress photo. The Washington Post, June 11, 1939.

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Adverse Effects Assessments In Historic Preservation: Get Off The Road, Onto The Rails

When it comes to evaluating impacts to historic properties, why are historic preservationists so hung up on views from roads? What about views from railroads and other heavily traveled transportation corridors?

I’ve often wondered why architectural historians and others evaluating impacts to historic buildings, structures, and landscapes by construction projects limit themselves to looking at how a proposed project will look from the road.

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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

Family Dry Cleaners may be ousted from Silver Spring

Downtown Silver Spring may lose another locally owned and operated business. According to a November Silver Spring Singular blog post, the Peterson Companies are pressuring the Family Dry Cleaners to leave the prominent Wayne Avenue Shopping Center location they have occupied since 2000 when the center opened. The dry cleaner’s lease expires next March. The blogger wrote that Peterson — which manages Downtown Silver Spring under an agreement with Montgomery County — is courting CVS to occupy the space now held by the cleaners, along with adjacent spaces formerly occupied by Hollywood Video and MotoPhoto (later, an Upscale Pharmacy outlet).

Family Dry Cleaners, Downtown Silver Spring. Photo by the author, December 2010.

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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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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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Saturday Night Live

The Silver Spring drum circle reconvened last Saturday night. My BlackBerry (and its crappy camera) and I again wandered over to the drummers after catching the great show put on by Chicago blueser Joanna Connor. Note to self: Carry a real camera in Downtown Silver Spring.

Joanna Connor. Silver Spring, Maryland. July 31, 2010. Another Blackberry fuzz shot.

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Creating Community

Last night my BlackBerry and I stumbled through near-100-degree heat into the second weekly drum circle convened in the new Veteran’s Plaza by Impact Silver Spring.

Silver Spring is an interesting place. I’ve lived here for nearly 10 years and I still feel like a newcomer. It is an unincorporated place in southern Montgomery County (Maryland) that hugs Washington’s angular northern boundary line. Unlike other places I have lived (e.g., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta), there is no cohesive Silver Spring identity for the community as a whole or its various neighborhoods. It’s a place in search of a culture, it seems.

Two years ago the space where the new Veterans Plaza and Civic Building now sit was a patch of artificial turf that became a community gathering place. One year ago the spot was a construction site.  County planners envisioned the new space as a performance space and a formal and informal gathering place. I wonder how this is going to develop and if Silver Spring will get the culture planners hoped for in building the new space. Okay, they’ve built it and people are coming: skateboarders, loafers, nappers, and voyeurs. And the drummers. Are the drum circles a transitional phase helping (through music therapy?) to move Silver Spring into a new direction? Or are they something else? I look forward to watching how things turn out.

I spent about 45 minutes at last night’s drum circle (it was more of a rectangle with an amorphous fringe) and I wish I could have stayed longer. I enjoyed the improvisation and watching the diverse crowd. I wonder how things turned out with the Krishnas who set up an informational table a few dozen yards away, complete with their own drum.

Silver Spring and a “Socialized Medicine” Sidebar (Part I)

Shall Government Help Pay Nation’s Doctor Bills? Sharp Fight Aroused by Program.

This headline could have appeared in any of the nation’s papers in 2009 or 2010. Instead, it was published in San Jose, California, in August 1938. That year one of the country’s first managed health care entities, Group Health Association, Inc., went head to head with the American Medical Association and the District of Columbia medical establishment in a legal battle over patients’ rights and affordable health care for low-income families.

Dr. Mario Scandiffio (1902-1996), a Washington pediatrician employed by GHA, found himself in the center of the imbroglio when his hospital privileges were revoked along with those of other GHA practitioners. My research frequently veers off into unanticipated territory and last year’s encounter with Scandiffio and his wife, Pauline (1903-1989), is becoming one of those side trips. The Scandiffios were the first owners of Northwood Park’s 1939 New York World’s Fair Home, the subject of my paper at this year’s Vernacular Architecture Forum conference.

GHA was founded in 1937. This was a time during which the American health insurance industry was an emerging business. The model was simple: a monthly premium payment bought access to a network of specialists and generalists and hospitalization plus necessary diagnostic tests. The idea for founding GHA grew from discussions by managers in the Home Owners Loan Corporation, a part of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. By attempting to minimize absenteeism and other costs associated with employee illnesses while also improving the quality of those peoples’ lives. According to a 1941 article by Dr. Scandiffio, GHA sought to eliminate the economic barriers separating the poor and access to healthcare and make practicing medicine more efficient by sharing lab and x-ray facilities in a large urban clinic. The AMA perceived GHA as a threat and moved aggressively against the new medical cooperative which was being accused of trying to socialize medicine. The medical establishment, i.e., the AMA and the District of Columbia’s District Medical Society, swiftly began marginalizing GHA’s physicians by revoking their hospital privileges and memberships.

This being Washington, D.C., legal action was quick in coming. The Justice Department opened an investigation into the AMA and the Medical Society of the District of Columbia for violating antitrust laws. Indictments followed and the case wound its way through the federal courts until 1943 when the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion upholding the lower courts’ decision that the AMA and Medical Society had acted unlawfully.

Dr. Scandiffio was one of GHA’s first medical professionals. The son of Italian immigrants to New York City, Mario V. Scandiffio graduated from The George Washington University medical school in 1928 and did his residency and internship at the New York Post Graduate School. Scandiffio’s medical school roommate introduced him to Pauline Loria, a Bureau of Engraving employee and singer with her own show on local radio station WOL. Married in 1930, the Scandiffios lived in Washington where he worked in private practice. Dr. Scandiffio’s first day of work for GHA was November 1, 1937, the day GHA’s Eye Street clinic opened to the public.

One day after starting work at GHA Dr. Scandiffio received a registered letter from the District of Columbia Medical Society directing him to appear before the group’s Compensation, Contract and Industrial Medicine Committee to answer charges that he had engaged in unprofessional conduct by practicing for GHA. Scandiffio responded by first resigning from the Society and then rescinding his resignation. The Society expelled Scandiffio in early 1938 and the case began attracting national attention. The AMA opposed GHA because the new model threatened the institutional framework of professional medicine. The struggles to reform healthcare in the United States in 1994 and again when President Barack Obama took office look remarkably similar to the issues faced by GHA and Dr. Scandiffio. In his 1941 paper on the GHA, Dr. Scandiffio described GHA’s most fundamental beliefs:

It was felt that there should be little or no economic barrier to securing competent and adequate medical care. All of us are gamblers at heart and, unfortunately, one of our most vital possessions – good health – is too often gambled with. It is almost a universal characteristic to delay seeing the doctor until all other means at our disposal have failed. The result is that the private practitioner sees only advanced illness and has little time for the care of early illness or for preventive medical care. Care of early illness and preventive care are, to me, the primary advantages of prepaid group medicine for it is distinctly to the best interests of both patient and physician to know how to achieve good health and how to maintain it. Then too, early care results in lower morbidity and mortality and in a marked reduction in the number of serious or advanced illnesses. [1]

Scandiffio resisted the medical establishment’s pressures and remained with GHA. In the spring of 1939 he became GHA’s medical director and a few months later he and his wife bought Northwood Park’s 1939 World’s Fair Home. Scandiffio left GHA in May 1944 and opened his own Silver Spring practice on Georgia Avenue. The Scandiffios lived in Silver Spring until 1952 when they moved to Miami, Florida.

The Washington Post, August 20, 1939.

Pauline and Mario Scandiffio outside their Silver Spring home with their daughter Ann.

Note

[1] Dr. Mario Scandiffio, “The Program of the D.C. Group Health Association,” Social Security in 1941, 145-149.

Look for Part II: a closer look at Group Health Association, Inc.

Thanks to Ann Scandiffio for sharing her family photos.

© 2010 David S. Rotenstein