A modernist Four Corners home

10016 Renfrew Road, Silver Spring. February 2016.

Last year a longtime South Four Corners resident took me on a brief walking tour of his Silver Spring, Md., neighborhood. I had reached out to him because I was researching the history of a temporary defense housing development that had been located there. One of his favorite houses in the neighborhood is a small one-story International Style home.

As we were standing outside the home, the woman who was renting it at the time arrived home. She told us the affectionate name she had for it: the art deco bunker.

I took a few pictures and filed the memory away for later use. Recently, the home’s owner posted a picture of the house in a Facebook group. I struck up a conversation with him that began online and ended in the basement of his home in rural Brinklow where he showed me family pictures taken in front of the house and he told me what he remembered growing up there. This post captures some of the home’s history and the atypical suburban environment where it was built. Continue reading

Fairway: Silver Spring’s ghost town

During World War II, the U.S. government built “temporary suburbs” throughout the United States. One of those suburbs was located just north of the District of Columbia in a part of unincorporated Silver Spring, Maryland, called Four Corners. For a brief period during the war, the development was a ghost town. At least that’s what some critics of the 238-unit public housing project called it.

Fairway Houses location. Adapted from Google Maps.

Fairway Houses location. Adapted from Google Maps.

In 1942, Washington’s slum clearance agency (the Alley Dwelling Authority; later, the National Capital Housing Authority) began scouting sites in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties for temporary defense housing sites where migrants to the metro region could live while working in government agencies and defense-related industries.

The agency selected two sites in Prince George’s county where it built one 500-unit project near College Park and another 315-unit project near Suitland. After hitting considerable opposition to a proposed 800-unit development near Kensington in Montgomery County, the ADA settled on building in Four Corners. Twenty-eight acres north of Forest Glen Road and south of University Blvd. (then known as Old Bladensburg Road) in scattered sites were condemned. The Montgomery County project was called the “Fairway Houses,” a name derived from surrounding residential subdivisions.

Map showing Alley Dwelling Authority projects.

Map showing Alley Dwelling Authority projects. Fairway is highlighted. Report of the National capital housing authority for the ten-year period 1934-1944.

Continue reading

Greyfields: a historic preservation gray area

Too frequently historic preservationists have failed to appreciate the entire urban landscape … Parking, as part of urban history, should not be rejected out of hand by any history aficionado — John A. Jakle and Keith A. Sculle, Lots of Parking: Land Use in a Car Culture

The National Council on Public History has published a new article on History@Work titled Blacktop History: The case for preserving parking lots. It examines the suburban parking lot as an unloveable yet important historic resource type.

Free Public Parking Big Factor In Silver Spring Success Story. The Washington Post, Nov. 27, 1949.

Free Public Parking Big Factor In Silver Spring Success Story. The Washington Post, Nov. 27, 1949.

Continue reading

The Oakhurst food desert (updated)

Oakhurst does not fit any colloquial or technical definition of “food desert” — “L.T.”, August 4, 2012

L.T.  is a 30-something software professional who describes himself as an “amateur economist” in his Twitter profile. He wrote several comments on this blog reacting to a June 2012 post on Oakhurst’s food desert. He strongly objected to my description of his neighborhood as a “food desert.”[1]

After several comments on the blog and private emails, L.T. admitted, “I had never heard of a food desert before you posted about it. I’m just a guy who can read and do math.”[2] This post responds to L.T.’s assertion that Oakhurst’s hip bars and eateries and an overpriced boutique market preclude his neighborhood from being described as a “food desert.”

Continue reading