Saturday, December 24, 2011

Playing Christmas Day 1955 at the Silver Theater

Anyone who wants to go out to see a movie in downtown Silver Spring on Christmas Day has an overwhelming selection of film offerings. From sixteen different motion pictures at the Regal Majestic & IMAX to four films at the AFI Silver Theatre.

Fifty-six years ago Silver Spring filmgoers had far less options.  Playing at the Silver Theater (note the spelling difference) on December 25, 1955 was the Janet Leigh & Jack Lemmon musical My Sister Eileen.  This singing and dancing remake of the earlier 1942 film of the same name was about two Ohio sisters (Leigh and Betty Garrett) seeking success in the big city...and where else in 1955 was that but in NYC's Greenwich Village.

Maryland News, December 23, 1955, p. 5.
Microfilm collection of the Silver Spring Historical Society.
My favorite dance sequence in the film is when the legendary choreographer and sometimes actor Bob Fosse spars with actor/dancer Tommy Rall.  Rall will be 82 years-old on December 27th but Fosse sadly dropped dead of a heart attack in 1987 in front of the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC.  He was only 60 years-old. 


Interspersed between showings of My Sister Eileen was the George Montgomery and Nancy Gates western Masterson of Kansas, directed by the equally legendary William Castle.  Four years would pass before Castle really begin establishing his reputation with low-budget, over-the-top gimmicky thrillers such as House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler, both released in 1959.


Both of these Silver Theater/Theatre Christmas Day offerings were second run films with My Sister Eileen (appealing to a mostly female audience) being initially released the previous September and Masterson of Kansas, aimed at the guys, already being a year old having been released the previous Christmas.


The Silver's only other local competition was the Roth's Theatre at 8242 Georgia Avenue, originally opened in 1927 as the SECO (Suburban Electrical COmpany).  The SECO was the first movie theater to open in downtown Silver Spring and held the monopoly for eleven years until the Silver opened in 1938.


After the kids opened their Christmas presents that day and settled down for lunch they could shoot over to Roth's to catch the 2:00 pm Walt Disney hit Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier, starring Fess Parker.  Even though the movie had ben released the previous May and was nothing more that a compilation of three Davy Crockett television episodes that aired on the ABC television show Disneyland, it was billed as "NOW...ON THE MOTION PICTURE SCREEN!"  I'm sure there were plenty of eight year-old boys wearing their coonskin caps in the theatre.




Later that evening the adults could catch Robert Taylor and Kaye Kendall in The Adventures of Quentin Durward, the story of a Scottish night (Taylor) who finds himself in France to facilitate a marriage between a rich and beautiful countess (Kendall) and his aging uncle, King Louis XI, played by Robert Morley.  Intrigue ensues.  No problem convincing the kids to miss that one.




If you REALLY wanted to see the first release films all one had to do was to catch the streetcar at Alaska and Eastern Avenue and head down to F Street, NW where the Loew's Palace (at 13th Street) and the Capital (at 14th Street) were respectively showing Rains of Ranchipur, a drama about an Englishwoman (Lana Turner!) having an affair with a Hindu doctor (Richard Burton!)and the Vincente Minnelli (Liza'a father) directed musical Kismet, starring Howard Keel and Ann Blyth.




Whatever motion picture you watch this Christmas Day, new release or old, in a movie theater, on television, via dvd or streaming, may it be an enjoyable ending to 2011!



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Silver Spring Christmas: 1955 Style

Maryland News, December 23, 1955.
Microfilm collection of the Silver Spring Historical Society.
Like this year, Christmas day fell on a Sunday in 1955.  Shoppers who had yet to complete their holiday purchases might have felt relieved when this advertisement for G. C. Murphy & Co. appeared in the Friday, December 23rd Maryland News.

This "five and dime" variety store was the namesake of George Clinton Murphy, who founded the business in 1906 in McKeesport, PA.  A national chain store that offered low-priced merchandise, Murphy's had been located at 8237 Georgia Avenue since 1937.

Murphy's occupied the ground floor of the MUCH altered building that still sits on the southeast corner of Georgia and Thayer avenues (originally contructed c. 1927 and named the Heizer Building after its owner, Roy M. Heizer).  It is  difficult to imagine all of the merchandise touted in this advertisement fitting into such a small building.

Adjusted for inflation, the advertised prices do not seem too dissimilar from what one would pay for the same items today.  That 67c nylon hosiery for your wife or girlfriend is equal to $5.66 and the high-end $5.98 all-metal wagon for little Dickie (or Sue) would be set you back $50.48.  Keep in mind that the national average wage in 1955 was $3,301.44 or $68.78 each week...before taxes.

Murphy's remained in the Heizer Building thru at least 1968.  Amazingly, no photographs of either the exterior or interior of this business that served our community for over three decades have surfaced.  If you have photos...or even reminiscences of shopping or working at this Murphy location...please share them here.




Saturday, October 8, 2011

Montgomery Blair Coming to a Screen Near You?

Recently a research company working on Steven Spielberg's $100M motion picture Lincoln, to be released December 2012, contacted me. They are looking for an image of Montgomery Blair's "crest," a heraldic design that I've never come across.

If it ever existed, perhaps it looked something like these...

Blair family crest courtesy of 
http://www.allfamilycrests.com

Montgomery Blair High School crest
courtesy Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette

The question that begs to be asked though is does this mean that Blair, Lincoln's postmaster general from 1861-1864, will be in the film that is based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin's 2005 biography Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln?  Montgomery is well represented in the book along with his father and brother, Frances (senior and junior), mother Eliza, brother James, and sister Elizabeth.

To my knowledge the last depiction of Montgomery Blair...at least on the small screen...was in 1955 when Mack Williams (I know, who?) played him in Lincoln's Doctor's Dog, an episode written by William R. Cox and Christopher Morley that was part of the short-lived television anthology series Screen Directors Playhouse.  Although Mack Williams did not have a single line of dialogue, he was a spiting image of Blair so some casting agent did their job well.


Montgomery Blair courtesy of
The Gilder Lehrman Collection, New York
Reference Number: GLC 5111.07

Who do you think Spielberg should cast as Montgomery Blair?

UPDATE:

Remembering that I had been in email contact with a few Blair descendants over the years, I checked my emails and lo and behold found THE Blair family crest:

Courtesy
http://katharinesweb.net/Ancestors/Blair/Blair.htm

Let's hope that Montgomery Blair doesn't wind up on the cutting room floor!

UPDATE:

Blair certainly has not wound up on the cutting room floor as he is being played by 86 year old Hal Holbrook.  I hope Spielberg uses CGI on Holbrook's face as Blair was in his late 40s/early 50s during the years he was Lincoln's postmaster general (1861-64)!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mean Streets?

Every fall when institutions of higher learning start classes, I begin to get emails from both local as well as not so local graduate students (Canada, I'm talking about you) .  They have a paper to write and have chosen Silver Spring as their topic.


The below email arrived in my in-box today:


"Hello. My name is BLANK and I am a senior psychology major attending BLANK. I have been living in Silver Spring for the past four years. I have an assignment for my Urban Sociology class where I need to look at the population demographics of Silver Spring from the year 2000 to now. I was able to find some information on the census website, but a lot of people tell me Silver Spring used to be a tough area not too long ago. I was wondering if you would be able to give me some insight on how the area has changed, what caused the social change to occur, and around what year(s) did it happen? I would be very appreciative of any information you would be able to give me. Thank you."


I smiled at the thought of Silver Spring being thought of as "a tough area."  By 2000 both Whole Foods (then named Fresh Fields) and Strosniders Hardware opened in "Phase One" of Silver Spring's "Town Center."  Discovery Communications and the American Film Institute had also decided by 2000 to locate here.


This "tough area" is one of the biggest (sub)urban myths that Silver Spring still seems to be trying to live down.  I've lived in downtown Silver Spring since 1992 and have been a visitor since the late 1970s and never once felt any more endangered here than anywhere else in the DC metro area that I have ever been to.


I welcome readers' opinions/answers to this student's questions.  Please post comments and I will share them with this individual.  Thank you.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

See the World's Largest Acorn & More Unusual Local Attractions!

Did you know that the world's largest (man-made) acorn can be found right here in downtown Silver Spring or that a statue of a lobsterman is in Washington, DC?

These and other greater Washington one-of-a-kind landmarks and destinations will be featured on More Unusual Attractions, to air on October 7th and 10th at 9 pm on WETA TV 26.

I will appear in the segment about Silver Spring's historic circa 1850 Acorn Gazebo, located in Acorn Park at the corner of East-West Highway and Newell Street.  For information about the other landmarks and attractions that will appear in the program, visit the More Unusual Attractions Map.

Please join me this Saturday, October 1st, for a walking tour of historic Silver Spring that will include the Acorn Gazebo along with other fascinating insights into Silver Spring's history.

The tour kicks off at 10 am from the Silver Spring Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station, 8100 Georgia Avenue, and concludes at noon.  The cost is $5 per person.  Reservations are not required.  Limited parking available in front of the station or a short walk from the Silver Spring Metro Station.  Well behaved dogs welcome!

(The railroad station is open FREE from 10-3 on Saturday.)

Hope to see you Saturday!

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Nothing By You"

I had a good chuckle when I came across this cartoon on p. 35 of the September 12, 2011 issue of The New Yorker.



Get it?

For those who don't, the cartoon depicts a stylized view of the 5th Avenue facade of the landmark 1911 New York Public Library as seen from E. 41st Street.  The banner hanging over the entrance is chiding the reader who would be so lucky to have a work represented in one of the greatest libraries in the world.

To which I immediately thought, "Hey, maybe I do!"

Off to http://catalog.nypl.org/ I went and in the author field I typed "McCoy Jerry A." and hit the "Submit" button.  My jaw dropped.



There, shelved inside this century old marble Beaux Arts edifice designed by Carrère and Hastings, sits Downtown Silver Spring in the Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy.  The neighboring book to the right is Smith Island, Chesapeake Bay by Frances W. Dize and to the left sits another book on Silver Spring, Enchanted Forest Glen : the Endangered Legacy of National Park Seminary Historic District in Silver Spring, Maryland.

I have been planning a visit to NY see the High Line and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.  To these sites I will now add Room 121 of the NYPL's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New TD Bank Location Features Historic Silver Spring Mural

Customers entering the recently opened TD Bank "store" at 8661 Colesville Road (inside City Place) will be greeted by a large colorful mural depicting Georgia Avenue as it looked in 1927. The original source black and white photograph was supplied by the Silver Spring Historical Society.

These murals are a unique feature of the interior decor of TD Banks and allow local historical societies to educate customers about the visual history of the community where the bank is located. This is the second time that SSHS has worked with TD Bank, having provided another archival image for its 3132 Briggs Chaney Road location that opened in 2008.

Small 11" x 17" poster versions of each mural are available for free at each respective bank. Stop in and take home a piece of Silver Spring's history with you!


Jerry A. McCoy poses with Delana H. Coyle, Assistant VP and store manager of the downtown Silver Spring TD Bank. The mural depicts Georgia Avenue at the intersection of Wayne Avenue in 1927. The brick building is St. Michael's Church, which sat in the middle of today's Wayne Avenue

This 2008 mural depicts the way Georgia Avenue at Silver Spring Avenue looked in 1917.  TD Bank lobby, 3132 Briggs Chaney Road, Silver Spring, MD.  Photo by Jerry A. McCoy.

Monday, June 27, 2011

World's Largest Acorn & Other Amazing Sites

Yesterday I conducted a free walking tour of south Silver Spring as part of the 14th Annual Montgomery County Heritage Days WeekendAbout a dozen engaged and interested participants attended which was a really nice antidote to recent criticisms expended about SSHS's historic preservation efforts.  Here are a few photographs taken by George French.  As always thanks George!

I hereby proclaim this structure WORLD'S LARGEST ACORN
(pay no attention to Raleigh, North Carolina's claim)!  Located
in Acorn Park, corner of East-West Highway & Newell Street,
this gazebo was constructed circa 1850 by Benjamin C. King at
the bequest of Silver Spring founder Francis Preston Blair for
his wife Eliza Gist Blair.

Directly across from the Acorn Gazebo is the "birthplace" of Silver Spring, the original
spring discovered by Francis Preston Blair in 1840 (courtesy of his horse Selim). 
Blair began construction of his country estate Silver Spring nearby in 1842 which
 led to the growth of our community.  No, the water is not from the spring,
which ceased flowing about 70 years ago, but WSSC tap water!

Across from Acorn Park is the 1946 Canada Dry Bottling Plant, designed by New York City
industrial architect Walter Monroe Cory whose motto was "Factories CAN be beautiful."
The bottling plant closed in 1999 an reopened in 2005 as the Silverton Condominiums
(although everyone I've ever talked to who resides there say they live in "Canada Dry").


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Silver Spring's Lost Bungalows


One hundred years ago a real estate advertisement for a nine room Silver Spring bungalow appeared in the June 18, 1911 Washington Evening Star newspaper. Owned by James H. Cissel, president of the Silver Spring National Bank (est. 1910), this new slate-roofed home featured a full basement, front porch, furnace heat, hot and cold running water, electric lights, and a fireplace.

Situated on a 50 ft. by 220 ft lot all of this was yours for $5,500. If not ready for home ownership, the bungalow could be rented for $40 per month. Adjusted for inflation, these costs would be about $127,000 and $925 respectively. Still a bargain!


Courtesy Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library

Unfortunately this house is no longer extant. It was originally located at 913 Sligo Avenue and was typical of the residences constructed in the Silver Spring Park subdivision, located on the east side of the Washington & Brookeville Turnpike (today's Georgia Avenue).

Beginning in the mid 20th century, this home and dozens of others located on Sligo, Silver Spring, Thayer, and Bonifant streets between Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street were converted to commercial use or simply razed to make way for larger structures. A few of the homes escaped destruction and can be seen in the area known today as Fenton Village.  Today, a portion of the bungalow's footprint is occupied by The Nora School, 955 Sligo Avenue.

Another view of 913 Sligo Avenue (right) taken on June 21, 1917 by
Washington, DC postcard photographer Willard R. Ross.

Five homes were located on the north side of the 900 block of Sligo Avenue
between today's Mayor Lane (above the "G" in "SLIGO") and Fenton Street on
the right.  From 1931 Atlas of Montgomery County, Vol. One.  Collection of
the Silver Spring Historical Society.







Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More Was Misplaced Than the Extra "S" !

Recently I had the opportunity to use the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals, an on-line database of citations to articles in approximately 300 current and over 1,000 retrospective architectural and related periodicals dating from the 1930s to the present.  Access to such a database is invaluable when researching architects, their buildings, or even structures located in specific locations.

Unfortunately this very expensive database is not available via Montgomery County or District of Columbia public libraries or even Montgomery College.  It is primarily found at universities and it was through Catholic University that I was able to access it.

A quick keyword search of "Silver Spring, MD" pulled up multiple hits but one immediately jumped out at me:

Title: Tourist Center [Silver Springs, Md.]
Source: Progressive architecture, 1958 Apr., v. 39, p. 146-148, illustrations, plan
Language: English.
Abstract: Victor A. Lundy, archt.
Subject(s): Vacation camps
People: Lundy, Victor Alfred, 1923-
Document Type(s): journal article

A tourist center was planned for Silver Spring in 1958?  That was news to me!  It made perfect sense.  Perhaps the center was to serve as a gateway to tourists planning to visit the Nation's Capital.  Visions of an awesome example of mid-century roadside architecture formed in my mind.  I couldn't wait to see not only what this structure looked like but where it had been planned to be built. 

Palm Spring, CA Visitors Center, originally built in 1963 as the Tramway Gas station. 
Photo courtesy Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism.

Luckily the DC Public Library carries original back issues of Progressive Architecture and I was able to access to April 1958 issue.  I laughed when I flipped to page 146 of the issue only to see:

Photo courtesy DC Public Library.

Oh well.  I still think a tourist center in downtown Silver Spring is a good idea.  A great location would be the empty c. 1850 Moorings mansion in Jesup Blair Park near Georgia Avenue and the DC/MD line.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Celebrating Silver Spring's Treasures

May is the National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Preservation Month and this year's theme is "Celebrating America's Treasures."  The purpose of this advocacy is to showcase our country's diverse and unique heritage and downtown Silver Spring is certainly home to a wide variety of treasures worth celebrating.

One such treasure is the building located at 8412 Georgia Avenue, constructed in 1937 as the Silver Spring Post Office.  This federal buildings (the first to be erected in Montgomery County) was one of 1,100 post offices constructed in the United States between 1934 and 1944 that featured murals or sculptures commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture.  Fourteen of these post offices were located in Maryland with three in Montgomery County (the other two were Rockville and Bethesda).



Located in the lobby of Silver Spring's new post office was a 16-foot-long oil on canvas mural titled The Old Tavern by Nicolai Cikovsky.  The mural depicted the crossroads of Sligo, Maryland (today’s intersection of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road) at the end of the Civil War.  Civil War Union soldiers are reading mail picked up at a tavern located where Discovery Communications stands today.  When the post office closed in 1981 and relocated to Second Avenue, the mural was carefully removed from the wall, placed in storage and promptly forgotten.  

In 1994 after a year long search I located the mural rolled up in a cardboard carpet tube that was stored in the basement of the demolished (2003) Blair Station Post Office, located at 8045 Newell Street.  A three-year effort was commenced by the Friends of the Silver Spring Library to raise $25,000 to conserve the mural, which was badly deteriorated.  In 1997 the restored mural was ceremoniously unveiled at the Silver Spring Library where it is now on permanent view.  I'm told that the mural will become the centerpiece of the new Silver Spring Library, planned for the corner of Fenton and Bonifant streets.




After the mural was removed from the post office in 1981, the rest of the interior was completely gutted.  Disposed were the postal clerk windows, post office boxes, writing tables, highly stylized ceiling light fixtures (they looked like miniatures of the planet Saturn), and a plaque honoring the individuals responsible for the post office’s construction.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s name was prominently placed near the top of this plaque. 

Although no extant photographs had surfaced showing the plaque in situ, documentation of its existence was established through a full-scale architectural rendering housed in the archives of the Silver Spring Historical Society.  Long had I wondered what became of the plaque, along with everything else that had graced the lobby. 

In 2006 I received a note in the mail from the manager of the Silver Spring Library.  A man in Western Maryland had mailed to the library a small black and white photograph.  The image showed a group of well-dressed men lined up in front of the Silver Spring Post Office.  Written on the back was, “Silver Spring Post Office / Recruiting Office in 1942." 



This was new information to me as I had not known that the draft board during WW II was located in the post office, theorizing instead that draftees went to 1927 Maryland National Guard Armory, located east of Georgia Avenue on Wayne Avenue.  The Armory, a Montgomery County-designated Master Plan for Historic Preservation structure, was demolished in 1998 for construction of a parking garage that was built five years later. 

The library manager thought that the Silver Spring Historical Society would be an appropriate home for the photograph.  Little did the manager, or I, know what other “treasures” the donor of this photograph possessed.


Enclosed with the photograph was contact information for the sender who lived in Little Orleans, Maryland.  I immediately called the gentleman, identified myself as founder and president of the Silver Spring Historical Society, and explained how the Silver Spring Library had sent me the photograph.  When the man said, “I also have a plaque if you want it,” I couldn’t believe what I had heard.  Without asking I knew exactly what plaque he was referring to.  

It turned out that the caller had worked at the Silver Spring Post Office from 1958 to 1975. Later, he had advanced to the position of postmaster of Mt. Rainier, Maryland and the plaque was given to him by a fellow post office employee who had obtained it when the Silver Spring Post Office's Georgia Avenue facility closed in 1981.  The plaque was in his shed where it had been sitting for over two decades. 



"I’ll be out this weekend,” was my response!  I knew the exact location of Little Orleans, 108 miles west of Silver Spring, as I had stopped there during a four-day C & O Canal bicycle “ride through” from Cumberland, MD to Georgetown in 2003.  My companions and I had replenished our water bottles at the landmark Bill’s Place in Little Orleans where I, of course, had no idea that the object of my desire was just up the hill and around the bend.

The plaque, fabricated of cast aluminum, weighs 17 lbs. and measures 21” x 32”.  Also donated to the SSHS a hinged 3 1/2” x 5” front door to PO Box 413 that was in the post office’s lobby.  The cast aluminum front features a proud, bas-relief eagle surrounded by radiating lines with the locking mechanism centered in a shield placed over the eagle’s breast.  I wondered whose hands had held the many keys that opened and closed this door for forty-four years and what missives did the door guard?



The Silver Spring Historical Society desires to permanently exhibit these items alongside the mural at the new Silver Spring Library.  An offer was made a couple of years ago to officials with the Montgomery County Public Library system to display the items at the new library but no acceptance was ever given.  So attention MCPL!  Display of these and many other historical artifacts located in our archives are still available and would serve as a wonderful library amenity to educate the public about Silver Spring’s fascinating heritage!

If you or someone you know worked for the Silver Spring Post Office on Georgia Avenue, please share your reminiscences (and perhaps photos) with the Silver Spring Historical Society.  Please email me at sshistory@yahoo.com.








Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Not Even the Dead Get Respect

On April 14th the Silver Spring Historical Society commemorated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Norman Lane, the "Mayor" of Silver Spring.  A brief ceremony was held on Georgia Avenue at the statue depicting Norman that was created by artist Fred Folsom in 1991.  The event included the placing of a beautiful floral wreath generously donated by Bell Flowers.



During my remarks to the five people who took the time to remember Norman, I mentioned that I expected the wreath to be stolen before the day was over.  Well, I was a bit too pessimistic.  It lasted four days before it was ripped off.  Whoever stole it, sometime between Sunday afternoon and this morning, couldn't be bothered with the metal stand that the wreath was attached to and left it behind.


This event sadly reminds me of a recent exchange I had with an individual who thought "someone" should find a copy of the Grecian nymph statue that originally graced (nearly a century ago) the stone grotto of the Silver Spring and install it.  I told this person that such a statue wouldn't stand a chance of surviving because vandals would either destroy it or steal it outright.  This person was incredulous that anyone would do such a thing.

Ah, the joy of ignorance.

The little benevolent piece left inside of me should say, "If this person needed the flowers so badly, then they should have and enjoy them."  But it just can't.  For too long disrespect has been shown to Silver Spring's heritage and this theft is simply the latest example.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Happy 100th Birthday Norman!

Half a dozen folks gathered this morning at Georgia Avenue's Mayor's Promenade to honor the 100th birthday of Norman Lane.  Placed before artist Fred Folsom's 1991 portrait bronze statue of Norman was a beautiful floral wreath donated by Bell Flowers (thanks Chad Mangum!).

(Left to right) Chad Mangum, Jerry A. McCoy, Charles Atwell,
Richard Jaeggi, Chris Matthews, unidentified.  Top & bottom photos by George French.


The quick 15 minute event began and ended on a note that Norman would have especially appreciated.  A homeless man approach one of the free newspaper boxes positioned directly opposite the statue.  He opened the box and started rooting through the newspapers and, one by one, pulled out four cans of malt liquor.

After the formal portion of the ceremony was over a few of us were talking when a different homeless man came around the corner singing out loud and barged right into the middle of our group.  He asked for money for "coffee."  In return he was asked, "Do you know where you are going to go to buy it?"  He responded, "No."  It was suggested to him that Kefa Cafe would be a good place to go!  I don't know if money was proffered for at that point I needed to leave to go to work.

This fall will be the 20th anniversary of the statue's dedication.  Perhaps another event can be held to commemorate one of the best examples of public art in Montgomery County.


Photo by Jerry A. McCoy


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Don't Worry About It!"

Thus was the catch phrase spoken by Norman Collins Lane, affectionately known as the "Mayor of Silver Spring," who was born a century ago on April 14, 1911.  Norman was a homeless man who spent the better part of twenty-five years walking the streets and alleys of downtown Silver Spring.

This dignified portrait of Norman was taken in 1971. 
Copyright Dave Stovall.
He collected handouts of money and food and did odd jobs around the community.  One of these jobs was as a groundskeeper picking up trash at the Bethesda Naval Hospital.  One day in October of 1965 he encountered the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson.  President Johnson was at Bethesda to have his gall bladder removed and supposedly said to Norman upon meeting him, "Christ, you look in worse shape than I do!"


Photograph taken in 1965 of Norman meeting President Johnson. 
The photo is inscribed, "To Norman Lane
With best wishes Lyndon B. Johnson."  Collection of Iris Hyson.

Norman's beverage of choice was Pabst Blue Ribbon beer...morning, noon and night...and he usually wore a construction hard hat. Robert Phillips, owner of the Silver Spring Auto Body Co. (demolished) provided Norman with a cot and a hot plate in his business, the closest that Norman would accept to the comforts of a home.  Norman liked to rummage through the dumpsters behind Bell Florist and Pumphrey's Funeral Home (demolished) where he would retrieve discarded roses and then proceed to give one to each woman he passed on Georgia Avenue.

For years this sign was attached to the Silver Spring Auto Body Co. until it disappeared
 in 2003 after the business shut down. Photo taken by Jerry A. McCoy in 1996.

Silver Spring Auto Body Co. sign donated by Charles Atwell. 
Collection of SSHS Archives.


When the ABC television show "Real People" featured a 7 1/2 minute segment on Norman in 1979, it asked people in downtown Silver Spring if they'd vote for him if he ran for office.  Everybody said sure with one black guy responding, "Why not? The last two white men I voted for were bums too."


Such a colorful personality seemed to beg to be immortalized and that was what artist Fred Folsom did, starting in 1974 by creating dozens of studies, paintings and lithographs depicting Norman.  On October 11, 1991, four years after Norman passed away in the back seat of an National DC cab abandoned off of Sligo Avenue, Folsom dedicated a life-sized bronze portrait of him.

Oil on masonite, 12" x 12", by Fred Folson, copyright 1987.
Collection of Jerry A. McCoy.
The bust is located in the walkway, named "Mayor's Promenade," located next to 8219 Georgia Avenue.  This walkway led back to the front door of the Silver Spring Auto Body Co.  The alley that this business faced, running parallel to Georgia between Thayer and Sligo avenues, was also named "Mayor Lane."


Photo by Jerry A. McCoy.


Please join the Silver Spring Historical Society on Thursday, April 14th, at 9:00 a.m to honor Norman on his 100th birthday.  If anyone knew him, we would love to hear some stories.  And if anyone knows how the tune goes, we could sing this song written in 1979 by Harry Merrick, then the lead singer of the five-member Chase Holiday Band...

"He's walking down the sidewalk, moving kind of slow.  He looks kind of funny, but he's never feeling low.  And if you ask him he'll tell you everything is OK.  He never worries, you can always hear him say, 'It's all right, don't worry about it.' 

He's the mayor of Silver Spring, Norman is his name.  Things will come and go, but he'll always stay the same.  People have to relax and take it day by day because he never worries and you can always hear him say, 'It's all right, don't worry about it.' "

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I'm Walking Yes Indeed I'm Talking...

Yesterday I led a two hour, half mile walking tour of Downtown Silver Spring for about twenty folks. The free tour was filmed and will appear as a short segment of the cable television show Paths to the Present: Montgomery County Stories, produced by Barbara Grunbaum for County Cable Montgomery and the Montgomery County Historical Society.  


Mike the cameraman films the group in front of the 1922 Silver Spring National Bank,
scene of our community's first bank robbery.  Photo by Barbara Grunbaum.


The walk was held in association with the Montgomery County Historical Society and the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County as part of the dual exhibits Between Fences and Good Neighbors: Fences in Montgomery County, currently on display at the Silver Spring Civic Building thru April 30, 2011.  Between Fences is a traveling exhibit organized by the Smithsonian Institution and is well worth seeing, as is Good Neighbors, organized by the MCHS.




For me the tour was reaffirming after last Monday's depressing loss before the Historic Preservation Commission of the Silver Spring Historical Society's nomination of the 1956 First Baptist Church of Silver Spring.  It was nice to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who believe that it is important to preserve Silver Spring's history. They were engaged, interested, and asked questions about the many buildings that I profiled, including the ones that were no longer extant. Sadly, some of these lost structures were standing when I first began to offer these tours over ten years ago.


"If you've got a camera, take a photo of this church while it's still here!"
Photo by Barbara Grunbaum. 
A "Currier & Ives" view of the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring.
Photo by Jerry A. McCoy.


Tour participant looks a photos of the 1927 Silver Spring Armory,  a designated historic
structure destroyed by Montgomery County in 1998 for construction of a parking garage.
A piece of the armory is in the background.  Photo by Barbara Grunbaum.

The tour concluded at Silver Spring's restored 1945 Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station.
Open for free tours the first Saturday of each month, a new attraction at the station is the
installation of a large
model railroad display...swamped by kids!  Photo by Barbara Grunbaum.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Here is a Bargain!!

Today at work I was clipping copies of 1940s Evening Star newspapers.  Even though the DC Public Library's Washingtoniana Division has this newspaper on microfilm, whenever I encounter original loose copies I always go through them and clip interesting photographs to place into our Washington Historical Image Collection.

In the February 8, 1941 issue (p. B-5) I found this awesome advertisement for a bungalow in the Blair Takoma section of Silver Spring.  $5,750 doesn't sound like much money and indeed, when adjusted for inflation today equals only about $86K


The bungalow was constructed in 1925 and last sold in 2005 for $450,000, which certainly would have amazed Mr. Phillips!  It appears to look much as it did 70 years ago, with the only difference being today's reverse color scheme, chimney cap addition, and simplified porch railing.



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Friday, February 18, 2011

From the Archives I

The Silver Spring Historical Society recently acquired this cigarette lighter, which probably sat on an engineer's desk at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory during the 1950s or 60s.  The APL, as it was known, was located at 8621 Georgia Avenue from 1942 to 1976 when it was closed down.

According to Phillip R. Hays, PhD LT USNR-R, the AN/SPS-30 referred to on the lighter's plaque was a shipboard air search radar that had the ability to
determine altitude of a target as well as bearing and range.  This type of radar was often called a "3D" radar.


Such radar installations consisted of an antenna and pedestal, the transmitting and receiving equipment, and a control unit.  The control unit was something like a radio tuner for your home entertainment system.  It allowed the operator to adjust the operating characteristics of the radar set.


APL was most famously known for the development of the Proximity VT (Variable Time) Fuse, credited by military leaders as second in importance to the atomic bomb in ending WWII.  APL management must have had a penchant for making souvenirs for their employees after they completed a contract.  A souvenir VT fuse (it looks like a small missle) is owned by the Laurel Historical Society and Museum.


The vaguely art deco APL (shown here in a 1946 postcard) was razed sometime in the 1980s.  If anyone knows the exact year, please let me know.  For the past three decades the footprint of the structure has been used as a parking lot located next door to the Lee Building at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road.  This would have been a great building on Georgia Avenue's streetscape had it managed to survive, instead of the gapping hole we have long had to live with.