Friday, September 19, 2014

Silver Spring's Georgia Avenue in Miniature

Since our establishment in 1998, the Silver Spring Historical Society has acquired many unusual artifacts that document the history of our community.  The 1946 mahogany Ladies and Men's bathroom doors from Tastee Diner?  We have them.  A 1938 art deco-designed lobby door from the Silver Theatre?  We have it.  A 1946 industrial metal and glass door from the Canada Dry Bottling Plant?  We have it.

And yes, we have more than just doors.

The 1965 cornerstone from the Gramax Building (today's Gramax Towers at 8060 13th Street), the 1937 cast-aluminum lobby plaque from the Silver Spring Post Office (building extant at 8412 Georgia), and a colorful hand-painted 1970s wooden sign from Roadhouse Oldies' Thayer Avenue location.

These items and many more have long been in storage and thus unavailable for viewing by the public. Several years ago an offer was extended to place the artifacts on long-term loan for display in the new Silver Spring Library but nothing came of it. Over the past few years our board has been diligently working on securing a headquarters space of our own and that goal may actually come to fruition but will require SEVERAL more years before it actually happens.

Recently the SSHS has been offered yet another artifact which, even though we currently have no idea where it can be stored, we HAVE to accept it; a 24' long x 6' (at the widest) HO scale model train layout that reproduces in amazing detail how Silver Spring's Georgia Avenue looked in the 1940s!

The first time I saw this layout was in 2003 when the owner, who lives in neighboring Frederick County, invited me to his home.  I was stunned as to not only the overall size of it, but the historical accuracy of many of the structures.  Its creator spent over a decade constructing it and reproduced in detail many of the buildings that he knew from growing up in downtown Silver Spring in the 1940s.

But enough talk.  Let me take you on a visual tour of the model train layout.

While the roundhouse/train yard in the foreground does not recreate structures that ever existed (its purpose simply is to allow the model trains to turn around), once the trains cross the Georgia Avenue underpass recognizable structures commence.

View looking north up Georgia Avenue from the south side of the underpass.

View looking south down Georgia Avenue from Sligo Avenue.

An incredible amount of detail was put into the creation of Silver Spring's 1945 Baltimore & Ohio Railroad passenger station (8100 Georgia Avenue) including its demolished east bound station and the extant pedestrian tunnel that connected the two structures.

South elevation of the station as viewed from Georgia Avenue.

Running to catch his train!

Train is arriving at the platform!

Across Georgia Avenue from the station is the 1927 Maryland News newspaper building (today part of Jackie's Sidebar Restaurant, 8081 Georgia) and next door Faye & Andy's Garden Restaurant (today Lotus Cafe, 8077 Georgia, and still with outdoor seating!).

On the northeast corner of Georgia and Sligo is the legendary Gifford's Ice Cream (today Quality Time Early Learning, 8101 Georgia).  The depicted stone retaining wall is extant and wraps around the corner.

At the opposite end of the block from Gifford's is the 1915 Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Department (today Fire Station 1 Restaurant & Brewing Co., 8131 Georgia).  The detail of this building is particularly stunning.

Silver Spring Avenue elevation.

Crossing Georgia Avenue again, we stand in front of the 1925 Hunter's Hardware, whose facade was remodeled in 1949 (today Dor-ne Corset Shoppe, 8126 Georgia, "From hardware to underwear" as I point out on my walking tour).

On the northwest corner of Georgia and Ripley sat the equally legendary 1935 Little Tavern Hamburgers, tragically demolished in 2003 by its owner who failed to sell it on eBay (but the gravel footprint of the building is still there).

Further up the street is the 1935 Peoples' Drug (today Capital One Bank, 8315 Georgia, who admirably restored and incorporated the facade into new construction in 1996).

Looking south down Georgia from Thayer Avenue.  Pay no attention to the giant swan or man in the distance.

This is the 8200 block of Georgia between Ripley and Bonifant where was located the recently closed Dale Music.  Here was located Silver Spring's first movie theater, the SECO, opened in 1927.  At the end of the block is Silver Spring's oldest bank, Suburban Trust as it was in the 1940s.  All of these structures are extant except for the brown brick building next to the bank, and ALL are scheduled for demolition next year for construction of a singular, glass mixed-use development.

North end of Georgia at Bonifant Street where the model train tracks turn around.

I think you will agree that this is an amazing model train layout that fully displays the love put into it by its creator.  The SSHS is grateful to be entrusted with this heirloom but have a big task ahead of us in disassembling, transporting, and most important of all, storing it for an estimated period of five years.

If anyone can offer assistance in the form of a cargo van (in which can be transported three 8' x 4'  and two 8' x 2' plywood tops and an assortment of framing 2' x 4's, 2' x 8's, and 6' x 8's) or know of long-term and secure storage where these pieces may be kept, please contact me.  

Future generations will appreciate your help.

Jerry A. McCoy
Silver Spring Historical Society

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Big Engine that Did

One of the sites that I point out on my walking tour to Silver Spring's original "Silver" Spring is this section of mosaic mural located at the Georgia Avenue underpass (where Georgia dips under the Metro/CSX tracks). The murals were designed and put together by Arts on the Block youths that I worked with back in 2005 to incorporate Silver Spring images into the designs.

I have fun pointing out to tour participants that this iconic streamline modern locomotive never ran through Silver Spring as part of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad but was one of the New York Central Railroad's legendary "Hudson" locomotives. I'm sure the youths saw a photo of this engine, thought it was cool (which it is!), and decided to reproduce it in their mural.

This engine was designed by the famous industrial designer Henry Dreyfus. If you live in an
older house you probably have a Dreyfus original hanging on your wall...his 1953 Honeywell T87 circular wall thermostat!

The next walking tour will be held on Saturday, October 5, 2013 from 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Cost $10.00, children under 13 free. 

RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED.  Email or call (301) 537-1253.

Tour begins at:
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station
8100 Georgia Avenue (at Sligo Avenue)
Silver Spring, MD  20910

(301) 537-1253

Saturday, December 29, 2012

So Monday Night I'm Gonna Party Like It's 1978

Here are some of the places that folks rang in the New Year thirty-four years ago in downtown Silver Spring.  All of the advertisements are from the pages of the December 29, 1978 The Suburban Record.

The Record, which started publishing in 1944, was located at 8505 Dixon Avenue in 1978.  Today this address is part of an office building located at 1010 Wayne Avenue.

The Silver Spring Historical Society owns a rare bound copy of this newspaper's run from 1978 that was generously donated by Chip Py a few years ago.  If anyone has copies of this important newspaper, please consider donating them to SSHS.

Spring Garden was located at 1160 Bonifant Street which is no longer extant, having been replaced by a portion of the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit Center.

Courtesy Silver Spring Singular

Villa Rosa was located at 813 Ellsworth Drive which is also long gone.  The restaurant was located about where Zpizza sits today.

Beacon Auto Body was located at 8111 Mayor Lane.  Beacon closed in 2010 after being in business for 38 years.  The building is still there (and empty) but not Beacon's awesome sign which was the side of the actual 1956 Nash Metropolitan automobile.  This car is in the collection of the SSHS and it has been offered, along with other vintage Silver Spring business signs, for permanent display in the to-be-constructed Silver Spring Library!

And lastly Mike offered a "Cheers" from 1052 Ripley Street, now the site of the Solaire Apartments.

Wherever you spend this New Year's Eve, may it be memorable!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Trash to Treasure

Every morning when I walk out of my house to pick up the Washington Post (Now where has it been flung today?) I never know what trash I will pick up out of my yard along with the newspaper. Usually though, said trash doesn't get accessioned into the collections of the Silver Spring Historical Society!  

This "Ladies Night Concert @ Lucy's" ticket for a party held last night at 8301 Georgia Avenue (known as Langano Ethiopian Restaurant during the day) will be added to the society's "8301 Georgia" vertical file as a great piece of early 21st century ephemera.  

Back in 1948 EVERY day was ladies day at 8301 when it operated as the Silver Spring location of the NorBud Shops, a women's undergarment store.

Over the past twenty years, 8301 has been a revolving door of restaurants with none of them seeming to last very long.  Anyone remember Mr. Minari American and Japanese Food when it opened in July 1998?  In February 2011 it became the short-lived Taste of Morocco which had relocated from City Place Mall.  Before the year was over it sequed into Marrakesh Restaurant whose food has now moved to the eastern side of the African continent and is presently Langano.  Somewhere in between Minari and Morocco it was a Jerry's Subs and Pizza.

The building itself was constructed in 1923 and features some really beautiful multi-hued cream/yellow/beige/brown brick that is only visible on the Thayer Avenue elevation.  This is some of the most beautiful commercial brickwork from the early 20th century still surviving on Georgia Avenue.  The Georgia Avenue elevation features the same brickwork but you wouldn't know for it has been encased for the past two decades in tacky wood siding painted dark brown.

Perhaps some year/decade a new owner of 8301 Georgia Avenue will give this building's exterior the sensitive restoration that it deserves.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Thayer Avenue Setting for New Work of Fiction Set in WW II

Last year New York author Cheryl A. Pula contacted me inquiring about an appropriate street in Silver SPring for the protagonist of her planned book, "The Ragged Irregulars:  The Eighth Air Force Series, Book Two." to live on.

Her character, Kelly Davenport, is an 18-year old bombardier with the 8th Air Force, the base's resident genius (IQ 189), and a Princeton graduate with a major in nuclear physics. The character is based on a real WW II veteran that the author interviewed.

Ms. Pula needed a WW II-era middle class neighborhood within walking distance of Montgomery Blair High School, from where Davenport graduated. She chose Silver Spring because she always liked the name of the town.  "My brother taught at Catholic University in D.C. for a while. My niece and her family are from Lanham, but just recently moved to Columbia, MD, so I am familiar with the modern day city, but I imagine it has changed immensely since WW II," Pula told me last year.

While Silver Spring's Central Business District has certainly changed over the past sixty plus years, I suggested that an excellent location for her character to live would be on Thayer Avenue in the Silver Spring Park, a neighborhood that physically has seen very few changes to its building stock.
Plated in 1904, it is still a tree-filled neighborhood sprinkled with bungalows and four squares and is within easy walking distance of MBHS. Oh, and the fact that I live in one of those bungalows...on Thayer Avenue.

I received a copy of the book yesterday in the mail and was tickled to see chapter one titled "Friday, 11 September 1936 Michael Davenport Residence, Thayer Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland." As far as I'm concerned, the Davenports lived in my house!  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Silver Spring Realia

Recently the Silver Spring Historical Society acquired this realia (library-speak for three dimensional object) with no information regarding its history.  Appearing to be an automobile license plate, I posted a query on the Facebook group page You know you grew up in Silver Spring when... to see if any of its members might know something about it.  A couple of months later local longtime resident Rick Nelson provided the information I sought supplemented by Rick Kretschmer's amazing web site

Collection of Silver Spring Historical Society

The state of Maryland started requiring the registration of automobiles in 1904 but it wasn't until 1910 that vehicles had to display state-issued plates.  Front and rear license plates were required from 1910 to 1943, 1948 to 1951, and 1956 on.  The only years that a single rear plate was required was 1944 to 1947 and 1952 to 1955.  Correctly I assumed that this plate was manufactured as a novelty to be placed on the front of a vehicle.  Perhaps a variety of front plates were sold as fundraisers by fraternal organizations, high schools, or simply given away by auto dealers and the like. 

Mr. Nelson remembers that when only single plates were required in 1954 and 1955, front plates could be purchased at any auto supply store.  In 1954 the state-issued rear plate was yellow on black and in 1955 it was black on yellow.  All of the other single plate years were monochromatic black and white.

Another example of a 1955 Maryland plate may be seen at http://alpca8123md.50webs.comWhen compared to the 1954 yellow on black plate next to it, the 1955 plate definitely looks more orange than yellow.  My guess then is that the society's plate was sold and used in 1955. 

Certainly there must be other versions of Silver Spring automobile plates out there, perhaps ones featuring the names of car dealerships or other local businesses.  If you own one, please let me know.  Thank you!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Silver Spring Heritage Trail Finally Gets Props in the Post

In April 2010 the Silver Spring Historical Society dedicated the first six signs of the Silver Spring Heritage Trail along historic "Main Street" Georgia Avenue.  In all there will be twenty signs located throughout downtown Silver Spring extolling the amazing hidden history that our community encompasses.

As the first designated heritage trail in Montgomery County, and one that the SSHS worked on for over a decade to create, our organization felt that the trail's dedication deserved coverage in The Washington Post which, of course, it did not receive.  Well, finally it has...sort of.

In today's "Local Living / Montgomery Edition" of the Post on p. 17 the article "Piratz Tavern bar gets a Spike TV makeover" appears with two photographs. One of the photos prominently shows our "Post Office 1936" sign in the foreground with the late Piratz Tavern in the background!

Of course to the uninformed reader no one would know what this sign is much less what is written on it.

Hopefully Montgomery County print readers of the Post who are curious about what the sign is will check it out in person and in the process will seek out the other five signs.  Stay tuned because two more heritage trails signs are in the works and will hopefully be dedicated later this year.