Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Living in the Past

So the Falkland Chase Apartments have been awarded historical status. Time to party like it's 1939.

I'm all for historical preservation, but it seems to me that the anti-growth contingent of Silver Spring is celebrating a victory along with the preservationists. I certainly don't think that the proposed development on this site has any aesthetic value, but isn't higher density urban living near public transportation what we are supposed to want in lieu of additional suburban sprawl? (Selfishly, I'd like to see a supermarket alternative to Giant Food. Harris Teeter? Bring it on.)

I can appreciate that Falkland Chase has some historical significance, but is it necessary to retain the entire complex for the benefit of future generations? The fairly nondescript apartment buildings don’t differ significantly from each other, so if there were still a fair amount of them left, people could get the idea of what it was all about. The developer’s plans already call for keeping a majority of the original buildings intact:

[Vice president of development for Home Properties Don] Hague, who will be at a county development committee meeting today to defend the project, said developers believe they will be retaining the more historically significant portions of the property, which officials with the Maryland Historical Trust have said are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

“The parts that will remain ‘as is’ are the ones that are architecturally truer to the planning and design principles that were popular back then,” Hague said.
Falkland Chase is supposed to be some sort of great example of New Deal planning. Personally, I think nearby Greenbelt is far more interesting in that regard. And as far as architecture goes, I find the already-preserved Art Deco Montgomery Arms Apartments more appealing than Falkland's Colonial Revival style (pictured below). But maybe that's just a personal preference.

I don’t exactly see school field trips walking through the grounds or Tourmobile buses slowing down in front of Falkland Chase, so interest outside a few small groups seems fairly limited. A vast majority of people are either ignorant or ambivalent about the issue. There are far more people enthralled every year by that monstrosity of a Christmas light show a block away.

There are certainly plenty of historical buildings in this area that probably should have been retained for posterity. I highly recommend the book Capital Losses if you want to learn about buildings that have already been lost to the wrecking ball.

I do sympathize with current residents who don't want to lose their apartments, but as a wise man will one day say, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Personally, I'd prefer they focus development efforts on creating additional office space in Silver Spring before more companies move "upcounty". (Sucks to be those employees.) Instead, they continue to look at Silver Spring as a Metro-accessible bedroom community where residents leave each morning to go to work in D.C., Bethesda, etc.

(In mostly-unrelated news, my favorite building in the entire D.C. metro area is being refurbished.)


Brent said...

Well said. Leave a bit of it for posterity, but devote the land closest to Metro to its highest and best use.

Flip said...

They also never mention that a portion of the Falkland block was razed for some office development in the 1980s (see Best Addresses by James Goode). Save a half dozen of them and everyone will get it. Then go dense on the remaining land.

Clancy said...

If giving the northern portion of Falkland Chase historical status (to go along with the southern part's already existing status) is what keeps it from being transformed in to a horrible monstrosity, complete with all the hallmarks of horrible planning, then I'm on board.

Quit focusing on the proximity to the Metro. Just because you can build tall there doesn't mean you should. There are plenty of other aspects of the towers that were extremely problematic. For me, the grossly inadequate parking and traffic aspects of the plan were enough to justify torpedoing it.

Falkland Chase has a great deal of character and charm. If management wasn't so bad, it might even be a nice place to live. There's tons of open or relatively unused space not a few blocks away in south Silver Spring. Why not build shiny, new, & tall there?

Dan Reed said...

One book definitely worth reading is New Cities For Old by Louis Justement, who designed Falkland Chase. In it, he basically talks about how disorganized the D.C. area was in the 1940's and how large-scale urban renewal would save it. He called Georgia Avenue "blighted" and said only planned development (like his Falkland Chase) would stand the test of time. It's ironic that his project has been threatened by the wrecking ball multiple times.

It's not so simple as people "getting it." A development like Falkland Chase is best understood as a whole, and any pressure to redevelop part of it (as happened with the Lenox Park apartments in 1992) will lead to pressure to redevelop the entire thing. And if we were going to go the teardown route, I think that site demands something as groundbreaking as Falkland Chase was when it went up in 1936. The Home Properties proposal is an insult to what is and could have been.

Anonymous said...

Another issue with this whole Falkland Chase thing is the way management handled sharing information. I signed my lease in July and moved in early August, and didn't hear about any of this knocking-down-my-apartment until a neighbor told me in October. It's all been very shady, from a resident's perspective.

David said...

Nice catch on the Hetchs WH. One of my favs too.

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