Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Silver Spring Googie

Click to enlarge.

Most people probably pass it by without giving it a second thought or consider it hideously ugly, but one of my favorite Silver Spring landmarks is Weller's Dry Cleaning, located at the corner of Fenton and Thayer. Adding to the appeal of this uniquely-designed building is the clock-topped sign that stands out front.

This building is downtown Silver Spring's only remaining example of Googie architecture, at least that I am aware of. Weller's might be considered more "Googie Lite", as it doesn't have quite the flair of some of Southern California's mid-century commercial architecture. But what would you expect from a suburban Maryland building adjacent to a residential neighborhood? Weller's does incorporate many Googie hallmarks, such as a a slanted roof, bright colors, and an (albeit small) starburst on the sign.

Surprisingly the clock was correct when I took this photo. I always just assumed it didn't work anymore. Of course, it's possible I just happened to catch it at one of the two times a day it is right.

As you can see in the photo, the proprietors have recently spraypainted over the portion of the sign that once read "one hour". Why would they do this? Are they too slow or busy to meet the one hour target? Is the speed of dry cleaning moving backward in the manner of transatlantic flight, which 40 years ago allowed us to travel to Europe faster than today via the Concorde? Was it absolutely necessary to deface this fantastic sign? (One explanation may be that for a long time it was a Martinizing franchise, whereas now it is not.)

Here's some additional views:

The front of the store. Even the signs on the windows are classic!

I love the bold red and pink striping...

...and its pairing with a stone wall. Perhaps this was a later addition.

This (intentionally) off-kilter signage is long gone.

Here's part of the missing sign, which was saved by the Silver Spring Historical Society.

It seems that whenever anyone mentions Weller's, and in particular the sign, it is with the sad resignation that it will inevitably fall victim to Silver Spring's "rebirth", doomed to be replaced with luxury condominiums. That's not an unrealistic expectation, as there's not a whole lot of this style of architecture that has been preserved in this area. The way way cooler Bob Peck Chevrolet showroom in Arlington was demolished last year. Generally these buildings aren't really old enough to be deemed historic and worthy of keeping by municipalities, and when they are, people aren't necessarily very appreciative of preservation efforts.

I'd like to think that it can somehow survive revitalization and remain as a dry cleaner, or better yet be repurposed as an ice cream (or gelato!) place. Run by me, of course. Well, at least that's my latest pipe dream. My Googie ice cream joint could serve the denizens of East Silver Spring as well as the imaginary neighborhood people refer to as "Fenton Village".

How cool would it look with all its colors returned to their original vibrancy? I admit I'm not always behind preserving everything in Silver Spring, as old doesn't necessarily mean historic - or good, but this is one piece of "old" Silver Spring I'd like to see kept around.


Here's some additional information on the the building and its architect, courtesy of Jerry McCoy at the SSHS:

Weller's will be turning 50 next year and thus is eligible for historic designation. It was designed by the prolific Montgomery County (and Silver Spring) architect Ted Englehardt (1898-1980). Englehardt was so proud of Weller's that he installed an incised "signature" brick into the structure.

A registered architect since 1928, Englehardt was a founding member of the Potomac Chapter of the AIA and one of its presidents. Some of the buildings that he designed were nine buildings on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland between 1953-1968, the Montgomery County Courthouse (1958), Kensington Baptist Church (1955), and seven Montgomery County fire stations (including Silver Spring #18 and #25).

It's interesting that the Weller's building is such a departure from Englehardt's other jobs, which seem to be almost exclusively in the Colonial style. After designing so many government and academic buildings, perhaps this was a chance for him to create something a bit more progressive/fun.


I went inside and took a picture of their great floor. I think the guy at the counter thought I was crazy.


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you did a post on this building! Every time I go by it. Think how great it is and the wonderful potential it has to be something other than a dry cleaners (like a cool restaurant/bar/hangout place). Who needs Jackie's fake mid-century retro when you can have the real thing right here?

skijmpr said...

I love that dry cleaner! They do a fantastic job and are very friendly. Plus I love supporting established local businesses.

Alan Hess said...

This is a nice piece of Googie. Not all Googie needs to be outrageous....the lively angles, the natural stone, the great colors, and the sign -- well done and a great gift to the street.

Anonymous said...

Looks like we'll be getting some googie in our library, and while definatley not a fan of our up and coming library design, I'm definatley a fan of this building.
Being a well healed yuppie looking to destroy Fenton Village's unique character, I'd love to see a restaurant with some spiffy neo-mid-century-bauhaus-on-drugs interior design. If you want to build a tower above, be my guest, just leave the canted glass piece of Fenton and the stone wall.

WashingtonGardener said...

I pass by there daily and use it on the rare occasions I dryclean - I've always loved the looks of this building and that clock IS how I pace myself on way to metro/bus stop or appointments. When it is off by 5 minues (as it was last winter), it really screws me up.
Btw dry cleaner to food service is a BIG leap in terms of chemical hazmat clean-up.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post--I love this building and would hate to see it end up in a rejuvenated pile of rubble!

Clancy said...

I was saddened greatly when they tore down the Peck Chevy building in Ballston. My wife's office overlooks the lot it was on (and the Staples that was next to it). I used to think it would be great to restore it. When I last visited her office--and saw the salvage crews breaking down the concrete and steel--I almost cried.

Anonymous said...

The missing said read "Weller's" it fell a year or so ago, and wasn't replaced by the new owners who aren't as community-centric as the long-standing Weller family. I miss the staff and the owners and have changed cleaners after 14 yrs w/Wellers.

Silver Spring: Then and Again said...

The Silver Spring Historical Society has the plastic sign that was in the top box. It read "weller's" (lowercase "w").

The sign had fallen off and was scattered all along the side grass, sidewalk, and gutter...in about half a dozen pieces. I walked past the pieces for two days, thinking the owners would come out and pick them up. They never did.

Since these pieces represented Silver Spring's history, I picked up all that I could find. The sign has been cobbled back together (missing a couple of pieces) and hopefully can be displayed along with all of the other vestiges of Silver Spring's past that the society has.

Sligo said...

Could you send a photo of the reconstructed sign so that it could be posted here?

tony said...

would like to know 1) how old is this building. If it is greater than 50 years, can we push for historic preservation. We were able to save the afi and the art deco shopping center based on that back in the 1980s. Perhaps the building could be fit into the design. 2) who runs this silver spring singular site.

tony hausner

Sligo said...

1) According to the Silver Spring Historical Society, the building was constructed in 1960, and therefore will be eligible for historical designation next year.

2) I do, and I have zero influence with anyone important, but will do what I can to preserve this particular building, if necessary.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what happened to Mr. Weller, who ran that business for at least 40 years?

Nancy Weber said...

My family moved to the Walter Reed area in 1952, and my husband and I bought a home in Silver Spring in the mid sixties. We have used Weller's for many, many years.

They do great work and who does not LOVE the look of the place?

We need to get Weller's on The List as soon as it is eligible and make sure it stays as is.

So many favorite places are disappearing!

Why try to "repurpose" it?

It has been successful all these years as what it is. The equipment is there,and we need a good drycleaner in Silver Spring.

Thanks for sharing the photos and history with those who didn't know it.

Now...where are those clothes that need to go to Weller's?

Nancy Weber

Anonymous said...

Has it always been a cleaners? I grew up in Silver Spring in the 1970's and I have some weird recall that it was a restaurant of some kind.

Anonymous said...

Great post!!!

Anonymous said...

Whoever took the photos might want to take some shots of the interior. It's somewhat changed since the Weller family left but it's still an historic interior. I also miss the staff. Irvin is still there. I don't know how the owners of the building would feel about an historic designation - that usually puts restrictions on how the building can be altered.
It's great to have it in Silver Spring.

mlweller said...

Mr. Weller retired a couple years ago at age 93. He still owns the building and patronizes the current owner/tenant. At age 95 he still drives, cooks for Mrs. Weller, and is a voracious reader and teller of jokes (generally the same few jokes). I know all of this because he is my Dad. We have a great affection for that building as my sisters and I all worked there at various times in our lives, particularly my youngest sister Lisa who loved the place and really helped expand the business during her tenure. Weller's was originally on Wayne Ave. across from the Texaco and next door (possibly several doors) from Frank Stallone's (Rocky's father) beauty shop. My Dad and his brother built the Fenton Street plant in 1960 and I have some great pictures from that period. Thanks for your appreciation of this great piece of midyear architecture.

Sligo said...


Any chance you could share some of those photos with us? I'd love to post some old shots of Silver Spring.

Sjeffery said...

the new chinese owners are dishonest..and they lie all the time. They destroyed one of my shirts.. and to date have not replaced. I told them to just find the same garmet and replace it or refund me my money.. I go there and Jason lies.. and says the manager is never there... he was suppose to call me and hasn't i've been there 6 times... I'm call the BBB on them. this is unprofessional and no one hardly speaks english..

Tiffany Collins said...

I'm so happy you did a post on this building! Every time I go by it. Think how great it is and the wonderful potential I appreciate your struggle. Your dry cleaning service is one of the best from others.

Commercial Cleaning Arlington

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