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.