Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Par 3 for The Course?

Sadly, it doesn't look like the county is going to keep operating our poor little Sligo Creek Golf Course after this year. Many are holding out hope, putting up websites and starting Facebook groups in support of the course.

Meanwhile, all sorts of folks are coming out of the woodwork with grandiose ideas for alternative uses for the space. The Frisbee golf proposal previously mentioned here is apparently still in the mix, but who knows if anyone of import within the County is taking that one seriously.

Montgomery Soccer, which apparently has a lot more money than the county, wants to build a multi-million dollar soccer facility in the space, construction of which will no doubt be funded in part with our tax dollars. Didn't like the idea of traffic for a driving range, golf course neighbors? Just imagine what a soccer tournament would look like. Minivans as far as the eye could see. Personally, I think this is a crap idea, since quite frankly I don't get any benefit from it. Who does? Little kids who don't even pay any goddamn property taxes, that's who. Have them play on the muddy field across the street and let us adults have something of our own.

Now, I don't fancy myself a John Daly or anything, and my golf experience doesn't extend far beyond driving ranges and mini-golf. However, I can see myself picking the game up someday, and the Sligo Creek Golf Course Location is really convenient to my house.

Perhaps there is some way to preserve the space as a golf course without incurring the full weight of the financial burden the county claims they can't presently shoulder. I know - make it a par 3 golf course!

What's a par 3 course?

From the Encyclopædia Britannica:

Par-three golf courses, on which each hole measures 100 yards (90 metres) more or less and plays at par three, were developed as a result of the shortage of available open land in congested urban areas. Whereas a regulation 18-hole course may stretch to more than 7,000 yards, about 4 miles (6.4 km), an 18-hole par-three, or short-hole, course can be laid out in about 1,800 yards (1.6 km).
Why a par 3 course? Here's a few benefits:

- More accessible than a proper course to people that suck at golf. Namely, me.
- Less maintenance, presumably, as there will be fewer fairways to mow.
- More people can play at any time - the present nine holes could be expanded to many more par 3 holes.

Here's an article that more fully details the benefits of a par 3 course.

I've passed plenty of par 3 courses located in fairly dense urban settings, though not in the D.C. metro area. As best as I can tell, the closest course of this type to here is way up in Gambrills. I don't see why the county couldn't support a par 3 course, maintenance costs for which would be partially covered by revenue from fees, snacks, and a pro shop. (Also - mini golf???) I mean, Compton has one, for goodness sake. Are you telling me that they can support a golf course of this nature, but MoCo, one of America's richest counties, can't?

I wonder where a par 3 course falls under the onerous agreement that the county has with the Revenue Authority. Would it really be considered as competition to one of the Authority's 18-hole courses?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lost Silver Spring: The Luau Hut

Have you ever wondered about this bright yellow, vaguely Asian-looking edifice on Ramsey Street that seems so incongruous with the drab gray transportation-related structures that encircle it? The building now sits boarded up and vacant, having most recently served as the home of the Caribbean Style Restaurant and Lounge, the proprietors of which are likely responsible for the building's current bright orange-yellow livery. You may recall that street outside was the scene of a 5:30 AM shooting last year, an event which I suspect may have been at least partially responsible for the restaurant's demise.

For many years, beginning in the mid-1960's, this building served as the home of the Luau Hut, which I assume had to have been Silver Spring's only tiki bar.

The Luau Hut was born when a group of employees from the Washington Trader Vic's held a party at Moon Kim's Ramsey Avenue Korean restaurant, the Moon Garden. Among the guests was Paul Malonson, a Trader Vic's maitre d', who suggested to Kim that she expand the cuisine and transform the the restaurant into Polynesian-themed restaurant and bar. In 1964, the restaurant began to serve pan-Asian and Polynesian cuisine while serving up a variety of strong, rum-based Polynesian cocktails. Malonson and Kim, who were married in married in 1965, eventually opened up a second Luau Hut location on F near Union Station in the building that is now The Irish Times.

Along with being a restaurateur, Kim, who recently passed away, was a talented singer who attended Juilliard and even put out three rock albums (!) on the RCA label. Eventually, the popularity of her singing led her to perform three sets a night at the Luau Hut.

Side note: According to a 1966 Washington Post article, Silver Spring had itself a bit of a live music scene back in the 60's. Most entertainers in Silver Spring appear to have been pianists, though a big attraction at the time was dance music performances by the Kenny Duca Duo at the Villa Rosa Restaurant. According to the article, "Duca [was] one of the county's foremost exponents of the cordovox, an accordion with attachments that give it half a dozen sounds." Those last two sentences right there just undid all the hard work two seasons of Mad Men has done to make the 60's seem cool.

The Luau Hut served up a variety of drinks bearing fabulous names such as "Virgin's Downfall", with the highlight of the bunch being the Zombie, the only drink on the menu restricted to two per customer. (Whatever bar ends up being Zombie Walk HQ this year needs to learn how to prepare these.) You could choose to get you drink in a "tiki tumbler", which was yours to take home as a souvenir. Many of these mugs from the Luau Hut are still floating around out there, and I've scoured the internet for photos of the different varieties the restaurant offered. (See the slideshow at bottom of post.)

Here's the Luau Hut's cocktail menu from 1968:

(click to enlarge)

The restaurant's trademark image was that of the hula girl, who appeared partially nude on the restaurant's mugs and menus, but more modestly clothed for appearances in newspaper ads. Can you imagine the scandal today if a respectable MoCo restaurant had the audacity to put a topless chick on the cover of their menu?

In the 70's, the Silver Spring Luau Hut was apparently a favorite haunt of Bullets star and NBA Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes. This would be kind of like Gilbert Arenas hanging out at McGinty's on weekends, but in an alternate reality where the Wizards were good and people gave a damn.

Eventually the popularity of Tiki Bars fizzled out, and like many similar establishments nationwide, the Silver Spring Luau Hut faded into oblivion.

Somewhat surprisingly, the structure appears to have survived unscathed through the long period where the county felt that areas surrounding Metro stations were only good for parking garages. I'd love to lease the space and bring back the Luau Hut with the slightly-modified moniker "Luau the Hutt". The hula girl on my custom-designed mugs would be clothed in a Polynesian interpretation of Princess Leia's metal bikini and I'd use them to serve secret new cocktail recipes such as the "Thermal Detonator". You'd always get your way when holding a Thermal Detonator.

Here's a slideshow of Luau Hut related images that I've culled from the Internet and collected in a Flickr Set. These primarily came from from online tiki resources Arkiva Tropika and Tiki Room. (A few of the images I've enhanced a bit through the magic of Photoshop.)

Thanks to MG, KR and JM for contributing to this post.

UPDATE: For those curious about the Kenny Duca Duo and the Cordovox, here's a little slideshow of Cordovoxes with music featuring Kenny Duca. The Cordovox jam begins at about 0:58. Yes, it's cheesy, but what else could I do with ten minutes and Windows Movie Maker?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Welcome to Xanadu - Plenty of Great Condos Still Available!

I've been thinking more about the fabricated names ("Ripley District", "Fenton Village") that have recently been assigned to different areas of downtown Silver Spring as a precursor to their planned redevelopment.

I don't know why it bothers me so much when these names are used in an unironic manner, but it does. Same thing with Penn Quarter, NoMa and SoFlo (!) in the District. I obnoxiously feel the need to educate D.C. noobs that these places don't really exist, much like the fictional "Reagan Airport". Nevertheless, I am pretty much resigned to the fact that neighborhood re-branding has become an undeniable fixture of urban redevelopment.

I've decided what bugs me is not so much the fact that these neighborhoods (term used very loosely) are being branded, but that they are being assigned such lame names as "Fenton Village" and "Ripley District". I mean, come on, Ripley District? Unless this is meant to honor the protagonist of the Alien Quadrilogy, it's a naming fail. And how is this a district? It's like two blocks wide and the existing "streets" really aren't much more than alleys. (At least the current plan will create the fabulously named "Ripifant Street", the evil bastard progeny of Bonifant and Ripley streets.)

What County rule mandates that the name of re-branded areas must incorporate the name of an existing street? I mean, look at Ripley Street today - is this really what you want your neighborhood named after?

This is a tremendous opportunity to name parts of Silver Spring whatever we want. As an alternative to the generic nomenclatures coming out of MNCPPC, we ought to assign fantastical names to these areas, such as Xanadu, Valhalla, or Strawberry Fields, for example. We could even rename Ripley Street "Diagon Alley". Why not? Kids'd eat that up - at least until J.K. Rowling sues our ass. Imaginative names would certainly create a lot more buzz to attract potential residents for all these condos and apartments that are supposedly being built.

What position at Park & Planning has the responsibility for christening these places, and where do I apply for it? And no, it will not be a "community" decision. I would be Naming Czar. Hell, I'll do it for free. Ike - call me.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Silver Spring News 'N Notes

- So the Big Greek Cafe is (almost) back. I wonder - will The New Big Greek Cafe have the same menu as the Greek Place (née The Big Greek Cafe), being that the people who presumably created the menu at the later now will run the former? Is there such a demand for Greek cafes that two establishments can survive within shouting distance of each other? If not, which will outlast the other and avoid the hair-salon-conversion fate that frequently befalls failed Silver Spring businesses? I look forward to the drama.

- Brock Parker, a Springbrook High graduate, just won $225K in the won the $2,500 Six-Handed Limit Hold'em event at the World Series of Poker. Of course, the first commenter on the post challenges whether Springbrook is actually part of the "Real Silver Spring". (I will abstain from providing my opinion on this matter.) I'm waiting on the obligatory "All of Silver Spring sucks" comments that are sure to follow.

- Greater Greater Washington has an analysis of the proposed Wayne Avenue portion of the Purple Line route. It pokes holes is one of the B.S. arguments of rail opponents that bugs me the most - the supposed additional noise these trains will create, as if the county were going to run CSX cargo trains down the street. Hell, I can't wait for the Purple Line. I could walk a few blocks and hop a train to Bethesda. At that point I imagine public transportation will be my only option, as odds are I'll be far too old to drive. Of course, they may have teleporters by then, so the train will be obsolete anyway.

- This blog has an interesting photo that shows what Silver Spring Avenue above Fenton looked like years ago before they tore down the houses to put in parking lots.

Now this area is being developed as part of the "Fenton Village" project. I still contend that "Fenton Village" is an imaginary place, existing only in the minds of marketers. Village of what? Surface lots? Doesn't the term "village" imply a primarily residential population?

1. a small community or group of houses in a rural area, larger than a hamlet and usually smaller than a town, and sometimes (as in parts of the U.S.) incorporated as a municipality.
It seems kind of ironic for the county to retroactively assign the label of village to an area years after they've torn down most of the houses. This doesn't look too village-y to me.