Saturday, February 26, 2011

For Sale: Silver Spring's Most Infamous Residence

While it might very well have already been on the market for awhile, I just noticed for the first today that the Silver Spring's infamous "Double Murder" house is finally up for sale. Strangely, I can't seem to find any information online regarding the listing, even after browsing the listing agent's website. Perhaps they are intentionally keeping it "off the grid".

It will be quite interesting to see for what price this house ultimately sells, considering the tragic and violent events that have taken place there. Maryland law bars an agent from disclosing information on crimes that occurred in a property, but any potential buyer performing a basic level of due diligence will quickly discover the house's terrible history. This house has attained a level of infamy not just locally, but in the national media as well, where it has been lumped in with such other notorious dwellings as the Amityville Horror house.

Of course, there's always the chance that an unsuspecting buyer may receive a big shock after moving in, a situation that happened to Brian Betts himself, as he learned of the murder of the previous occupants after he had already completed the purchase of the house.

On the other hand, a non-superstitious person might just get quite the deal if most other prospective buyers are turned off by the house's history. The house is in quite a convenient location - it's just minutes from downtown Silver Spring and has easy access to the Beltway.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday News 'N Notes

 - In case you haven't already heard, Cake Love is in the process moving around the corner from its current spot on Ellsworth to the space on Fenton that was (briefly) occupied by the Fractured Prune. Frozen yogurt vendor FroZenYo, which has had designs on Silver Spring for some time, will be occupying Cake Love's old home.

- Silver Spring will host its second annual Big Cherry Block Party on Saturday, April 2nd. The event is sanctioned by the National Cherry Blossom Festival and will celebrate Japanese Culture - including Karaoke. Here is a set of photos from last year's inaugural event.

- Somehow I missed this episode of HGTV's "House Hunters" when it first ran in 2009. The title is "Set in Silver Spring" and is, well, set in Silver Spring (mostly). Spoiler alert: he wisely does not move to Gaithersburg.

- Meet your new county bocce champions: The Montgomery Blair Blazers. Since when did MCPS start sanctioning hipster sports? Do they consume non-alcoholic PBR between bowls?

- Reader C.R. sent me this photo taken at the library construction site. If you look closely, you will see text on this concrete piece reads "SILVER SPRINGS LIBRARY". Of course it does.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Silver Spring Proper, 1949

Where exactly does Silver Spring begin and end? The county and the US Postal Service don't do a particularly good job of defining what is or is not Silver Spring, and broad swaths of MoCo are often generically referred to as "Silver Spring" (or "Springs", of course). I once attempted to illustrate my definition of Silver Spring by sketching boundaries on a county map, but I could never really decide whether certain neighborhoods should be in or out, and my borders ended up looking like some absurdly gerrymandered voting district.

Interestingly, way back in 1949 the Montgomery County Council did explicitly define Silver Spring's borders. The following map of Silver Spring was published in the July 24, 1949 issue of the Washington Post to accompany an article about the large volume of housing construction underway here at the time.

According to the map's caption:
This is the new Silver Spring, Md., as officially defined by the Montgomery County Council at request of the Silver Spring Board of Trade. An estimated 71,500 persons live within the new borders, making it the second city of Maryland. Notice the new community embraces the Wheaton area.
It's interesting that even back then no one really knew exactly what comprised "Silver Spring" and a clarification had to be requested from the county.

Within the article is provided a route for a self-guided tour of Silver Spring:
Here is a suggested route: Out 13th st. nw. to Piney Branch rd., out Piney Branch rd.,  left on Old Bladensburg rd. [note that this is now University Blvd.], continue all the way to Wheaton, Right on Georgia ave. extended to Glenmont; re-trace your steps to Viers Mill rd, right on Viers Mill rd. and continue as far as Connecticut Avenue Estates; back to Georgia ave. extended and south to Colesville Rd., left and continue to Four Corners.
This map isn't too far off from how I generally define Silver Spring, though I might tack on one or two neighborhoods. The other exception is the inclusion of Wheaton. I don't know what it was like sixty years ago, but it's definitely it's own entity now, even if it still technically maintains a Silver Spring ZIP code.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Silver Spring Mystery Building

Recently reader Mike C. emailed me with the question, "What is that beige windowless building at the corner of Fenton and Cameron Ave?"

My answer? Dammed if I know. To be honest, the building at 8709 Cameron Street (across from the secret movie theater) is so nondescript I must have passed by it hundreds of times without giving it a second thought.

Turns out this structure belongs to everyone's favorite utility, Pepco, and houses our local electrical substation. These substations are essential for ensuring your power will fail as a result of the slightest of breezes or smallest of snowflakes.

A photograph taken with my personal spy satellite reveals large skylights on the roof through which some sort of electrical equipment can be seen.

Unlike this Pepco substation on 8th street in the District, where the facades of old buildings were utilized as camouflage, our substation is hiding in plain sight.

Photo by Flickr user StreetsofWashington

Interesting bit of history: in the olden days, local substations were frequently disguised as houses.

I would have preferred a more interesting answer, like it was a local office for the Men in Black or something, but I still choose to think of this building as where the Transformers live, because that is true (in a way).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Silver Spring Bauhauses

One of the benefits of Silver Spring being an older suburb is the interesting variety of pre-war homes we enjoy in some of the neighborhoods surrounding downtown. With many of these homes being one-off custom designs, you can find all sorts of unique residences, including even a white castle. As mentioned a couple weeks back, Silver Spring even has a residential pagoda, and it's for sale! (For those interested in this sort of thing, the neighborhood of Woodside Park has a self-guided walking architecture tour.)

One thing I've noticed that's somewhat unusual is that Silver Spring is home to a handful of International Style houses. Outside of Greenbelt, you won't come across many homes in this area constructed in this style. While the label "International Style" can be applied very broadly, in terms of single-family homes it is characterized by a white or gray color, cubic form, and an absense of ornamentation.

If you visit the the National Building Museum's Designing Tomorrow exhibit (and I highly recommend that you do), be sure to check out the section on the Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. The following house from that exhibit, called the "Design for Living Home", is an excellent example of an International Style house.

Design for Living Home, 1933

While this may have been touted as the look of the future in the 1920's and 30's, it never really took off, as most Americans preferred traditional brick homes to the stripped-down European look. Nonetheless, there are few examples in Silver Spring that I have stumbled across, demonstrating that there were at least some modernist home buyers here in years gone by.

I apologize for the quality of the photos that follow - standing out in front of people's houses and taking pictures felt a bit stalk-y, so I instead opted to utilize Street View photos from Google's worldwide stalking network.

My personal favorite of the bunch, and really one of my favorite houses in Silver Spring, is this 1938 house on Wayne avenue. I particularly like how the design incorporates an upstairs patio off what I assume is the master bedroom.

Just around the corner can be found a similar house, constructed a few years earlier in 1935. The front of the house appears to have gone through extensive modifications over the years, so it's difficult to get an good idea of the house's original appearance. On the left side of the house you can see the corner windows, one of the style's common features.

While the front of the house is partially obscured by vegetation in the above photo, an overhead view clearly shows the structure's signature flat roof.

While I like the look of flat roofs, I certainly wouldn't want to have to climb up on one and shovel off multiple feet of snow during one of our recent Snowmageddons.

There's also this 1938 house, located just off Wayne Avenue a few blocks from downtown Silver Spring.  A similar house can be found next door, however modifications over the years to that one have led to it having a pitched rather than flat roof.

 I do love the lime green door.

This style may not be for everyone, and the lack of ornamentation may be completely anathema to many in today's McMansionized society, however I think it's nice that some examples from this relatively brief period in architectural history have been preserved here in Silver Spring.

If you've got more examples that you've come across, let me know and perhaps I'll append those homes to the post.


As Rebecca pointed out in the comments, there's a nice example in the District on Portal Drive, just steps from Silver Spring. This one sold for a cool $1.15 million a couple years back.

(I have to admit, I never knew that neighborhood was called Colonial Village.)

And here's another one in DC, just a block away. Bonus mod points: they have an Avanti!


I came across this 1937 Washington Post article describing some 'modernistic' home being exhibited at the time in Silver Spring, yet I have no idea where this location is. There is neither a Montgomery Avenue nor a Montgomery Court in present-day Silver Spring.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Police Shooting Downtown? - Colesville Rd. Closed Between Spring & Georgia

All sorts of police activity downtown tonight, as there was an apparent police shooting on Colesville earlier this evening. Colesville is presently closed between Spring and Georgia.

According to a Twitter eyewitness, the officer shot the man after the suspect refused to drop a knife he was holding. (No Taser?) Of course, that's just what's on Twitter, so we'll have to wait for confirmation on the details.

(As I type this I am hearing the sound of a police or news helicopter hovering. Whenever I hear that I know something bad is afoot.)

Update: It all started in City Place...

Update #2: The Post has more:
The shooting occurred about 5:15 p.m. outside the City Place Mall on Colesville Road near Georgia Avenue, said police spokeswoman Lucille Baur.

The officer was patrolling in a car when he came upon a dispute between two men. One of them yelled that the other was armed with a knife, Baur said. The officer ordered the man to drop the knife, and came between him and the other man, Baur said.

The officer "put himself in harm's way," Baur said. The man "refused to drop" his weapon and the officer fired, she said.

The man was pronounced dead at the scene. He was not identified immediately. No age was given.

Baur said the man's weapon"was recovered and was determined to be an icepick." It was not clear how or whether the man was holding the icepick when he was confronted. But the officer "knew he was armed," Baur said.

The nature of the dispute between the two men could not be learned. Baur said that investigators believed that it began inside the mall and continued on the street outside. It was not known if the two knew each other.

Society is to Blame...

...for occupying the old Nicaro/"Newcaro" space.

What "Society" is exactly, I couldn't tell you. What I do know, thanks to the following sign, is that Society would like to serve you alcoholic beverages at 8229 Georgia Avenue. If you've got the inside scoop on Silver Spring's newest restaurant(?), please let us all in on the secret.

A block south on Georgia, the space that was once solely occupied by Langano has been split in two. As mentioned before, the right half will soon house Fez Bistro, the reincarnation of Taste of Morocco. As I passed by this afternoon, the staff was busy inside setting up the restaurant's seating, a large portion of which consisted of bright, Middle-Eastern style cushions.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Silver Spring, Singular: A Glossary

The following is a compilation of Silver Spring-related terms and nicknames frequently used in this blog over the years. This list will of course be more useful for Silver Spring noobs than for those who have been here awhile.

If I missed anything, let me know.

Silver Springs: A. A town in central Florida. B.The name by which Silver Spring is referred by the majority of people who don't live here (and sadly, even some that do). The inspiration for the name of this blog.

Shitty Place: A derogatory yet befitting moniker for City Place Mall. This nickname has been around almost since the mall's opening in 1992. Briefly a beacon of hope for downtown Silver Spring retail when it was first announced, the shopping center has pretty much sucked from the get go. (Side note: read the Yelp! reviews).

The Promenade: The stretch of Ellsworth Drive between Georgia Avenue and Cedar Street. The name was inspired by Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, and while I can’t take credit for creating it, I’ve certainly done my best here to promote its usage.

Hellsworth: A disparaging nickname for The Promenade. Commonly used by commenters who do not like Ellsworth Drive’s chain restaurants, the teenagers who congregate there, or both.

SSINO: Silver Spring in Name Only. These are areas far from downtown Silver Spring which are referred to by their local neighborhood names by those who reside there, but which technically have a Silver Spring mailing address or ZIP code. These areas make up a surprisingly large portion of Montgomery County. What is Silver Spring "proper" and what is SSINO? That’s a contentious discussion that I’m not going to get into right now...

Skid Row: The west side of Colesville Road between Georgia Ave. and Fenton St. More here.

The Turf: The green outdoor carpeting that once covered the area where Veterans Plaza and the Silver Spring Civic Building now sit. While it was only intended to be in place a year or so when it was installed in 2005, the usual Montgomery County bureaucratic delays extended its lifespan until August 2008, when it was finally pulled up to allow construction to proceed. A popular hangout in the warmer months, there was an unsuccessful grassroots effort to preserve The Turf or replace it with something similar.

"The Turf": 2005-2008
Downtown Silver Spring/DTSS: The retail development in central Silver Spring managed by the Peterson Companies. Roughly bounded by Ellsworth, Georgia and Cedar Streets.  Sometimes confused with “downtown Silver Spring” (see below). For many people who don't live here, this represents the totality of Silver Spring in their minds.

Map of Downtown Silver Spring (DTSS)
downtown Silver Spring: Used with a lower-case “d”, this is the central urban Silver Spring area, rather than simply the DTSS development. Also frequently referred to as the Silver Spring Central Business District (CBD). The map that follows is a good representation of this area.

The Community: A small cabal of residents who clearly know what’s best for everyone in downtown Silver Spring. In general, members have lived in one of the close-in neighborhoods of Silver Spring since before the re-development began around 2000 and have despised everything that has happened here in the last ten years. They attend every neighborhood meeting and civic forum and are always the most vocal participants. By default, they will vehemently oppose any new development or construction in Silver Spring (see The Fillmore). The one exception is the library bridge, which they must have despite the financial and aesthetic costs involved. The Community has the power to delay any project indefinitely, and as many members of The Community are Sith Lords, they are able to use their Jedi mind tricks to make local politicians completely reverse their positions.


Silver Sprung: The nickname for a "revitalized" Silver Spring, used heavily by the county in marketing the area during the early to mid-2000's. Oddly, there are three entries for this on Urban Dictionary.

Added 11/7/2003:

NoVa Troll: Anonymous commenter(s) who takes every opportunity to disparage Silver Spring in comments section of posts. Vitriol is generally focused on Silver Spring's nightlife and the physical appearance of its residents. Makes unfavorable comparisons to other areas in the region, though primary focus is perceived contrast to Northern Virginia. Despite apparent antipathy toward Silver Spring, continues to reside here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Borders Deathwatch Begins: Will Silver Spring Store be Spared the Ax?

After years of speculation, Borders Books finally filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and has announced that they intend to close 30% of their stores nationwide. Will DTSS' Borders make it through this initial round of cuts?

Based purely on anecdotal evidence, I believe our Borders has to be one of the better-performing stores in the chain, due in no small part to the significant amount of foot traffic it enjoys relative to the many Borders located in strip malls across the country. Is it enough to offset the premium rent they pay for this choice location? That may ultimately determine our store's fate.

We've been through something similar before, when Starbucks announced a couple years back that they planned on closing 600 locations. Ultimately, none of Silver Spring's Starbucks were shuttered during that round of cuts. Let's hope our relatively strong local economy spares our Borders. While I admittedly don't purchase a lot there thanks to Amazon, I'd certainly miss the store if it were gone. The departure of this original DTSS tenant would certainly leave a big hole in the retail landscape downtown, though the speculation and wish lists that always accompany a retail closing are always fun.

Up next: American Apparel? That'd be a shame, I do like their hoodies.

UPDATE: Silver Spring's Borders lives to fight another day! Here's the list of store closures, and while Silver Spring may not be on it, the White Flint, Friendship Heights and downtown DC locations are kaput. Thanks to Patrick Thornton for the link.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday News 'N Notes

 - Good news for price-gouging cabbies, bad news for Silver Springers who commute to District bars on Friday and Saturday nights: Metro is considering cutting late night service on weekends. It was a wonderful development when they first introduced the extended hours, and I have to think the later closing time must reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road during these times. It would be a shame if this proposal goes through.

- Ever wondered what happened to Silver Spring's fugitive homicidal dwarf from last summer? Me too. Well, after fleeing to El Salvador, he was arrested in that country on Tuesday and was subsequently deported back to the U.S. (he's a citizen.) It's amazing that a fugitive that distinguishable was able to flee the country successfully in the first place.

- I'm always on the hunt for pre-DTSS photos of downtown Silver Spring to show those who contend that somehow recent development was responsible for the bulldozing of the lively chain-free Utopia  that downtown Silver Spring supposedly once was. To date I've had limited success, but while recently searching archived pages from the now-defunct GeoCities for the (non-Silver Spring) site I created in 1996, I stumbled upon a few pages of photos taken in 2000, when DTSS construction was just underway. Sure, they are small, scanned-in film photos, but keep in mind it was a GeoCities site in 2000. Here are a few pages of photos:

January 2000
February 2000
March 2000
April 2000

- Discovery has awarded the local hot dog vendor a gift of a brand new dog stand in gratitude for his actions during the Lee incident last September. The pimped-out stand was designed by West Coast Customs, a shop featured in one of Discovery's reality shows. (What, Jesse James' Monster Garage wasn't available?) The new cart absurdly includes a built-in Xbox, but whatever, if I had a hot dog cart, I'd want an Xbox on it.

- It's certainly no pagoda, but this house for sale in Woodmoor has a mini English pub in its basement. It even has the requisite dartboard. Is there a snooker table outside the frame? I'd like to become friends with whoever ultimately buys this place. Premiership games on Saturday mornings?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Want: Silver Spring Pagoda

Looking to move to Silver Spring or need to upgrade to somewhere with a little more space? One of the most unique homes in Silver Spring, if not the most unique, is currently on the market. This 3BR, 2BA pagoda might be a bit of a fixer-upper, but come on, it's a freakin' pagoda! At just $375K, it's a steal. Lead paint be damned, I want to live here.

Photo by Flickr user mark brueggenjohann
 Also available next door: a Swiss Chalet.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Taste of Morocco Leaves City Place, Stays in Silver Spring (Sort Of)

Taste of Morocco (or "Marocco", if you will), like everyone else, has finally decided to get the hell out of City Place. The good news for fans of Moroccan food is that they aren't planning to abandon Silver Spring entirely.

According to their website, they will shortly be reincarnated as "Fez Bistro" in a new location at 8301 Georgia Avenue. I believe that this is the space currently occupied by Langano. You may recall from a post here from last summer that the owner of this property was looking for a new occupant, and it would appear that Fez Bistro may have ended up being that tenant.

Though Langano lists their address as 8305, I believe their current space is a combination of two units. Long time Silver Springers may remember 8301 Georgia as the home of one of a handful Jerry's Subs that used to operate downtown.

This would be the second Fez Bistro, as they already operate an existing location in Falls Church. Not sure how much the menu will deviate from that which was offered at Taste of Morocco, but I'm willing to give it a shot.

(Also, no word on if they'll retain their belly dancers.)