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       On October 27, 1938, in the middle of miles of rolling hills and fields on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, the Silver Theatre opened for business. Its classically Art Deco façade graced the likewise brand new Silver Spring Shopping Center, a New Deal innovation, one of the first suburban shopping centers in the country. The shopping center was created for a population recovering from the Great Depression and for their new automobiles by one of FDR’s friends, the Treasurer of the United States, William Alexander Julian. Julian brought in the heavy guns to design and build, including renowned theater architect John Eberson.
     After 200 years of straight rows of stores in town squares and on main streets, the center’s "Park and Shop" motto was a revelation. Twenty one businesses clustered together with parking lots at front and back and, even more unusual, an underpass connector so motorists did not have to “go around the block”. The Washington Post heralded the Silver Spring center as providing consumers everything from "toothpicks to radios".

 

       The town’s renaissance was short lived. The 1950s commercial boom gradually faded away leaving beautiful housing stock but a somewhat tarnished reputation. The battle for restoration of the tattered center began in 1984. However, only in the mid-1990s was the shopping center restored amid new highrise commercial and residential space massed around the metro. Looking now toward the multi-building NOAA campus on East West Highway, the first of the new developments, and beyond to a row of glitzy condominiums, it's hard to believe that not too long ago major retailers did not believe Silver Spring would ever be affluent enough to support an anchor department store or, for that matter, even a Starbucks.
     The various Woodside neighborhoods fan out to the north of downtown Silver Spring. In a visionary though high risk action, in 1922 the Woodside Development Company purchased a 184 acre “home colony” called Alton Farm for $160,000 from the heirs of Crosby Noyes. In those days the farm was a long trek from downtown. The developers banked, quite literally, on the new American love affair with automobiles to make the trip feasible and the perpetual American fascination with the rich and famous to make the venture successful. Only those affluent enough to have cars could afford to live so far out. However way out here their mansions were far more affordable.

     Ads in the Washington Post and the Noyes family’s own Evening Star stated, "We Desire to Announce that We Have Purchased the Beautiful Noyes Farm and Under the Name of WOODSIDE PARK Will Begin the Immediate Development of this Magnificent Estate, Famous for Its Trees and Shrubbery, Parks and Grounds, Walks and Drives, Into a High-Class Residence Park, Offering ACRE PLOTS." Land cost from 4 to 10 cents per square foot.

     The result, the magnificent houses and beautiful gardens that exist today, was not accomplished without a massive media campaign that spanned almost ten years. The corporation destroyed the old Noyes Mansion and its outbuildings, including a bowling alley, in 1926. Dr. Robert Oshel, Woodside Park’s primary historian, gave me the only rendering of the mansion I could find anywhere, reprinted from the American Architect and Building News of January 7, 1893. He also told me that the mansion’s foundation was used to build the unique Spanish style house that now resides at 1000 Mansion Drive. I thank Dr. Oshel for much of the information on this page.
     I think it’s interesting, by the way, that after successfully navigating the distance barrier in 1930, it reemerged again in the 90s virtually the moment before renovation began.    
     Woodside Park is the closest in, the most expensive and some might say the most picturesque of the Woodsides. Hidden in plain sight next door to downtown Silver Spring and a short walk to two metro stops, the gently rolling and curving streets are shaped like a fan or an inverted triangle bordered by Colesville Road, Georgia Avenue and Dale Drive. Driving up Georgia’s six commercial and frequently quite ugly lanes of traffic strung overhead with glaring neon signals one only has hints of the quiet, stately and lushly verdant neighborhood to the east.  
     Woodside Park is filled with a wonderful variety of home styles, from Tudor to Georgian colonial with a bit of Victoriana thrown in, from stately mansions to charming cottages, on large, lots wonderfully thick with deep green plantings. The magnificent eighty year old spring hedges of richly colored azaleas and white and pink dogwoods may be unparalleled in the DC area. They certainly take one’s breath away.  
       When my oldest son, Aaron, was six months old, my ex and I bought 1108 Noyes Drive, a “colonial Cape Cod” with a roof that slants steeply to a columned front porch and obscures the upper story, giving the house the appearance of a sylvan cottage. About a year later, the lady who owned the three-quarter (or thereabouts) acre lot next door passed away and her property was subdivided by her heirs. A member of her church (one of the many places of worship in the Woodsides), another diminutive white-haired lady, stepped in on behalf of her son, his wife and their young children. They snapped up the stately old Georgian colonial at the lot’s front before it went on the market. A developer, Sandy Spring (who now pretty much owns Kenwood) I think, bought the back. He very kindly offered the neighborhood the opportunity to dig up hundreds of mature azaleas in the most amazing and possibly rare variety of colors that the family had brought back on each of their fifty or sixty annual trips to the Eastern shore. Sadly most ended up being plowed under in order to build one of the neighborhood’s first expensive tract homes. Fortunately a pastel eight-foot high row along our driveway managed to survive and was tended ardently by our neighbor.
     The stretch of Dale Drive at Woodside Park’s north boundary has maintained remarkable, not to mention pleasing, grandeur while morphing into a main west east thoroughfare. It’s a busy street that welcomes home ownership, rolling through verdant hills and curves along which are positioned lovely, gracious homes. On its north side are the hills of Woodside Forest. Lots of little ramblers and splits with a scattering of tiny colonials nestle between Georgia and the Beltway on the west side of Woodside Forest and wrap eastward around the edge of the park. East of Columbia Blvd. one sees how the “Forest” got its name. Quiet streets climb steep hills and then cascade in falls of old trees right into Rock Creek and Sligo Creek Parks. Several of the grandest Woodside houses are on these hills, including the Edgevale Road “Adams family” house on this section of my website’s front page.  
     Edgevale is one of the neighborhood’s interesting streets. The street is broken in half by what we thought was a conservation easement but is really an unconstructed street beside the “Adams family” house’s half acre lot. The residents use it as a right of way, strolling along enjoying the view of the two big old houses on either side. The northern house and its 1.5 acres were sold at the top of the market with an eye to development. Miller, who designed and built both Spring Valley in DC and Kenwood in Maryland agreed – for a time – to help. Montgomery County approved seven houses but mandated that the owners must pay for the road to be built at an estimated cost in the millions of dollars. So for the moment (and our clients hope forever) the project is on hold. Edgevale’s western half is an entire block of large, thickly treed contemporaries, more common in Bannockburn than Silver Spring, sited on a steep curve dead-ending into the park.    
     North Woodside is across Georgia on the Park’s western border. A group of neighborhoods loosely called South Woodside is across Colesville Road to the east. Here are found the neighborhood’s smaller houses – bungalows and smaller colonials. New construction, originally townhomes, began 15 years ago in these neighborhoods and proliferated in the recent boom market, particularly to the west. Though close but not actually in North Woodside, the most phenomenal – and I do mean phenomenal – new development is the reconstruction of the old National Park Seminary into condos starting in the $300,000s and townhomes starting in the $700,000s. This amazing hodgepodge of buildings, includes a Dutch windmill, Japanese pagoda, Swiss chalet, English garden castle and a neo-classical Gymnasium complete with Grecian statuary. The vast, mindboggling campus began in the late 1800s as Ye Forest Inn, a summer retreat for wealthy Washingtonians. Non-stop construction through several eccentric owners ended in1927. At its peak before the stock market crash in 1929, the Catholic seminary enrolled 400 young women and had a burgeoning waiting list. Its tuition was higher than both Harvard and Yale. The Depression was the first nail in the Seminary’s coffin. Army annexing as a rehabilitation facility through three wars contributed the rest. The reconstruction of the crumbling pile by The Alexander Company, a specialist in historic renovation, is simply awesome. I absolutely love to “show” the property and recommend that any of you who have not seen it go take a look. It is one of Washington’s many truly amazing oddities.  

 

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