MoCo History: Dawn of the Automobile in Montgomery County

Automobile in Montgomery County in 1926, courtesy of the Montgomery County Historical Society

Information and photos from: PLACES from the PAST: The Tradition of Gardez Bien in Montgomery County, Maryland by Clare Lise Kelly M-NCPPC , courtesy of Montgomery Planning.

At the turn of the 20th century, the automobile was an expensive novelty for the rich. Two decades later, the availability of mass-produced automobiles led to their widespread use. From 1920 to 1930, the number of registered cars in the nation more than tripled. By the end of that decade, one of every five residents in Montgomery County owned a car. The automobile age brought a new set of building types and development patterns. Builders designed roadside architecture to be recognized from behind the windshield of a moving automobile. Developers subdivided tracts of land away from previously settled railroad and streetcar lines.

SUBURBAN COMMUNITIES IN THE AUTOMOBILE ERA: During the 1930s, Montgomery County’s population rapidly increased as the Federal work force grew under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. During this decade, the population more than doubled, growing from 34,921 to 83,912.60 High demand for housing among Washington workers coupled with increased use of the automobile led to development of new areas of the county. Much of the new development in the years before World War II was located near the District line. Single- family dwellings were the predominant housing type, yet multi-family housing complexes began to emerge.

Garden apartments became a common multi-family housing type in the 1930s. In contrast to towering urban apartments with single entry and long hallways, garden apartments were a smaller-scale complex of three to four story structures. Several entrances in a cluster of buildings helped foster a sense of community, creating a mini-neighborhood. The first garden apartments in the county were the Falkland Apartments, built in 1936 at the intersection of 16th Street and East-West Highway in Silver Spring. Falkland Apartments marked the advent of large-scale community design and building as well as the beginning of unified site planning carefully fit- ted to the terrain. The Colonial-Revival Cupola Building is representa- tive of this apartment complex and typical in its traditional styling of the majority of garden apartments. Less common were modernistic Art Deco style apartments of which Montgomery Arms is a prime example. Designed by Washington architect George T. Santmyers, who specialized in apartment houses, Montgomery Arms showcases modern materials and techniques including glass block, corner windows, and geometric machine-influenced design. The apartments represent the development of Silver Spring as a major suburban center.

As the residential development of Silver Spring grew, the commer- cial district expanded. Throughout the 1920s, a number of substantial new commercial buildings were constructed, primarily along Georgia Avenue. By the 1930s, over sixty stores had opened in Silver Spring and formed an almost continuous ribbon of development. The southeast corner of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road became the site of one of the most comprehensive and innovative retail developments in the region – the Silver Theatre and Shopping Center.

The Silver Theatre and Shopping Center, which opened in 1938, provides a rare example of an early planned neighborhood shopping center with parking integrated into the complex. This design exemplifies the cultural, economic and social history of Montgomery County and the Washington region in the 20th century as car-oriented shopping complexes replaced smaller-scale commercial development.


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Royal Farms recently named “Best Gas Station for Food” by USA Today’s 10Best Awards.

The City of Rockville has announced that Callie Walker, a fourth grade student at St. Mary’s School in Rockville, will be honorary “Mayor for a Day” this Thursday, May 23.

The City of Gaithersburg will hold its Memorial Day Observance on Thursday, May 30 at Christman Park (304 West Deer Park Road).

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services (MCFRS) responded to a collision with entrapment on Tuesday, May 21, in Wheaton-Glenmont.

Washington City Paper is hosting its annual Best of D.C. contest -- and Well-Paid Maids is eyeing the Best Maid Service category. If you missed it: Well-Paid Maids has secured first place for the past three years. Can you help us snag gold again? Simply go to the ballot and write in your vote for the best maid service. In case you need a refresher before you vote, Well-Paid Maids is the only certified living-wage cleaning company in the D.C. area. We pay our cleaners, who are W-2 employees, at least $24 an hour and offer benefits like insurance, 24 paid days off per year and more. Voting is open until June 10 at 5 p.m., and the winner will be announced July 18. (We'll keep you posted!) Thank you for your support -- and if you still haven't booked a spring cleaning yet, now is the time!

Submit your own Announcement here.

Oak Chapel is excited that Priority Partners Managed Care Organization (PPMCO) in partnership with Johns Hopkins HealthCare (JHHC) have selected the Oak Chapel Hub as the location for the first mini-food pantry/mini library in Montgomery County. Please join us for the cupboard unveiling on Saturday, May 18th, at 10 AM (rain or shine). This is scheduled to be an outdoor event. If there is inclement weather, the event will be held in the multi-purpose room of the main church building (Hub distribution location). The cupboard will be fully stocked and ready for the community to take what they need and leave what they can. It is a privilege to be able to continue to serve the 20906 community.

Fighting food insecurity, feeding families.

Submit your own Announcement here.

Free Community Father-Daughter Dance

Fathers and father figures, create unforgettable memories with your daughter at our free community father-daughter dance on June 1st, from 6-8 pm. Hosted outdoors at Olney Baptist Church. This event offers a delightful outdoor experience complete with a DJ spinning tunes, interactive games, a charming photo booth, delicious treats, and exciting raffle prizes. Fathers/father figures and daughters of all ages are warmly welcomed to share in this special evening together. Join us for an evening of joy, laughter, and cherished moments!

In the spirit of giving back to our community, we are partnering with Quest to Feed Montgomery to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those in need. We kindly ask each attendee to bring along a non-perishable food item to donate during the event. Every contribution, no matter how small, will go a long way in supporting families facing food insecurity in our area.


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