Montgomery County, the home of good government, large shade trees, Rockville Pike and other natural wonders, is winning a new distinction. It's becoming Teardownville.
Fifty years ago, Montgomery was the first burgeoning Washington suburb. Silver Spring, Rockville and Bethesda boomed with boomers (and the parents who were spawning them). Modest two- and three-bedroom houses sprang up on modest, quiet streets. Ozzie and Harriet may have lived in Southern California, but they had cousins in south-central Maryland.
Montgomery's 1950s homes were less than beautiful in many cases. They were certainly not showy or huge. But they were serviceable and solid. And they have endured.
But in 2003, the land under Montgomery's Ozzie-and-Harriet houses is far more valuable than the houses themselves. So an epidemic of tear-it-down-and-build-a-mansion is sweeping the county.
According to Reginald Jetter, a division chief at the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Service, more than 200 demolition permits are issued in the county each year. That's up from a mere handful as recently as five years ago.
In almost every case, the teardown victim is an Ozzie-and-Harriet home from the 1950s. In almost every case, what springs up in its place is a four-bedroom, four-bathroom show horse of a house that costs $500,000 or more.
The housing market always speaks very loudly -- louder than memories. It's a wrench to see still-livable homes bite the dust, and family histories along with them. But how can you prevent it?
And why should you prevent it? At least a mansion on an Ozzie-and-Harriet lot doesn't contribute to sprawl. Meanwhile, Ozzie and Harriet are making off with a fairly hefty bundle of loot.
But there's a problem lurking under the surface -- what to do with Ozzie-and-Harriet building materials and household appliances that a redeveloper doesn't want.
Most redevelopers don't care what happens to ancient toilets and oak floors. Wham, bam, a bulldozer turns it all into rubble and loads it into a Dumpster, sometimes within minutes.
But a better answer lurks at a nonprofit in Baltimore. It's called Loading Dock Inc.
LD collects donated building supplies from teardowns. It resells them to contractors working on affordable housing or individuals with incomes no greater than 80 percent of the area's median.
Loading Dock obtains all of its stock via donations from individuals, demolition crews and other businesses. Its prices are eye-poppingly sane -- one-third of retail.
That means a nearly new pedestal sink, toilet and bidet set goes for $180. A set of French doors salvaged from the old Roosevelt Hotel on 16th Street NW, built in the 1920s, went for less than $50.
You can't come close to either the historic value or the bottom line at Home Depot.
Loading Dock charges a sliding-scale membership fee of between $6 and $18 a year. Members get unlimited access to LD's 20,000-square-foot warehouse.
Those who donate materials get a tax write-off. All contributions are welcome. They can be left at a drop site at the Shady Grove Transfer Station on Shady Grove Road in Gaithersburg. Further information is available at www.loadingdock.org or 410-728-3625.
Loading Dock serves more than 2,000 individuals and more than 400 organizations a year. It hardly needs it, but here comes a full-throated cheer from this corner.
Isn't this a satisfying way to recycle the old and the memorable? Isn't it great to know that a claw-foot bathtub has a place to go where it will be appreciated, dusted off, snapped up and reused?
The good news: Loading Dock has had many kittens. It is the oldest such operation in the United States (it recently turned 18). It has advised and assisted similar start-ups in 300 cities all over the world.
There's no branch in the Washington area, but one is trying hard to get born. Here comes another full-throated cheer for Jim Schulman and Community Forklift.
Jim's nonprofit organization, Sustainable Community Initiatives, hopes to have Community Forklift up and running in Washington (or perhaps Prince George's County) by the end of 2003. CF will not only accept recyclable building materials, but it hopes to offer job-training programs for the chronically unemployed.
Jim supplied one of those statistics that make you sit up straight.
To dump garbage into a landfill -- including perfectly reusable building materials -- costs between $30 and $40 a ton, he said.
How silly. How wasteful. How inelegant. How ecologically absurd.
To reach Community Forklift, call 202-544-0069, write to Jim at 740 Seventh St. SE., Suite 2, Washington, D.C., 20003, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Old doors and washing machines are welcome. So is applause.
Have you test-driven a hybrid vehicle yet? You should -- if only to enjoy the virtuous feeling that creeps over you. Someday, we all will pilot vehicles that get 50 miles to the gallon.
In the meantime, we'll have to content ourselves with a giggle that Kate Bunting of Arlington supplied. She recently spotted a hybrid vehicle on Army Navy Drive. Its license plate read: