Underneath the crenelated parapet is the sign "Forest Glen Office Building." A patchwork of granite, stucco and linoleum, it is known as The Castle. It is to Forest Glen what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, and was built about the same time.
In front of the castle was once a garden presided over by a bronze stag and fenced in by granite structures topped by Grecian urns. The stag is gone, and the granite now guards the asphalt of a parking lot. Trains bound for Chicago whiz by. They toot, but the castle towering over one of Washington's first suburbs is no longer a stop on their schedules.
In the great unincorporated sprawl of Montgomery County, Forest Glen is a scenic oasis of identity: an old-time neighborhood with a touch of the gothic. The castle's turret is now part of the offices of Herschel Shosteck Associates, a marketing consultant firm. "I was born and raised a few blocks away, and I still live here," Herschel Shosteck says. "It's a neigborhood right out of Faulkner. Those of us who live here are without much money but have a lot of education. We are the lumpenproletariat of the professional classes, impoverished by Nixon. It's genteel poverty. We can't afford anything better."
In the 1940s, the castle's second story was a bordello servicing the soldiers recuperating at the nearby Walter Reed Medical Center. "I heard that most of the girls moved to P.G. County but some of them stayed on," Shosteck says. He recalls stories of amputees fighting over the girls with their artificial limbs.
In the late 1950s a Hungarian restaurant took over the first floor. "You could bring a girl there or you could find one there," says one ex-customer. "The food was good, the Gypsies could make you cry with their violins, and the girls were not obtrusively professional. The second floor had a lot of rooms, and they could be rented for just one night."
In the 1960s a fire put the restaurant out of business; the proprietor later died in a plunge from a window. Another fire followed after the current owner, John Doran, bought the building. Doran gutted the inside and put up sheetrock walls for offices. He runs a rental tool business in the back of the castle; he has everything from a dollar- a-day hand tools to $400- a-day bulldozers.
Forest Glen's narrow, winding streets have a way of leading to a cul-de-sac; its main roads are incidental to the arteries of Georgia and Connecticut Avenues. Except for The Country Store, which sells everything from beat-up wardrobes to handmade candles, from zucchini sandwiches to homebaked pies, there are no stores or restaurants in Forest Glen.
The nearest bar is Hank Dietle's Tavern in Montgomery Hills. On a recent evening there, two carpenters argued about which of them had worked on the spookiest house.
"I once did drywall in a house full of bats," said the carpenter with a red baseball cap. "The old lady who lived there loved bats. They were her pets. She had a mummy bat over the fireplace--she said that was the first bat she owned."
The carpenter with a floppy hat and a pencil stuck into his hatband asked where the house was.
"Forest Glen," said the other.
"Yeah, Forest Glen is nutsville," said Floppy Hat. "Once I walked into a great big house there that had daggers and swords and pistols all over the walls. And Nazi regalia on each one of them."
Floppy Hat asked for another beer. He said that the windows had "real heavy curtains, and at noon inside that house it was as dark as midnight." The woman he dealt with had "a weird way of speaking English, and she ordered me around like I was her servant.
"She did have a man in there," he said. "I heard him coughing and wheezing as I was working on the roof. But she took care of everything herself. She paid me in $1 bills -- all cash. The bills were old and dirty and crumpled. As she paid me, I heard that wheezing again, and then the man shouted. It was in German, I swear.
"I ran out of that house as fast as I could. I just knowed that the wheezing old man she had in there had to be Hitler."
It was at this point that two burly fellows, regulars at Dietle's, carried the carpenter with the floppy hat out. Forest Glen is "weird," they agreed, and "bats in the living room was not all that unusual." But the man who said he heard Hitler wheezing was "just fibbing," and Dietle's, a neighborhood institution for some 50 years, "is a respectable place."
Forest Glen's pride is a hardwood forest divided by a creek at the bottom of a spectacular ravine. Dead trees lie across the path that was once a carriage trail. The only sentries of civilization are six-foot-high stone gateposts scattered in the woods; their rusty pins are hingeless and gateless, pointing to estates subdivided a generation or two ago.
From the 1880s on, houses were offered here as a summer retreat for heat-struck Washingtonians. The glen is like a tunnel; a breeze is always churning, and there is often a thick mist which during the summer mixes with the scent of honeysuckle.
The neighborhood's highest point is the steeple of a magnificent red sandstone church, named after St. John the Evangelist. The community it now serves are some 300 families of Polish-speaking Catholics in the Washington area.
"Oh yes, it's lovely here, peaceful and quiet," the Rev. Edward Mroczynski says, "and our church looks like a church in my home town, Grudziadz. . . .
"I walk every night," he says, out on a stroll on a golden Indian summer day. He acknowledges that the huge oak trees are beautiful. "But my thoughts are in Poland," he says, with a sigh.
He trades greetings with Lynn Karp who is waitinggfor her daughter to be dropped off by the school bus. There are no schools in Forest Glen, and children are bused to Silver Spring and Wheaton.
"We have a country store, a community pool, tennis courts and the woods -- all within walking distance, " Karp says. "Everyone knows everyone else here. It's ideal. We were looking for something rural near the city and we thought our expectations would never be met. Then we saw this place and fell in love with it."
Rebecca Trussell, originally from Syracuse, N.Y., and her husband Robert, born a few blocks away, are renters saving up for a house. They say they wouldn't like to live anywhere else. "We talk over the fences, we send pies across to each other," Rebecca Trussell says.
But Trussell has a few disturbing stories. One, breakins are frequent, particularly since the Metro construction. Two, a friend of hers was "pretty much run out of the neighborhood" because she raised goats; somebody poisoned the goats with yew clippings. Three, "a large, wonderful Vietnamese family" next door "was forced out" by a Montgomery Council building inspector who "kept knocking on their door" during the day and "frightened" the children by telling them that so many people living together in such a small house was against the law. "It was harassment," she says, "and the family couldn't take it. Now we have another large Vietnamese family. Our landlady has been helpful to them."
Trussell, 32, has a 9-month-old daughter and helps out nursing a neighbor's newborn son while the mother is recovering from caesarian section. "Now when did you hear about such a service in this century?" Robert Trussell 35, asks with a broad grin.
In the Trussells' backyard is a 12-foot-high rusty iron gate -- fluted columns and delicate scrollwork on the top -- that stands flush against a chain link fence. The gate once led to the apple orchard of a six-acre farm. The fence divides small suburban backyards of two-bedroom houses that are doomed: they will eventually be bulldozed to give way to a parking lot required by the Metrook care of everythingo station, scheduled to open in 1990.
Forest Glen fought Metro's plan to put a station in its midst, where the Beltway meets Georgia Avenue. In 1974-75, more than 3,000 residents signed a petition against the station, reflecting the view of 85 percent of the community, according to Nate Wilansky, head of the neighborhood association at the time. "What we predicted is coming true," Wilansky says. "This particular station is a monstrous waste of the taxpayers' money."
To planner Bill Barron of the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, "Forest Glen doesn't exist. It's just a name -- a post office."
In fact, Forest Glen doesn't even have a post office; its residents use Silver Spring as their mailing address. "There isn't really a Silver Spring, or a Wheaton, either," Barron says. "If you drive through the area, nothing changes. If somebody asks what Forest Glen's population is, we can only give a guess -- oh, say from 10,000 to l5,000."
Barron calls the Metro controversy "long-drawn-out and bitter -- and Montgomery County doesn't have such controversies often." Barron says that the County Council "balanced out technical recommendations and community concerns. The technical recommendation was that since an inexpensive cut-and- cover construction could not be done without removing some 26 houses, tunneling was necessary. But once the decision was made to tunnel, the only suitable rock that could support the construction was found to be 200 feet down. Which meant that Metro had to build the deepest station in the world, after a Leningrad station. So far it has cost $77 million, and they need more money to finish the job, from $10 to $30 million."
"Before the Metro, life around here was much more pleasant," says Rebecca Trussell, an artist. She watched the bulldozers move in, followed by "walls and walls of dust. In one week it was all devastated."
Rebecca has a sense of violation that goes beyond her complaints about dust and blasts, garbage thrown on front lawns and vans delivering metal pipes at 5 in the morning.
"Forest Glen should be renamed Forest Gone," she says. She is working on a series of sculptures -- "artifacts of a greedy society" -- that look like fossils. The idea came to her when she saw dead animals after the Metro site was cleared.
"The Metro is a boon to the neighborhood," says Helen Auxier, the Trussells' landlady.
"We came out to live here in 1921. My father farmed here, but his heart was in Washington where he ran a real estate office. We built 14 houses in the 1940s, and I remember my father being worried that each of them cost $10,000.
"Many of the original residents have retired to Florida, to Leisure World. I want to retire to a retirement community here, to be built near the Metro station. I am prejudiced. I have lived here for 60 years. As someone who owns land around here, I have picked some of my neighbors, but I also like those I didn't pick."