Montgomery County Executive James Gleason last week predicted that funding for an arts center at the Corby Mansion, 10701 Rockville Pike, Rockville, would be set in motion by 1979.
"We have a culturally hungry citizenry," said Gleason."There is a great desire here to have additional cultural facilities."
One of the leading advocates for an arts center at the Corby site has been the Montgomery County Arts Council, which recently sponsored a weekend of the arts on the mansion grounds.
At present the mansion is serving as the national headquarters for the American Speech and Hearing Association. In April of this year ASHA purchased the building and surrounding 30 acres for $2,100,000 from the Sisters of the Holy Cross, who had used the mansion as a residence.
According to Gleason, the tight revenue situation in 1976 prevented the county from purchasing the Corby tract at that time. In 1975, the county had commissioned a study on the feasibilty of an arts center in Montgomery County. The study, which was accepted by the Council in 1976, rated the Corby property the most desirable site for such a facility.
Winfield Knopf, director of the administrative department at ASHA, said ASHA intends to vacate the mansion as soon as a new headquarters and educational center can be constructed on the northwestern corner of the Corby tract. Knopf explained that ASHA cannot commission an architect for the new buildings until a buyer for the mansion and its surrounding 15 acres is assured.
An agreement was reached in April between the association and the county which gives the county first option on buying the southern 15 acres and the mansion.
Gleason said chances are very good that the option will be picked up by 1979, when it is due to expire. Financing of the purchase would, according to Gleason, probably be handled through a bond issue.
If the country does take up the option, the actual purchase figure will have to be negotiated with the American Speech and Hearing Association. The cost listed in the 1975 study was $1,050,000. However, ASHA, according to Knopf, is likely to ask a higher price. Knopf cited inflation and improvements to the mansion made by ASHA as reasons for a higher cost.
From ASHA's point of view purchase of the land by the county for a cultural center would, Knopf said, be ideal.
"We would welcome the idea," explained Knopf, "because we have a great mutuality of interests."
The association wants to avoid intensive development, Knopf continued and maintain the greem, campus-like character of the property. A cultural center would meet those objectives very well, he said.
Built by Charles I. Corby in the early 1900's, the Corby mansion sits upon a prominent knoll amid the 30 acres still remaining from the original 120-acre Corby tract.
Corby operated the Corby Bakery, located next to the old Griffith Stadium, at Georgia and Florida Avenues NW. The bakery, which produced Mother Corby's Bread, was sold in 1926 to Continental Bakery, according to a reprsentative at the Karl W. Corby Construction Corporation in Rockville.
The representative also said that the mansion and original 120 acres had been sold in 1943 to the Sisters of the Holy Cross after the death of Charles Corby's wife. The Sisters built and ran St. Angela's School, located on the eastern end of the estate.
The 1975 study gave the Corby site a high rating for accessibility. It estimated that close to 60 per cent of the total county population would be within seven miles of the mansion.
The study estimated that it might cost $3,000,000 for construction after the purchase of the property. A small theater and an exhibition hall were two of the recommended projects.
Gleason said that any new buildings would have to be erected in stages over a period of several years. Some of the report's proposals might be modified as the cultural complex became a reality, he added.
Gleason said he would like to see an educational function incorporated into the arts center. "We must have places where young people who want to go into the performing arts can get the training they need."
Should the county purchase the Corby Mansion site for a cultural center there would be other financial problems to solve. The 1975 study projected an annual gap of $500,000 between income and operating cots, including the debt service. Views vary on how that gap might be bridged.
Gleason said that the county has "a tradition of people willing to pay their way." He said that he is optimistic that utilization costs could cover expenses.
Neil Ofshun, director of the county's recreation department, said that the arts would have to be supported with public funds. "It's probably unrealistic," he said, "to think that the arts can generate enough money to offset operating costs and debt services."