Not too long ago the Lucky Ladies Lounge in Takoma filled up at meal-time with hungry and thirsty Metro construction workers looking for a 70-cent beer, a chance to watch television, or maybe just a bit of gossip.
But things have changed in both the lounge and Takoma recently. The torn-up streets are being repaved and the last barricades removed. The construction workers - save for a few who drop it at the lounge just for old times' sake - have all moved on.
In their wake, they've left a band of rail stretching from the center of Washington to Silver Spring and a brand New Metro station just inside The District in Takoma, D.C., and within a block or so of Takoma Park. Md. And chances are things will never be the same.
Even though the new station - and the extension of Metro's Red Line to it - won't be open until Monday it has already affected the twin communities in Washington and Maryland.
Neighborhood residents, fearful that commuters will soon be clogging their quiet streets with parked cars, have been busy passing around petitions to ban nonresidential parking in residential areas.
In Takoma Park, new commercial tenants have begun to fill long-vacant storefronts, while on the District side new building construction has begun. At the same time, once elegant Victorian homes in both communities are being restored and are selling for double what they brought only a few years ago, attracting young professionals to the tree-lined old streets that still resemble a Norman Rockwell painting of small town America.
Their commercial districts capture the same atmosphere, from the high-ceilinged one-story Suburban Trust building built in the 1920s just inside Maryland to the Takoma, D.C. Fourth Street commercial strip, which resembles the main street of a fading Western town.
Businessmen on both sides of the line, including survivors of the hard times of the past, are looking to Metro to breathe new life into the local merchant economy.
"I've seen the area go from uphill to downhill," said one local businessman. Now, he said, it looks as if things are at last swinging back "uphill."
The two communities share a common early history, traditions of strong neighborhood activism, residential areas with old homes, many still reasonably priced, and populations that reflect both an economic and ethnic mix.
Yet, the prospects for change are different in each community. While new buildings are sprouting on the Washington side where zoning ordinances permit, a sewer moratorium has severly restricted the development of Takoma Park. Takoma Park, too, has tighter planning controls.
Both communities got their start in the 1980s as Washington's first rail-road suburb. Takoma Park's developer, B. F. Gilbert, who later became the town's first mayor, printed up promotional brochures touting the area as the "sylvan suburb", an island of large homes, many with wrap-around porches, cupolas and fancy outside woodwork set in the midst of woods and farms.
By 1888, 19 trains stopped daily at the Takoma station, charging a 5-cent fare for the trip downtown. An electric streetcar service followed, to be replaced eventually by buses. Rail-road service ended about the time the once ornate Victorian train station burned down eight years ago. But by that time, the area had undergone a long, slow decline during which many stores closed and property values remained low.
At the same time, largely on the District side, many whites fled the old neighborhoods while the number of black residents increased. But gradually the area stabilized and became more cosmopolitan in makeup in the process.
Today the Takoma Park City Council boats one black, one Japanese-American , one white woman and one elderly white man, plus two Seventh-day Adventist (Takoma Park and Takoma are the headquarters of the world-wide Seventh-day Adventists movement). The predominantly black middle-class community of Takoma (once an all-white enclave) has in recent years seen many white professionals move in.
What has helped stabilize the area is the abundance of huge old Victorian homes on tree-lined streets ripe for restoring and availabe at modest prices. Young families have started to move in, beginning the process of restoring the old homes, some of which had been used illegally in Takoma Park as rooming houses.
The Takoma, D.C., community has frequently banded together to fight unwanted development, in many cases successfully.
The residents succeeded in forcing one developer to alter his high-density housing plans for an area a few blocks north of the Metro station at Blair Road and Germanium Street N.W. Currently, they are opposing a high-rise apartment proposed for construction behind a community theater.
As part of their effors, they formed a group called "Plan Takoma" which is pushing the District government to adopt comprehensive zoning ordinances that would allow development but with firm limits.
The Takoma Park residents have a history of fighting whatever they perceive to be a threat to to the town's stability or small town atmosphere. Working with a coalition that also included several Washington neighborhoods, they killed the proposed Northeast Freeway that would have brought Interstate Rte. 95 downtown through their community.
In another instance, they successfully fought plans to transform Piney Branch Road and Philadelphia Avenue into six-lane divided highways. They also won a battle to overturn a 1961 county plan that would have increased Takoma Park's population and the percentage of apartment dwellers in a town where there were none until the late 1950s.
In place of superhighways, they wanted rapid rail transit, they said, but only for people who walked, rode buses or were to be dropped off by spouses at a "kiss and ride" Metro depot. Ambitious early plans for 900 commuter parking spaces at the Metro station were slashed under citizen pressure to 450, then finally to 100.
With strong support from former Montgomery County Council member Ida Mae Garrott, a few of those 100 spaces were finally reserved for the handicapped while the rest were set aside for off-peak riders who will be able to gain access to the lot only after 10 a.m.
Sammie Abbott, the antifreeway leader, notes nervously that the land for 400 or so spaces is still there - it's just been landscaped. "Once there's an Oklahoma land rush for parking every damm morning, we don't want the" number of spaces increased, rasped Abbott, a candidate for Mayor of Takoma Park. He promised to be ever vigilant.
Meanwhile, according to incumbent Mayor John Roth, the citizens are gathering petitions to ban entirely commuter parking from the streets, as they have already on the roads near the North Takoma campus of Montgomery College.
The present future vision of this city of 18,500 appears in an orange and blue booklet entitled, "Sector Plan for the Transit Impact Area in Takoma Park." Approved in October 1974, it calls for far less development than initially envisioned by its authors, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. It is intended, acfording to M-NCPPC planner Lael Adams, to shift development to Silver Spring, the next stop up the line, where far more undeveloped commercial space is avilable.
"We don't want to be gobbled up by a lot of development or by the Metro stop," summed up Ellen Marsh, a community activist who is also secretary of the local historical society.
What is happening right now in Takoma Park is speculation: A small house on Sherman Street, sold in July 1976 for $32,000, was resold the same month for $40,000. The adjacent property bought for $18,500 in February 1976 was sold for $42.900 nine months later. And, on a recent Saturday, there appeared in The Washington Post the following ad:
RESTORED COLONIAL featuring 5 bedroms, LIV. RM WIARCHED FPL., sep. din. rm., plus redwood deck. A HISTORIC HOME, 1 block to Metro. WORTH A LOOKI
The house. at 7116 Cedar Ave., last changed hands in August 1976 for $45,000. Today's asking price: $84,500.
Across the tracks, inside the District, the apparent impact of Metro's arrival is more visbly striking. A realty firm has acquired the long-vacant People's Drug, renovated the building and moved its entire office staff up from downtown. Across the street, a tool supply firm has rented the old Safeway. Up the block, the frame of a new addition to the New York Bakery is rising.
After years of decline, ironically aided, acording to one merchant, by the closing of Blair Road for Metro construction, the old commercial district is coming back.
A sure signpost of this shift is the renassiance of the old Takoma Theater. After years of showing first xrated movies and then Spanish-language films only, the Takoma, a block's walk from the Metro, is changing its bill of fare.
"From now on," manager Jim Coller announced the other night to the applause of a largely family audience, "we will show everything and anything except no x-rated films, none whatsoever."
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