Capitol View Park, a small, century-old area of Silver Spring, celebrated last Saturday the designation of a part of its community as Montgomery County's first local historic district--with an historical play.
Written by residents of the wooded, 250-home community west of Georgia Avenue and north of the Beltway next to the B&O railroad tracks, it was presented to about 400 in the grand ballroom of Capitol View's eclectic neighbor in Forest Glen, the Walter Reed Army Hospital Annex.
The Capitol View Park Historical Society and the community's citizen's association put on the play, mainly to let residents know about the historic district designation, approved last summer without fanfare by the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission.
The play, presented for only one night, focused on the transformation of Capitol View Park--as recounted by a long-time resident--from a farm owned by Thomas Brown, who built the area's first house on a 276-acre parcel in the late 1860s. About 20 years later, the farm was divided when the B&O Railroad laid tracks through it; and in 1882 the 123 1/2 acres north of the tracks was sold to Mary Harr. She later sold off the land for the construction of small houses, making it one of Montgomery's first subdivisions.
Houses were built there starting in 1888 and from the third floor of some of them, the Capitol dome could be glimpsed--reaffirming the name already given the area. The trees have grown considerably over the years, however, and that view is no longer possible.
About the same time, Forest Glen was being built next door. Now a national historic district, it is distinguished by a collection of buildings, formerly constituting a school, in styles from around the world, including a pagoda, a castle and a chalet. It was taken over by the U.S. Army during World War II.
Capitol View Park became an historic district in part through the efforts of a former resident, Bobbie Hahn. In the late 1970s, when she was doing volunteer work as a researcher, she and a few neighbors began looking into the backgrounds of several dozen houses in the area. "It became clear that this funny little place was unique," she said.
They found, said Carol Ireland, president of the historical society, that "Capitol View Park contained a complete collection of every kind of house in Montgomery County, from every era of its development." Scattered portions of the community were therefore included in the 17-acre historic district, wherein the emphasis was to be not only on saving the oldest--mostly Victorian-- houses but also maintaining the variety of architectural types. The majority of the houses outside the district were built after World War II, when Montgomery's suburban development began in earnest, Ireland said.
Using Hahn's findings, resident Lawrie Harris wrote the play, and later choreographed the dances, directed the actors and wrote some of the lyrics. Harris, vice president of the historical society, discovered that the neighborhood had "quite a bit of talent: concert pianist, musicians, a mystery novelist . . . ."
Originally the two organizations planned to sell 80 tickets, mostly, they thought, to relatives and friends of the 31 cast members. But a much larger group developed an interest in the play during the six months of preparation, which included five weeks of rehearsals.
The demand for tickets was gratifying and overwhelming, Ireland said. "This is an unusual neighborhood," she said. "We really know our neighbors, not like most suburbs. . . . Sometimes we are called the Georgetown of the suburbs".
The civic organization and historical society plan to use the play's proceeds for a number of projects, including signs that say "Welcome to Historic Capitol View Park." They also intend to continue their research into some of the area's houses.