It is the story of a city, not a husky, sprawling place, or a city of the angels, but a city of turn-of-the-century Victorian houses and bungalows, where maple and oak trees arch over quiet streets.
It is Takoma Park, as told largely in pictures in the recently published paperback, "Takoma Park, Portrait of a Victorian Suburb, 1883-1983."
The 141-page chronology begins with the founding of the suburban Maryland community by developer B.F. Gilbert, who laid out its 2.2 square miles, and covers the post-World War II years when brick ramblers and apartment buildings began to take shape amid the Victorian houses. It ends in 1960s, when residents successfully fought plans for a 10-lane highway that would have cut through the city and displaced 300 families.
Takoma Park, which straddles the Montgomery-Prince George's County line, was served by 1886 with 15 Baltimore & Ohio Railroad trains a day, making it a convenient commuter village. Houses there generally cost between $1,000 and $5,000, the historians noted, but some "villas" cost upwards of $15,000.
The brochure developer Gilbert printed in 1888 showed the wide variety of large, Victorian-style wood houses being built there at the time. Today, a small sampling those homes, with their many porches and high ceilings, remain. The book illustrates the "lost Takoma" with pictures of Gilbert's own mansion on Tulip and Cedar avenues, which burned in 1913, and other magnificent homes lost to fire or demolished to make way for other buildings.
Other, more fortunate structures are pictured in the chapter, "Almost Lost." They include houses that stood in the path of the once-proposed North Central Freeway, which did not go down to defeat until 1970. Others were survivors in areas slated for Metrorail station construction and expansion of Montgomery College.
The book is the product of two years of work by members of Historic Takoma, a group active in preserving historic sites, and other city residents. It was written, designed, photographed and typeset solely by former and current residents of the community.
The book originally was meant to be the group's 100-year anniversary gift to the city, which was founded in 1883. But because of production snags, the 2,000 copies did not come off the press until early this summer.
Participants in the book project sifted through hundreds of glass negatives made at the end of the 19th century that were in the collection of the Takoma Park Historical Society. The negatives were kept for decades in a storage room in the Takoma Park Library.
Book designer Linda McKnight said she chose those photographs that were in the best condition and best documented the changes in Takoma Park in the early and mid-20th century.
A large number of the photographs were the work of two turn-of-the-century photographers: Arthur Colburn, a former lawyer in Takoma Park, and Morris Bien.
"Morris Bien's photographs, I think, were warmer," McKnight said. "They were very simple, of people sitting on the porch, having a good time.
"On the other hand, Arthur Colburn's photos were lonelier. They were spiritualists, and he and his sister would sit outside and commune with the spirits."
Elizabeth Degen, a longtime resident of the city, helped identify many of the people and sites in the photographs.
"We decided it would be a story of people in the town," said Ellen R. Marsh, who, along with fellow historian Mary Anne O'Boyle, wrote the text that appears with the photographs. "We also wanted to limit it to architecture; we didn't want to include politics. We wanted the story of the average, ordinary person who lived in Takoma Park over the past 100 years."
The book is currently on sale for $15 at some Smithsonian museum shops and also is available from Historic Takoma, Box 5681, Takoma Park, Md., 20912. Add $1.50 for cost of handling.