A Washington development company has rejected the pleas of a small band of art deco enthusiasts and decided to raze a Silver Spring theater and adjoining shops built in that distinctive architectural style more than 45 years ago.
However, the landmark Silver Theatre and its neighbors in the heart of the Silver Spring downtown could still be spared the wrecking ball. Montgomery County officials have yet to decide whether the complex at Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road deserves designation as historic property.
The designation, scheduled to be debated by the county planning board two weeks from tonight, could preserve the art deco facades of the theater and strip of stores, which date from the late 1930s.
George Bennett, vice president of the Kaempfer Co., which owns the property where the shops and theater now stand, said through a spokesman yesterday that his firm intends to replace the commercial complex with a hotel, two office towers and some shops.
"To build on that property we would have to demolish the existing buildings," said the spokesman, who declined further comment. Bennett could not be reached.
Late last week, Bennett informed the Art Deco Society of Washington, a group that has championed Silver Spring's art deco row, of his plans to demolish the shops.
Society president Richard Stringer quoted Bennett as saying that Kaempfer had agreed last November, at the urging of county planners, to study the feasibility of preserving all or part of the complex, but the company has now ruled that out because of recommendations by its architectural and marketing consultants.
Striner added that Bennett raised the possibility of tearing down the Silver Theatre and reassembling it brick-by-brick at another location. But the two sides have dismissed that possibility, Bennett saying it would be prohibitively expensive and Striner arguing that it was not in keeping with the Art Deco Society's goal of preserving the property on its original site.
The former owners of the Silver Theater, who had said they considered the building mediocre, had some of the art deco trimmings -- a brick tower, opaque glass and tiled entranceways -- torn up last year, sparking what has become an ongoing battle with art deco lovers.
The strip of art deco shops is located in a bustling but somewhat down-at-the-heels district that has changed rapidly since the advent of Metro Red Line subway service. Some developers believe that Metro has given the old suburban center a new "urban" appeal.
The Kaempfer Co., awaiting final county action on the historic area designation, has not yet filed for a permit to demolish the complex. If it does, Montgomery officials would have 45 days to act on the request.