In the Silver Spring building that bears the name of Blair Lee's family is a room strewn with yellowed newspaper articles and photographs chronicling the rise and fall of the area.
It is a curious mix of past and future as the 42-year-old Lee, the fifth-generation descendant of the 1840 founder of Silver Spring, assembles memorabilia for a museum to be located in the atrium of the gleaming black granite and limestone building in the heart of downtown.
Much of the history that absorbs Lee is that of the Silver Spring Shopping Center, across Colesville Road at downtown's busiest intersection. "I realize it's a bit confusing to appreciate its past while at the same time applauding its demise," Lee said. "But progress has to go on."
The center -- once the premier suburban shopping center that helped make Silver Spring a thriving business district and now the run-down home of a wig shop, wine and cheese shop, drugstore and restaurant -- is at the heart of the debate over Silver Spring.
Developer Lloyd Moore wants to demolish the center to build a complex of stores and office and hotel space. But some residents say Moore's planned project would overwhelm the downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods. Others argue that the shopping center -- much like the nearby Silver Theatre -- with its Art Deco design is an important and stylish reminder of the architectural spirit of the period from the late 1930s to the 1950s and should be preserved.
Lee, whose family also fought a battle with Art Deco enthusiasts when they tore down the Hahn building to construct the Lee Plaza, refers to the center as "little Beirut," a reference both to its down-at-the-heels condition and the factions who war over it.
"You know there used to be a time when a hundred thousand people would come to this intersection of Silver Spring for a Christmas parade," Lee said, rummaging through the newspaper clippings to prove that downtown once thrived. That kind of past is what Lee wants for the future.
Lee -- director of corporate relations for the Lee Development Group, political operative and frequent columnist for the Montgomery Journal -- stressed that the Lee family business is not a key player in the upcoming battle, although it has concerns about the design and size of any neighboring development.
Lee's family had its own battle when, after a spirited debate between generations, it decided to stay in Silver Spring and to build on its property at Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road. That led to a battle with preservationists who wanted the Hahn building retained.
"We were ready to build a glass box," Lee said, giving credit to active citizens whose objections caused corporate rethinking and resulted in the $22 million, Art Deco-style building that has made fans out of most critics.
Lee said he hopes that the same kind of middle ground can be found in the upcoming fight. "It would be terrible if nothing happens and we lose the momentum that Silver Spring has and needs. It also would be terrible if the size of development is so huge that it would choke the city off . . . . This should not be like Tysons Corner."
He poses the question of whether it is possible to have renewal without an obliteration of the elements that give it sense. "Well, I have complete faith in the process," Lee said, emphasizing his point with a wave of his arm that took in the 10 stories of Lee Plaza.