French for a Day

Edward Lee Fields was having a marvelous time, celebrating French culture in the sunshine and listening to "La Marseillaise" being sung live under the huge red-and-white water tower in Suitland on Bastille Day.

It didn't matter that Fields, 62, couldn't understand a word of French or that he didn't know the first thing about the Bastille, the fortress prison stormed during the French Revolution.

This was a special day for Suitland. (And, mais oui, it happened to be Bastille Day, too.)

Almost 100 people gathered July 14 at the corner of Suitland and Silver Hill roads for the lunchtime program, the second such event in Suitland this summer and an example of what organizers hope will become a tradition in the community. Neighborhood activists want the slice of green space at the intersection of Suitland's two main streets to become the community's centerpiece, its "town green," where people would naturally gather to have picnics, hear small concerts or see plays.

It's an innovative idea for Suitland, an unincorporated area that needs an anchor, residents said.

The concert last week happened to coincide with France's Independence Day, which commemorates the destruction of the Bastille. So organizers decided to call it "Vive Suitland," decorating the green space with the patriotic French colors "bleu, blanche et rouge" and wishing a "Bonne fete a tous!" (a good time to everyone!).

"I'm not a French major or anything, but this is very entertaining," said Fields, a retired Metro worker.

"Vive Suitland" was sponsored by Chevy Chase Bank and the Suitland Business Association, which sold refreshments for those who didn't bring a bag lunch.

Le Neon, a French theater group based in Arlington, provided the entertainment of cabaret, pantomime and song.

Federal Center workers and teenagers looking for excitement on a Wednesday afternoon were there, as were Prince George's County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Chauncey Bowers and Del. Melony Griffith (D-Suitland).

"It's a marvelous opportunity for community members to interact with one another," Griffith said.

Meanwhile on stage, Didier Rousselet explained, "The Bastille was mobbed. . . . People realized it was a very symbolic day. . . . The fall of the Bastille in Paris represented the fall of the old regime."

Cecil P. Thompson, executive director of the county's "Arts Alive!" program, run by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, explained how he brought Paris to Suitland: "We had a concert planned for July 14 and I thought, oh my goodness, that's Bastille Day, so let's take advantage of that angle and get a solid representation of French art and theater in the park."

But the "real coup" of the event, said Ann Liebenstein of the Neighborhood Revitalization Division of the MNCPPC, was "to get everybody used to the idea of this as a meeting place."

Deyandria Logan, 16, of Clinton, and Travonne Brunson, 15, of Largo, say they think that's a good idea.

"I couldn't understand what they were saying in French, but it was a good learning experience and a good way to get people out together in the park," Logan said.

The next concert is scheduled for Aug. 11. The theme is "Oldies."

-- Susan Saulny


Firehouse Concerns

Plans to consolidate three crammed, outdated volunteer firehouses that serve Mount Rainier, Colmar Manor, Cottage City, Brentwood and North Brentwood have recently come under fire from residents.

Many residents of the five communities nestled just west of the Anacostia River and north of Washington support the building of a single $5.5 million fire station because they believe it will produce quicker responses from the fire department. But others are worried about increased parking, noise and the station's appearance.

"The size and scale of the new firehouse is going to be so big," Mount Rainier Mayor Fred Sissine said of the 30,000-square-foot building. "It needs to be built with attention to the surrounding area so it is not a blot on the historic district."

The new two-story station will straddle the Brentwood and Mount Rainier boundary on Rhode Island Avenue, replacing a NationsBank, a convenience store and at least six homes. Prince George's County fire officials say they hope to break ground on the nearly three-acre site in the fall but expect delays and several revisions to the plan.

Because all emergency fire calls will be dispatched from the new station, precious time will not be lost deciding which firehouse will handle emergencies, fire officials said. It is expected to provide more room for firetrucks and emergency equipment.

Funds for the new station were approved by Prince George's voters last year in a bond measure that also financed renovations in libraries and the county jail.

Sissine and the four members of the Mount Rainier City Council, all of whom object to some element of the new firehouse, invited Prince George's Fire Chief Ronald J. Siarnicki and County Council member Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood) to the City Council meeting July 6 in an attempt to hash things out. About 30 residents attended.

Worry over an upstairs social hall, which will seat 200 to 300 people, also was debated. Some residents are concerned about whether overflow parking will routinely crowd their streets. Others are afraid casino-style gambling, outlawed as a fund-raiser for volunteer fire departments in 1995, might return.

"We could have casino gambling four blocks from the liquor stores," said Carol Gandee, a member of the City Council. "That is not a good combination."

She said gambling would harm the communities' revitalization efforts.

But Siarnicki said that the hall is crucial for raising funds for equipment and that he would oppose a return to gambling. He also said there was little support for a return to gambling in the state legislature, where a bill proposing it was killed in committee during the last legislative session.

-- Mary Louise Schumacher

If you have an item for Prince George's Towns, please let us know. Susan Saulny coordinates the municipal coverage. She can be reached at 301-952-2036; fax to 301-952-1397; e-mail to; or write to Prince George's Towns, Prince George's Extra, The Washington Post, 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772.

CAPTION: Didier Rousselet, with the Le Neon theater group in Arlington, plays a lunching French businessman in a skit during a Bastille Day celebration last week under the Suitland water tower.

CAPTION: PORT TOWNS: Seed Money: Rufus S. Lusk III looks at a black-eyed Susan plant in the rain garden, a bio-retention system for storm-water runoff on the edge of the Port Towns Shopping Center in Colmar Manor. Lusk and his wife, Jessica C. Damen, own the center and recently committed to give $100,000 over 10 years to the Prince George's Community Foundation to support revitalization projects in the Port Towns.