It's all over the newspapers: developers have big plans for little Silver Spring. They are going to take the Art Deco shopping center at the corner of Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue and a few dozen other little parcels and throw them down the memory hole. Then they are going to put up four or maybe six giant office towers that will supposedly "rejuvenate" Silver Spring.
The problem is this: the office towers will not really "rejuvenate" Silver Spring at all. They will erase Silver Spring and replace it with something else. What we used to have in Silver Spring was not an office complex with amenities or a work space or a mixed-use development. What we had in Silver Spring was a pretty little town, and that is what will be missed.
Bear in mind, the town was nothing that would ever have been in Vanity Fair to start with. Silver Spring was a community of civil servants, and not particularly high-ranking civil servants at that. The Cabinet members and Foreign Service officers lived in Georgetown or at least in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Silver Spring had the fathers who were permanent civil service -- bureau deputy chiefs, statisticians -- career men who counted the "high five" years for their retirement pay, had no hand in deciding policy and thought it was routine to have dinner with their families every night and spend a week in Ocean City as summer vacation.
There was one other thing about Silver Spring that made it slightly outre'. It had lots of Jews. In the early days of the town's growth, many of the really elegant neighborhoods of Washington simply did not allow Jews to own or rent. Silver Spring was newer, less fixed in its ways, so doctors and lawyers who today would think nothing of living in Wesley Heights or Sumner then moved out to north of town and built their little piece of suburban living in the Eisenhower era.
The reason Silver Spring was a town, instead of just a campsite, was that it had a center -- in fact, two centers. First, there was Montgomery Blair High School, a prototypical American high school, whose football and basketball games were by far the most important events in the town. No one went away to boarding school or even to day schools with elegant names. No one needed to, because Blair was a perfect home-town school, with good teachers, orderly halls and statewide champions in every sport.
The other center was a shopping area -- the part that is to be "rejuvenated" -- that had everything anyone could possibly want in 1959. There was a Super Music City for records, an A&P grocery store, a hardware store (open half days on Sunday), a Woolworth's with five-cent hot dogs, a Fredland Jewelers for "going steady" rings and costume jewelry for Mother's Day. There was a Hahn's for shoes and Jelleff's for cologne for your sister's birthday and J. C. Penney for khakis and the Hecht Company for a suit. There was also a People's Drug Store with two full racks of movie fan magazines, which all seemed to have headlines that read "James Dean Is Not Dead." There was also the Silver Theatre, where -- if you can believe this, and probably you can't -- whole families were happy to go and watch movies together.
A few hundred yards from the theater was the Silver Spring Hot Shoppes, that paradigm of small-town drive-ins, with its perfect 35-cent hamburgers served on china plates. There was also, in the center of the shopping center, a Spack's Charcoal Hut, where David Scull and I used to go after a Saturday of leaf-raking to have a cheeseburger that is the best-tasting dish I have ever eaten.
Right behind it was a shop for formal wear, which did its biggest business the weekend of the Blair prom. We did not have granddad's old tux. We did not have tuxes from dancing school or from a cotillion. We rented a tux for the prom and then returned it on Monday morning to get back our deposit.
A hundred feet from the formal shop was the Silver Spring Armory, another glitter of gold in the Medina. On Friday nights, Don Dillard, lead disc jockey of WDON, and Barry Richards, "the boss with the hot sauce," would host "record hops" with records and local bands like Barry Darvell and the Blazers or The Starfires. It was something today's teen-agers could not even conceive: no drugs, no Mercedes, no children without homes to return to or parents who had flown the coop, but a quality of longing and repressed sexuality so thick that it was like a vivid blue fog.
It's a funny thing: when we were growing up there, we used to have drills for "duck and cover," hiding under a desk to avoid a nuclear bomb. Then the teacher would show us how, if one H-bomb fell on the Ellipse, we might possibly be spared because we -- lucky us -- were seven miles out, and total destruction only extended for a four-mile radius. The worst could happen, and our little town might be saved. So now you see, the joke's on Silver Spring.
-- Benjamin J. Stein
is a writer and producer in Hollywood.